Sunday, January 31, 2010

To the Lighthouse

Okay, I'm a little late posting for the To the Lighthouse portion of the Woolf in Winter read-a-long. It took me longer to read than I planned, plus I've been sick and couldn't read too much through the fog of allergy medicine. That may affect this review as well! To see the other posts on To the Lighthouse, check out Emily's blog.

I did not enjoy To the Lighthouse. I was disappointed, because I didn't expect to like Woolf, but I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway and that raised my expectations for To the Lighthouse. But unlike Mrs. Dalloway, where I was okay with a lack of much of a plot because of the characters, I don't feel like most of the characters are well developed in To the Lighthouse. They seemed like caricatures, or were just really flat. I have a feeling I'm in the minority on the viewpoint since I've read that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey are based on Woolf's parents and her sister thought she captured them to the point of bringing them back to life, but I just didn't see it.

I also felt like the language was lacking in comparison to Mrs. Dalloway. Until about 100 pages in, I kept thinking that it was even well written. In Mrs. Dalloway the language carries you along, and I had to keep stopping myself from reading it too quickly. Here there were a lot more starts and stops and it just seemed off. After the first 100 pages though, I felt like she got into more of a rhythm and the language turned a corner and became more beautiful. The Time Passes segment especially had beautiful, poetic language.

I felt like the book was about the world changing from the Victorian age to the Modern age, as personified in Mrs. Ramsey and Lily. (And I think that was part of my problems with the characters, the rest seemed just like fillers around these two to demonstrate this.) Mrs. Ramsey is the traditionalist, and pushes everyone toward marriage and family life. Lily rejects that and chooses to remain single and pursue her painting.

Like in Mrs. Dalloway, I feel like depression lurks in every corner. No one is truly happy. Even Lily, who gets what she wants, thinks of jumping off the cliffs to her death. Woolf's books are not hopeful to me. They seem to say that nothing really matters, we're all going to die anyway, and it might be better to just end it all now. Maybe that's reading something into her books from the way she lived her life, but that's how the two I've read so far make me feel.

What I found really interesting is reading Woolf right after reading Wharton. Both women wrote around the same time about many of the same themes, but their styles are vastly different. I much prefer Wharton's realism over Woolf's modernism. I feel like the modernists just try to sound confusing and intelligent to make themselves seem superior to those who don't get their works. I do think in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf was effective in using stream-of-consciousness to tell her story, but I feel like here it just comes off more as the slightly crazy ramblings of depressed person. I believe Wharton is more effective in getting the same points across because she makes you care about her characters and tells more of a story. In Woolf you always feel like you're digging for the purpose and I didn't have any sort of emotional response to To the Lighthouse. I liked Mrs. Dalloway better because I did care about the characters and that made me care more about the point Woolf was trying to make their than the one she did here. Wharton also ends her novels in a somewhat more hopeful manner, even though they are often depressing as well. For instance, in Summer, you aren't happy with the ending, but Wharton points out that it would be worse if Charity ended up like her mother, so at least she won't be that miserable. Charity may never be happy, but she won't feel the need to kill herself either. There's some point left to living her life.

Despite not enjoying To the Lighthouse, I do still plan to continue on with the read-a-long. I'm going to start Orlando soon so I can take it a bit slower if I'm not getting into it. Hopefully it's more Mrs. Dalloway than To the Lighthouse!


  1. Aw, sorry the book wasn't for you, Lindsey; I'll be very curious to see what you think of Orlando. It's vastly different from both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. It's so interesting how different people react to authors - I leave Wharton books vastly more depressed than Woolf books, because I find Woolf's language so exhilarating and Wharton's much less exciting. And Wharton's depictions of descents into depression and/or madness (in House of Mirth, especially) just seem inevitable and one-directional, whereas in Woolf people are sad at times but also satisfied/elated/angry, and so on. Maybe it's just a matter of finding authors who mirror one's own experience of life? Anyway, thanks for reading along!

  2. "I didn't have any sort of emotional response to To the Lighthouse."

    That's how I feel too. Except my emotional response was I didn't like anyone in it. Mrs. Dalloway, as you say, had characters I liked.

    Good for you for reading anyway. I'd say Woolf is probably not best read during an illness...

  3. So sorry for being late in dropping by. :What a co-host, huh? :)

    I felt the exact opposite as you. Absolutely loved this; thought it was brilliant and it touched me in a way even Mrs D couldn't. It never occurred to me that the other characters were fillers; I saw them all with a purpose. But we do agree on the beauty of Time Passes.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Orlando! Hope you like it better.

  4. I need to read Wharton - she's on my list. And your quote "(authors) just try to sound confusing and intelligent to make themselves seem superior to those who don't get their works." reminds me of how I viewed Faulkner when I was in HS. I probably need to revisit some his work again and see what how my impressions would change. Thank you for this post - these discussions are just fascinating.