To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf, review

I. Theme

Exploring human mind and formulation of the outlook on life from different points of view from different time periods. There are mixed perceptions from the past, present and future connected with questions about being of a human and its actions.

Although the world is developing, some people will never finish their journey because it is never started

II. Subject

Happiness, childhood, love, marriage, war, politics, grief, vision – outlook on life

III. Plot and structure

  1. The Window – Ramsay’s family came to the Greenhouse to spend holiday with their children. They are preparing for an expedition but it is permanently put off. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ramsay prepares stockings for James, Lily Briscoe starts to paint her picture on the edge of the lawn (chapter 3), she tries to catch flow of life its colours. Mr Carmichael devotes himself to prose, Mr. Ramsay walks on terrace thinking and Charles Tansley writes his dissertations and provokes Lily that women can’t paint and can’t write (chapter 9).
  2. Time Passes – Mr. Bankes, Andrrew, Prue, Lily, Mr. Carmichael talk about future, time shows what will happen, it is war. The question is what is one night (only short period of time). Then Mrs. Ramsay dies and house remains empty, only things remind those who lived there. Inside the house the life is stopped, but outside the changing seasons depict eternal flow of life. Stillness is disturbed when Mrs. McNab comes to clean the house. Unfortunately, two death in Ramsay’s family followed Prue and Andrew and again, there is stillness in the house until Mrs. Bast comes with her son to clean it and repair it. Finally, Lilly and Mr. Carmichael arrives to finish what had been begun.
  3. The Lighthouse – Lily finds her unfinished picture, takes her brushes and starts to paint. She recollects all about Ramsay’s family and of their past, how Mr Bankes liked her, how they talked about marriage and nothing happened. Mr. Ramsay wants sympathy of Lily but she admires his boot. Finally, Mr Ramsay leaves for expedition to the Lighthouse. Lily recollects feelings of Mrs Ramsay and her children in which Mr. Ramsay was presented as a brute and a tyrant of the children. During the sail he also tormented Cam with points of the compass - she didn’t know. She recollected Mrs Ramsay sitting in the garden, separation of Minta and Paul and then she was glad that she didn’t marry. So what is life she asked – something perishable? She wanted Mrs. Ramsay to come back so she screamed. However, later she realized Mrs. Ramsay couldn’t be so excellent, there must have been someone who hated her, her perfection. As Mr. Ramsay was approaching to the Lighthouse Lily was completing her picture and finishing her thoughts. As soon as he got there, she made her last line and finished her vision of life.


  1. Exposition – not clear there was set stream of consciousness (thinking)
  2. Complication – what is life about
  3. Crises – Great war its effects
  4. Climax – Lily came back to the Greenhouse and decided to finish her picture
  5. Resolution – Finally she finished her picture, she found her vision what the life could look like

IV. Setting

Greenhouse, shore, lawns, the Lighthouse

V. Characters

  1. Mrs. Ramsay – about 50 has 8 children, she is short-sighted, and is beautiful. She is very sensitive and careful, especially about her children. However, she feels sorrow with others of the Greenhouse, such as Charles Tansley, Mr. Carmichael. She likes her children so much, she wishes they would never grow up, especially James and Cam. She has got cancer and prepares her children for pessimistic future. She knows that children don’t forget putting of the expedition to the lighthouse and other things.
  2. Mr. Ramsay – her husband – he thinks that children should be aware from the childhood that life is difficult so he was tough to them (throwing plates through window etc.), he is philosopher. Ramsays’ are not rich, they have eight children and live from philosophy. When he was 25 he made definite contribution to philosophy. He thinks he is a happy man.
  3. Lily Briscoe – she thinks Mr. Ramsay must be admired, not deceived, but she dislikes his narrowness. She thinks why people want to marry.

Minor  - stereotype (flat) characters:

  1. James Ramsay – son of Mrs Ramsay – cutting pictures out. He hates his father because nothing can move him. He needs sympathy and feels he is failure Their other children are Cam, Rose, Prue, Andrew, Jasper, Roger, Bager
  2. Charles Tanslay – writes dissertations. He also needs sympathy to ensure his genius. Children nicknamed him little atheist. When he grow up he got married and lived at Golder’s Green
  3. William Bankes – he pities Mr. Ramsay and talks about it with Lily who he likes. He thinks Ramsay is kind of hypocratic
  4. Mr Carmichael – Mrs. Ramsay feels with him, he was kicked off by his own woman. He became famous poet, but he didn’t read his poetry, he wrote about war in which Andrew Ramsay died.
  5. Paul Rayely and Minta Doyle – they got engaged

VI. Point of view

Stream of consciousness - there are introduced only feelings of the characters from the point of the Lily Briscoe

VII. Style

Diction: middle / neutral – there is used vocabulary of ordinary people

VIII. Tone

Tone – sadness, spontaneity,

IX. Symbolism, allegory

Lighthouse – symbol of life. Its flashes of light are kind of magnetism. It is hope for the future for every member of the family and it is also inspiration for Lily Briscoe.

Skull – chapter 18 – symbol of death

X. Genre (type) – fiction

Psychological novel – there is depicted inner life of characters

XI. Own interpretation

The novel describes constant flow of life and actions that life brings. These actions are describes from the point of view of Lily Briscoe who watches Ramsay’s family and decides to paint a picture describing all the colours of the Ramsay’s family (part window shows only good, but part the Lighthouse shows also bad side of their family). The picture can be compared to book. Because Charles Tansley laughs at her that women can’t write, can’t paint (chapter 9). The picture tries to catch feelings of children, especially James who almost never begin expedition to the Lighthouse, also there were caught feelings of Mrs Ramsay about Lily alone who was expected to Marry Mr Bankes, there were feelings of engaged people Minta and Paul Rayley.

The novel also sketches the idea that happiness in the family can be based on the brutality of its members, e.g. father, who himself though he was good and happy if the other member are tight together by loving mum and do countless set-backs. He was probably good at philosophy but his attitude to another humans and their senses was very inhuman (throwing plates, testing his children).

In my opinion the novel is nothing more than juncture of feelings in time relations about one family who survived crises during their life and the painter who tried to catch one moment of their life and express the general idea what the life is about.