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Flashes of inspiration: Why you should give To the Lighthouse a spin

REBECCA BEET shares her experience of reading Virginia Woolf’s classic novel

I started reading To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf because of an ‘Advances of English’ (core English Language module) assignment at the start of my second year. A text analysis of an extract of the book and it had me hooked. All it took was a global lockdown, and too few books in my house, for me to be persuaded into buying it.

A Modern Classic with a Different Style.

To be completely honest, I've been reading To The Lighthouse for around five weeks now, which is a ridiculously long time (for me) to be reading the same book... especially when it's only 194 pages long. The main reason is that it took me a while to get used to the style of writing. I prefer to read more modern books, just because they seem to be slightly more enticing for me. Not to forget the five to ten-line sentences... I’m not the only one that would get slightly lost in the middle of those, I’m sure. Nonetheless, I eventually grew to appreciate them as part of the charm.

Cracking the Structure

The book is split into three sections: The Window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse.

The Window was the hardest part to get into. It mostly entailed setting the scene, introducing characters, and building relations. The majority of the characters were introduced in the first few pages of the book, which made it confusing to keep track of, and I had to keep looking back to find out who was who as the book progressed. I'm not sure whether I began to remember the characters, or I just stopped trying in the end, but regardless it began to make some sort of sense, and I got through to the next section.

Style and Metaphor

Time Passes is where I really began to appreciate not only the book, but the writing itself. I even went as far as to dog ear (oops) some pages, so that I could refer back to them. As it happened, the long, complex sentences that pushed me away in the first section were the very things that pulled me back in the second.

The use of complex sentences to mirror the amount of time passing, as the reader gets out of breath, and the house ages, works perfectly. For example: "the mattresses rolled round, those stray airs, advance guards of great armies, blustered in, brushed bare boards [...] saucepans and china already furred, tarnished, cracked." The fast-paced dance in my mind, representing the passage of time, is mirrored perfectly by the sound symbolism in Woolf's long, winding sentences.

As I already mentioned, part two is where I really began to understand the book, and I'd be tempted to re-read it in the future to really get the full experience that I feel I missed the first time round. Revisiting the characters as they age, progress, thrive, and even die, brings the characters to life (ironically) for really the first time after struggling through the beginning of the book.

Literary Effects

The Lighthouse features some really great parallelism, for example, "'alone', she heard him say, 'perished', she heard him say", followed by "[g]oing to the lighthouse. But what does one send to the lighthouse? Alone. Perished." Resulting in a nicely cohesive portrayal of time, action, and events.

All in all, even though To The Lighthouse took me around three weeks longer than most books to finish, I did thoroughly enjoy it. I would be up for reading it again... perhaps in only one week next time, just so that I could really appreciate Woolf's work now that I feel more accustomed to her style. In hindsight, I would have liked to have spent more time with the characters, to get to know them better and spend more time with their family but overall, it was an enjoyable and wholesome read.

By Rebecca Beet

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