To the Lighthouse: Reshaping the Single Vision

  • William R. Thickstun


E. M. Forster once observed of Virginia Woolf that she believed in reading a book twice:

The first time she abandoned herself to the author unreservedly. The second time she treated him severely and allowed him to get away with nothing he could not justify. After these two readings she felt qualified to discuss the book.1


External World Ordinary Experience Creative Power Creative Imagination Single Vision 
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  1. 1.
    See also Woolf, ‘How Should One Read a Book?’ in The Second Common Reader (New York: Harcourt, 1932, rpt. 1960) p. 235.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt, 1972) II, p. 54.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The Letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. Nigel Nicolson (New York: Harcourt, 1976) II, p. 231. See also p. 234.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    For negative views, see Robert M. Adams, Strains of Discord (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1958) pp. 194–5Google Scholar
  5. James Hafley, The Glass Roof (1954; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963) p. 78Google Scholar
  6. Ruth Temple, ‘Never say “I”: To the Lighthouse as Vision and Confession’ in Claire Sprague, ed., Virginia Woolf: a Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971) pp. 98–100.Google Scholar
  7. More positive views emerge from a large number of sensitive and perceptive studies, not all of which, however, discuss the ending explicitly: Eric Auerbach’s ‘The Brown Stocking’ in Mimesis, trans. Willard Trask (Princeton University Press, 1953)Google Scholar
  8. Sharon Kaehele and Howard German’s ‘To the Lighthouse: Symbol and Vision’, Bucknell Review, 10 (May 1962), rpt. in Morris Beja, ed., Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse, a Casebook (London: Macmillan, 1970)Google Scholar
  9. James Naremore’s The World Without a Self (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973)Google Scholar
  10. Phyllis Rose’s Woman of Letters (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978)Google Scholar
  11. Maria Dibattista’s Virginia Woolf’s Major Novels (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    The Prelude, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, Stephen Gill (New York: Norton, 1979) 1850, I.270–4. Woolf regarded Wordsworth with considerable respect. In 1911 she wrote to Saxon Sydney-Turner that ‘I am reading The Prelude. Dont you think it one of the greatest works ever written? Some of it, anyhow, is sublime; it may get worse’ (Letters, I, p. 460). Later in life, she offers Lear, Phedre, and The Prelude as examples of great poems (The Second Common Reader, p. 242).Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    For a different treatment of the link between Mrs. Ramsay and Penelope, see Geoffrey Hartman, ‘Virginia’s Web’, Chicago Review (1961), rpt. in Thomas Vogler, ed., Twentieth Century Interpretations of To the Lighthouse (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970).Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    Nancy Topping Bazin also identifies Mr. Ramsay with the tower and Mrs. Ramsay with the light, in Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1973) p. 46.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    See M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953)Google Scholar
  16. Natural Supernatualism (New York: Norton, 1971).Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    Ode to a Nightingale, in Keats, Selected Poems and Letters, ed. Douglas Bush (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959) 1. 23; pp. 203–5.Google Scholar
  18. 28.
    See, for example, John Hawley Roberts, ‘“Vision and Design” in Virginia Woolf’, PMLA, 61 (1946), rpt. in Jacqueline E. M. Latham, ed., Critics on Virginia Woolf (Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1970), p. 66. Naremore also discusses Mrs. Ramsay’s closeness to a ‘vast dark realm which everyone has in common’ and which ‘can only be defined negatively’, p. 139.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967) pp. 44–6.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    Fleishman, Virginia Woolf (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975) pp. 131–4. If the bay and lighthouse were out behind the house when Lily faces it from the lawn, Mrs. Ramsay would not have been able to see the lighthouse beam from the steps; the house would have intercepted it.Google Scholar
  21. For the argument that Lily’s easel is now facing away from the house, see Ralph Freedman, The Lyrical Novel (Princeton University Press, 1963) p. 237Google Scholar
  22. Herbert Marder, Feminism and Art (University of Chicago Press, 1968) p. 149.Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    Tintern Abbey, in Wordsworth: Selected Poems and Prefaces, ed. Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965) 11. 39–41; pp. 108–11.Google Scholar
  24. 43.
    For an extended discussion of the Persephone myth in the novel, see Joseph Blotner, ‘Mythic Patterns in To the Lighthouse’, PMLA, 71 (1956), rpt. in Beja, ed. Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse.Google Scholar
  25. 45.
    Hamlet, V.ii.220–2, from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). Hartman also observes this echo (p. 81).Google Scholar
  26. 46.
    Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975) p. 43.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    Alice Van Buren Kelley organizes her entire book on Woolf — subtitled Fact and Vision — around these two elements (The Novels of Virginia Woolf [Chicago University Press, 1973]).Google Scholar
  28. 49.
    See, for example, Josephine O’Brien Schaefer, The Three-Fold Nature of Reality in the Novels of Virginia Woolf (London: Mouton, 1965) p. 134Google Scholar
  29. Morris Beja, ‘Matches Struck in the Dark: Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Vision’, Critical Quarterly, IV (Summer 1964), rpt. in Beja, ed., Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse, p. 227Google Scholar
  30. Sharon Proudfit, ‘Lily’s Painting: A Key to Personal Relations in To the Lighthouse’, Criticism (Winter 1971) p. 37Google Scholar
  31. Daniel Allbright, Personality and Impersonality (University of Chicago Press, 1978) p. 152Google Scholar
  32. James Hafley, ‘Virginia Woolf’s Narrators and the Art of “Life Itself”’, in Ralph Freedman, ed., Virginia Woolf (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 34. Naremore is one of the few previous critics who finds the moment convincing and moving (p. 149).Google Scholar
  33. 50.
    Tennyson’s Poetry, ed. Robert W. Hill (New York: Norton, 1971) 91.5–6. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  34. Jane Novak, The Razor Edge of Balance (Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1975) p. 60.Google Scholar

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© William R. Thickstun 1988

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  • William R. Thickstun

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