Reader's Guide: Virginia Woolf - To The Lighthouse

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Reader's Guide: Virginia Woolf - To The Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf

A reader's guide for the theme of time in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

"The Lighthouse"

"But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally... They lenthen; they darken" (131)

What is the significance of Woolf's varying depictions of time? When and how do these depictions change?

In some parts of the novel, many pages are lavished on moments that last nanoseconds. In other parts, barely a word is given to the passing of years. Does this distortion of time accurately reflect how humans perceive the world?

"And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving herself a little shake that one gives a watch that has stopped, the old familiar pulse began beating, as the watch begins ticking—one, two, three, one, two, three. And so on and so on, she repeated, listening to it, sheltering and fostering the still feeble pulse as one might guard a weak flame with a news-paper." (86)

Link to the Universty of Alabama's TtL Woolf Seminar page!

time [tahym] (noun) 1.the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.

In Part Two of Woolf's novel, she chooses to narrate the passing of 10 years in the time frame of a single night. This also happens to be the only section that recognizes the destructiveness of time. As night turns to night, so does a single night turn to 10 years in the novel.

The big, fesitve meal was successful, and Mrs. Ramsay pauses for a moment to refelct on this, but due to the transient nature of time, the moment has already become part of the past, and is now colored by memory and looks very different in hindsight.

"With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then... it changed, it shaped itself differently it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past" (113-4)

"The Window"

"Time Passes"

Mrs. Ramsay is being compared to a watch, her composure and ability to harmonize others is regained much the same way that a watch keeps time.

"Time is not experienced conventionally in To the Lighthouse (but seriously, what is?). Instead, time is anchored in certain select moments, which completely distorts it from the way a clock experiences time. Time is measured as it is experienced by certain people, which infuses select moments with incredible importance and duration. In other parts of the novel, ten years is covered in about a dozen pages. Time is therefore both elongated and compressed."

The theme observed in a character: Mrs. Ramsay

Woolf Online Digital Archive

Contemporary Criticism

Watch it!

Her own thoughts


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