To the Lighthouse (1927)

by Virginia Woolf

Critical Evaluation

 “Once again Mrs. Woolf makes use of her remarkable method of characterization, a method not based on observation or personal experience, but purely synthetic, purely creational. Clarissa Dalloway is a marvelous synthesis, and it is just for that reason that ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ which has been identified because of its modernity with the “Ulysses” school, differs from it in character fundamentals, for it is as objective as “Ulysses” is autobiographical and observational. There is nothing ‘photographic’ about Mrs. Woolf’s characters, here or in ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’ Neither Clarissa nor Mrs. Ramsay has anything autobiographical about her; both are complete creations and both, for all their charm and graces, must suffer a little beneath the searchlight of Mrs. Woolf’s independently used mind and sense of irony.

“It is, I think, in the superb interlude called “Time Passes” that Mrs. Woolf reaches the most impressive height of the book, and there one can find a new note in her work, something beyond the ironic sophistication and civilized human values of ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’ In this description of the unused house in the Hebrides, entered for ten years only by old and forlorn women caretakers and the wind and the sea air and the light of the lighthouse lamp, she has told the story of all life passing on, of change and destruction and solitude and waste–the story which more than a little embodies the plot action of the rest of the book, but above all the story which has for man the profoundest human values of all, though for ten years the house itself never received a human guest. The great beauty of these eighteen pages of prose carries in it an emotional and ironical undertone that is superior to anything else that the first-class technician, the expert stylist, the deft student of human life in Mrs. Woolf ever has done.”

Kronenberger, Louis. “To The Lighthouse” Is a Brilliantly Ambitious Analysis of Domestic Psychology” The New York Times. May 8, 1925.

First Excerpt

“Well, we must wait for the future to show,” said Mr. Bankes, coming in from the terrace.

“It’s almost too dark to see,” said Andrew, coming up from the beach.

“One can hardly tell which is the sea and which is the land,” said Prue.

“Do we leave that light burning?” said Lily as they took their coats off indoors.

“No,” said Prue, “not if every one’s in.”

“Andrew,” she called back, “just put out the light in the hall.”

One by one the lamps were all extinguished, except that Mr. Carmichael, who liked to lie awake a little reading Virgil, kept his candle burning rather longer than the rest.


“So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say, ‘This is he’ or ‘This is she.’ Sometimes a hand was raised as if to clutch something or ward off something, or somebody groaned, or somebody laughed aloud as if sharing a joke with nothingness.”

Second Excerpt

“And now in the heat of summer the wind sent its spies about the house again. Flies wove a web in the sunny rooms; weeds that had grown close to the glass in the night tapped methodically at the window pane. When darkness fell, the stroke of the Lighthouse, which had laid itself with such authority upon the carpet in the darkness, tracing its pattern, came now in the softer light of spring mixed with moonlight gliding gently as if it laid its caress and lingered stealthily and looked and came lovingly again. But in the very lull of this loving caress, as the long stroke leant upon the bed, the rock was rent asunder; another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed. Through the short summer nights and the long summer days, when the empty rooms seemed to murmur with the echoes of the fields and the hum of flies, the long streamer waved gently, swayed aimlessly; while the sun so striped and barred the rooms and filled them with yellow haze that Mrs. McNab, when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like a tropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.”