Friday, December 10, 2010

Like a memory long since past

Current book: To the Lighthouse
Pages read: 144 - 242 (end)

Well, Woolf went ahead and shocked the hell out of me by moving the story forward ten years in a few pages. She narrates the passage of time from the perspective of the house (not in its voice, but simply as though you were in it), detailing the slow decay and empty seasons it witnesses in the Ramsey family's absence. During the decade-long gap, Mrs. Ramsey dies, as well as two of the Ramsey children.

When the family returns, it is with Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael, but no one else. Mr. Ramsey decides he must take a trip to the lighthouse with James and Cam (the youngest daughter of the family). The two children are ambivalent, but Mr. Ramsey is obsessed with the idea. They go, and Lily stays on the beach, painting. On the trip to the lighthouse, James steers the boat and Mr. Ramsey reads a book. When they finally reach the island, Mr. Ramsey praises James's steering, and Cam regards it as an important moment - one for which James has been waiting a long time. Mr. Ramsey is triumphant at the lighthouse, and Lily, back on the beach, successfully finishes her painting with one distinctive stroke through its center.

Huh. That was not what I expected. I'm struggling with what the lighthouse is really supposed to represent now. The idea of success and happiness may still hold true, but it's odd, then, that Cam and James had no interest in it. Maybe it's something closer to a sense of achievement, of being finished with what life has to offer. Mr. Ramsey is desperately in need of validation all the time, so that would make sense for him. James needs Mr. Ramsey's validation, too, but is happy to get it during the journey, and doesn't need to have achieved all of his goals yet, since he is still a young man. It would mesh with Lily's contemplation of the lighthouse as well; she thinks that she knows when the Ramseys reach the lighthouse, and that's the moment when she finishes her painting. It is also the moment when she realizes she is content to be alone with herself and not to seek out a husband. It's not as though it has to be that black and white and only represent one thing, but it seems to be something along those lines.

In addition to that, there's sort of a sense that no one has really reached their true goals, since both Mr. Ramsey's and Lily's lives are clouded by the fear of failure, and James has hardly gotten started. The lighthouse, then, is a sort of unattainable ivory tower - even when James reaches it, he realizes it doesn't seem the same as when he was a child, and therefore he will never really be able to get to the place it used to be. Much as Mr. Ramsey and Lily can never rest assured that their work will make them immortal (though Lily reconciles herself to that fact upon finishing her painting), no one can truly reach the ideal, far-away beacon of the lighthouse because of the fact that it becomes a different object when one arrives at it. (Is this making sense? Shit is getting existential, is all I'm saying.) So, in addition to contentment and achievement, it has the melancholy air of the loss of what can never even be had.

Ok, Virginia Woolf. You have made me think about this for a considerable amount of time and I am still unsure of what it means. I am also, however, convinced of the importance of understanding it. This one is definitely worthy of the list.

1 comment:

  1. I like the questions you are posing. I love the fact that you have no conclusion. I think Virginia Woolf would have approved.



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