Friday, May 07, 2010

To the Lighthouse

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p 3.

I attended a lecture today, "Image and Invitation in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse", presented by Claudia Traudt, Instructor in the Basic Program of Liberal Education at The University of Chicago.
Claudia's lecture focused on the "understanding of the "betweenness" of lived experience and intercourse with art" in Woolf's novel. She introduced the lecture by claiming that "Woolf's art does not demand or declaim; it invites and allures." Her lecture vividly demonstrated this invitation and the audience responded.

Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse, is structured in three movements; "The Window", "Time Passes", and "The Lighthouse". Suggesting that the arc of the novel follows these three sections, moving us inexorably toward the lighthouse, Claudia shared selected passages from the novel as she providing enlightening exegesis. The allure of the novel consists both in its demonstration of the "entropy of time" and its showing forth through "epiphanies". The resulting nexus of persons leads to a constellation that provides some of the allure that makes this, and other of Woolf's work, a delight to read. The lecture also reminded us of the autobiographical connections between Woolf's fiction and her life.
One quickly discovers that reading Woolf cannot be done quickly for her prose must be savored slowly. The characters are delineated through their thoughts and actions like Mrs. Ramsey's "flashing her needles" as she knits stockings for her children. I was impressed with the subtle references to classic texts such as the suggestion of Oedipal conflict on the second page of the opening movement when James' father disrupts the plans of James and his mother for a trip to the lighthouse. In the last movement, ten years on, the memories of the characters have begun to fade, "the Lighthouse had become almost invisible"(p 208), just as our memories of past events fade, but the allure of the novel does not fade as all the elements combine to provide a scintillating reading experience.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. 1989 (1927).

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