Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse” as a Modernist Novel
To The Lighthouse : To The Lighthouse, written by Virginia Woolf deals with the modern predicament of life. It echoes the impact of external objects on the conscious mind. She explores the variety of human relationships and as a Modernist novelist encapsulates the features of stream of consciousness technique , multiple narratives , symbolism , allusions, social turbulent of War , autobiographical elements and others. The novel shows the interior sensitivity of a woman who bridges the family or connects others physically and emotionally.
Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse” as a Modernist Novel
The technique used in the novel is entirely stream of consciousness technique. It is used to explore human relationships based on a conscious level. Woolf transcends the life of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay who shares a complicated relationship. Mr. Ramsay is a man of philosopher and rationality who is unable to translate his emotions and shows lack of emotional attachment to his own children yet Mrs. Ramsay takes care of everyone and the guests who came to stay to their house.
The technique helps in exploring the interior insights of human consciousness and their flow of feelings and emotions towards certain situations. In the novel, there are individual flows of emotions and thoughts which are subjective of the characters conscious feelings. Charles Tansley’s reaction to the situation of Mr. Ramsay enraging the emotions of his son James was insensitive to Mrs. Ramsay as he admires Mr. Ramsay.
The certain situation throws insight into the realm of characters who share primitive atmosphere stage of insecurities since childhood especially Charles Tansley who is self-centered due to family atmosphere and perhaps was able to relate the same experiences he had in childhood in contrast of being sympathetic to him.
In the novel ,the technique helps in understanding fragmented realm of consciousness and view the world of others individually. One can observe that the flow of consciousness is fragmented and never flows in a linear state of time. Through Mrs. Ramsay, one can view the world of Charles Tansley who harbors a deep insecurities within him due to his background.
The primitivism can be seen in the novel and Woolf explores the individual growth in Charles Tansley who became self- centered and is unpleasant due to his upbringing in the family atmosphere.
Woolf also explores the impact of death and its affect on one’s consciousness. It shows the human relationship of physical presence and absence in reality. When Mrs. Ramsay dies, it affected the family heavily and other member of the families and guests. Though the physical presence of Mrs. Ramsay is unavailable but she exists in the consciousness of the characters and hence her presence dominated in “Time passes”.
The images of decay in the house suggests that death is inevitable and life is temporal. Through this technique, one can understand the position of human beings in the society and various atrocities an individual find in translating their emotions to the world. Woolf also highlights that it is sometimes difficult to translate emotions into words suggests the modern predicament of language.
She shows that an individual stands isolated in the world as they are unable to express the feelings within themselves and hides the inner reality of themselves from the world.
Allusions is also used in the novel. There is an allusion to Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Bridgade” which is written about the Crimean War. Tennyson praises the brave soldiers and at the same time mourns as the soldiers went to the war only to die.
The allusion in the novel is to indicate the approaching First World War which will caused heavy instability in the family as many characters die. Mrs. Ramsay dies in the family and Andrew Ramsay was killed in the battle as well as Miss Prue died during the childbirth. It all affected the family and hence the allusion bridge the upcoming death and the uproar of war and its impact on the family.
The novel is filled with many symbols. Symbols are used to bridge the emotions when words fail to express those felt emotions. The symbol of “sea” becomes the realm of conscious mind and the symbol of “ocean” signifies the unconscious mind. The “waves” in the novel suggest the flow of time or suggests the destructing nature of World War that affects the sea level or the conscious mind.
The “Window” is a symbol of a mirror towards inner world of the characters. The “dinner party” is a symbol of temporal moment in life which one experiences in life. The “Time Passes” is a symbol of temporal state of life and it suggests the death and decay as an ultimate result of time. It suggest the passage of time which is inevitable. Lily Briscoe’s painting also symbolizes the interconnection between art and life or a vision of life.
The novels is also influenced by Henry Bergson’s philosophy of time. He believed that time exists in two separate ways. There is the existence of inner time and outer time. The inner time is the time that exist in human mind where one can follow along with the progression of time or go back to the past memories and experiences.
The outer time is the linear state of progression and the physical time that exists in a concrete object. There are flows of the individual time where the memories of past instances are discovered and the memories of the deceased are echoed. The dominion of Mrs. Ramsay in the conscious remembrance in the minds of the other characters suggests the existence of the flows of inner time.
These memories and experiences reverses time to past and shows the individual memories of a person and their physical presence in their world.
The novel also shows the development of self. They were influenced by Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis and depicts the human self. The human self is divided into two and shows the inner self and outer self. The inner self is the self hidden inside the individual and the outer self is the self which an individual shows it to the world.
It depicts the position of an individual in the society who are isolated and alienated in the society. The “Lighthouse” is a symbol of an individual. The lighthouse stands isolated and hence every individual stands isolated in the world and the small light of the lighthouse is a symbol of the amount of self an individual show it to the world.
For instance, the light shown by Charles Tansley helps in understanding his upbringing and childhood and one can realize the factor of his inability to adjust in the society.
Lastly, the most important aspect of Freudian psychoanalysis was the development of Oedipus complex relationship which shows the early sexual stages of the growth and development of the characters or an individual as such. Oedipus complex is seen in the child of Mrs. Ramsay’s son James Ramsay who seems to be more close to his mother and hates his father.
This is the early development of Freudian Oedipal relationship where a boy child hates his father and develops affectionate for the mother. Mr. Ramsay was unable to satisfy the emotional needs of their children and hence the child draws the affection from the mother which shows the early primitive stage of oedipal nature in a child and Woolf explores its interior and primitive stages by instigating the family nature.
What was modernist about ‘to the lighthouse’
To the Lighthouse (1924) is one of the most complex and accomplished novels to come out of the Modernist movement. Only Ulysses is more profound in its disregard for the rules of the novel, and its enjoyment for breaking the seemingly unbreakable rules of literature set in place during the Victorian era.
Virginia Woolf was experimenting with a new way of writing the novel: she considered whether ‘elegy’ might be a more apt word to describe To the Lighthouse . What is certain is that the traditional modes of reference for describing the novel – in terms of storyline and plot analysis – are rendered impossible by the fluidity of Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style.
Modernism represents the elemental shift in artistic and cultural emotional responses evident in the art and literature of the post-World War One era. The structured world of the Victorians could not, in the words of T.S. Eliot, accord with “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.”
Modernism, therefore, marks a distinctive break with Victorian morality, discarding nineteenth- century hopefulness and instead presenting a deeply pessimistic vision of a world in turmoil. The movement is most often associated with the work of T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.
Modernism is often attacked for discarding the social world in favor of its obsession with language and the act of writing. Acknowledging the language’s inability to ever say what it really wants to say, the Modernists generally relegated content in favor of a concentration upon form.
The fragmented, non- chronological, poetic forms utilized by Eliot and Pound revolutionized poetic language. An understanding of Modernism’s goals and beliefs, and of the traditions against which it was fighting, is central to an understanding of the visionary experiment that is To the Lighthouse .
Read it also : Aristotle’s Observations on Poetry