I was going to write one last post about Orlando by Virginia Woolf until I saw this gem on YouTube. It’s quite the fun LEGO-fueled take. It’s Orlando told in eleven minutes. Enjoy! I’m not at all sure I can add anything to it.
Our Autumn of Woolf has lost its leaves and unintentionally extended into winter. Because of that, I have decided to hold off on discussing ARoom of One’s Own indefinitely. And because I’m currently using that room of my own to write my third novel, and novels take lots of coddling.
Thank you for being here with me during these last few months. They’ve been lovely.
See, I ended up posting more about Lighthouse than I did Dalloway. That being said, I’ve finished re-reading it. You? 😊 So I’m going to go ahead and start re-reading Orlando so I can get a jump on it. We all know how holiday weekends end up. We’re staying home for Thanksgiving, to be safe, but I intend to make up for that by watching every single holiday movie on Netflix that I haven’t already watched. (Or as many as my sweetie will tolerate.) Reading and prepping posts early is a good idea, if you ask me.
Speaking of, have you watched the adorable Dash & Lily on Netflix? Oh my gosh, so cute.
Oh, and I’ve just started my third novel. I hadn’t meant to get serious about it, but I made out with it at the office Christmas party and now we’re dating. (JK, JK!) Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve already written 50 pages! (I wish I could say more, but you know how it is…I don’t want to introduce it to anyone until we’ve dated awhile.)
Now, how to wrap this Lighthouse study when there’s so much more to say? As I read, I had so many things to share, but each could fill pages.
Here are the story’s ending thoughts, our eyes on Lily as she finishes her painting: “Yes, she thought, laying down her brushes in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”
Sure, you can argue that Mrs. Ramsay is the book’s main character, but I would disagree. Lily is the one who notices, who watches, who paints observations of the main couple and their family, of all of those around her. She memorializes them in her painting with her acute scrutiny. I, for one, am grateful she did.
We could talk about Mr. Ramsay and his insistence that he and his youngest children go to the lighthouse. The two clearly don’t want to go. They decide they will fight tyranny to the death, meaning they won’t give their father the time of day. James never does capitulate, but Cam softens when their father asks her about the new puppy.
Most of the long trip, however (I’d like to know exactly how long, because they bring a meal and Mr. Ramsay brings a book), Mr. Ramsay spends his time reading. Is the actual visiting of the lighthouse the point, then, or is it the journey? It would seem the journey is not what he cares about. Much buried there.
Lily imagines the journey at the novel’s end. She thinks they must be there now. It’s then she can complete the novel, so she’s not the only one who has gotten stuck in this loop, this unfulfilled promise.
While I think it would be difficult to make a good film of this book because so much of the importance and beauty of it is in the prose, its structure would lend itself to that.
And that leads me to more thoughts, on and on. I want to mention other spoilers that I won’t, of Lily’s imagining of what happens to various members of the family’s circle, of actual facts versus her impression of them, impressions that change.
By the book’s end, her attitude towards even Charles Tansley softens. Art helps her “see” life.
I’m going to stop now because I don’t know where to stop. One line leads to another! And guess what? I didn’t even really touch what I covered in my master’s thesis, because I mined that for novel number two. (“Briscoe” is in its name, so…)
Remember: we start Orlando next! Have you read it before?
This is one of my favorite passages in Lighthouse. As a human, this has always been my goal, to pay attention to the ordinary moments of beauty and to elevate them.
At the funeral for my husband’s grandmother a few years ago, the minister came around beforehand and asked for memories to share. I was surprised at how many of them were mine that he mentioned during the service and how teary the family got as each was brought up. I was glad I spoke up.
What had I noticed?
Strawberry pie…the scent of apples stored in their breezeway…fresh apple cider…country magazines stacked neatly on the coffee table…ribbon salad…heaping bowls of mashed potatoes…rabbit show trophies…that and so much more signaled we were at the Drudges’.
My aim as a writer is to recall those average, everyday moments and hold them.
Recently I shared a photo with my daughter of a bottle of wine on our dining room table. “I can’t believe you still have that table,” she said. We’ve thought of replacing it, but there are paint and marker blotches on it from her and her brother. We studied and read there together. We played cards and ate how many meals at it?
The table is just a table, but it’s also a miracle, a memory.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into a Thanksgiving post, especially not so early, but then again, it’s fitting. I’m thankful for miracles of all sizes.
Do you have a favorite passage from this book? Almost finished reading it? I’m rounding the corner. For some reason I don’t remember the last bit being quite so long. Not that I want to leave Lily’s side any time soon.
Course Hero supplies this character map of To the Lighthouse. While I can’t say I agree with the description of the “main” character along with other “major” characters, it’s interesting to see them presented in this manner.
True, I would say Mrs. Ramsay is indeed the primary main character (spoiler here — stop reading NOW if you haven’t finished the book) she is only physically present in the first section.
Where is nasty Charles Tansley? Where is the poet, Carmichael? Maybe they could be characterized as minor characters, but they’re so sewn into the story that it’s odd to imagine them demoted.
By contrast, Paul Rayley is unmemorable.
What do you think of this list? Are any of your favorites missing?
Would you argue, as I would, that Lily could be seen as the main character? She and Mrs. Ramsay are inextricably linked.
Remember when I wrote a post on Robin Lippincott’s excellent Mr. Dalloway? He’s turned up again in connection with Woolf in this Lit Hub article on the art and the audience, but this time for his Blue Territory: A Meditation on the Life and Art of Joan Mitchell (Tidal Press). Both his meditation and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (our Autumn of Woolf book of the moment!) are highlighted alongside three other books as wrestling beautifully with the artist’s process in this Literary Hub article by Scott O’Connor. I find this type of philosophical, deep, “thinky” books beautiful.
But I would add Of Human Bondage to the O’Connor’s list and dare I also nominate Victorine?
I hope you’re not tiring of my admiration for Robin’s writing, because it’s not going away any time soon. And I highly recommend you order his book.
Rather than recite the insightful list, as a takeoff on both Robin’s writing and a nod to the above piece, (merging both sentences here, my apologies),”“Oh, just look at the goddamn article!” 🙂
See how Woolf slows the below passage with short sentences to show Lily Briscoe’s agony when Mr. Bankes looks at her painting, one she has been guarding from others:
He had put on his spectacles. He had stepped back. He had raised his hand. He had slighted narrowed his clear blue eyes, when Lily, rousing herself, saw what he was at, and winced like a dog who sees a hand raised to strike it. She would have snatched her picture off the easel, but she said to herself, One must. She braced herself to stand the awful trial of some one looking at her picture. One must, she said, one must. And if it must be seen, Mr. Bankes was less alarming than another. But that any other eyes should see the residue of her thirty-three years, the deposit of each day’s living mixed with something more secret than she had ever spoken or shown in the course of all those days was an agony. At the same time it was immensely exciting.
As a debut author, I relate so incredibly strongly to Lily Briscoe and her simultaneous reluctance and desire to have her artwork seen. I was already in grad school when my first fiction was published, and I cried and maybe had a few too many when asked if I would let it be published. I was a sellout, I thought. I wrote for me. I wrote to understand, not for filthy lucre; not so that others could read my writing. I was going to grad school to learn how to be a better writer, but I guess I hadn’t thought about the end game. (I had been publishing nonfiction all along, but that was different to me) I was both honored and horrified, to be honest, to be offered publication. After a night of many tears, phone calls, and emails, I said yes.
My only relief was that I wasn’t paid for it. I couldn’t have handled that at the time. (Of course I DID get an advance for my novel, thank you very much, and I was fine with that.) My attitude has changed now, of course. The laborer is worthy of her hire, to modernize a biblical reference.
Wiser ones helped me understand that writing is a loop: author, story, reader. And that it’s not really a story until you communicate with your reader. I wasn’t sure I wanted to communicate with others or that I had anything original to say. How wonderful to discover what a gift it is to talk about your words with others. I’ve enjoyed so much speaking on TV, on podcasts, to reporters, to classes and groups. My unending passion to share Victorine’s story has allowed me to ease past my mixed feelings. (For those who have read my book, Victorine insists on being called by her last name, Meurent. I like to imagine I know her well enough to call her by her first name.)
Seeing Victorine published has given me unexpected gifts: those who love Victorine LOVE her. I’m so proud to have been a part of that process. (I adore her, too!) I’m proud that I put her self-portrait on the back of my book for the world to see for the first time in over a hundred years, the inaugural publishing of the painting, we believe. Her newly rediscovered paintings were shared on my PBS interview, the first time most anyone has seen them in the same amount of time. Those are huge wins and worth the initial discomfort of sharing my words.
In my second novel-to-come, just as fast paced as my first, Briscoe Chambers (named after Lily, naturally) struggles with life’s larger issues as well. She’s not a painter — her struggle is how and if to salvage a marriage broken into shards. She asks if her role as a facilitator of art (in this case, the art of music) is more important than a traditional marriage. Can she endure what she must (more on that later) for the result which she is convinced will add to the country music canon in a significant way? Should she?
There’s a twist to the book that I won’t talk much about yet. Let’s just say she discovers an art of her own and realizes that it’s herself she needs to see.
How have you been seen? How do you desire or want to be seen or by whom? What does it even mean to be seen? (Many popular books come out and mention seeing and being seen; perhaps Woolf was one of the first to imply the importance of it, to articulate it, to suggest that art is how we share our souls.)
And that Lighthouse passage above – Ah, am I right?