A few years ago, I read To the Lighthouse by English writer Virginia Woolf and after reading some of her other books, this one is still my favorite of hers. I like it because of the relationship the characters have with a place and in this case, the setting by the sea on an island west of Scotland. Being a beach person, I love books with settings by the sea. While this is fiction, this is as close to an autobiography as she gets, and the situations in this story are reminiscent of her childhood trips to St. Ives, Cornwall and the book was written to help her work out personal issues with her parents. Woolf writes in an essay published in the Moments of Being,
“…I could fill pages remembering one thing after another. All together made the summer at St. Ives the best beginning to life imaginable.” –Virginia Woolf
This book is written in three parts. Part I – The Window, establishes the ocean setting and the relationships of the characters and the Ramsay family. Part II – Time Passes, is the passing of ten years and the changes that happen to the characters over this time, including some of their deaths. Part III – The Lighthouse is a return to the lighthouse of the remaining Ramsay’s and their guests after their last visit ten years before and the changes in the characters that time has softened. There is no action in this book, it’s all setting, thoughts and observations about each other. Parts of the storyline actually happened to Woolf, her family and their friends.
In 1998, Modern Library added To the Lighthouse to the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century as number 15.
And in 2005, TIME magazine selected To the Lighthouse as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.
Currently not all of Woolf’s books are in the public domain, however, I am able to find the book online in Project Gutenberg – Australia while searching Project Gutenberg.
I highly recommend this book if you like settings by the sea and want to know more about Virginia Woolf. So find your quiet place and start reading or listening to this one.