Essay on The Development of the Artist in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

Essay on The Development of the Artist in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

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Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has been described as a Künstlerroman or artist novel. It traces the development of an artist, much like the Bildungsroman traced the development of a child into adulthood (Daughtery 148). The main artist of the novel is Lily Briscoe. As the novel progresses, Lily comes to terms with art and with life. To the Lighthouse is, in many ways, a quest novel (Daughter 148). This is evidenced by the title, which includes the preposition “to”. Nearly all the characters in the novels have a goal which they are aiming for. For example, in Part I, James Ramsay wants nothing but else but to go on an expedition to the lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay muses about how to reach the letter “R”. Lily sets sail with her canvas and her paint to find independence and to gain insight into the meaning of life (Kelley 112).

Throughout Part III, the Ramsays’ trip to the lighthouse is juxtaposed against Lily’s progress on her painting. In many ways, James Ramsay’s goal and Lily Briscoe’s goal are very much alike. They both wish to declare their independence from conventional authority. James Ramsay has always harbored a hate for his father and a resentment of his authority. At the opening of the novel, Mr. Ramsay says that the weather may prevent their trip to the lighthouse. James wants to plunge a knife into his father’s heart. He hates his father “for the exaltation and sublimity of his gestures; for the magnificence of his head; for his exactingness and egotism” (Woolf). Ten years later, James is still determined to fight against his father’s “tyranny” (Woolf). Mr. Ramsay forces James and Cam to join him on an expedition to the lighthouse. This time, James resists; he is sullen throughout the whole trip. However, along the w...


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...econd, she drew a line there, in the centre”. Her big, bold stroke symbolizes the letter “I” (Daughtery 134); it is like her signature to her own declaration of independence. That line also bridges the mass on the right with that on the left (Woolf). Lily Briscoe defines and preserves her “vision” of the world (Woolf).


Primary Source
Woolf, Virginia. “To the Lighthouse.” Project Gutenberg Australia, Oct. 2001. Web. 6 Feb. 2012. .
Secondary Sources
Bloom, Harold. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Daugherty, Beth Rigel, and Mary Beth Pringle, eds. Approaches to Teaching Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2001. Print.
Kelley, Alice van Buren. To the Lighthouse: The Marriage of Life and Art. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987. Print.

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