Essay - Bridge Between Worlds in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse

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To the Lighthouse - Bridge Between Worlds

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse illustrates a bridge between the worlds of the Victorian mother and the modern, potentially independent woman. The Victorian woman was to be absorbed, as Mrs. Ramsay is, by the task of being mother and wife. Her reason for existing was to complete the man, rather than to exist in her own right. Mrs. Ramsay certainly sees this role for herself and is disturbed when she feels, momentarily, that she is better than her husband because he needs her support to feel good about himself and the life choices he has made. Yet the end of the Victorian era saw the rise of women's rights and greater freedom for women to excel without men or children. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born, says that To the Lighthouse is about Virginia Woolf's need to understand her own mother and to prove, through the character of Lily Briscoe, that a woman can be "independent of men, as Mrs. Ramsay is not" (Rich, p. 228).

The trauma of this transition from Victorian to modern woman is portended by Mrs. Ramsay herself, at the beginning of the story. In the first chapter, as Mrs. Ramsay defends Charles Tansley against the criticisms of her children, she muses on her desire to protect men and the "trustful, childlike, reverential" attitude that her protection inspires in men. "Woe betide the girl. . . who did not feel the worth of it, and all that it implied, to the marrow of her bones!" she exclaims to herself, thinking of the way men respect and admire her. But Woolf shows us that as Mrs. Ramsay admonishes her children for ridiculing Charles Tansley, her daughters "could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves of a life different from hers. . . not always taking care of some man or other."

The issue of the change from one concept of womanhood to another is not as simple as the newer generation revolting against the older; at the same time that Mrs. Ramsay's daughters hope to be different, they admire and worship their mother for her beauty and power. Prue, the eldest daughter, proudly watches Mrs. Ramsay as she descends the staircase and feels "what an extraordinary stroke of fortune it was for her [Prue], to have her [Mrs.
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