Woolf's chosen role as an author is to uncover the hidden values and needs of her characters' psychologies, and by extension of this, those of her readers — each frequent realization of the character's is a real and vividly personal epiphany, the like of which 'real-life' persons do not have such a feel for on a day-to-day basis; the characters are in a very real sense perhaps too self-aware to be considered 'real'. (Tansley and Lily at the dinner table each understand their situations perfectly.) The underlying message Woolf seems to be seeking to present is that this self-knowledge is not necessarily inherently of any worth — Tansley, for instance, is unable to control his desire to subjugate others in his own mind to prop up his own insecure self-esteem; his realization of this fact is not an empowerment to alter the fact. Lily feels restrained in a similar fashion; years after their utterance, Tansley's words (p94) "women can't write, women can't paint", though cushioned with the knowledge that "clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful" (also p94), still cannot be completely discounted from her mind.
Lily's struggle to marshall her memories into a cohesive and enduring monument of canvas is a metaphor for the intensity of human experience; the significance being that ultimately it does not matter — for that intensity will not be retained even then, no matter the struggle; once captured the reality of the situation fades, and it is time to 'move on'. Her efforts are symbolic of the inability for the power of memories and emotions to be lastingly captured — so strong is this urge that her desire to imprint a meaning upon events perpetuate...
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...have been more verbose and less nebulous in form ("in MS ... more explanation is given" p233, "in MS, Tansley's atheism is more emphasized and contrasted with Lily's belief" p227 — and there are records of many other editing outs or 'smoothing' revision.) It is not difficult to imagine that Woolf would have been exceptionally gratified by a comment which she made about another author in a critical essay: that a work offered (p248) "a complete presentation of life ... as always [he] creates carelessly, without a word of comment, as if the parts grew together without his willing it, and broke into ruin again without his caring." Woolf's version is more forced; but perhaps this is what is necessary for a work of such questing magnitude. Seeming spontaneity requires patience.
Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse, Penguin Twentieth Century Classics, 1992
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