Essay about To The Lighthouse – A Modern Quest Narrative

Essay about To The Lighthouse – A Modern Quest Narrative

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Virginia Woolf’s novel “To the Lighthouse” (1992) can be considered as a modern quest narrative. In literature, a quest is often utilized as a plot device and can be described as a journey towards a goal. The journey is predominately carried out by the hero of the story who has to prevail over many complications to reach their target. There are four significant quests in the novel which are expressed by the four key characters; Mrs Ramsay, Mr Ramsay, James Ramsay and Lily Briscoe. The author, Virginia Woolf, also has her own quest evolving which subconsciously develops through Lily Briscoe. Compared to Woof’s modern narrative approach, Russian formalist scholar, Vladimir Propp, follows a traditional quest pattern, believing that there must only be one hero who prevails and that after the initial situation is depicted the tale takes a sequence of thirty-one functions (Propp 19). However, further investigation into “To the Lighthouse” (Woolf, 1992) does reveal some similarities between Propp and Woolf’s approaches to quest narratives.

In Part One of the novel, “The Window”, Mrs Ramsay is the central focus and most influential figure. Mrs Ramsay is the epitome of Victorianism and does not want the new order to emerge. She is on a quest to uphold and instil traditional Victorian ideals into the children, such as marriage and the role that the wife must assume by giving her husband constant reassurance and empathy; “…an unmarried woman has missed the best of her life” (Woolf 43). Mrs Ramsay’s quest pays particular attention to Lily Briscoe, much to Lily’s objection, who believes that the current Victorian system cannot persist. In regards to Vladimir Propp, the scholar who identified the narrative elements in Russian folk tales, hi...


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...st differing from the next. Virginia Woolf has followed a modern quest narrative in the novel, an innovative style of writing for her era and especially as a woman in her era. When compared to Russian formalist scholar, Vladimir Propp, the quest narrative is quite different with only few similarities between Woolf’s modern quest narrative and Propp’s traditional quest narrative. If Woolf was to follow Propp’s thirty-one functions of a quest it would alter the novel completely, as while Propp’s theory may be accurate when writing folk tales it is not an effective structure to follow for a modernistic and revolutionary novel such as “To the Lighthouse” (Woolf, 1992).



Works Cited

Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. American Folklore Society. United States of America, 2003.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Oxford University Press Inc. New York, 1992.

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