To The Lighthouse

To The Lighthouse

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To the Lighthouse, published in 1927 is one of Virginia Woolf's most successful novels written in a stream of consciousness style. The novel is divided into three parts, which revolve around the members of the Ramsey family and their guests during visits to their summer vacationing residence on the Isle of Skye. The central preoccupation within the novel however is not to be found within the lives of the characters, instead they are seen as being secondary to the overall grounding of the novel in the house itself. Woolf examines the actions of the characters and the passing of time from the perspective of the central symbol of the actual physical domestic space of the house.
     The characterization of Mrs. Ramsey, who is identified as being the guardian, or the 'angel of the house', cannot be separated from the actual physical space itself. Just as the walls and doors of the house serve to keep out and protect the inhabitants from the outside world, Mrs. Ramsey works to create a domestic space where she can shield the people from the effects of modern life and offer a retreat into a more natural landscape. This natural landscape however can be seen as a threat, the pounding of the waves on the surf turns from a 'soothing tattoo to her thoughts'; to the 'ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat(ing) the measure of life';, and terrified the sound makes her think 'of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea';(23-24). The simple fact that sound of the pounding waves comes to her suddenly, whereas before it had been concealed by the sounds of conversations being held outside, points to the hollowness of the house.
Mrs. Ramsey works to maintain the house as being a protective barrier, which can be seen through her obsession with wanting to keep all the doors closed, effectively trying to bar the outside world from entering:
'At a certain moment, she supposed, the house would become so shabby that something must be done. If they could be taught to wipe their feet and not bring in the beach with them – that would be something…And the result of it was…that things got shabbier and got shabbier summer after summer. The mat was fading; the wallpaper was flapping…Still, if every door in a house is left perpetually open, … things must spoil…it was the doors that annoyed her…'; (38-9).

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Mrs. Ramsey does not wish to be removed from the natural landscape, but prefers and feels safer to observe it at a distance through the frame of the windows, or even from behind the casing of the hedges.
Mrs. Ramsey's strife to create harmony and build up the house as a sanctuary of life is constantly thwarted by the awesomeness of the nature which surrounds the house. The beach is not the only physical thing that is being pounded by the effects of the sea. The house is beginning to slowly decay and fall apart. The effects of time have slowly begun to their damage, the greenhouse roof is falling down, and even the idea of discussing this destruction, is too much for Mrs. Ramsey. That would mean admitting to the fragility of the protective barrier of the house which she clings to. She may try to hide behind keeping up the appearance of the house by 'flinging a green&#8230; shawl over the edge of a picture frame';, but the futility of this action hits her when she realizes that 'in two weeks it would be the color of pea soup';, nothing is being protected in this house, not even colors of a shawl (39). This is further compounded in the 'Time Passes' section of the novel, Woolf gives the reader a glimpse of what would happen to this sanctuary if the inhabitants were to desert it for a period of years. The house is slowly overcome and reclaimed by nature; it cannot on its own hold back the effect of time. The domestic space that Mrs. Ramsey wishes to maintain is finally seen to emanate from the individuals themselves and not from the physical space of the house. It is Mrs. Ramsey who creates a stability of place within herself, it is to her that people come to be reaffirmed and to stabilize their own identity.
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