Haunted by literature

To the Lighthouse – once again.

It won’t leave me alone. It’s the dinner-scene, it keeps coming back to me, asking to be investigated, scrutinised, analysed … dissected?

I have posted on it before, but I can see there is more to explore. I will try to write an essay on it, this autumn, just to get it out of my mind …

The lighthouse on Godrevy Island

I think Emily Colette Wilkinson have some really good points in her short note on the novel:

In its intermingling of separate consciousnesses, To the Lighthouse is both intellectually and psychically difficult. Not only is it hard to tell who’s who and who’s saying or thinking what, it is also disconcerting—even queasy-making—to be set adrift in other minds, with their private rhythms and associative patterns. It feels, at times, like being occupied by an alien consciousness. Some readers don’t ever find their sea-legs with Woolf.  The trick is to surrender yourself (true with other high modernists too), to let the prose wash over you and take you where it will—not to worry too much about understanding a dogmatic way.

It’s easy to lose track of whose mind you’re listening to, whose words you’re hearing, who’s being spoken about. But in this is also something ghostly and god-like: you drift, as if disembodied, into the minds of others, through the rooms of the Ramsay family’s summer house on the Isle of Skye; you hear snatches of conversation from the drawing room, wisps of another conversation on the lawn. The plot of the novel, such as it is, is diffuse and amorphous; By the standards of most 18th and 19th century novels, it’s not really a plot at all.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. KM Huber says:

    Sometimes, I wonder if my life will be To the Lighthouse always but am only disconcerted momentarily for as Ms. Wilkinson advises, I let myself float in and out of the snippets that I remember from the novel, sometimes there are more than less. Regardless, I stay afloat somehow.

    I look forward to reading your essay, Sigrun.


    1. Sigrun says:

      … just have to do some writing first …

  2. Beth says:

    I’d love to read more of your thoughts on this.Sigrun. My summer reading has been Ulysses – my third attempt, and this time I’ll finish. But I’d love to go back to Woolf after this, especially since I’ve been reading essays about her feelings about James Joyce. I haven’t read To the Lighthouse yet but will move it up on my list…

    1. Sigrun says:

      I have never made my way through Ulysses, but one day I will! I did my master on Beckett, so plot-construction, location and the literary period is of great interest to me.
      I believe you will find “To the Lighthouse” very attractive after reading Joyce!

  3. I’m glad to see others admitting to never finishing Ulysses. That is perhaps the greatest lie literary folks tell–that we’ve read Ulysses (for the record, I have, but not start to finish in order). The thing that fascinates me about To The Lighthouse is the play on Victorian archetypes mixed with deconstructed narrative. The H shape of the plot still thrills me every time I pick it up again. As for the dinner party, I once spent the better part of a day debating that scene with classmates. My conclusion is that the scene tells more about the reader than the author–what each reader takes from the scene, who they focus on, how they interpret it–it reveals so much about their personality.

    Definitely my favorite Woolf work, possibly my favorite modernist work. I look forward to reading your analysis.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Great comment!

      Right now, I’m very fascinated by the way Woolf – in the dinner scene – captures the play of thoughts and feelings, and how they are constantly changing within the mind of one single individual. I believe she describe something which is a universal human trait, but still very difficult to grasp & understand.

  4. Hmmm. I’m in the minority here, having read Ulysses, twice. But I can never get past page 64 of Finnegan’s Wake.

    I like the comment above: ” My conclusion is that the scene tells more about the reader than the author–what each reader takes from the scene, who they focus on, how they interpret it–it reveals so much about their personality. ” I think this is true of much interpretation, though I still don’t hold with post-modernist/author-doesn’t-matter views, too disconnected from the act of process for my taste.

    I do think we learn so much about ourselves when we read any work, or study any painting, or listen to any symphony closely and with an awareness of our own perceptions.

    And I think Woolf explores others’ perceptions, as well as her own, in that scene…which is why it works well for readers who bother to think about it.

    1. Beth says:

      Hi Ann! I liked akelly’s comment too and agree – the Ulysses thing is the biggest literary lie among readers; I’ve done my own informal poll and very few (except for professors of English) have actually read it. I’ll finish it tonight — yes! – and look forward to reading Lighthouse. I’m wondering, Sigrun, if you’ve ever read any William Faulkner. Ann, do you think Faulkner’s intense American/Southern context would make the books more difficult for non-Americans, or would their humanity come through regardless? Some of my British friends have had trouble getting into them.

      1. Sigrun says:

        Dear readers & writers, what great comments and thoughts you all are presenting!

        – about Faulkner: “The Sound and the Fury” is an absolute favorite of mine. Read it years ago, it made an immense impression on me as a young reader. It would be great to re-read it now as a much more mature woman, and it would be interesting to study it in the light form the Lighthouse, so to speak.

      2. Beth, Faulkner’s a favorite of mine, I had read all of his books by the time I was 19. And they are not “easy” books in terms of structure or dialect, but I loved the plots, the characters, the drama and sorrow and guilt and grief and the humanity of his work.
        Dialect is tough, though. I have worked with students both American and not who struggle with his lack of typical conventions in style, dialect, and punctuation. It would be interesting indeed to find out what someone like Sigrun would make of Faulkner. Hey Sigrun, want to take on a challenge?? Have you read anything of his?

  5. Sigrun says:

    – As already mentioned about Faulkner, I have read “The Sound and the Fury”, both in Norwegian and in original. I believe I read it much in the same way as I did “The Waves”, letting the rhythm of the text carry me through. Trancelike – ?

  6. Rebecca H. says:

    I feel as though I’m haunted by To the Lighthouse as well, ever since I wrote an undergrad essay on the novel and fell in love with it. It’s the next Woolf novel I will (re)read, and I’m looking forward to it greatly. It’s been such a pleasure to read slowly through the Woolf bio and her diaries as well.

    1. Sigrun says:

      excited to hear about your rereading! hope you will blog about it!

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