To The Lighthouse

On another overcast morning Aaron, tasked with improving our stepping stone escape route from the Dead End Path to the patio, fetched some spare paving from his own home and

produced this level work. He was one stone short and will bring that next week.

I first read

in 1989. About 20 years later I read it again for the Upper Dicker Book Reading Group. Today I finished it once more in order to test my response to Louise DeSalvo’s biography.

I don’t remember ever reading another novel three times.

I enjoyed the work once more, no doubt with greater understanding. Perhaps all first novels are to some extent autobiographical, and, having been enlightened to the story of this most gifted writer’s childhood and adolescence, I have to agree that Mr and Mrs Ramsay are undoubtedly based on Mrs Woolf’s own parents. As it is my custom not to reveal spoiler details of the story, I will say no more about this.

This novel is an exceptional work of art. The symbol of the trip to the Lighthouse underpins the developing dissection of a family group’s relationships evoked with remarkable insight. As always the author’s language, given her abundance of detailed description, is elegantly economical. Every adjective, every adverb, every metaphor, every simile is made to count. (She makes good use of parenthesis and would not have countenanced this last sentence). Her punctuation is flawless, and her phrasing perfect, reflecting the numerous revisions she apparently made to her well crafted works.

Gilbert Phelps’s introduction is knowledgeable and educational.

The cloth boards are embossed with a design by the artist.

I confess to having been initially ambivalent about Maryclare Foa’s colour illustrations. Although very well composed with good palettes I found the distorted figures rather ponderous. Now, however, I believe the painter has captured the isolation of the individual characters much as Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell did in her faceless paintings. It is a policy of the Folio Society to choose an illustrator who can represent the period.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s super savoury rice; a rack of pork ribs in barbecue sauce; salt and pepper prawns; and spring rolls with which she drank Becks and I drank more of the Douro.


    1. Thanks you very much, Anne. In my teens I would have liked to have been a book illustrator. Circumstances and lack of confidence didn’t allow it.

    1. That is not strange, Gary. I’m sure we are meant to find them so. I had an even stronger response to Vanessa Bell’s nursery paintings. Thanks very much.

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful reflection on both the book and the art. I like the illustration–something about those blue shades–perhaps also fitting.

      1. I’ve been watching Andrew Marr’s art programme – I now realise I don’t like the Mona Lisa or Sunflowers. Maybe I know nothing about art. Turner next week.

  2. Wonderful you have new paving… And it was a misty start followed by sun then a huge thunderstorm and downpour that lasted over an hour and half…

    Love the illustrations of the book Derrick… Brings back memories of my own.. 🙂 thank you

      1. We’ve already had three days of rain the storm wasn’t forecast. It was a peculiar sort of misty humid day, it’s still overcast this morning and humid ? The potatoes drank well. ????☔

  3. Oh wow. love the path. Can you send Aaron over for a day?

    I’m more of a lover of landscape art but even they often come with distorted view of the topic.

    A great meal to finish the day. Just how it should be.

  4. Aaron indeed looks happy to be working in your garden. He’s a treasure. I have only recently begun to reread some books, and what revelation it is when there’s 20 or 30 years since the last reading. Books use what you bring to them. I’ll never forget seeing Casablanca in my 50s having last seen it in my late teens or early twenties. In my earlier years, I was crushed by the lost romance, or at least had some vague memory that it was unhappy in the end. The last viewing my reaction was so strongly “Get in the plane. That guy loves you. Rick will not be good for you. Get in the plane.” What a little living will do for you.

  5. I can’t make the photos appear right now, Derrick, but I applaud your choice of menus! You and Jackie dine royally every night. The problem with the photos is my server, I’m sure.. and heavy winds that must be blowing the wifi away. ;o)

  6. I always suspected that Aaron was one stone short, but it cannot be denied he is a fine craftsman.
    Excellent review of the book; I have managed to avoid reading Woolf these many years, but I suppose I will now have to give it a shot.

  7. I can see what you mean about the distorted figures in the illustrations being ponderous. The colors are soft and muted while the figures seem heavy and stiff which is the opposite of your beautiful garden which always makes me smile. After studying the illustrations, I had to go back and get a dose of Aaron’s sweet smile.

  8. Along with D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf was one of the pioneers of ‘Stream of Consciousness’ technique. Those paintings with dulled contours reflect the mood of the novel brilliantly. ‘To the Lighthouse’ was issued to me by a library and lost by me in a train journey. Someday, I will complete the voyage to the lighthouse.

    PS: I have read ‘Sons and Lovers’ more times than I can recollect.

  9. I read the book once but I didn’t like it very much. I think I’ll give it another go though, if you give it such a high recommendation. The lighthouse in question is Godrevy Head, just north of Hayle in Cornwall, on the opposite headland of the bay to St Ives. Try the Google Images page if you don’t know it. It’s a very beautiful place.

  10. You have read To the Lighthouse three times; I have attempted to read it three times. My failure is not because I don’t like the book, it’s been circumstances and other issues. I was planning on having another go this summer but I fear it has been nudged out by Mrs Dalloway (which I’ve read twice). I think if I had your gorgeous edition, I would be lapping it up!

  11. Thank you for this. I read To The Lighthouse so long ago, I remember nothing about it except that I very much liked it. I have read a group of books more than once, which is a perilous undertaking if it’s a book I like–my life often changes to where I no longer like it. This makes me want to read Woolf again.

  12. I like the colours in the illustrations. I’ve never read Virginia Woolf, unless I have forgotten, which seems unlikely. Your eloquent recommendation convinced me to put this on my ‘to read’ list.

  13. The pathway looks great. Good for Aaron. How nice to have such a faithful helper! The illustrations are magnificent. I love their palette and abstraction. Virginia Woolf is an engaging read! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Aaron’s path looks great. What a difference it makes to your garden. It’s been a looong time since I read To the Lighthouse! And it had no illustrations in the edition I read.

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