Thursday, November 27, 2014

To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beauty will save the world (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

To the Lighthouse is a ghost story. Mrs. Ramsay’s feast derives its magical quality from its mythical resemblance to the Dionysian feast for the soul of the dead… (xxxiv)

The lost safe-house and garden are the traditions of writings from which the new writer has to travel, out into formidable space. But the new writing keeps trying to find its way back into the past, so there is an old tension in the book between the experimental and the nostalgie. (xxxviii)

If Shakespeare had never existed, he asked, would the world have differed much from what it is to-day? (48)

… all had to be deprecated and concealed under the phrase ‘talking nonsense’, because, in effect, he had not done the thing he might have done. It was a disguise, it was the refuge of a man afraid to own his own feelings, who could not say, This is what I like - this is what I am; (51)

Lily Briscoe went on putting away her brushes, looking up, looking down. Looking up, there he was - Mr. Ramsay - advancing towards them, swinging, careless, oblivious, remote. A bit of a hypocrite? she repeated. Oh no - the most sincere of men, the truest (here he was), the best; but, looking down, she thought, he is absorbed in himself… (52)
Lily Briscoe had looked up at last, and there was Mrs. Ramsay, unwitting entirely what had caused her laughter, still presiding, but now with every trace of wilfulness abolished, and in its stead, something clear as the space which the clouds at last uncover - the little space of sky which sleeps beside the moon. (56-7)

Indeed he (Mr. Ramsay) seemed to her (Mrs. Ramsay) sometimes made differently from other people, born blind, deaf, and dumb, to the ordinary things, but to the extraordinary things, with an eye like an eagle’s. His understanding often astonished her. But did he notices the flowers? No. Did he notice the view? No. … He would sit at the table with them like a person in a dream. (77)
And looking up, she saw above the thin tree the first pulse of the full-throbbing star, and wanted to make her husband look at it; for the sight gave her such keen pleasure. But she stopped herself. He never looked at things. If he did, all he would say would be, Poor little world. which one of his sighs. (78)

She had done the usual trick - been nice. She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that, she thought, and the worst (if it had not been for Mr. Bankes) were between men and women. Inevitably these were extremely insincere. (101)

And all the lives we ever lived.
And all the lives to be.
Are full of tree and changing leaves. (129)

… how once the looking-glass had held a face; had held a world hollowed out in which a figure turned, a hand flashed, the door opened, in came children rushing and tumbling; and went out again. Now, day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its clear image on the wall opposite. Only the shadows of the trees, flourishing in the wind, made obeisance on the wall, and for a moment darkened the pool in which light reflected itself; or birds, flying, made a soft spot flutter slowly across the bedroom floor. (141)

The spring without a leaf to toss, bare a bright like a virgin fierce in her chastity, scornful in her purity, was laid out on fields wide-eyed and watchful and entirely careless of what was done or thought by the beholders. (143)

Did Nature supplement what man advanced? Did she complete what he began? With equal complacence she saw his misery, condoned his menness, and acquiesced in his torture. That dream, then, of sharing, completing, finding in solitude on the beach an answer, but was a reflection in a mirror, and the mirror itself was but the surface glassiness which forms in quiescence when the nobler powers sleep beneath? Impatient, despairing yet loth to go (for beauty offers her lures, has her consolations), to pace the beach was impossible; contemplation was unendurable; the mirror was broken. (146)

What power could now prevent the fertility, the insensibility of nature? (150)

Indeed the voice might resume, as the curtains of dark wrapped themselves over the house, over Mrs. Beckwith, Mr. Carmichael, and Lily Briscoe so that they lay with several folds of blackness on their eyes, why not accept this, be content with this, acquiesce and resign? The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving thei thin voices in to its whiteness, a cart grinding, a dog somewhere barking, the sun lifted the curtains, broke the veil on their eyes, and Lily Briscoe stirring in her sleep clutched at her blankets as a faller clutches at the turf on the edge of a cliff. Her eyes opened wide. Here she was again, she thought, sitting bolt upright in bed. Awake. (155)

What does it mean then, what can it all mean? Lily briscoe asked herself…
For really, what did she feel, come back after all these years and Mrs. Ramsay dead? Nothing, nothing - nothing that she could express at all. (159)

And he (Mr. Ramsay) shook his head at her (Lily), and strode on (‘Alone’ she heard him say, ‘Perished’ she heard him say) and like everything else this strange morning the words became symbols, wrote themselves all over the grey-green walls. If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in some sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things. (160-1)

Certainly she (Lily) was losing consciousness of outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, and her name and her personality and her appearance, and whether Mr. Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult with space, while she modelled it with green and blues. (174)

What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying ‘Life stand still here’; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent) - this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs. Ramsay said. ‘Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!’ she repeated. She owed this revelation to her. (175-6)

She rammed a little hole in the sand and covered it up, by way of burying in it the perfection of the moment. (187)

She looked at her picture. That would have been his answer, presumably - how ‘you’ and ‘I’ and ‘she’ pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint. (195)

James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it? (202)

It was some such feeling of completeness perhaps which, ten years ago, standing almost where she stood now, had made her say that she must be in love with the place. Love had a thousand shapes. There might be lovers whose gift it was to choose out the elements of things and place them together and so, giving them a wholeness not theirs in life, make of some scene, or meeting of people (all now gone and separate), one of those globed compacted things over which thought lingers, and love plays. (208-9)

One must keep on looking without for a second relaxing the intensity of emotion, the determination not to be put off, not to be bamboozled. One must hold the scene - so - in a vice and let nothing come in and spoil it. One wanted, she thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on a level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that’s a chair, that’s a table, and yet at the same time, It’s a miracle, it’s an ecstasy. (218)
Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (Magritte, 1928)

Mr. Ramsay had almost done reading. One hand hovered over the page as if to be in readiness to turn it the very instant he had finished it. He sat there bareheaded with the wind blowing his hair about, extraordinarily exposed to everything. He looked very old. He looked, James thought, getting his head now against the Lighthouse, now against the waste of waters running away into the open, like some old stone lying on the sand; he looked as if he had become physically what was always at the back of both of their minds - that loneliness which was for both of them the truth about things. (219)

Lily reflects that “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.”
The truth, according to this assertion, rests in the accumulation of different, even opposing vantage points.
Nevertheless, Lily continues on her quest to “still” or “freeze” a moment from life and make it beautiful. (Sparknotes)

Notes: Sein und Zeit by Martin Heidegger (1927) & To the Lighthouse (1927) & Will You Please Forget Freud, Please? (I'm so sorry, Mr. Carver!) & The Lighthouse = Da-sein.

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