To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

3.6 20
by Virginia Woolf, Juliet Stevenson

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The novel that established Virginia Woolf as a leading writer of the twentieth century, To the Lighthouse is made up of three powerfully charged visions into the life of one family living in a summer house off the rocky coast of Scotland. As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramseys face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its…  See more details below


The novel that established Virginia Woolf as a leading writer of the twentieth century, To the Lighthouse is made up of three powerfully charged visions into the life of one family living in a summer house off the rocky coast of Scotland. As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramseys face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph-the human capacity for change. A moving portrait in miniature of family life, it also has profoundly universal implications, giving language to the silent space that separates people and the space that they transgress to reach each other.

There are very few exceptional and miraculous novels that have the power to change their readers forever. To the Lighthouse is one of them.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Virginia Woolf stands as the chief figure of modernism in England and must be included with Joyce and Proust in the realization of experiments that have completely broken with tradition.
New York Times
Publishers Weekly
It's wondrous to listen to a fine reading of a long-loved novel. Leishman makes masterly use of volume, timbre and resonance to distinguish between characters and draw us into the emotional swings and vibrations of the internal musings of each. She creates not a new but a more nuanced reading, following the interwoven streams of consciousness in a British English that lends authenticity to each voice. Leishman swims smoothly through Woolf's sentences that ebb and flow with numerous parenthetical thoughts and fresh images. These passages are interspersed with quick, sharp, simple sentences that gain strength in contrast. Leishman also draws our attention to Woolf's poetic prose: her rhythms and images, her use of hard consonants in monosyllabic words in counterpoint to long, soft, dreamy words and phrases. To The Lighthouse plays back and forth between telescopic and microscopic views of nature and human nature. Mrs. Ramsey is both trapped in and pleased in her roles as wife, mother and hostess. The introspective Mr. Ramsey is consumed with his legacy of long-since-published abstract philosophy. This is a book that cannot be read-or heard-too often. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
To the Lighthouse is one of the greatest elegies in the
English language, a book which transcends time.” –Margaret Drabble

“Without question one of the two or three finest novels of the twentieth century. Woolf comments on the most pressing dramas of our human predicament: war, mortality, family, love. If you’re like me you’ll come back to this book often, always astounded, always moved, always refreshed.” –Rick Moody

“[Woolf’s] people are astoundingly real…The tragic futility, the absurdity, the pathetic beauty, of life–we experience all of this in our sharing of seven hours of Mrs. Ramsay’s wasted or not wasted existence.
We have seen, through her, the world.” –Conrad Aiken

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Product Details

Naxos Audiobooks Ltd.
Publication date:
Complete Classics Series
Edition description:
Unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs. 30 min.
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 5.08(h) x 0.97(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

"YES, OF COURSE, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a day's sail, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling- all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind that he had already his private code, his secret language, though he appeared the image of stark and uncompromising severity, with his high forehead and his fierce blue eyes, impeccably candid and pure, frowning slightly at the sight of human frailty, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of public affairs.

"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window,"it won't be fine."

Had there been an axe handy, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father's breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children's breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness (here Mr. Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure.

"But it may be fine-I expect it will be fine," said Mrs. Ramsay, making some little twist of the reddish-brown stocking she was knitting, impatiently. If she finished it tonight, if they did go to the Lighthouse after all, it was to be given to the Lighthouse keeper for his little boy, who was threatened with a tuberculous hip; together with a pile of old magazines, and some tobacco, indeed, whatever she could find lying about, not really wanted, but only littering the room, to give those poor fellows, who must be bored to death sitting all day with nothing to do but polish the lamp and trim the wick and rake about on their scrap of garden, something to amuse them. For how would you like to be shut up for a whole month at a time, and possibly more in stormy weather, upon a rock the size of a tennis lawn? she would ask; and to have no letters or newspapers, and to see nobody; if you were married, not to see your wife, not to know how your children were,-if they were ill, if they had fallen down and broken their legs or arms; to see the same dreary waves breaking week after week, and then a dreadful storm coming, and the windows covered with spray, and birds dashed against the lamp, and the whole place rocking, and not be able to put your nose out of doors for fear of being swept into the sea? How would you like that? she asked, addressing herself particularly to her daughters. So she added, rather differently, one must take them whatever comforts one can.

"It's due west," said the atheist Tansley, holding his bony fingers spread so that the wind blew through them, for he was sharing Mr. Ramsay's evening walk up and down, up and down the terrace. That is to say, the wind blew from the worst possible direction for landing at the Lighthouse. Yes, he did say disagreeable things, Mrs. Ramsay admitted; it was odious of him to rub this in, and make James still more disappointed; but at the same time, she would not let them laugh at him. "The atheist," they called him; "the little atheist." Rose mocked him; Prue mocked him; Andrew, Jasper, Roger mocked him; even old Badger without a tooth in his head had bit him, for being (as Nancy put it) the hundred and tenth young man to chase them all the way up to the Hebrides when it was ever so much nicer to be alone.

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Ramsay, with great severity. Apart from the habit of exaggeration which they had from her, and from the implication (which was true) that she asked too many people to stay, and had to lodge some in the town, she could not bear incivility to her guests, to young men in particular, who were poor as church mice, "exceptionally able," her husband said, his great admirers, and come there for a holiday. Indeed, she had the whole of the other sex under her protection; for reasons she could not explain, for their chivalry and valour, for the fact that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance; finally for an attitude towards herself which no woman could fail to feel or to find agreeable, something trustful, childlike, reverential; which an old woman could take from a young man without loss of dignity, and woe betide the girl-pray Heaven it was none of her daughters!-who did not feel the worth of it, and all that it implied, to the marrow of her bones!

She turned with severity upon Nancy. He had not chased them, she said. He had been asked.

They must find a way out of it all. There might be some simpler way, some less laborious way, she sighed. When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better-her husband; money; his books. But for her own part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties, or slur over dutiess. She was now formidable to behold, and it was only in silence, looking up from their plates, after she had spoken so severely about Charles Tansley, that her daughters, Prue, Nancy, Rose-could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves of a life different from hers; in Paris, perhaps; a wilder life; not always taking care of some man or other; for there was in all their minds a mute questioning of deference and chivalry, of the Bank of England and the Indian Empire, of ringed fingers and lace, though to them all there was something in this of the essence of beauty, which called out the manliness in their girlish hearts, and made them, as they sat at table beneath their mother's eyes, honour her strange severity, her extreme courtesy, like a Queen's raising from the mud to wash a beggar's dirty foot, when she thus admonished them so very severely about that wretched atheist who had chased them-or, speaking accurately, been invited to stay with them-in the Isles of Skye.

"There'll be no landing at the Lighthouse tomorrow," said Charles Tansley, clapping his hands together as he stood at the window with her husband. Surely, he had said enough. She wished they would both leave her and James alone and go on talking. She looked at him. He was such a miserable specimen, the children said, all humps and hollows. He couldn't play cricket; he poked; he shuffled. He was a sarcastic brute, Andrew said. They knew what he liked best-to be for ever walking up and down, up and down, with Mr. Ramsay, and saying who had won this, who had won that, who was a "first-rate man" at Latin verses, who was "brilliant but I think fundamentally unsound," who was undoubtedly the "ablest fellow in Balliol," who had buried his light temporarily at Bristol or Bedford, but was bound to be heard of later when his Prolegomena, of which Mr. Tansley had the first pages in proof with him if Mr. Ramsay would like to see them, to some branch of mathematics or philosophy saw the light of day. That was what they talked about.

She could not help laughing herself sometimes. She said, the other day, something about "waves mountains high." Yes, said Charles Tansley, it was a little rough. "Aren't you drenched to the skin?" she had said. "Damp, not wet through," said Mr. Tansley, pinching his sleeve, feeling his socks.

Copyright 1927 by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright renewed 1955 by Leonard Woolf
Annotated Edition copyright © 2005 by Harcourt, Inc.
Introduction copyright © 2005 by Mark Hussey

All rights reserved.

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To the Lighthouse 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
LibrarianJP More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the most beautiful stories that I have ever read. Through a series of events that take place basically in two days, Virginia Woolf shows us that the human condition is a complex, yet wonderful state. By illustrating not only what people do, but also illustrating the thoughts and intentions behind the actions, Woolf humanizes her characters in a profound way. While reading this book, I found myself feeling with the characters; laughing when they laughed, mourning when they mourned, a truly remarkable experience. I believe that anyone that reads this book will be able to commiserate with the people in it.
mvillinobo More than 1 year ago
Whenever I dive into a classic that (by our Twitter-age) is bound to be 'wordy,' I prep myself. This is a difficult book to get through for a modern reader, but well worth it. You can't try to make the writing fit your own expectations. You have to just accept the language as it is, and pretty soon you'll find the 'classics groove' as I call it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
What turns many away from this novel is the way Woolf uses space. The second part of the novel ('Time Passes') manages to compress the events of ten years into thirty pages while the entire first part ('The Window') is the longest section of the novel, at over 100 pages, and covers just ONE day, ending with the dinner party. To the people who hated it, I suggest they first read 'A Room of One's Own' to get a better idea of what Woolf aims to achieve in her art. Lily's experience mirrors Woolf's in a number of significant ways. It's pretty easy to 'dis' what you don't understand. But it may reflect your own understanding (or lack thereof) than the intrinsic qualities of the work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maybe it was the style of her time but there was nothing in these characters that made it worth suffering through. These people needed a good zombie attack to liven things up.