I finished Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse today, and it was excellent, really, really excellent. Woolf, like Joyce or Beckett, is a stream-of-consciousness writer, and she truly understands human thought. Woolf chooses to tell the story through the viewpoints of a myriad of characters whose thoughts blend seamlessly into one another, creating an intricate – and sometimes confusing – web of narratives. Reading her work is a lot like reading Shakespeare. You truly have to give yourself over to the prose, but once you’ve settled into her style, it’s lovely and very easy to understand. You’re not so much reading as you are becoming the characters and having their thoughts as they wander through life.
When I finished the book, I lay in bed for about twenty minutes with my knees making a tent out of the sheet as the cats slept next to me. The book moves with such grace and lyricism that when it all comes to a close you’re caught in a trance. I found myself repeating something that Mr. Ramsey thought, “the very stone that one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare,” over and over again and thinking about the way it’s contrasted with Lily Briscoe’s conclusions at the end of the book. While Mr. Ramsey uses that thought to torture himself, Lily accepts that the fleeting nature of her painting and finds joy in having created it.
“There it was—her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
God, I love reading.