SHIPWRECK

The the Lighthouse            Virginia Woolf

A current fad among those promoting the conventional wisdom is to embrace Virginia Woolf as an excellent, significant writer. Trying to read this novel and stopping, I know anyone with intelligence and reading comprehension knows it is a shame they let Virginia die a natural death.

The writing in To the Lighthouse is very undisciplined. Voices of the author and Mrs. Ramsey mix; the characters are not well presented. The novel is in need of severe editing. Virginia needs to learn English punctuation and grammar and avoiding using parentheses.

I finished the first chapter of To the Lighthouse. I had bought the paperback for a buck. I got to the end and saw that Chapter 2 was six (6) lines long. Chapter 3 hard at the writing was longer. To learn whether the novel involved alternating long/short chapters, I went through Chapter 3 and discovered another discontented reader. The corner of the first page of Chapter 4 had been turned down, to serve as a bookmark. From the condition of the remaining pages and the binding, the reader who owned the book before me had stopped reading at the end of Chapter 3.

Chapter 1 is impossible. Mrs. Ramsey says to her son: “Yes, of course, if it is fine tomorrow.” The kid wants to go outside and play.

Rather than stick to the weather, the author prefers whether and evaluates the boy’s reaction:

“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 of the wheel of sensation has the power to crystalize and transfix the movement upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsey, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the pictures of a refrigerator as his mother spoke with heavenly bliss.”

This is a hell of a sentence, but other than letting her son go outside tomorrow, Mrs. Ramsey said nothing. She did not speak – there are no quotation marks, a sure sign. I don’t know where the “heavenly bliss” came from, but I know no one said anything approaching that description. Inside the writing of the sentence are disjointed, unconnected clauses and phrases tossed together to extend its length but detracting from its meaning and impact. In fact incomprehensibility seems to be the purpose of the sentence: The longer it is the more meaningless it becomes, and the more profound critics of FOV (Friends of Virginia) can claim it to be. Thereby a novel of such sentences is a work of genius. HOWEVER, beneath all the words from the sentence are two thoughts: The boy is excited and delighted; he can go outside tomorrow. And, Mrs. Ramsey is mentally ill.

Mr. Ramsey speaks next: “It won’t be fine [tomorrow].” Summarizing from there to the end of that paragraph: Mrs. Ramsey wants to kill Mrs. Ramsey. He is forcefully opinionated. He has crossed her, albeit about tomorrow’s weather. But what he said was true. The children detest him after Mrs. Ramsey’s input.

The next paragraph Mrs. Ramsey sticks to her guns: “But it may be fine – I expect it will be fine.” This paragraph next dwells partially on “…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…”etc., etc., etecera! 

I note this paragraph uses no quotation marks, as well a few periods. Perhaps the author needed a typewriter in good repair, one that had the keys controlling periods and quotation marks in good working order.

From a blurb on the back of the book, I gather this story takes place during the summer. A month or longer in the house – NONSENSE! Most of this wandering paragraph is immaterial, irrelevant and incompetent; it is filled with invented fears and other mysteries haunting Mrs. Ramsey. BEFORE SUBMITTING, EDIT THE DAMN STORY, VIRGINIA!

A house guest pipes up in the next paragraph, reporting the wind is “due west.” Mrs. Ramsey is egregiously upset about this observation, but either she [or the author] denigrate him: Tansley is “an atheist.”

Finally the atheist clarifies the point a few paragraphs later: “There will be no landings at the Lighthouse tomorrow.” This is a grave insult to Mrs. Ramsey. In one of her [or the author’s] paragraphs, it says, atheist “was such a miserable person…He couldn’t play cricket…” Obviously, this house guest is completely unstable and totally unreliable.

Mrs. Ramsey rejoins the God-gainsayer: “Nonsense.” Not only does Mrs. Ramsey want to kill her husband because he disagrees with her about tomorrow’s weather, but she can’t tell which way the wind is blowing. “Indeed,” [the author or Mrs. Ramsey]

“she had the whole of the other sex sex under her protection; for reasons she could not explain, for their chivalry and valor, for the act that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance; finally for an attitude toward herself which no woman could fail to feel or find agreeable, something trustful, childlike, reverential; which an old woman would 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.”

In the paragraphs that follow Mrs. Ramsey and the author restate their opinions of life in the house, the Bank of England and the Indian Empire. Admittedly, Mrs. Ramsey states that she cares for her daughter, but whether the weather be fine or foul, the son can play outside, come hell or high water. Mrs. Ramsey’s attitude toward her son appears to be: (1) Tomorrow, you can play on the freeway. (2) What about traffic? Tomorrow you can play on the freeway if there is no traffic. (3) There is always traffic. Tomorrow you can play on the freeway if there is northbound traffic in the southbound lanes.

I know from the blurb on the back of the book proclaims, “Mrs. Ramsey is beautiful, dominate and generous. Her power is gentle but irresistible.” I don’t see these qualities except as they are firmly imbedded in Mrs. Ramsey’s own mind but not in her speech, her behaviors, her thoughts or her attitudes.

I admit I cannot play cricket, and I see no lure in those matches. To the Lighthouse may be a distinctly British book about a peculiar woman, a very eccentric woman, am extremely odd woman. But To the Lighthouse carried the connotation that the lights are out and a shipwreck is inevitable.

In the end I believe I wrote a better description of the first few pages of To the Lighthouse than Virginia wrote in the first place.

 

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