To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

Reading To The Lighthouse was easier than reading Mrs Dalloway, because now I’m in step, my mind has caught the rhythm of her writing. I can follow her steps easily in the sand, the distance, the pace, the interlude.

I can imagine Woolf always carrying a moleskin notebook, with a thin pencil that slips into the spine. she would be wearing one of those large baggy twenties cardigans, with turned up cuffs and baggy pockets. and there in a cuff or a pocket she would sequester the notebook, ready at any moment to record a thought, a phrase. Later she sits at her desk, gathers all those ramblings of her mind, in the cup of her hands, and throws them at the canvas of her page, to be sorted re-arranged and assigned.

Of course she may not have done this but this is my image.

I enjoyed this book, a gathering of family and summer guests at their summer house on the Isle of Skye. The setting is based on Woolf’s own childhood summers spent in Cornwall, at Talland House in St. Ives. All the description of the scenery is Cornwall. And having just visited the Isle of Skye and also having visited Cornwall and St. Ives, I can ask the question, did Woolf ever visit the Isle of Skye?

The island does not fit her descriptions. First of all Cornwall is a 300 mile train ride from London, the Isle of Skye is over 800 miles.

“Never mind the rent was precisely twopence halfpenny: the children loved it; it did her husband good to be three thousand, or if she must be accurate, three hundred miles from his libraries and his lectures and his disciples:”

There is not a town, near a lighthouse, where you could just walk into town. And certainly not one, except for maybe Portree where a visiting Circus would come. But still we can secede to literary license. Just why wouldn’t she set it in Cornwall, with the sand dunes and hotter summers. Maybe she did not want to acknowledge too much similarity to her childhood.

The Ramsay family are a large family. Mr. Ramsay a published philosopher in his early sixties, feeling that his best days are behind him academically and Mrs Ramsay in her fifties, the Victorian wife still, although set just before the first world war, about 1912. The visiting guests are Lily Briscoe an artist and single lady in her thirties, William Bankes in his sixties, Mr. Carmicheal a poet and retired teacher who had been in India, and married incorrectly; which had not been helpful for his career; an old former college mate of Mr. Ramsay’s. Charles Tansley a student, working on his dissertation. Plus Minta and Paul Rayley, soon to be engaged.

The book opens with the scene of James cutting out a picture of a refrigerator, and his persistant wish to visit the lighthouse; which requires a boat ride across to it. This visit hangs upon a tyrant father’s whim and the weather. You feel like two dogs are playing tug of war with a rag, backwards and forwards. James and his mum willing this visit to the lighthouse to happen. Knitting the socks for the lighthouse keeper’s son; and measuring them against James’s leg to see if they are long enough. Willing this event to happen for her youngest. The father so self-centred, smashing any hopes with cold logic that the weather will be bad tomorrow.

Of course he knew how important this was to James. As all those years later, at the end of the book after Mrs Ramsey’s death he demands that James and Cam come with him to the lighthouse. In remembrance of a day never fulfilled.

Mrs Ramsay is an interesting pivotal part of the family, many times mentioned as beautiful.

“But was it nothing but looks people said? What was there behind it – her beauty and splendour? Had he blown his brains out , they asked, had he died the week before they were married – some other earlier love, of whom rumours reached one?

This reminds me of Clarissa Dalloway, is there or isn’t there more beneath the surface?. In both woman I think there was. I think they lived the lives they wanted.

Bankes’s view of her as mother and child and Lily Briscoe’s close complicated but rewarding friendship with Mrs Ramsay and the family.

I have to mention the dinner party of Boeuf en Daube. The gathering together of all in their finery in a run down tattered old house. Here again I feel shades of Mrs Dalloway.

“But already bored, Lily felt that something was lacking…

Mrs Dalloway thinks the party is going to be a failure and then says no, no, no the party comes together, just as the Mrs Ramsay’s dinner party, after a stilted beginning comes to flow. Lily helps her by engaging the prickly socially inferior feeling young man Charles Tansley.

“… but what haven’t I paid to get it for you? She had not been sincere.”

The book is in three sections, before WWI, Mrs Ramsay dieing, Andrew the son who was close to Mr Carmicheal is killed during the war. Prue another daughter who dies in childbirth as the middle section. Plus the deterioration of the house the visits of a local lady to keep it in order; which is impossible. The house seems to reflect the deterioration and change in the Ramsay family, with so many deaths. And then the return to the summer house after the war.

The final curtain of taking the trip To The Lighthouse and Lily Briscoe at last capturing in her painting the family’s summer house.

You have to read the book, you cannot capture or even gain the essence of the book in a short review.



Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway, the events of a single day in which Clarissa prepares for a party.

First of all don’t you just love that name, Mrs Dalloway, I think it must have appealed to Woolf too, when Clarissa mistakenly calls him Mr Wickham all day and only finds out at dinner what his correct name is. Sally and Peter take up on this and it becomes an inside joke “Dalloway, my name’s Dalloway.”

When Woolf wrote this book she was 43 years old. Seven years after the Great War, the war to end all wars. A war that changed everything, a war that had taken her generation from a time of peace and the thought that world peace was in their grasp, to the world of Septimus Warren Smith. This is why I think Woolf has Clarissa not believing in God, possibly this is how Woolf herself felt after the Great War.

I think it’s interesting the way Woolf carries three threads in this book. Their youth together, their life now and Warren Smith and his wife.

Her description of Warren Smith’s shell shock I think must be amazingly accurate. I have never read a biography of Woolf, but I would be interested to know if she had close friends she knew who were in that state. One would have to think she did. Of course she was older than the generation that went to war. But all were affected by the war.

By the time I reached the end of the book I was thinking exactly these thoughts about Clarissa and Woolf sums them up very concisely.

“But – did Peter understand? – she lacked something. Lacked what was it? She had charm; she had extraordinary charm. …..”

It was Clarissa’s charm that made people think that there were greater depths to Clarissa, that really were not there.

“For said Sally, Clarissa was at heart a snob – one had to admit it, a snob. …”

And the truth was she was a snob and quite shallow. She had married the right person in marrying Richard. He gave her exactly what she wanted. Her social life in London, in Society, her parties. When in fact both Richard and her daughter Elizabeth liked the countryside.

“I love walking in London,” said Mrs. Dalloway. “Really it’s better than walking in the country.”

Her parties,to invite all those people you didn’t like but they were your social circle. But to hold yourself above it as if I’m not like them, but she was like them. Would you have very old friends come and visit and just sit them aside until the end of the party, because time must be spent hostessing?

“She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her …”

But of course Clarissa would, she was the consummate hostess. Appeasing her conscience with the thought that later I can devote my sole attention to them.

Youth and being in ones fifties! Woolf had an amazing clarity of these contrasting times of ones life. Close friendships of youth, that will always stand, what ever you have become in ones fifties, what ever road you travelled to get there, those times together, of youth, stand enchanted, alone. You cannot view the person in ones fifties as being the person of ones youth, and yet they are. Woolf captured this.

“She had the oddest sense of herself invisible; unseen, unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, …..”

Our minds think so many more thoughts than we ever say, but Woolf wrote them.

The scene in Regent’s Park is very poignant. All those thoughts of different people watching the aeroplane.

“Ah; but that aeroplane! Hadn’t Mrs. Dempster always longed to see foreign parts?”

Clarissa’s friendship with Sally, the fleeting kiss.

“Star-gazing?” said Peter.
It was like running one’s face against a granite wall in the darkness! It was shocking; it was horrible!”

“… She had a perfectly clear notion of what she wanted, Her emotions were all on the surface. Beneath she was very shrewd – a far better judge of character than Sally, …”

You cannot capture in a review all the elloquence of Woolf’s words.

Woolf totally captured the social scene of the time. Mrs Dalloway would be a great book to read if you were writing a social history of the time. The difference between 10,000 pounds per year and 300 pounds per year.

Ellie Henderson the poor, looked down upon cousin, who Clarissa showed a coldness to.

“.. by her distressing gentility, her panic fear, which arose from three hundred pounds’ income, and her weaponless state (she could not earn a penny) and it made her timid and more and more disqualified year by year to meet well dressed people …”

Clarissa’s insight into Dr. Bradshaw was bang on though. How sad for Septimus and Rezia. The law was behind him. Must! must! must! Septimus had no choice.

Two scenes which I think are very poignant is the one of Septimus and Rezia laughing together over the making of the little hat.

The second is Clarissa standing in her window alone at the party, looking across the street at the old lady going to bed and thinking about the young man who took his own life. Here is where I think all three threads come together, at that very moment.

Woolf herself straddled two worlds and she led us into them.

Looking forward to reading the other three books.


P.S. The book I read Mrs Dalloway in, was from our library, published in 1928, so quite an old copy. With all sorts of pencil markings, which was rather fun to think about who had taken this book out of the library over all those years, what they found of interest.

Woolf in Winter Give Away

Woolf in Winter Drawing Give Away

When I ran across these note-cards, I thought how apropos to our Woolf in Winter reading group. So as a little contribution to this and just for fun. Leave a comment between now and Feb 28th, the end of our four book readings on Virginia Woolf and I will put your name in for the drawing on these cards. I will ship worldwide.

Have fun in your reading.


Tell No One, by Harlen Coben

A scene from the movie.

I read through the first few pages of this book and thought this seems familiar. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I remembered French movie. ‘Ne Le dis a Personne.’ So I read about half of the book and then looked up the movie on Netflix and watched it again. Yes the French movie was based on this book.

Tell No One opens at a lakeside cabin in Pennsylvania. Dr David Beck and his wife Elizabeth are going there for their anniversary. They have known each other since they were children and have grown up going to the lakeside camp with their families.

Eight years have passed but David cannot move on. That was the night he heard his wife screaming, the last night he saw her alive and was unable to prevent what happened. He was knocked out and in hospital when his father-in-law and uncle identify the body. She was the victim of a serial murderer.

But their life, friendship and love was so deep, he cannot move on. A message has appeared on his computer, something only Elizabeth would have known. Is it remotely possible that Elizabeth is alive. The instructions with this are ‘Tell no one.’ He must follow this through. This leads him into a labyrinth of powerful family men.

You know how you always enjoy the book more than the movie and the movie is not a patch on the book. Well I don’t know if I’m memorized by France, or I just love that French accent. But here was a case where I liked the movie more. Paris rather then New York, the French countryside rather than Pennsylvania countryside. Not to knock Pennsylvania because I live here and it’s a beautiful State.

The script writers changed a few things from the book. And to be quite honest it hung together better than the book. It tied in loose ends. They gave it a more European flare, by having Dr Beck called Alexander and his wife being named Margot. His sister operating a horse farm; which was their father’s and being sponsored by a very rich man in a charitable horse jumping foundation in memory of his dead son. In the book it’s just a charitable foundation in memory of his son in New York City and other details; which I will not go into.

I did like the book, it’s a good mystery. Read the book, but if you can’t I say watch the French movie, or do both.