Sample Letter 2 (Response to Sample 1)

July 15, 1994        333 words

Dear Sharon,

Thanks for the letter. I found it fascinating. Let me tell you why.

Yes, Mrs. Ramsay speaks to me. But no, not as she speaks to you. I see the love between Mr. And Mrs. Ramsay—yes, I see it—but more than that I see that marriage has worked to hinder them both. When I first read the book, two years ago, I identified with the harried, nurturing, always-giving, exhausted Mrs. Ramsay. But I did not see, then, the love in the marriage. Now, having read it twice more (and more important probably, having embarked on a seemingly wonderful new marriage myself), I see their devotion. I see that though they are flawed, though the marriage may impose restrictions on them, though they have "tamed" each other, as you say, still they love each other.

And it makes me glad to find a brighter interpretation for To the Lighthouse!

But what I’m struggling to say is this: we each come to the book with our own histories. Our own sets of experiences color the way we read things. My guess is that you are happily married. I know marriage isn’t just one thing, but overall you strike me as contented in your marriage. (This is so presumptuous of me! But don’t we all guess about each other’s lives?) Therefore, you are able to see the Ramsay marriage in a rather positive light.

On the other hand, I was unhappily married, then sort of pleasantly single for six years, and now I seem to have found a soulmate for a marriage partner. So I saw the Ramsays as basically flawed, projecting onto their marriage all of my own grave doubts about the institution.

What I’m saying is simple. A work of art needs an audience to be complete. And the audience can make that work of art become even more varied and complex and multi-faceted than the artist originally intended.

Here’s to the genius of Virginia Woolf!


Updated July 1, 1997
Created July 1, 1997

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