Updated June 5, 2002 Created August 14, 1997
Majumdar, Robin, and Allen McLaurin. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. London; Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.
1. Unsigned review, Times Literary Supplement—5 May 1927 "In form To the Lighthouse is as elastic as a novel can be… while it depends almost on the passing of time, it expands or contracts the time-sense very freely…It is a book, with an ironical or wistful questioning of life and reality…the people in Mrs.Woolf’s book seem to be looking through each other at some farther question; and,although they interact vividly, they are not completely real…to know people in outline is one way of knowing them. And they are seen here in the way they are meant to be seen. But the result is that, while you know quite well the kind of people represented in the story, they lack something as individuals . . . A sad book in the main , with all its entertainment, it is one to return to" (193-195). 2. Louis Kronenberger, review, New York Times—8 May 1927 To the Lighthouse . . .is a book of interrelationships among people, and though there are major and minor characters the major ones…[are] more truly the means for giving to the story its harmony and unity, its focal points. Those who reject To the Lighthouse as inferior to Mrs. Dalloway because it offers no one with half the memorable lucidity of Clarissa Dalloway must fail to perceive its larger and, artistically, more difficult aims. They must fail to notice the richer qualities of mind and imagination and emotion which Mrs. Woolf, perhaps not wanting them, omitted from Mrs. Dalloway…the story which opens brilliantly and carries on through a magnificent interlude ends with too little force and expressiveness. At any rate the rest of the book has its excellencies . . . Mrs. Woolf makes use of her remarkable method of characterization, a method not based on observation or personal experience, but purely synthetic, purely creational…Neither Clarissa nor Mrs. Ramsay has anything autobiographical about her…It is, I think, in the superb interlude called ‘Time Passes’ that Mrs. Woolf reaches the most impressive height of the book . . . It is inferior to Mrs. Dalloway in the degree to which its aims are achieved; it is superior in the magnitude of the aims themselves" (195-198). 3. Rachel A. Taylor, review, Spectator—14 May, 1927 "To the Lighthouse is rather violently broken, while the parts of the book seem disproportionate. But it is even more wistfully human, perhaps. Nothing happens, and everything happens…indeed more beauty and penetrative characterization than can here be described resides within this book. . . [Mrs. Ramsay] is whimsical, extravagant in speech, absurd a little, versed in all tender ways of loving. She bewitches you…She is sorrowful for something lost out of Time—something that, found, would illuminate eternity" (198-200). 4. Arnold Bennet, review, Evening Standard—23 June 1927 "…I must say, despite my notorious grave reservations concerning Virginia Woolf, that the most original of the bunch is To the Lighthouse. It is the best book of hers that I know. Her character drawing has improved. Mrs. Ramsay almost amounts to a complete person. Unfortunately she goes and dies, and her decease cuts the book in two…The middle part, entitled ‘Time Passes’, shows a novel device to give the reader the impression of the passing of time…In my opinion it does not succeed. It is a short cut, but a short cut that does not get you anywhere. I have heard a good deal about the wonders of Mrs. Woolf’s style. She sometimes discovers a truly brilliant simile…The form of her sentences is rather tryingly monotonous, and the distance between her nominatives and her verbs is steadily increasing. Still, To the Lighthouse has stuff in it strong enough to withstand quite a lot of adverse criticism" (200-201). 5. Orlo Williams, review, Monthly Criterion—July 1927 Mrs. Woolf is not an inventive writer: but then—what time or need has she for inventing, when she cannot overtake all that she sees and feels and observes that other people see and feel?…The average novel-reader, mainly interested in ‘story’ and characterization, will probably judge the first section of To the Lighthouse, where Mrs. Ramsay is alive, the most successful. After her death the book becomes more lyrical in intonation. . . Yet the whole, with its greater emotional concentration, its sharper focusing, the fuller stature of its characters, and the complete resolution of its material into a mediation in images, or symbols . . . shows the mark at which, with ever increasing power and sureness, Mrs. Woolf is aiming. Her mastery increases with each book, but, I fear, it will always fall short of her vision" (201-205). 6. Conrad Aiken, ‘The Novel a Work of Art’, Dial (Chicago) vol. 83, 41-4—July 1927 "Mrs. Woolf is no more modern that Jane Austen: she breathes the same air of gentility, of sequestration, of tradition…Her people are ‘gentle’ people. . . . Mrs. Woolf inevitably makes her readers think of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park…She makes her Mrs. Ramsay—by giving us her stream of consciousness—amazingly alive; and she supplements this just sufficiently , from outside, as it were, by giving us also intermittently, the streams of consciousness of her husband, of her friend Lily Briscoe, of her children…The richness and copiousness and ease, with which this is done, are a delight…These people are astoundingly real…We live in that delicious house with them…Nothing happens, in this houseful of odd nice people, and yet all of life happens. 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" (205-208). 7. Edwin Muir, review, Nation and Athenaeum—2 July 1927 "To the Lighthouse is a novel difficult to judge…The difficulties which the author surmounts in it are such as few contemporary novelists would even attempt. Its positive merits are thus very high. Yet as a whole, though showing an advance on many sides, it produces a less congruous and powerful effect than Mrs. Dalloway…the intermediary book called ‘Time Passes’, which, to add to the difficulty, is the best of the lot, and could only have been written by a writer of profound imagination" (209-10). 8. E. M. Forster on Virginia Woolf and Sterne, from Aspects of the Novel— 1927 "[Woolf] and Sterne are both fantasists. They start with a little object, take a flutter from it, and settle on it again. They combine a humorous appreciation of the muddle of life with a keen sense of its beauty…Sterne is a sentimentalist, Virginia Woolf (except perhaps in her latest work, To the Lighthouse) is extremely aloof" (210-211). 9. J. -E. Blanche, from ‘An Interview with Virginia Woolf’, Les Nouvelles Litteraires—13 August 1927 "This poet, this painter who is attentive to the ‘sad quotidian’ is the most amusing talker, full of scintillating humour and fun, just like Laforgue. Anyone would love the opportunity of obtaining an audience with this magnetic personality…Nine short pieces make up this second part, entitled Time Passes…We did not even know that the beautiful Mrs. Ramsay had been ill. She is eclipsed…Dear Mrs. Woolf, do you wish to create an atmosphere? Is there a hidden meaning there?…But all your characters go away like this after having entered upon the scene unannounced. You assume that your readers are as intelligent as you and as accustomed to seeing into the obscurity and resolving mysteries…Lily Briscoe is undoubtedly Virginia Woolf herself" (212-214). 10. Jean-Jacques Mayoux, review, Revue Anglo-Americaine (Paris)—June 1928 "It is unfortunately only to the ‘happy few’ that Virginia Woolf has just given a definitive work which contains all her vision of the world, in which all the delicate beauty of her art is to be found…Her fictional method…is dominated by her sensibility and grace, which are unique. . . To the Lighthouse is a long contemplation, a harmonious unwinding of images and emotions, of sentiments and thoughts in an interior world. . . Virginia Woolf makes us feel the parallel permanence of the outer and inner worlds, their quite separate continuities…Woolf’s characters live an astonishingly normal life for themselves, and not for our benefit, and do not even have hidden turpitudes to reveal to us…they do not liberate enough of themselves in order to embrace things entirely…everything takes place between brackets, with a sentence for each happening…This work which has no apparent articulations, we have found to be totally coherent, a combination of equilibrium and subtle correspondences. It makes one think at first of Classical music, with its perfect balance of emotion and of form, its subtle but perfectly clear interweaving of themes, and its motifs which return, sometimes at very long intervals, but which one recognizes with a delicate pleasure . . . She is Lily Briscoe making a work of art with the substance of Mrs. Ramsay" (214-221).
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