To the Lighthouse

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To the Lighthouse Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Virginia Woolf
Born into a prestigious literary family (her grandfather was William Thackeray), Virginia Stephen became an important part of London’s literary scene at a young age. She married the writer Leonard Woolf with whom she founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which published all of her later novels as well as works by T.S. Eliot and other literary luminaries of the time. Woolf’s experiments with prose marked a radical departure from the tradition of the Victorian novel and created fresh possibilities for the novelistic form. Her works such as Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, and To the Lighthouse, are to this day widely influential. Following the early deaths of her parents and sister, Woolf suffered periodic nervous breakdowns throughout her life and, in 1941, fearing another breakdown, she drowned herself in the River Ouse.
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Historical Context of To the Lighthouse
At the turn of the nineteenth century, new scientific developments usurped long-held worldviews and raised new questions about the nature of reality and human experience. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection subverted traditional beliefs in a world governed by God, and, as Darwin’s work contradicted people’s understanding of the world around them, Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious undermined people’s understandings of themselves by pointing out a mysterious region of the mind to which no one had conscious access. In To the Lighthouse, Woolf’s interest in the equal unknowability of the world and the human brain reflect the influence of such contemporary scientific theories.
Other Books Related to To the Lighthouse
The novel’s most closely related literary works are Woolf’s other novels, including Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves, also written in the stream of consciousness form that characterizes To the Lighthouse. Yet, around the time of Woolf’s writing, other novelists were experimenting with stream of consciousness, too, and their resultant works – including Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury – serve as productive points of contrast and comparison with Woolf’s own prose experiment.
Key Facts about To the Lighthouse
  • Full Title: To the Lighthouse
  • When Written: 1925-1927
  • Where Written: London and Sussex
  • When Published: 1927
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Novel of Consciousness
  • Setting: Isle of Skye, Scotland 1910-1920
  • Climax: Mrs. Ramsay’s vision of eternity at the dinner table
  • Point of View: Multiple
Extra Credit for To the Lighthouse

Semiautobigoraphy. Although the plot of To the Lighthouse shares many similarities with Woolf’s own biography (Woolf’s family rented a summerhouse on the Hebrides in view of a lighthouse, Woolf’s father could be stifling, Woolf’s mother and sister died when she was young), Woolf correctly insisted that the novel should not be read as a straightforward autobiography.

Bestseller. Upon completion, Woolf declared To the Lighthouse her best book and, indeed, the book-buying public agreed. Outselling all her previous novels (including Mrs. Dalloway), To the Lighthouse earned Woolf enough money to buy a car for her and Leonard.