To the Lighthouse is a landmark work of literary modernism. The trademark experimental nature of many modernist works is evident throughout the novel, and Woolf plays intricately with the passage of time, narration, and even grammar.
Consider the very first page, where Woolf begins to manipulate her narrative voice and syntax to create sweeping, jumbled explorations of her characters’ inner lives:
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 in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallize and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator as his mother spoke with heavenly bliss.
In To the Lighthouse, Woolf takes clear influence from earlier pieces of literary modernism, including James Joyce’s legendary Ulysses. This much can be seen in the passage above, with its stream-of-conscious narrative flow, and elsewhere through the novel as Woolf’s uses an omniscient narrator to gain access to all sides of every character’s story.
To the Lighthouse is also loosely autobiographical, as Woolf took significant inspiration from her own life when developing her character’s and the plot—the Ramsay’s house recalls Woolf’s family’s rented summer home in Cornwall, while Mrs. Ramsay’s demise and the Ramsay family’s response recalls Woolf’s loss of her own mother and her father’s reaction. In this way, To the Lighthouse may be treated as a work of autobiographical fiction: a novel born in reality but brought into a world of its own.