To the Lighthouse

Men and Women in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf bases her exploration of consciousness on the premise that men and women perceive the world in vastly different ways. However, Woolf believes that creativity can (and must) transcend the boundaries of gender. Life and work are incredibly fragile, but art, she believes, is the means of making one's life significant in a world without order or meaning. "Nothing stays, all changes," Lily Briscoe reflects when mourning for Mrs. Ramsay. "But not words, not paint." (264) The climax of the novel depends upon the primary artist figures, Lily and Augustus Carmichael, to bring together male and female creativity, thus uniting intellect and emotion. As Vivian Gornick would later advocate in The End of the Novel of Love, Woolf has replaced romantic love with a more powerful force: creative drive. While Woolf holds great affection for the novel's primary female characters, Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay, they are symbolic of the changing role of women in light of this departure from romantic love.

The adult male characters in To the Lighthouse are strictly analytical men, philosophers and scientists (with the exception of Mr. Carmichael, the poet). Mr. Ramsay, who plots out...

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