To the Lighthouse

The Inaccurate Glass: Method and Theme in To the Lighthouse

The method of Virginia Woolfâs To the Lighthouse is intensely related to its story. The two are so conflated that the novel is almost about itself. Every character struggles to find a balance between elucidation, creation and representation, trying to fix the rush and flux of everyday life into a thesis or an artifact, something static that can be held and examined. Woolf had stated the modernist goal of finding honesty through new forms, and in To the Lighthouse she uses techniques honed in two prior novels to make a handleable, readable, reprintable document that describes a flowing world while acknowledging the impossibility of capture without freezing.

There is a crystalline moment in the first part of the book-- at a dinner party, of course-- where Woolf presents these issues and sews them up with the human relations of her characters:

Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candle light, and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land;...

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