To the Lighthouse

A Babel of Tongues – The Dialectic of Communication and Solitude in Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s answer to Mr. Ramsay’s philosophical pursuits in To the Lighthouse is a reconciliation of both worlds – subjective perception and interpretation, and external objectivity. The first chapter of the novel is entitled “The Window,” and serves to represent the point of contact between subjective and objective states. This, Woolf believes to be our reality. External facts are arbitrary and meaningless until they are apprehended by a subjective state which gives them form; on a social level, communicating as a participant in society exposes the individual to an incoherent tumult of impressions that have to be reorganized into a coherent whole in solitude. Only then can one achieve peace. The individual is hence continually in search of an equilibrium in the dialectic of communication and solitude.

Peter Walsh summarizes this concept in Mrs. Dalloway:

For this is the truth about our soul…our self, who, fish-like inhabits deep seas and plies among obscurities…suddenly she shoots to the surface and sports on the wind-wrinkled waves; that is, has a positive need to brush, scrape, kindle herself, gossiping.

However, to re-enter society as a participant entails at least a partial suspension of one’s subjectively constructed...

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