To the Lighthouse

Painting and Freezing in To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf's claim that plot is banished in modern fiction is a misleading tenet of Modernism. The plot is not eliminated so much as mapped out onto a more local level, most obviously with the epic structural comparison in Ulysses. In To the Lighthouse, Woolf's strategy of indirect discourse borrows much from Impressionism in its exploration of the ways painting can freeze a moment and make it timeless. In Kawabata's Snow Country, the story of Yoko and her family and its relationship to the rest of the novel corresponds with an even more modern medium, film, and its superimposition of contradictory image.

Lily Briscoe's metaphor stabilize the chaotic reality around her, order them into a visible representation, and make them timeless. She shares these goals with the Impressionists, for whom moments of being (as Woolf calls them elsewhere) are also "illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark" (161). The instantaneity of this image, and its reliance on light, is crucial for To the Lighthouse; through the single match Lily, and Woolf, light forest fires. Other parts of the narrative clarify and become resonant through specific moments of consciousness; one character's thoughts feed into...

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