To the Lighthouse

by: Virginia Woolf

Key Facts

full title  · To the Lighthouse

author  · Virginia Woolf

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Stream of consciousness

language  · English

time and place written  · 1926, London

date of first publication  · 1927

publisher  · Hogarth Press

narrator  · The narrator is anonymous.

point of view  · The narrator speaks in the third person and describes the characters and actions subjectively, giving us insight into the characters’ feelings. The narrative switches constantly from the perceptions of one character to those of the next.

tone  · Elegiac, poetic, rhythmic, imaginative

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · The years immediately preceding and following World War I

setting (place)  · The Isle of Skye, in the Hebrides (a group of islands west of Scotland)

protagonist  · Although Mrs. Ramsay is the central focus of the beginning of To the Lighthouse, the novel traces the development of Lily Briscoe to the end, making it more accurate to describe Lily as the protagonist.

major conflict  · The common struggle that each of the characters faces is to bring meaning and order to the chaos of life.

rising action  · James’s desire to journey to the lighthouse; Mr. Ramsay’s need to ask Mrs. Ramsay for sympathy; Charles Tansley’s insistence that women cannot paint or write; Lily Briscoe’s stalled attempt at her painting

climax  · Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party

falling action  · Mr. Ramsay’s trip to the lighthouse with Cam and James; Lily Briscoe’s completion of her painting

themes  · The transience of life and work; art as a means of preservation; the subjective nature of reality; the restorative effects of beauty

motifs  · The differing behaviors of men and women; brackets

symbols  · The lighthouse, Lily’s painting, the Ramsays’ house, the sea, the boar’s skull, the fruit basket

foreshadowing  · James’s initial desire and anxiety surrounding the voyage to the lighthouse foreshadows the trip he makes a decade later.