Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On God and To the Lighthouse

I'm currently in the midst of writing a long paper for the West Point Conference next Thursday, and thus I have been wading through the shockingly shallow pool of information that Quinn Library has to offer me on Virginia Woolf. One book that I stumbled across is called "The Elusive Self" by Louise A. Poresky. Her chapter on To the Lighthouse was interesting to me not only because it talks about the ways in which Woolf's language "captures the texture of the psychic realm" (Poresky, 128), but also because she made this amazing extended metaphor in which lighthouse itself represents God and spirituality. Once I read it, I couldn't miss it within the text. The lighthouse stands in the middle of the raging sea and is only accessible under specific conditions. Some characters reach the lighthouse and others never do, and some show no desire at all to go to the lighthouse. All of these things suddenly took on a whole new significance in my reading, and it wasn't a significance that I was particularly excited about. Making the lighthouse into God means that dies without getting to "meet God" or "find peace with God." It also means that the only people who do get to "meet God" are men, which is either not at all what Woolf was looking to say, or a pretty strong condemnation of faith's role in the lives of women. It also introduces the possibility that Mr. Ramsay and the boys die in the end (they all go to the lighthouse together and leave Lily behind), which I think is about as sound as the claim that Mrs. Dalloway dies at the end of Mrs. Dalloway.

We never really talked a lot about religion within Woolf's work, and I'm not entirely sure that it would be productive to do so. Personally, I saw the lighthouse as a reference to the individual self and read it as yet another commentary on the male ability to understand the self and the woman's struggle to find the self. I'm not entirely sure what to do with this extra layer of insight into To the Lighthouse, and I have no idea whether or not that part of the book will make it into my paper, but it certainly made me look at the book in a different way.

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