and pausing there she looked out to meet the stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke, for watching them in this mood always at this hour one could not help attaching oneself to one thin especially of the things one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, was her stroke. Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at – that light, for example. And it would lift up on it some little phrase or other which had been lying in her mind like that – “Children don’t forget, children don’t forget” – which she would repeat and begin adding to it, It will end, it will end, she said. It will come, it will come, when suddenly she added, We are in the hands of the Lord.
But instantly she was annoyed with herself for saying that. Who had said it? Not she; she had been trapped into saying something she did not mean. She looked up over her knitting an met the third stroke and it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes, searching as she alone could search into her mind and her heart, purifying out of existence that lie, any lie. She praised herself in praising the light, without vanity, for she was stern, she was searching, she was beautiful like that light.
– Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
What exactly is going on here? She chants to herself that continual loop of consciousness, and suddenly her consciousness is intruded upon by something else. It does not come from her, she insists – but isn’t that a greater theological implication, if it came from someone else?
What if it comes from another consciousness? In To The Lighthouse, Woolf litters recurring phrases everywhere, and they always have a source. But there is no source for this phrase. Unless it is the Source itself – but would the novel possibly admit that? Then the empathetic denial – why this defensive rebuttal, if it is simply something that comes randomly to you? And why does it turn to searching, to the denial of lies, the searching of truth? Yes, “that lie” – is the lie of religion, or rather the lie of God, that she rejects. But can she really resist it? Is it simply language (my professor, James Wood asked) that forces her hand, or rather whispers through her mind – the simple remnants of a Christianity-steeped tongue that has simply accrued so much religion in it that it cannot be rid of so easily? Is it language that speaks her?
What if it IS language that speaks her? I think this is a marvelous thing, if true. It means that the ghosts of our ancestors are still with us, still eddying in the syllables we wrap our tongues around. And why should this not be, if it is the Word that made all in the first place? Isn’t it a blessing that even though Western Civilization may shun Christianity today, it is inevitably, and beautifully laced with it? Isn’t it worth being called beautiful?
I’m not, of course, calling To the Lighthouse a book with a Christian worldview – Mrs Ramsay seems to believe in something that endures – but it is without personality, whereas at the web of all thought and all events and texts and contexts and angels and principalities and powers and histories and nations – in the centre of all narration, to me, is Christ.
These are my illustrations of To the Lighthouse which I did for my final final project at Harvard. I am quite exhausted by them, but also very happy with them.
Just the brief version of what I was trying to do: These are recurring portraits of four main characters in To the Lighthouse, in order of appearance: Mrs Ramsay (the cover), Lily Briscoe, James Ramsay and Mr Ramsay. The portraits are interspersed with three landscapes of increasing menace, marking World War I that occurred in the middle segment, “Time Passes”. I was trying to weave the progression into modernity between the 19th and 20th centuries, which is when Woolf writes her novel. So I tried to demonstrate this in the evolving art style, from more 19th century impressionism through dark surrealism, cubism and finally pop art (the final portrait of James Ramsay). I was also focusing on Mrs Ramsay as the “lighthouse”, or centre of the novel, and also the Madonna figure (I had wanted to do one of her holding James, but I am better at single portraits than combinations). Also, fun fact: the lighthouse can be found in most of the paintings, if you look hard enough.