Very little endures in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse; by the third book most of the characters have died tragic and largely overlooked deaths, or they have disappeared almost without mention. Only two characters, the neurotic philosopher Mr. Ramsay and the lone artist Lily Briscoe are central to the entire book. They are also both set apart from the other characters in another way; they are both disconnected from other people by their work. Their work is so deeply a part of them that they take on the characteristics of and become representative of their representative callings. Their interactions represent not only Virginia Woolf's views about the nature of art and truth, but also her feelings about the work itself.
[...] Distance has extraordinary power” (Woolf Lighthouse 188); because of the distance between her in the boat and the summer house Cam is able to say “They don't feel a thing there” (Woolf Lighthouse 182), feeling that the more distant something is the more peaceful it becomes because it is physically more indistinct. Lily uses the same method of distance in her painting; and out one went, further and further, until at last one seemed to be on a narrow plank, perfectly alone, over the sea. [...]
[...] Not only does this scar James enough that he remembers that moment ten years later, but then Mr. Ramsay coerces James and Cam to come with him to the lighthouse against their wills (Woolf Lighthouse 184). He forced James to see the actual physical lighthouse, no longer mystified, making him see that it was only “white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see the that it was barred black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to (Woolf Lighthouse 186). [...]
[...] Ramsay to illustrate her belief that a post impressionist style of downplaying surface details, whether in a painting or a novel, preserves the essence, the truth of things, while describing truth through numerous physical details only confuses and destroys it. She attacks the idea of portraying truth in a novel by overwhelming attention to facts in her essay Bennett and Mrs. Brown”. She states, in a quote of Arnold Bennett, that foundation of good friction is character-creating and nothing else” (Woolf Essays 319). [...]
[...] He frequently disrupts Lily's art, almost knocking over her easel carelessly in the first book, and later disturbing her and rendering her unable to paint by his presence, and later the very thought of him (Woolf Lighthouse 193). Lily does not understand Mr. Ramsay's work, thinking of it in terms of a kitchen table as his son Andrew told her. She feels his contemplation of abstract truth has effected his personality, saying that he spends his days only seeing “angular essences, this reducing of lovely evenings with all their flamingo clouds and blue and silver to a white deal four-legged table” (Woolf lighthouse 23). [...]
[...] In To the Lighthouse Lily faces the same problem with her painting as Virginia Woolf does with her writing about Mrs. Brown. She “struggle[es] against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say this is what I see; this is what I and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her.” (Woolf Lighthouse 19). Both Lily and her creator struggle to portray their vision of the essence while contemporary artistic standards demand that they show it a different way, but both find that attention to extraneous surface details prevents an accurate depiction of essence. [...]
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