Mrs. Ramsay is of a simple constitution. She loves indulging in daily frivolities; ministering needs of her family of eight children, her husband and friends invited to their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Hebrides. Her household is a consecrated ground wherein she devotes herself to domesticity, managing everything – the meals are cooked and served properly, rooms are rid of shabbiness, garden is well-maintained, even husbanding financial resources. She is easily disquieted – chipping of a teapot to failing to engage her company can easily stir her composure. None the less, she is of an amiable personality, to which many people pay homage. Her beauty is charming to her admirers, to people who are endowed upon by her kindness, it is a balm. It is something to smile upon but occasionally it is also frowned upon by ones questioning whether she has anything beyond to offer. For them she goes to great lengths in appeasing. These include her guests who themselves are of diverse and contrasting nature. Charles Tansley is an insecure cynic who is quick to rebuff with an imposition of scholarly air. Mr. Charmichael, taken to indolence and poetry, is a man resigned from world but still retains enough social grace to appear humble and grateful for the hospitality bestowed upon him. William Bankes is a widow and a perfectionist. Lily Briscoe, although adored by Mrs. Ramsay is always feeling odd. She is constantly floundering about herself trying to keep others from intruding into her solitary world of painting, and her freedom.
However, her husband Mr Ramsay is a stern, exacting figure who lives by his philosophy. He is an erudite scholar with his books published but some not as acclaimed as he had hoped. He has built a fortress around himself barring his children, his close friends, his acquaintances and even at times his wife. On the inside, however, the walls are crumbling and weigh upon his fragile self. He urges secretly for constant support and sympathy, especially from his wife to protect him from the impending feeling of failure. Their relationship spanning fifty years has been of an undulating kind. There are moments of restrained separateness between themselves and moments when they know their survival depends upon each other and their enduring love.
The story is told in parts: the first being a fragment of a day before World War I in summer when it is undecided about going to Lighthouse, then during a period in which war has broken out, the ravages which are felt by families and the summer home left derelict, and then finally after the lapse of ten years, the loss of family members, and a sense of doom and forlornness for the deceased, when they finally make it to the Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse is chosen as the focal point around which feelings gush forth in all directions like the waves of the sea. Lashing prejudice, insecurity, uncertainty, anger and regret against the immovable rocks of the ground on which it stands impassively. As a beacon of steadiness, its ever watchful rays of light basks everyone and their chaotic inner selves with a sense of prevailing calm.
Virginia Woolf’s style of narration is esoteric. She delves into the minds of her characters, conceptualizing their introspective intricacies and mingles it with the scope of the plot that isn’t easily understood. In her novel, To the Lighthouse, her eclectic characterization does broaden the intellectual realm but remains obscure to many who need reliance on an ability to grope in the darkness of literary depth.
What is the meaning of Life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.