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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Hosted by Mona Simpson
Began on May 1, 2023 (14 Days)

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"I came to discover To the Lighthouse for myself,” Eudora Welty wrote in her introduction to the novel, which she read a year after it was published, when she was twenty one.

Virginia Woolf's much-mythologized life, her intellectually-royal family, her artistic crowd, and her suicide can all become entangled with the work. And the work! Not only did she leave us the beautiful, inventive novels but also short stories, reviews, essays, diaries, and letters. The idea of Virginia Woolf lives so thoroughly in the culture that people who have not read one sentence written by her have ideas about her, from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Woolf’s biographer, the great Hermione Lee, says that the four questions she is most often asked about Woolf are: Is it true that she was sexually abused as a child? What was her madness and why did she kill herself? Was Leonard a good or a wicked husband? Was she a terrible snob? None of these questions or their answers have any direct bearing on To the Lighthouse.

Welty wrote: “Blessed with luck and innocence, I fell upon the novel that once and forever opened the door of imaginative fiction for me, and read it cold, in all its wonder and magnitude.” No matter how much we know about Woolf, how much we’ve read (and I haven’t read anywhere close to all of it), I’d like to read the novel cold, for pure pleasure, and then to consider how the three uneven sections work together to create a meaning greater than the sum their parts.

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Join us on May 15 for a virtual discussion of To the Lighthouse with Mona Simpson.

Mona Simpson

is the author of seven novels, including Anywhere But Here, My Hollywood, Off Keck Road, and Commitment. She’s received a Whiting Writers' Award, the Mary McCarthy Prize, and a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She’s on the faculty at UCLA and a visiting writer at Bard College. She lives in Santa Monica.

Virginia Woolf

(1882-1941) was born in London. A pioneer in the narrative use of stream of consciousness, she published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. This was followed by literary criticism and essays, most notably A Room of One's Own, and other acclaimed novels, including Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando.

Daily Reading

Day 1

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 1-3

May 1, 2023 by Mona Simpson

“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” begins To The Lighthouse.

Day 2

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 4-5

May 2, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Someone both ridiculous and alarming, identified only by the pronoun “he” comes down shouting a line from a Tennyson poem, almost knocking over Lily Briscoe’s easel.

Day 3

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 6-8

May 3, 2023 by Mona Simpson

In which we witness the elder Ramsays first on stage fight. 

Day 4

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 9-10

May 4, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Lily and William talk about… The Ramsays.

Day 5

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 11-12

May 5, 2023 by Mona Simpson

We’ve noticed, of course, by now that we’re still in the same day, the same late afternoon.

Day 6

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 13-16

May 6, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Lily and William, again.

Day 7

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapter 17 (through "looking together united them.")

May 7, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Chapter 17 clocks in at twenty pages in my edition. Following the one-sentence-long Chapter 15, this thrills me: the dinner party at last!

Day 8

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapter 17 (to end)

May 8, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Day 9

To the Lighthouse. Part I, Chapters 18-19

May 9, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Mrs. Ramsay feels happy and woozy with the triumph of her party.

Day 10

To the Lighthouse. Part II

May 10, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Woolf calls Time Passes “an interesting experiment.”

Day 11

To the Lighthouse. Part III, Chapters 1-2

May 11, 2023 by Mona Simpson

“You find us much changed,” Mr. Ramsay says. 

Day 12

To the Lighthouse. Part III, Chapters 3-4

May 12, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Let no one ever say Virginia Woolf is a “domestic” novelist. 

Day 13

To the Lighthouse. Part III, Chapters 5-8

May 13, 2023 by Mona Simpson

“Mrs. Ramsay has faded and gone,” Lily thought. “We can override her wishes, improve away her limited, old-fashioned ideas.”

Day 14

To the Lighthouse. Part III, Chapters 9-13

May 14, 2023 by Mona Simpson

All in parentheses.

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