essays / An Interlude in Prose: Unveiling To the Lighthouse

“Could you take a look at this novel?” asked Virginia, about to leave her home. Her sister, Vanessa Bell, had another occupation, art, but still had close ties to her sister. Throughout the years, their relationship converged on different planes, both personally and academically. Virginia had doubts about her latest work. The past reception for her work had been mixed, to say the least. To her sister, the title, To the Lighthouse, stirred up thoughts of their childhood summer home by a lighthouse. Surely, that’s not what she wrote the book about, the title must be an allusion, an allegory.

“Of course I can,” she responded with strength in her voice. In some ways, she was jealous of her sister’s mastery in writing. While her form of expression consisted of paint blots on paper, her sister’s writing was able to easily be reproduced and slowly experienced, it had more chance to last. Still, she thought, the read could be enjoyable, if not provocative of emotion, knowing her sister’s style. Her memories of the house, the fun times, the despairing times, her father, and the final resolve of her brother all came back to life. She wondered if the book had really lived up to her imagination, or was just it an allegory, a very possibly failed experiment? Only time could tell. How fatally similar are painting and writing things. She sometimes wished she could be a builder. Builders know that their work is being used and appreciated, instead of just sitting inert, away in a corner.

Walking out into the courtyard, Virginia felt as if she had been hit by her life’s history. The buildings from years past and the images of the old neighborhood popped into her mind, then were replaced by the new as she opened her eyes. Flashbacks of old: her first book and her life as a student both came vividly to her mind’s eye. For some reason, they all were tied to this place, a place in both reality and in emotion. Her feelings for the book were split, for the effort she gave the work, it only rebounded on her. If only her later readers knew the amount of thought it took to write alternating inner dialogue, she pondered. What the Bloomsbury group would think of the book was irrelevant compared to her sister, Vanessa’s, initial impression. She hoped Vanessa would see the links to her real life and reflections of the author’s character and herself within Lily in the book. As she crossed the grounds, she came across E.M. Forster. That she would meet him was a good turn of fortune .

“Forster, were you able to take a look at the new novel?” she asked. “Yes, I was able to do so.” Forster was on the brink of yet finding another way to distract his attention. He seemed to enjoy distracting his attention with novels and writings, particularly from their little group. This one was especially striking in the way it presented its story. Instead of using dialogue, the story was presented through character’s inner thoughts and impressions. While most writing is done from a third person perspective or by describing the plot realistically and linearly, Virginia decided to spend vast amounts of time on nothing but thoughts and inner turmoil. This style really captured my attention, as I have found relationships and impressions to equal or be greater than the value of literal actions. Writing about inner thoughts that can make or break relationships in her novel really opens up that mode of thinking and adds another layer onto its complexity. I find that the story is familiar, but so distant to my views, and I believe I am not the only one. Her attempts at emphasizing both traditional and progressive views of women, and still paralleling alternate plots of love contrast with the emphasis on love and social customs and roles. As for the larger intellectual community, I believe Virginia’s writings can help with reevaluating perspectives and especially give female authors more of a level playing ground than previously.

However, I do worry for her mental health. The book seems to be too reflective and inspired by her personality. The duality and philosophy mentioned within are not well veiled examples and current experience in her life that worry me. What chance would I have to ask her about this? Her health seems to continue to vary unpredictably, similar to her writing. While I haven’t finished her last novel, I believe my mind has been twisted and my allegiances changed beyond what I normally would allow myself. Virginia has pioneered literary style and demonstrated the power of cleverly using thoughts to unusually drive this novel’s story.

After looking up from my shoes and wringing my hands, Forster responded to Virginia, “While I find the book has me connect well with the characters, I cannot help help but to believe the writing realistically shows reasoning of the development of the character’s personal connections. I usually doubt the authenticity of relationships as portrayed in the medium of literature, but this novel made me forget those doubts.” Forster yammered with a studious, scholarly voice. As she looked at him, she seemed to be soliciting more than a small pleasantry of praise. He continued, “the characters were personable, but their connections were unusual to me.”

Foster thought, “I was glad to think before this response, as I often do not think before responding, usually emitting a pleasantry as a result. Oh, pleasantries, anything but pleasant, they allow for people to express the world with nothing of substance. I remember when Virginia was just starting out, writing about Edwardian lives and using a ship scene. I see strong parallels between the ship she depicts in her first novel bringing to question Edwardian autocracy and her prominently present discourse about class and gender in this work.”

As Virginia walked towards the square, she was not lost in thought as usual, but with a clear resolve to finish this novel, as she had for novels before. She knew she would not have to wrangle with publishers as with her previous works, but was glad she was able to publish it with her husband, it was not an obstacle anymore. She did not believe her colleagues speculations that this work would be one of her greatest, as she felt her previous works probably were better received than this would be. Still, she thought this for every work she published, and when the reception was strong, enjoyed the attention. She fears the attention it might glean from her daring in the new literary style and progressive themes of the book would be distasteful to a majority of its readers. However, she had no intention of altering her thoughts, experiences, and beliefs that had formed her and her work. “This work is done”, she declared in her mind as she turned the publisher’s doorknob.