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Author Topic: Is To the Lighthouse any good?  (Read 41290 times)
hegemony
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« Reply #15 on: April 28, 2012, 5:33:16 PM »

I get the point.  I just don't like the point.  I think the point is silly and pretentious.  But so what?  Virginia Woolf will go on without me.  And some of what I like no doubt seems silly and pretentious to others.  There's room enough in the ranks of readers for all of us.  And I don't really hold with the idea that, "If you understood it properly, you'd like it."  Those who like it will bother to think about it more, no doubt.  But I think we're entitled to dislike something without analyzing it extensively.  Life isn't a literature course, and we get to make our own choices about how best to use our time.  Now, if you have to teach To the Lighthouse and you don't see any artistry, that's unfortunate.  I remember a particularly unhappy semester in which I was obliged to teach "The Hunger Artist."  But maybe it will do the students good to look for the point themselves.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #16 on: April 28, 2012, 5:50:04 PM »

Woolf is universal, provided you inhabit the universe of self-absorbed post-Edwardian upper crust British society.  If your students can identify with this then they will love Lighthouse.

I have to confess to never having understood the appeal of anyone in the Bloomsbury Group, which seems to me akin to what you would get if the Algonquin Round Table went to the dentist and had their wit extracted. - DvF
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snowbound
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« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2012, 6:17:20 PM »

Those who like it will bother to think about it more, no doubt.  But I think we're entitled to dislike something without analyzing it extensively. 

Sure, but the issue being discussed is whether we're entitle to TEACH it without analyzing it. 

I'm not sure i agree with the chronology you suggest:  you like a text, so you think about it more, so (presumably) come to understand it better.  Often it happens the other way around, especially in a school context.  Perhaps the most rewarding experiences I have as a lit teacher are when students start off not liking a poem or novel because it seems pointless and wordy--but then as the class gradually helps them to understand it better, they come to really like it.  During many years before I embarked on an academic path, I used to read and re-read pretty much the same relatively small set of authors.  I enjoyed and "got" them.  Formal education introduced me to writers that I didn't understand and therefore couldn't enjoy.  But some excellent teachers helped me to understand them much better and substantially broadened what I liked reading.  Some kinds of lit (like most Modernism, Woolf included) I'll never truly LIKE, as a personal taste, but I can still see what makes them great.   
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spectacle
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« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2012, 6:22:32 PM »

You think Woolf is SLOPPY?

Lighthouse is not my favorite Woolf and Woolf isn't my favorite author (not even my favorite Bloomsbury Groupie), but I also can't imagine finding her prose "sloppy."
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11thfloor
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« Reply #19 on: April 28, 2012, 7:57:19 PM »

All these replies are wonderful to receive but not very precise in detailing what's good about Woolf about from an insistence her work isn't sloppy.  Why would you say I don't understand the style/era/context in which she is writing, because I suggest her treatment of time is imprecise?  It is in comparison with Joyce and Mansfield that I am finding it sloppy - they both are as interested in the idea of time as duration and in stream of consciousness and the relation between memory and the present moment, but they are in control of the relation between these factors in a way it seems to me Woolf is not.  Structurally, yes, it has form, but I am talking about the narration at the level of the sentence and the relation between sentences, and particularly the management of the general and the particular - where she collapses a distinction she herself has introduced with the conversation of the daughters about  Tansley etc.  No one has picked up on the particular objections I raised.  Do you want to suggest these collapses are precisely the point?  It isn't a point that is made very consistently then.  I much prefer Orlando with the insouciant representation of a chronological idea of time that the point of To the Lighthouse is to call into question - but it isn't that I object to the calling of it into question, just that it is so unevenly managed and awkwardly done.  (The class issues are another thing altogether, but they do rather marr the representation of Tansley in just the way Forster's representation of Leonard Bast is marred.) 
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snowbound
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« Reply #20 on: April 29, 2012, 7:55:06 AM »

You're not going to learn to appreciate what Woolf is doing through an online forum,but there are other ways.  Taking a class would be best, but I doubt that is practical for you.  I suggest you read a bunch of criticism of the novel, especially articles that address the aspects that puzzle you.

As for the class issues, if you find it to be a big problem for you when a writer focuses on the class they know most intimately, then I suggest you work on trying to get over it,so it doesn't mar your appreciation of most literature.  You can/should certainly notice and remark on the class vantage point from which a text is written and/or its blindness or faulty representation of other classes, but then you need to move on.  You can't allow it to be a stumbling block that prevents you from appreciating what the author does do. 

Most of the great writers I can think of DO focus on the layers of society that they know best; those are the people that they most understand and whose heads they can best get into.  I'm so glad Jane Austen wrote so consistently from the point of view of the specific narrow little band of the gentry that she knew so intimately!  The perfection of her work would have been marred if she had wandered further afield.  When an author does try to represent people and viewpoints of a class s/he doesn't know very well, the results are usually not the best.  For example, Dickens (who is brilliant at the middle and lower classes of London) doesn't do very well with Manchester factory workers and union organizers in Hard Times or the nobility in Bleak House.  Those characters remain cardboard cutouts (although the novels are good in other ways).  Or Shakespeare, who shows uneducated manual laborers only for comic relief. 
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baleful_regards
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« Reply #21 on: April 29, 2012, 10:35:34 AM »

You're not going to learn to appreciate what Woolf is doing through an online forum,but there are other ways.  Taking a class would be best, but I doubt that is practical for you.  I suggest you read a bunch of criticism of the novel, especially articles that address the aspects that puzzle you.

As for the class issues, if you find it to be a big problem for you when a writer focuses on the class they know most intimately, then I suggest you work on trying to get over it,so it doesn't mar your appreciation of most literature.  You can/should certainly notice and remark on the class vantage point from which a text is written and/or its blindness or faulty representation of other classes, but then you need to move on.  You can't allow it to be a stumbling block that prevents you from appreciating what the author does do. 

Most of the great writers I can think of DO focus on the layers of society that they know best; those are the people that they most understand and whose heads they can best get into.  I'm so glad Jane Austen wrote so consistently from the point of view of the specific narrow little band of the gentry that she knew so intimately!  The perfection of her work would have been marred if she had wandered further afield.  When an author does try to represent people and viewpoints of a class s/he doesn't know very well, the results are usually not the best.  For example, Dickens (who is brilliant at the middle and lower classes of London) doesn't do very well with Manchester factory workers and union organizers in Hard Times or the nobility in Bleak House.  Those characters remain cardboard cutouts (although the novels are good in other ways).  Or Shakespeare, who shows uneducated manual laborers only for comic relief. 

I found discussions of Woolf's family life and her struggles with her own sexuality and mental illness as frames to her writing particularly helpful. 
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snowbound
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« Reply #22 on: April 29, 2012, 11:53:21 AM »

P.S. DvF, Woolf is certainly not universal.  Nor can I think of any other authors who are truly "universal."  They are all rooted in their gender, their class, their time period, their nationality, and more.  The idea of great writers as "universal" fell apart when people started to notice that that the supposed universal human experience was actually the experience of a small minority of humankind: elite, white, straight, first-world men.  Those who didn't fall into this particular subset of the human race had to imagine that they did so in order to appreciate the "universality" of the work in question.  Great literary works didn;t stop being great because they were no longer deemed universal; instead they were appreciated in different ways--including how vividly and profoundly they voice the concerns of the social layers that they emerge from.  One effect of the shift away from "universality" as a litmus test is that authors and texts previously considered peripheral are being recognized as great in their own ways.
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hegemony
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« Reply #23 on: April 29, 2012, 1:28:50 PM »

My take on DvF's remark about being universal was that he was being sarcastic. 
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #24 on: April 29, 2012, 9:08:45 PM »

Woolf seems to have the same effect on certain impressionable wet young women that Ayn Rand has on their male counterparts, converting them into humorless acolytes with no sense of proportion and only the bitterest simalcrum of a sense of humor.  For that reason alone I would think it a disservice to assign her books in a college class.

(Except for that one about the spaniel, that was a hoot and should be required reading for pre-Vet students.) - DvF
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #25 on: April 29, 2012, 9:36:59 PM »

Woolf seems to have the same effect on certain impressionable wet young women that Ayn Rand has on their male counterparts, converting them into humorless acolytes with no sense of proportion and only the bitterest simalcrum of a sense of humor.  For that reason alone I would think it a disservice to assign her books in a college class.

(Except for that one about the spaniel, that was a hoot and should be required reading for pre-Vet students.) - DvF

Someone needs to get his panties out of their twist.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #26 on: April 29, 2012, 10:34:02 PM »

tz, that's why I stopped wearing underwear.

I'm not saying that Woolf has this effect on all readers.  I've read both Woolf and Rand, and still retain my free will.  You can tell the ones who have succumbed to either through their earnest-then-frenzied defense.

Maybe I lived in England too long; there seems to be far less obsession with Woolf in academic circles there than in the US. - DvF
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11thfloor
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« Reply #27 on: April 30, 2012, 4:17:31 AM »

Well, I think my knickers are ok.  I actually might have to confess to having quite enjoyed Ayn Rand's book about the architect.  I love a good architecture novel.  Re class: I don't mind at all a small segment of class being written about.  I love Jane Austen.  I love Alan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty.  I love Edith Wharton precisely because of the precision of the class distinctions being examined.  Nor do I object to lower classes being written about (or even writing their own novels!) or animals for that matter eg spaniels.  It's the depiction of Charles Tansley I object to - who can't simply come out and say he wants to go to the circus, because he wishes he could go to Ibsen because he is self-educated and therefore "a poor little man...an insufferable bore...an awful prig." This is Mrs Ramsay's view, so perhaps it is a failing in her - but we never get anything from Tansley's own point of view except his worship of Mrs Ramsay and his sn*****ing at the artistic comments of the girls who all also despise him.  It is also awfully like Woolf's own views expressed in the diaries. 
I think that is a wise comment that I shouldn't restrict my lecture preparation to my reading of on-line forums.  I expect I'll be able to find something to say.  I have read most of the other novels, and the diaries, and the essays, and the memoirs.  And I have read a lot of the criticism - not terribly good, though, is it? [ducks]
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mickeymantle
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« Reply #28 on: April 30, 2012, 11:53:41 AM »


I think Woolf is an acquired taste.  I find some of her novels, such as The Waves and especially her first novel (title escapes me) to be exquisite.  A few of her works, especially Orlando, seem a bit too precious.  After reading Lighthouse several times, I think it is a fine novel, but too "difficult" for most undergraduates today.  Perhaps you need to be older to appreciate her work (I find that the case with Joyce and Faulkner, for example.)
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #29 on: April 30, 2012, 12:32:25 PM »


I think Woolf is an acquired taste.  I find some of her novels, such as The Waves and especially her first novel (title escapes me) to be exquisite.  A few of her works, especially Orlando, seem a bit too precious.  After reading Lighthouse several times, I think it is a fine novel, but too "difficult" for most undergraduates today.  Perhaps you need to be older to appreciate her work (I find that the case with Joyce and Faulkner, for example.)

I started reading her in high school. I have loved her ever since. My reasons why may have changed as my critical faculties were sharpened, but my general opinion has remained the same.
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