To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf’s Answer to “Women Can’t Paint, Women Can’t Write” in To the Lighthouse By Daniela Munca1 Abstract This essay addresses Virginia Woolf’s personal stand in her answer to “women can’t paint, women can’t write”, a reflection on the Victorian prejudice of the role of women in the family and society shared by both her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen.By bridging a close textual analysis with the most recent psychological critical analysis, I argue that apart from the political, social and artistic implications, Woolf’s attitude to the Victorian stereotypes related to gender roles carry a deeply personal message, being undeniably influenced and determined by the relationship with her parents and her need to lie to rest some unresolved issues concerning her status as a woman artist.This essay focuses on Woolf’s 1926 novel, To the Lighthouse, which is, undoubtedly, her most autobiographical novel. Lily Briscoe, the unmarried painter who finally manages to conceptualize Woolf’s vision at the end of the novel, has a double mission in this novel. First, she has to resolve her own insecurities and come to peace with the memory of the deceased Mrs.
Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian woman and Julia Stephen’s artistic alter ego. Second, she has to connect with Mr.Ramsay and prove to herself that women can, indeed, paint. As she matures as a painter Virginia Woolf is overcoming her anger and frustration caused by the fact that she didn’t not fit into the generally accepted pattern of the woman’s role in society and in the family life, and especially of the status of women as artists. By creating one of the most challenging novels of the English Literature, Virginia Woolf also proves to herself and to the readers that women can, indeed write.Keywords: gender, art, Victorian prejudices, Virginia Woolf Being one of the earliest and most influential feminist writers of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf has offered us with a literary heritage exploring in different forms such themes as socioeconomic processes of occupational segregation, wage discrimination, imposition of separate spheres and social exclusion. Her implied perspective on distributive gender justice nourish her novels and diaries, but no other piece of fiction reflects more faithfully her deeply personal stand in this regard as To the Lighthouse (1926), a novel which marked her as a mature, self-fulfilled modern writer.
This essay addresses Virginia Woolf’s personal stand in her answer to “women can’t paint, women can’t write” (Woolf , To the Lighthouse, 48), a reflection on the Victorian prejudice of the role of women in the family and society shared by both her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen. By bridging a close textual analysis with the most recent psychological critical analysis, I argue that apart from the political, social and artistic implications, Woolf’s 1 English Language Instructor American Language Center (ALC/ACCELS) Chisinau, Moldova, [email protected] com Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 0 #4 May 2009 276 attitude to the Victorian stereotypes related to gender roles carry a deeply personal message, being undeniably influenced and determined by the relationship with her parents and her need to lie to rest some unresolved issues concerning her status as a woman artist. Lily Briscoe, the unmarried painter who finally manages to conceptualize Woolf’s vision at the end of the novel, has a double mission in this novel. First, she has to resolve her own insecurities and come to peace with the memory of the deceased Mrs. Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian woman and Julia Stephen’s artistic alter ego.
Second, she has to connect with Mr. Ramsay and prove to herself that women can, indeed, paint. Lily Brsicoe – the struggling female artist In the first section of the book Lily Briscoe is far from being the visionary artist whose prophetical “I have had my vision” (Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 209) accomplishes the symbolical trip to the Lighthouse and marks the end of the novel. In “The Window” Lily is presented as a young, inexperienced painter struggling to overcome her own insecurities: “She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad!She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it” (27). As she was struggling to find her own vision, to see “the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral” Lily finds it extremely difficult to focus on her canvas because of Mr Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write ..
. ” (78). Lily Briscoe is looking for images to inspire her and she inevitably turns to Mrs. Ramsay, whose hear stored up knowledge and wisdom (50).She is then recalling, leaning her head on Mrs Ramsay’s knee, her insistence “that she must, Minta must, they all must marry, since in the whole world whatever laurels might be tossed to her (…), or triumphs won by her (…), and here she saddened, darkened, and came back to her chair, there could be no disputing this: an unmarried woman (…), an unmarried woman has missed the best of life (50). Lily’s attitude to this statement is first, defensive, as she is trying to enumerate things that has in life, things that make her happy: “Oh, but, Lily would say, there was her father; her home; even, had she dared to say it, her painting” (51).Even though “all this seemed so little, so virginal, against the other”, Lily would still “urge her own exemption from the universal law; plead for it”, as she realizes that in fact “she liked to be alone; she liked to be herself; she was not made for that; and so have to meet a serious stare from eyes of unparalleled depth, and confront Mrs Ramsay’s simple certainty (…) that her dear Lily, her little Brisk, was a fool” (51).
Writing as Woolf’s psychoanalytic catharsis Numerous literary critics like Spilka, Abel, Kavaler-Adler, Leaska, Maze and Panken have signaled the fact that Virginia Woolf’s personal life and her work were inseparable, and part of that life was inscribed in every novel she wrote. Characters, settings and conflicts present in her fiction more than commonly overlap with the world of her own experience or are reflected in Woolf’s major symbols and leitmotifs, especially in her most autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse.Apart from the themes of life and death, the effect of time on human memory, writing as a cathartic experience, male versus female dichotomy, the theme of the role of art and the artistic vision in the Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #4 May 2009 277 post Victorian epoch are a deeply personal ones for Virginia Woolf, themes which shaped her as a writer and inspired her feminist views on the political, social and artistic levels.Rooted deep into her most personal memories, Woolf’s struggle with the Victorian prejudices on the role of women in the society and in family life are touched upon with a specific vehemence and bitterness, as she had to confront and deal, in this regard, with the two of the major constellations reverberating throughout her life, which appear in the psychological or metaphorical substance of her autobiographical writings, as well as in her fiction– her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen.In Granite and Rainbow – The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf, Mitchell Leaska claims that “the art of fiction provided Virginia Woolf with the means of reuniting and reconciling those warring factions she felt so acutely within. (…)Writing novels permitted her to externalize much of what, locked within, might have remained dissonant, fragmentary, and devastating.
It might also be said that Virginia turned instinctively to fiction because there were satisfactions in fantasy that she couldn’t find in the real world” (7).A closer look at Woolf’s vision on the role of the female artist in the 1920s is possible when analyzing her fictional alter ago – Lily Briscoe, the spinster painter who helped to voice her most urgent need – the urge to create art and put on the canvas, just like she did on paper, in order to make out of that vision something permanent something immune from change. While designing the plot of To the Lighthouse, Woolf had announced that the production of her text constitutes for her a sort of “psychoanalytic catharsis” (Abel 46).The close involvement of the author’s whole being with that past is further confirmed by the liberating function ascribed by Virginia Woolf herself to her book, when on the ninety-sixth anniversary of her father’s birth she writes: “ I used to think of him and mother daily: but writing the Lighthouse laid them in my mind. (…) (I believe this to be true-that I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; and, writing of them was a necessary act) “(135).The fact that writing proved to be an effective cathartic tool is supported by Woolf’s statement in A Sketch of the Past: “Until I wrote it out, I would find my lips moving; I would be arguing with him; raging against him; saying to myself all that I never said to him ..
. things it was impossible to say aloud” (108). Lily Briscoe is one of the characters who assisted Woolf in saying to herself and to the reader what was impossible to say aloud for a woman in the Victorian society.Woolf’s reaction to the Victorian Woman – thinking back to Julia Stephen In Virginia Woolf and The Lust of Creation, Panken states that there are four major constellations reverberating throughout Woolf’s life, Virginia Woolf’s relation to he mother being one of the most influential in her work. Being a perfect wife and mother of her children according to her husband, Julia Stephen was a perfect embodiment of the Victorian woman, whose life was centered upon her husband and children, filled with charity work and household duties.A rebel herself, an independent woman writer in the times when Victorian values still prevailed in the society, Virginia Woolf had, of course, to face and deal with that image. The Victorian housewife / Modern female writer conflict is resolved in a less dramatic manner in To the Lighthouse than in any other Woolf’s novel.
She chooses to reconcile with the conflict memories of her past and use this compromise as a tool to strengthen her vision as a writer. Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #4 May 2009 278Despite the lack of her husband’s education and philosophical sight, even if she “cared not a fig for her painting” (To the Lighthouse 49), Mrs. Ramsay, Julia Stephen’s fictional counterpart, offers a rather deep and insightful portrait of Lily Briscoe: “With Lily it was different. She faded, under Minta’s glow; became more inconspicuous than ever, in her little grey dress with her little puckered face and her little Chinese eyes. Everything about her was so small. Yet, thought Mrs Ramsay, comparing her with Minta, as she claimed her help (…) of the two, Lily at forty will be the better” (104).
What she liked about Lily, was the fact that she had “a thread of something; a flare of something; something of her own”. Despite her appreciation of Lily’s uniqueness, Mrs. Ramsay is still afraid that “no man would” and, as an unmarried woman, she might miss the best in life (104). Lily appears bitterly to accept society’s brutal, age-old assumption that an independent, unmarried, non-subservient woman like herself is “not a woman” at all but rather a desiccated and useless subspecies, an “old maid. White writes that “the addition of the word “presumably” in Lily’s thoughts gives her leeway to reject and cast off the social expectations that are prompting her to give herself over, like an Angel in the House, in sympathy to Mr. Ramsay. Lily’s mature sense of humor enables her to distance herself from the impasse and resolve it” (100).
The question Lily Briscoe raises here is: what is best in life for a woman: what she chooses or what the society imposes her because of her gender? Does a woman have to give up her artistic vision in favor of becoming a perfect wife and mother?Does a woman miss the best in life if she chooses not to confront to these prejudices? Her answer is, as nothing is certain in this world, no marriage can promise a sublime happiness; no Victorian moral or standard can actually guarantee happiness. Art, on the other hand, is immune from change, it can capture the essence of those intense moments of vision, it can transcend time and human life, it has the power to satisfy such a restless searching soul as Virginia Woolf’s, and Lily Briscoe will help us realize this by the end of the novel.Woolf’s personal vision of Women as Artists: the personal versus the artistic dichotomy The women versus artist dichotomy is furthermore explored in the first section of the novel, “To the Lighthouse”, “here was Lily, at forty-four, wasting her time, unable to do a thing, standing there, playing at painting, playing at the one thing one did not play at”, and as she thinks that “ one can’t waste one’s time at forty-four” (160).Maze writes about how Lily Briscoe intentionally represents the author as an adult, because “in the crucial third section, “The Lighthouse,” as she stands painting, Lily is intent on analyzing her own feelings towards the Ramsays just as Woolf was doing for herself in the writing” (86). Maze’s arguments are the following: Lily is the same age as Woolf was when writing the book; at first Lily wonders why she did not grieve for the dead Mrs.Ramsay and then she is represented as suddenly achieving grief, as Woolf thought she should herself; and finally Lily is struggling to complete a painting in which Mrs. Ramsay’s absence from her familiar place is somehow the focal point, just as Woolf was struggling to achieve a resolution of her novel on the same theme: “Painting and novel are completed at the same instant” (86).
Guiget also supports this claim by writing that “the essential thing that lies behind the appearances and the superficial individualities of Lily Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 0 #4 May 2009 279 Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay is derived not from Julia Stephen or the painter Vanessa, but from Virginia Woolf herself” (178). Briggis states that “Lily’s experiences as a modernist artist struggling to express her vision recapitulate Woolf’s efforts to complete her novel. She linked herself verbally with Lily when she wrote of ‘brisking, after my lethargy’. Lily, like her author, makes up scenes while she is working, and, like her author, she is ‘tunnelling her way into her picture, into the past” (178).Lily is thirty-three as the novel opens in mid-September, shortly before the first World War-a year or so older than Virginia in the fall of 1913.
She is cast as a friend of the Ramsay family, and is said to love the whole family; but like Virginia, she has lost a mother, and her affections for Mrs. Ramsay-like Virginia’s affections for older women after her mother’s death-are especially intense. In the last section of the book the reader witnesses Lily grieving openly for Mrs.Ramsay some ten years after her death-which would be in 1924, about the time Virginia Woolf conceived this novel. By portraying Lily Brsicoe, the struggling artist, who had failed to become herself a mother, a wife, a lover, Virginia Woolf stresses the fact that art would assist her in compensating all of the above. White writes that “outwardly timid, awkward, and unprepossessing, Lily carefully guards the secret of how much her art means to her (86). She tosses off a “little insincerity” when she tells Mr.
Bankes that “she would always go on painting, because it interested her” (72), but three times during the dinner party sceneonce when Tansley offends her, once when she decides to abandon her experiment; not to be “nice” to him, and once when she is disturbed by the presence of the engaged coupleLily’s thoughts turn to her art as a means of emotional survival. Lily wonders as she paints, going on to speculate that she, had Mrs. Ramsay lived, might have ended up married to William Bankes. “Mrs. Ramsay had planned it.Perhaps, had she lived, she would have compelled it” (175), and marriage, as Lily sees it, would have put an end to her painting. To assure herself that Mrs.
Ramsay’s vision for her was unwise, Lily calls up a number of witnesses. First, her quite satisfactory relationship with William Bankes as it is, not as his wife but as an affectionate friend. Second, the failure of Paul and Minta’s marriage, in which Mrs. Ramsay had placed so much hope. In contemplating how life has changed and about what time has done to the Rayleys, Mrs.Ramsay’s prime exhibit in the marriage arcade. Their coming together was among the triumphs celebrated at the dinner ten years before.
Yet, we are told, in a metaphor that carries a special meaning in this book, that “things had worked loose after the first year or so; the marriage had turned out rather badly” (173). What Lily is implying is, I think, to remember that marriage is not time-proof. Lily tells us how separate and bitter the Rayleys’ lives have become, how they went through a phase of misery and violence, and are now “excellent friends” but no longer in love. ” All these serve to strengthen Lily’s belief that she has everything she needs in life, her art mostly, as she imagines saying to her: “It has all gone against your wishes. They’re happy like that; I’m happy like this. Life has changed completely. At that all her being, even her beauty, became for a moment, dusty and out of date” (175).
Realizing her own values in life, her priorities and her concerns, Lily gets free from the influence Mrs. Ramsay had upon her, an influence representing the Victorian concept of women and their role in the society.Lily’s struggle against the Victorian prejudices, as well as Woolf’s feminist stand in the other novels, has a wider, political and social meaning. To the Lighthouse was Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #4 May 2009 280 written in 1926, when opportunities for women in the arts were opening up although painting still lagged far behind fiction. Woolf captures a woman painter at moments of breakthrough, not only into professionalism, but also into serious exploration of the emotional and intellectual possibilities of her art.Lily’s growth as an artist coincides with the time in Woolf’s career when she found it possible to synthesize her aesthetic and political views into a single narrative; that is, to espouse the notion of high art as consistent with a feminist viewpoint (White 107).
However, Woolf’s feminist stance in this novel is rather moderate, her growing anger at the world’s injustice and brutality so prominent in her previous novels being replaced by a more mature, self-confident view of creativity and art. It seems that she has finally found that peace she needed to accomplish her artistic vision in reconciling Lily Briscoe and Mrs.Ramsay, the painter and the domestic artist, proving indirectly that no matter the “job”, women always have had creative powers. As Christopher Reed and others have pointed out, “modernism was congenial to feminism and to women’s art because the principles of modernism encouraged a certain detachment and inventiveness which tended to preclude older patriarchal conventions” (qtd. in White 107). Resolving the female artists’ conflict with the male muse: thinking back to Leslie Stephen “The Lighthouse”, the last section of the novel, starts with Lily Briscoe’s reflection on the house and its inhabitants after Mrs.Ramsay’s death.
Lily feels lost and powerless; everything seemed pointless, just like Mr. Ramsay’s snap at his children not being ready for their trip to the Lighthouse: “What’s the use of going now? ” (146). Sitting alone among the clean cups at the long table, Lily felt “cut off from other people, and able only to go watching, asking, wondering”. She thinks: “how aimless it was, how chaotic, how unreal it was” looking at her empty coffee cup.These questions reflect the post First World War chaos and shift of values which Virginia Woolf became a witness of, a historical period marked by the Modern stream of thought she faithfully represented in A Room of One’s Own and in her essays. Lily Briscoe is also searching for something permanent, for something that would be equivalent to Mrs. Ramsays’ moments of eternity she created during the dinner when the “Boeuf en Danube” was served.
Depicted as a young inexperienced painter in “The Window”, struggling with her lack of confidence and self esteem, Lily comes back in the last section of the book much better equipped.It is facing Mr. Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian patriarchy that strengthens her faith in the value and power of art. When Mr. Ramsay “raised his head as he passed and looked straight at her, with his distraught wild gaze which was yet so penetrating” (146). In order to escape his “demand on her”, Lily pretends to be drinking out of the empty coffee cup. She starts reflecting on his words “Perished.
Alone” and feels that there were some “empty places” she wanted to bring together.This empty space could be Woolf’s unsolved relationship with her past and more specifically, in this context, her attitude towards her father. In order to focus on filling that space, Lily “turned her back to the window” in order to avoid Mr. Ramsay seeing her, for she had to “escape somewhere, be alone somewhere” (147). This is the very same moment when she decides to go back to that unfinished picture which “had been knocking about in her mind all these years”. Lily’s being haunted by the image of her unfinished picture is a very accurate Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #4 May 2009 281 etaphorical representation of Woolf’s statement about the images of her parents which had been tormenting her before the novel was completed.
Lily fetches herself a chair, pitches her easel on the same spot she was standing ten years ago and tries to put together “the wall, the hedge, the tree” (147). According to Gliserman, Lily sees Mr. Ramsay as “intrusive and voracious-infantile” and the way she arranges her easel, a “barrier” however “frail”, as a method to protect herself from Mr. Ramsay (123-124). However, she can not find that “relation between masses” which she “had borne in her mind all these years”, as Mr.Ramsay was “bearing down on her”; every time he approached, Lily could not paint, as he was bringing with himself “chaos” and “ruin”. This passage is reflecting Woolf’s belief that her father was a threat to her creativity, to her freedom as a writer.
Greenacre (qtd in Kavaler-Adler 1993:61-2) mentions the figure of a female writer’s father as one factor which can tip the scales in favor of creative strivings in women. Greenacre claims that female child’s father can help mobilize creative strivings in his daughter, particularly if he himself is an artist.Gedo in “Portraits of an Artis” (1983) continues exploring this influence of the father’s image, but in a negative way. He states that a father as an artist can become an obstacle for the daughter, because he might be envious. Gedo explains this by the fact that because of gender differences, a girl is a disadvantage to a boy, who would be seen as an extension with the father’s own strivings for achievement and recognition. He believes that a father will feel more rivalry toward a daughter than toward a son, since he won’t see his own glory reflected in a daughter (qtd in Kavaler-Adler 1993: 62).I will have to disagree with Gedo and argue that for Virginia Woolf, and particularly in To the Lighthouse, her relationship with Leslie Stephen, a man of letters himself, was rather a source of inspiration than a rivalry.
After all, Leslie and Julia Stephen “did permit Vanessa and Virginia creative work. Vanessa was permitted art classes and Virginia was the writer. Her parents read the Hyde Park Gate News with apparent pleasure, despite its satirical edge. […] Virginia was well-stocked with serious, challenging material by her father, as is very evident in her earliest surviving diary, kept in 1897” (Scott 6).She did not have to prove to her father that she, too, was capable of achieving great success as a writer; Woolf explored her need to get her father’s attention and approval, she needed his respect and recognition more than anybody else’s. Maze states that “Woolf’s attitudes to her father, while strongly ambivalent, were largely unrepressed; the feelings of both affection and angry resentment towards him had ready access to consciousness, and are expressed freely” in To the Lighthouse (85). Quentin Bell’s biography of Virginia Woolf describes her strong attachment to her father and writes of the time they spent exclusively together.
This was the time when Virginia could walk out with her father to the Loggan Rock of Trem Crom and the fairyland of great ferns which stood high above a child’s head, or to Halestown Bog where the osmunds grew” (qtd. in Kavaler-Adler 32). Sir Leslie Stephen was not incapable of evoking loyalty and affection from his daughter. “I too felt his attractiveness,” she writes in Moments of Being; “ It arose-to name some elements at random-from his simplicity, his integrity, his eccentricity-by which I mean he would say exactly what he thought, however inconvenient and do what he liked.He had clear, direct feelings”. Among “his obvious qualities,” beyond the less attractive ones, were “his honesty, his unworldliness, his lovableness, his perfect sincerity” (111). The times when he called up in his children Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol.
10 #4 May 2009 282 the most passionate and positive feelings were for Virginia: “Beautiful, (…) simple and eager as a child; and exquisitely alive to all affection; exquisitely tender. We would have helped him then if we could, given him all we had, and felt it little beside his need-but the moment passed” (“Moments of Being” 46).Just like in the case of Mrs. Ramsay, ambivalence is at the heart of Woolf’s feelings toward her father. But, as Van Buren explains it, “ her portrait of Mr. Ramsay succeeds in presenting us with both his limited mind, his need for sympathy, his leechlike attachment to women, and his ill temper, as well as his honesty, sincerity, integrity, courage, and capacity for tenderness” (36). Her deep attachment to her father when she was young (Panken 14), might have been changed after her mother’s death.
Rigid and tyrannical in his domestic situations, at times overly rational and also self-deprecating, Mr.Ramsay is depicted in his constant demand for sympathy and support. Some critics have claimed that Mrs. Ramsay’s death and her husband’s exploitation of his daughters after was in fact a reflection of Woolf’s interpretation of what could have been the cause of her mother’s death. Panken states that she might have blamed her father for his overexploitation of Julia Stephen; his inordinate need for her solicitousness might have killed her (15). This is supported by the vehement stream of thoughts going through Lily’s head as he is trying to concentrate on her painting, but can not do so because of Mr. Ramsay’s presence: “Mrs.
Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died – and had left all of this”(“To the Lighthouse”149). In Refiguring Modernism, Bonne Kime Scott claims that Virginia Woolf suffered “a second maternal loss” when her half-sister Stela Duckworth, who died because their father, Leslie Stephen was “ill suited for single parenthood and depended on his female relations” (6). Stella died soon after Julia Stephens as “an aftershock after their mother’s death” when Virginia was fifteen.This resulted in Virginia “refusing to become the next victim of their father’s tyranny” (Scott 6). The following pages describe in detail Lily’s feelings toward Mr. Ramsay as an echo of Virginia’s own unresolved anger and pain; “that man, [Lily] thought, her anger rising in her, never gave, that man took”.
She, on the other hand, “would be forced to give” (149). Devastating in itself, Julia Stephen’s death was not all that Virginia suffered at this time. Leslie Stephen “went into a period of pathological mourning, punctuated by bellowings of grief” (Dalsimer 6).It was a time Woolf would describe as “a period of Oriental gloom, for surely there was something in the darkened rooms, the groans, the passionate lamentations that passed the normal limits of sorrow, and hung about the genuine tragedy with folds of Eastern drapery” (“R” 40). Virginia, at the age of thirteen, as well as he siblings, had then to comfort their bereaved father, as he yielded to “selfdramatizing self pity” (Dalsimer 6). Looking back to those years, Woolf wrote: “The tragedy of her death was not that it made one, now and then and very intensely, unhappy.It was that it made her unreal; and us solemn, and self-conscious.
We were made to act parts that we did not feel; to fumble for words that we did not know. It obscured, it dulled. It made one hypocritical and immersed in the conventions of sorrow” (“A Sketch of the Past” 95). Lily Briscoe’s feelings toward Mr. Ramsay were also born out of Woolf’s recalling of her father’s colossal self-absorption, insatiable in his needs, bearing down coercively on his children and on any woman from whom he might extort sympathy after his wife’s death.In what Spilka calls a “telling moment”, Virginia Woolf presents in essence “ the brutality of her father’s rages, as she knew them in Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #4 May 2009 283 overwhelming fullness after his wife’s death, and the abasement of her mother’s reverence for her truth-telling tyrant, which she had witnessed in childhood” (87).
I believe that the father-daughter conflict had also another cause – it was grounded in her father’s social, political and artistic view of women as servants to men, a concept he inherited from the Victorian era.Van Buren claims that “the love Woolf felt for her father was real, but it was not her dominant feeling toward him, in part because his abusive behavior to the women in his life” (34). According to Oser, the fatherdaughter conflict is Woolf’s artistic representation of the “philosophical generations clash in the name of truth”, of the violence “against the establishment, from God on down the ladder of male hierarchy, through mother and family, and into the prison of human nature” (97).To the Lighthouse does indeed open with the image of James, a six-year-old boy, wishing he had some scissors in hand, “longing to stab his Victorian father” (Oser 97). In Maze’s perspective, “Woolf’s opposition to male chauvinism was a realistic response to the exploitation of her sex, but her feminism did not include a condemnation of maleness in general” (115). It is true that her view, expressed in A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, was that “if men could be cured of their distorted attitude to women, they were capable of love and rationality-like her father.She wished it were possible to cancel out those aspects of his nature that conflicted with his sanity and kindness and prevented her from fully loving him.
(Maze 115). It could be that Virginia Woolf wished her father were born on a different era, when women would have been treated differently and her father’s attitude towards his wife and children would also have been different. Lily Brisco’s bitterness is rather aimed at the general Victorian social convention of the status of women as inferior to men, which threatened her position as a female writer in the 1920s.This is why, as Lily becomes more confident in her artistic vision, Mr. Ramsay is depicted in warmer colors; the closer Virginia Woolf is to the symbolical ending of the novel: “I have had my vision”, the most intimate the father-daughter relationship gets. Van Buren writes about the feelings of “rage alternating with love” that defined Woolf’s relation to her father (34). Woolf’s need to see them in perspective, and understand both, lies behind much of the portrayal of Mr.
Ramsay. The feeling of hatred and anger at her Victorian father must have een a great burd