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Biplob Prodhan
  • 4 weeks ago
  • 53
Do you consider To the Lighthouse to be an autobiographical novel? Why?


Introduction: An autobiographical novel relates to events in the life of the person who has written it. To the Lighthouse is a fictional work of Virginia Woof but it takes on some events of her own life. For examples Woolf felt stifled by her father’s behaviour in much the same way as Mr. Ramsay in the novel makes life bitter for his children. Again the sudden deaths of her mother and her sister Stella, the cause of her great mental shock, resemble the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay and Prue in the novel.

Similarities between the plot of the novel and Virginia’s life: Although, To the Lighthouse is not an autobiography of Virginia Woolf, there are many similarities between the plot of the novel and her life. As a matter of fact, her novel is an attempt to understand and bring out some unresolved issues regarding her parents. She had several opportunities of visiting with her parents and family St. Eves, Cornwall, where her father had a rented house. These visits were perhaps the happiest times of her life. But when she was thirteen, the sudden death of her mother was a great shock to her, and like Mr. Ramsay her father Leslie Stephen also plunged into a profound sorrow and deep despair. Vanessa Bell Woolf’s sister says that c reading the sections of the novel describing Mrs. Ramsay was like on seeing her mother raised from the dead. Adrian, their brother was not allowed to visit Godrevy Lighthouse, just as in the novel James’s longing for seeing the Lighthouse is not fulfilled as the proposed trip is cancelled by his father Mr. Ramsay on the excuse of bad weather. Lily Briscoe’s meditations on painting are a way for Woolf to explore her own creative process.

The setting of the novel: The location of the main story in the novel, the house on the Hebridean island, was formed by Woolf in imitation of Talland House, the renting of which by her father began in 1882, shortly after her birth. Many actual features of St. Ives Bay are carried into the story, including the gardens leading down to the sea, the sea itself and the lighthouse there. But several critics insisted that the Ramsays are the direct reflections of the Stephens (Woolf’s family names). To the Lighthouse may also be seen as an exploration on the relationship between art and life, and on late Victorian family structures.

Autobiographical elements: There is much autobiographical elements in To the Lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay in the novel was modelled upon Virginia’s own father, Sir Leslie Stephen, and Mrs. Ramsay was modelled upon her mother, Julia Stephen. Sir Leslie Stephen was a prominent philosopher, critic and biographer and similarly in the novel Mr. Ramsay is a great philosopher and intellectual man. In this context we may refer to Woolf’s diary regarding the composition of To the Lighthouse: “This is going to be fairly short, to have father’s character done complete in it; and mother’s; and St. Ives; and childhood; and all the usual things I try to put in- life, death, etc. But the centre is father’s character, sitting in a boat, reciting, “We perished, each alone”.

Conclusion: Although the novel has many biographical elements from the author’s own family, that family has not slavishly been depicted in the novel, and the Ramsays cannot truly be said to be the Stephens. However, a wonderful blend of autobiographical elements, philosophical issues and social concerns has shaped To the Lighthouse into a great work of art by Virginia Woolf.

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Biplob Prodhan
Biplob Prodhan Founder & Director EDNOUB Foundation Ednoub Private Program

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