Dedicated readers of this blog--a leafy afternoon to you, Uncle Curly and Aunt Moe--will already know that To the Lighthouse did nothing for me, nor I for it, when first encountered at a listless moment in my life. I'd done two years in Business. I'd switched to Arts with little sense of who I was or what I wanted to do. I found myself in an English class at U of R reading Woolf and Joyce and Hardy. None of it took. In the middle of the semester I just left, heading to Calgary, without even withdrawing from my classes. I was nineteen years old. It would be five years before I finished my undergrad degree, and then in Education, not English.
Thirteen years after that, I found myself in a Woolf class in grad school at U of A. Reading all of Woolf's novels turned out to be the most spectacular reading experience of my life. I couldn't believe the power and beauty of her writing. I felt as if the patch of ground beneath me was being picked up and shaken.
Finding To the Lighthouse in the library at the McCarthy house, I'm digging this great novel again.
Here's Lily Briscoe, Woolf's artist, beginning:
"The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it--a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the strokes another, and all were related; and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out of her) a space. Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. For what could be more formidable than that space?"
Many of us writers will recognize our own process there. Read the rest of this scene, about a dozen pages into the third section of the book, to enjoy how Woolf both describes and performs what an artist does.
Of course, reading Doris McCarthy's copy of this novel, with her underlining, and knowing a little of her practice as a painter and writer, and with the waves--placid today but mighty the days before--of lake Ontario just over there, well it's all a handy boost into my own work here.