Since it was first published in 1927, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has proved inexhaustible to critics. As feminism has evolved, feminist critics have read and reread To the Lighthouse. This has generated a myriad of feminist interpretations, and has had an impact on the progress of the feminist movement. Much speculation has been focused on the two central characters-Mrs. Ramsay and Lily, and the way different critics fit them into interpretive models or cultural critiques. In the early seventies, feminist interpretations saw Mrs. Ramsay as embodying the Victorian ideal of the “angel in the house,” while other early feminist critics viewed her as the sexual predator within the novel. Critics within this time frame also focused on Lily’s role as the androgynous artist, and later in the eighties, on the meaning of her intricate internal relationship with Mrs. Ramsay. More recently, in the nineties, feminist interpretations have centralized their arguments on the lesbian readings of To the Lighthouse, as well as the feminist aesthetics within the novel.
In my presentation I will discuss the ever-changing interpretations of these two central characters and how these interpretations reflect the cultural contexts of the critics analyzing the text. While there is no one feminism, and thus no one feminist interpretation of To the Lighthouse, these different interpretations demonstrate feminism(s) that are interesting to explore within their individual cultural and historical contexts.
Erika Banks, ’02 Westfield, IA
Major: English, Biology
Sponsor: Leslie Hankins