Many literary men experienced this century as the Age of anxiety while many female counterparts experienced this time as en era of exuberance. An important reason for such a reaction was the increase in female power which marked the new culture of the 20th C. During this time, women of both sides of the Atlantics achieved not only the vote but entered every profession in ever greater numbers. The images of women portrayed by modernist men were largely negative. There was a notable obsession to write about what women should and should not be. In many of her writings, Virginia Woolf observed that while “the Victorian cook lived like a leviathan in the lower depthsâ€¦ The Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and fresh air” (Fernandez, 2009: 1233). In this sense, women were no longer defined through their erotic relationship with men; the task of the woman writer instead was to trace the prospects and problems of an expanding female intellectual community. Accompanied by other modernist writers, Virginia composed experimental books concerning the ideas of female power, such the case of to the lighthouse in which “Mrs. Ramsay the mystical and mysterious mother, became an emblem of independence and endurance” (Fernandez, 2009: 1240).
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The novel is divided into 3 sections; “The window”, “Time Passes” and “To the Lighthouse”. Each section is narrated in a stream of consciousness style from various narrators. The central plot of the novel centers on the story of a journey to the lighthouse. James Ramsay, son of the Ramsay’s marriage, wants to achieve this journey at the age of 6 with her mother but only after 10 years he can do this trip. He achieves this aim after he had gained strong feelings of hatred against his father because of causing him a difficult path during childhood.;”Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment” (Woolf, 1987: 1).
By focusing on the contrast between male a female characters, Virginia Woolf has paid attention to the necessity of each one for the other in mental terms. In this sense, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are contrasted with other characters so as to show the discrepancy of a mind belonging of a man or a woman. “Mrs. Ramsay is the sentimental one who possesses a poetical mind while Mr. Ramsay is the egoistic one who contrasts his ideas with that of her wife” (McCarthy, 2002: 2 ).
Mrs. Ramsay is first presented as a typical Victorian mother, preaching to her daughters the superiority of the male sex; “Indeed, she had the whole of the other sex under her protection; for reasons she could not explain, for their chivalry and valour, for the fact that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance and woe betide the girl-pray Heaven it was none of her daughters! – Who did not feel the worth of it” (Woolf, 1987: 2).
By the time the novel was written, women had to comfort and serve men. That patriarchal society imposed the differences between women and men by proving the stereotypes of feminity and masculinity. Mr. Ramsay is the representative male character whose views of life as object or subject as well as his thinking in linear terms were the result of the intelligence and education achieved through the alphabet theory. “It was his splendid mind like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q. Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q” (Woolf, 1987: 16).
On the other hand, Lily Briscoe is the female character affected by this theory of the alphabet as well as by Mr. Tansley way of disapproving her by saying that “women can’t paint, can’t write” (Woolf, 1987: 24). In this way, she does not fit into that idealized stereotype of women required by the dominated society of the period. “She mirrors Woolf own ideology as regards the inequalities of both sexes” (McCarthy, 2022: 2).
In fact, Lily Briscoe feels undermined by men; “She felt a sudden emptiness, a frustration” (Woolf, 1987: 77).
Nevertheless, she does not obey to that tradition and tries to impose her independence. By portraying Mrs. Ramsay’s picture, she “fights against the society which idealized the female with domesticity and maternity in order to become a painter” (McCarthy, 2002: 3).
Women have always fought to break the boundaries between them and men in order to free themselves. Such conflict was also present in literature where men were the ones who dominate while women should address a phallocentric language in their works of art. That is why, “lily transcends the barriers separating the experience of life and production of art” (Baker:3).
“The feminine is not beautiful but a masquerade or performance while beauty is questionable since a beautiful woman is a construction from a patriarchal society” (Humm, 2007: 239). Mrs. Ramsay is essential since her beauty causes an effect in every character when it is perceived. This beauty is seemed through her different roles; as a beautiful mother when warming her child “Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow, said Mrs. Ramsay. But you’ll have to be up with the lark, she added; James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy” (Woolf, 1987: 1). Or as a woman increasing her beauty through the time, from men perspectives; or even when she dies and Lily Briscoe is portraying her as if she has never died.
Lily Briscoe is the artist who comprehends the necessity as regards men and women. She finishes her painting since she perceives the fusion of apparently opposites. Both characters are the vital contrasts in the novel who, however, agree with one striking similarity; Mrs. Ramsay herself at some points “deconstructs her role expressing doubts and dissatisfaction about the gender role into which she has been forced” (Ingman, 1998: 133).
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Lily Briscoe instead, has to deconstruct the rigid Victorian gender identities in order to become a painter. Mrs. Ramsay ends on a note of dissatisfaction that she carries a notebook of statistics in her bag, “in the hope that thus she would case to be a private woman whose charity was half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her own curiosity and become, what with her untrained mind she greatly admired, an investigator elucidating the social problem” (Woolf, 1987: 4). She also adds in this her admiration for Lily; “there was in Lilyâ€¦. Something of her own which Mrs. Ramsay liked very much indeed” (Woolf, 1987: 53). In the same way, Lily shows admiration for Mrs. Ramsay when she dies; “for if she did not do it nobody would do it” (Woolf, 1987: 67).
Virginia Woolf highlights how strong were the influences and effects caused by the phallocentrism lived during the Victorian period; especially the consequences produced in children and family life. Mr. Ramsay, “the domineering and self-centered husband” (Woolf, 1987: 1), blocks the maturity of his son James since he does not want to comfort his son’s desire of going to the Lighthouse. “What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness (here Mr. Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure” (Woolf, 1987: 1). He just imposes obstacles in his children happiness, Mr. Ramsay is the one who controls and dominates his family, women and children. Even when he has too much work, he looks for support in women; he is always trying to be satisfied by her wife;”He wanted sympathy. He was a failure, he said. Mrs. Ramsay flashed her needles. Mr. Ramsay repeated, never taking his eyes from her face, that he was a failure. She blew the words back at him. “Charles Tansley…” she said. But he must have more than that. It was sympathy he wanted, to be assured of his genius, first of all, and then to be taken within the circle of life, warmed and soothed, to have his senses restored to him, his barrenness made fertile, and all the rooms of the house made full of life-the drawing-room; behind the drawing-room the kitchen; above the kitchen the bedrooms; and beyond them the nurseries; they must be furnished, they must be filled with life” (Woolf, 1987: 18).
Mr. Ramsay refuses to let James to fulfill his desire so “his son hated him. He hated him for coming up to them, for stopping and looking down on them; he hated him for interrupting them; he hated him for the exaltation and sublimity of his gestures; for the magnificence of his head; for his exactingness and egotism (for there he stood, commanding them to attend to him) but most of all he hated the twang and twitter of his father’s emotion which, vibrating round them, disturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother” (Woolf, 1987: 18).
However, Mr. Ramsay changes his mind after ten years later when his wife Mrs. Ramsay dies. He changes especially his view of the world in linear terms which is left aside. At this precise moment, Lily Briscoe finishes Mrs. Ramsay’ portrayal making her seem as if she has never died; “Lily had taken the wrong brush in her agitation at Mr. Ramsay’s presence, and her easel, rammed into the earth so nervously, was at the wrong angle. And now that she had put that right, and in so doing had subdued the impertinences and irrelevances that plucked her attention and made her remember how she was such and such a person, had such and such relations to people, she took her hand and raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the airâ€¦ That woman sitting there writing under the rock resolved everything into simplicity; made these angers, irritations fall off like old rags; she brought together this and that and then this, and so made out of that miserable silliness” (Woolf, 1987: 80).
Mr. Ramsay’s change is finally achieved by his acceptance to go to the lighthouse with his children; without the presence of his wife but making feel Woolf’s aim that “it was possible to take out the phallocentrism during the Victorian period” (McCarthy, 2002: 3). Adding Lily’s painting which represents the “change in ideology between the old and the new generation of women at that time” (Ingman, 1988: 132).
To conclude, in the Lighthouse it is symbolically represented the tensions and negative effects of the age of tyranny felt by most women, children and feminist artists during the Victorian period. James Ramsay could finally fulfilled his dream but, unfortunately, he has grown up full of hatred for his father lack of love and comprehension; Cam, his brother, feels too disappointed and dos not know if joining his brother or father’s side. How many children or men like them there must have been, it is impossible to measure but what is certainly true is that scars from childhood mostly are never cured. “children don’t forget, children don’t forget” (Woolf, 1987: 32)
That is why, with the stream of consciousness technique as well as Woolf’s unique style, the portrayal of a family governmed by such a patriarchal man was magnificently felt; not only for the well developed dramatization of each character but because the complexity of the novel shows that women writers were also capable of creating such significant work of art without following a phallocentric language or a language imposed by men. “I was not going to let myself be diminished, neutralized; I would not ever let them make me over their image” (McCarthy, 2002: 2).
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