To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse was published in 1927 by Hogarth Press two years after Mrs Dalloway and a year before Orlando. The plot – not the most important aspect at all – concerns a... More > family’s decision to visit a lighthouse on two separate occasions, the first, unsuccessfully, when the children are young and the second, successfully, when the children are ten years older but the mother has died. The essential parts of the plot, the death of the mother and the demise of a son, are merely referred to (the first in brackets!), but are central to the tone and feel of the second part in which the initially maligned father proves his worth in the eyes of his children.< Less
The Voyage Out
Published in 1915, but written and revised in stages from 1912, The Voyage Out was Woolf’s first novel. The plot follows Rachel Vinrace on her voyage aboard her father’s ship to South... More > America. During the voyage, Rachel meets a number of well-constructed characters that include Clarissa Dalloway (later given her own novel), and others that have been shown to be based on Llyton Strachey and Vanessa Bell.
Outwardly, this arrangement allows Woolf to run through a satire of Edwardian life, but deeper down the novel shows evidence of autobiographical elements. The father’s ship, for example, might represent Woolf’s perception of a life as set out by her own father, dead perhaps six or seven years prior to her writing the novel. Also the plot features a recollection of a mother’s death which the principal character is unable to bring herself to remember and certain dream sequences have been highlighted for their insight into Woolf’s own mental predisposition.< Less
The Waves, published by Hogarth Press in 1931, might be said to be plotless in essence whilst also serving as a counterpoint to her earlier novel Jacob’s Room. The structure, because... More > that’s a more helpful notion, is built around the soliloquys of six characters while a seventh, much like Jacob but this time kept silent, hovers in the background. Interspersed between these six voices are attendant naturalistic descriptions of waves breaking on a shore at different points of the day from dawn to dusk; another instance of Woolf’s childhood memories surfacing.
Through the different characters, and using the seventh, Perceval, as a collective, but flawed, icon, Woolf examines notions of the self and the collective through differing viewpoint. Some see Woolf’s peers in a selection of the characters including Llyton Strachey, E. M. Forster and T. S. Elliot, but such identifications are less important than what she has to say using these points of view as distinct mouthpieces.< Less
Published in 1937 by Hogarth Press, The Years was the last novel released during Woolf’s lifetime. It was also the longest in development, having gone through a steady flow of refinements since... More > it was first conceived as a novel-essay in 1931. Much like the previous novel, The Waves, this is as much or more about structure than it is about plot, following the progress or otherwise of the Pargiter family from 1880 up to ‘the present’. Again like The Waves, the stages of narrative presented as brief snapshots are interspersed with poetic vistas of British weather.
That the dates coincide with Woolf’s life are not coincidence, writing to Hugh Walpole in 1932 she declared that, “ … only autobiography is literature – novels are what we peel off …” This can be taken in two ways: that a writer is obliged to get through the novels before coming to the more worthy autobiography; or that what’s presented as a novel is no more than the thin outer skin covering up the autobiography underneath.< Less