I read “Was It a Vision? Structuring Emptiness in ‘To the Lighthouse’” by Sally Minogue. I don’t believe the work is outdated, but I do think it is for a more educated person than me. It was written in 1997. It did help me better view how Woolf writes about death in her stories because I can see it in the examples she has given.
The title of her essay “Structuring Emptiness in To the Lighthouse” directly describes the theme of her essay. Initially, she does not restrict her commentary to the one novel, but also encompasses Jacob’s Room and Mrs. Dalloway. The emptiness can come from not being present physically and mentally or by death. She names the emptiness what Woolf calls it, the “impersonal thing” (287). She employs the other two novels to emphasize how Woolf succeeded in that the emptiness or impersonal thing was much stronger in To the Lighthouse. Minogue states that “Time Passes” makes the domestic scenes in “The Window” chapter trivial (287).
This is definitively a critical essay written for scholars for I believe one must be a scholar to understand it. Her choice of words is turgid: bathos, concatenation, elide, carapace (couldn’t she have just said “shell”), lacuna, anthropomorphized, vatic, and zeugma (at least she defines this term).
She interjects and peppers her comments in relation to other authors as if she is name-dropping: Keats, Hardy, Camus, and Van Gogh (his famous image? Is she referring to the painting with the bandage on his head?). I found it distracting to her thesis and not additive.
One of the most helpful and understandable lines was on page 290 about how Woolf “lovingly” creates Mrs. Ramsay and uses a technique that robs the reader of a sympathetic response; however, earlier in her essay she states how the reader has no sympathy for Clarissa. I disagree because I loved Clarissa.
I cannot say that I couldn’t pull fragments that helped illuminate Woolf’s writing for me; I just didn’t always agree with her comments. What Minogue considers comic components usually represent tragedy or drama to me. Is it Woolf’s own impersonal reaction to her mother’s death as represented in a “Sketch of the Past” that leads her to believe that all deaths are treated that way by Woolf? I suppose it is, and I suppose that Woolf does seem to trivialize death. Septimus’s own death is a short bit, and Clarissa’s reaction though defining is a rather short passage.
She uses the term zeugma to demonstrate that “Time Passes” diminishes the life portrayed in “The Window” (292). She continues to state that “the bathos of Mrs. Ramsay’s death robs her earlier life of meaning” 293.
I feel as if her essay went in several different directions, like a star or an asterisk; I don’t feel as if Minogue kept to the point she was trying to make which I think is that not only does death leave an emptiness, but Woolf’s depictions of death are usually empty of emotion which describes her response to her own mother’s death. A specific line which she uses to demonstrate the emptiness is “[Mr. Ramsay stumbling along a passage stretched his arms out one dark morning, but, Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, he stretched his arm out. They remained empty.] (p. 175)” (p. 289). From this passage she also continues on with how Woolf uses parenthesis, brackets, and grammar to emphasize or subjugate actions to other moments.
Minogue, Sally. “Was It a Vision? Structuring Emptiness in ‘To the Lighthouse.’” Journal of Modern Literature. 21.2 (Winter, 1997-1998): 281-294. Web. 29 September 2010.