In his article “The Rhythm of Creativity in To the Lighthouse,” J. Hillis Miller makes some fairly far-fetched conclusions. From the title and from the first paragraphs, the reader knows that Miller addresses the rhythmic creativity of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe, and Augustus Carmichael. He reminds us that Virginia Woolf writes with a rhythm; she creates “a rhythmical groundswell which is comforting and sustaining” (168). He claims that four characters display creativity: Mrs. Ramsay with her dinner-party, Lily Briscoe with her painting, Augustus Carmichael with his poetry, and Mr. Ramsay with reciting poetry. And here I have do argue that simply reciting poetry loudly and obtrusively is not creative but attention grabbing. He then describes the nature of Mr. Carmichael’s creativeness a little more fully, but oddly considers that the novel presents it obscurely (171). Odd, as I see it as being definitively stated because he was acknowledged later in the novel as an accomplished and published poet. The family and the readers might see Mr. Carmichael’s character as being obscure, but it’s a pretty clear-cut case on the topic of his creativity.
Miller next addresses the question of who is the narrator. His description of the narrator reminds me of a spirit that invades a body and then has complete knowledge of the one whom it possesses, but at the time of possession, only knows what the character knows about the other people. He uses several different terms for this type of narrator: “indirect discourse, erlebte rede, or style indirect libre,” stating that each includes an essence of the type of narrator Woolf employed (no pun intended) for this novel. He describes how the reader learns nothing of the narrator, but in my opinion, knowing the narrator would detract from the tone of the story. He also explains how Woolf’s narrator in To the Lighthouse is vastly different from the omniscient narrator of the Victorian writing style. I see it as Woolf’s narrator pin-pointing onto one character, or perhaps, focusing in like a microscope would be a better analogy because as Miller states the narrator occupies the character “from within, down to every crevice” (175).
Miller then puts his microscope on Augustus Carmichael. He seems to equate Carmichael with the narrator; he surmises that from these two quotes: Carmichael “give(s) no inkling of any inner thoughts or emotion whatsoever,” and Mr. Carmichael cannot respond to Mrs. Ramsay because he was “sunk … a grey-green somnolence which embraced them all … in a vast and benevolent lethargy of well-wishing” (TTL 19), (178). That is not the description of a narrator who invades and searches into every crevice of the character’s soul; that’s a description of someone on a drug-induced high. Perhaps that is why the narrator cannot get into Carmichael’s mind; he’s in a constant drug fog. If the narrator tries to invade his person, she/he/it gets a contact high and starts reciting poetry with Carmichael. Although I think that I made a funny assessment, I believe it to actually be more reasonable than Miller’s. I do agree with him when he states that the narrator depends on the minds of the characters for its existence, but then again that’s a bit like saying that the river is dependent on water for its existence.
Miller moves onto discussing the “trope of prosopopoeia” which basically means the personification of the house in the “Time Passes” chapter. He also delves a little bit into philosophy in that he touches on the conversation between Andrew and Lily about whether or not the chair exists when they aren’t there (unfortunately dust is proof that things exist when “we” aren’t there). Finally, he closes out his article in discussing the differences between writing like a woman or riding like a man.
I thought his article made some good arguments and at times went off the reservation. There were instances where it became another one of those articles that made me question my intelligence. I read this mainly to hunt for information on Augustus Carmichael; Miller did make me realize why we may not get much information on Carmichael – the invasive narrator cannot penetrate the fogged mind of the opium addict; however, that’s not his opinion. Also, he seemed to veer off of what I thought his topic to be – Lily and Augustus’s creativity.
Works Cited: Miller, J. Hillis. “Mr. Carmichael and Lily Briscoe; The Rhythm of Creativity in To the Lighthouse.” Modernism Reconsidered. Ed. Robert Kiely. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Print.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. 1927. (They didn’t give me the page of citations, so I don’t know which version Hillis used.)