Search This Blog

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Feminist Reading of To the Lighthouse is Poppycock! (CR #6)

Beadle claims illiteracy is no excuse for huge Marmoset walking on the grass.

In his book Virginia Woolf:  The major novels, John Batchelor begins his chapter on To the Lighthouse by stating that it has a “close familial relationship” with Jacob’s Room and Mrs. Dalloway (91).  To the Lighthouse exemplifies her technique honed from writing these two books; however, his ulterior motive in this chapter though is not to discuss her method.  I find in the following sentence what I surmise as his thesis or purpose in this chapter:  “But I hope to show that Mr. Ramsay is, indeed, the novel’s centre and that the feminist critics are wrong” (92).  You see, the feminists have tried to skew Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe as being in the central characters in the story.  From a line in Virginia Woolf’s diary, he is convinced that Mr. Ramsay is the centre:  “But the centre is father’s character, sitting in a boat, reciting We perished, each alone, while he crushes a dying mackerel” (92).  From my reading of the book, I find that Mr. Ramsay is indeed the centre – of THAT scene, but not of the whole story. 

Being that this is a chapter in a book and not so much a critical article in a journal, he does not approach the topic straight-on; he interlaces other observations and his interpretations of some of the symbolism.   He notes that the house is the leading character in the “Time Passes” portion and that this book is an elaborate elegy to Thoby, Stella, her mother, and the time before the war.  (I wonder if there is some underlying reason why she left her father alive at the end of the story.  The righteous and innocent die, while the self-absorbed survive.)  At the end of the first section of this chapter, he jumps back to trying to prove his thesis; he comments, “Feminist critics see the novel as a novel about sex war:  the creative women, Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe the painter, struggle against the sterile patriarch” (94).  He uses a line from a comment Vanessa Bell made to defend his comment.  She states that Woolf gave a true portrait of their mother and their father too, but doing so for father  “isn’t quite so difficult” (94).  In my estimation, he did not prove his point.  I do agree with him that it is a study of the Stephen family, but being that Leslie was not hard to portray doesn't make him the centre.   Batchelor continues though giving us his opinion of the scene of them together; Mr. Ramsay reading his Sir Walter Scott novel, and Mrs. Ramsay reading a Shakespeare sonnet. 

I read this in hopes of illuminating my ideas for my final paper.  In other words, I had a desire to find a nugget about Augustus Carmichael’s part in the story.  And a nugget is what I got.  Mr. Batchelor likens Woolf’s Mr. Carmichael to Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  James is a male Miranda, while Mrs. Ramsay is a female Prospero (100).   I do not see Mr. Carmichael as a savage who is trying to undermine his "masters."  Batchelor then continues with imparting to us how much Mr. Ramsay enjoyed the boat ride over to the lighthouse because of the exceptional male company of old McAlister.  Mr. Ramsay likes to pretend that his wife has little intelligence, but he enjoys talking to a man with less intelligence (I’m assuming, I know) than his own wife.  Yes, he wants her to be beautiful – the beauty and mind of a butterfly.  While living, Mrs. Ramsay was the mirror that reflected and enlarged Mr. Ramsay’s ego.  I feel like Batchelor keeps proving the point of the feminist and not his.  He mentions on page 105 that Mrs. Ramsay and Lily both struggle to be creative against the egotism of men.  Mrs. Ramsay’s struggle is in the first section of the book as she tries to create a work of art in her dinner party (and a work of art within a work of art is the fruit arrangement).  Lily’s work of art is of course the painting.  In my assessment Mr. Ramsay tries to spoil or interrupt the attention of both of these artists. 

At the very end of the chapter, he states that James has reconciled his hatred of his father.  I am sure Woolf knows that Mr. Ramsay’s tyranny has only abated for a moment; a zebra cannot unpaint its stripes, but Mr. Batchelor believes that the world is a fine place at the end of the book.  And yes, there is resolution.  I think Mr. Batchelor tried to prove that the feminists are wrong and that Mr. Ramsay was as important as Mr. Ramsay thought he was, but I think he actually proved their point more than his.  I suppose when we read a book, we cannot do so without bringing ourselves along with it.  As in, the author tells us their story, but we filter it through our eyes and our own experiences.  Being a woman who has worked in what is considered a man's field for over 26 years, I can more readilty see the sexism and tend more towards a feminist reading of the novel.  As a man from Cambridge University, he would not let Virginia Woolf walk on his grass. 

Work cited:
Batchelor, John.  Virginia Woolf:  The major novels.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1991.  Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment