In a belated celebration of Women’s History Month, what better way to honor the creativity and power of women than to read a book written by one? Written in a stream-of-consciousness narration, “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf features several characters but focuses specifically on two women who ultimately drive the entire novel.
These two women, Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, represent two conflicting archetypes of women: While Mrs. Ramsay clings to her old-fashioned ways, Lily embodies a more progressive view. She does not wish to marry and instead aspires to become an artist. This foil dynamic between the two raises several questions throughout the novel: Does only one “kind” of woman deserve respect? If not, how can we recognize and admire all women rather than just a specific archetype?
Mrs. Ramsay is a complex character, full of contradictions and flaws. She believes that everyone should get married, and men are born to be leaders of the world. She hates the idea of being called a “strong woman” despite exhibiting all the qualities of one. She is a kind and loving mother, a formidable opponent and an irresistibly magnetic companion.
On the other hand, Lily is highly observant and analytical, especially toward men. She watches the world and people around her and draws the conclusion that she is unfit for marriage. She makes her own path in the world, choosing to become an artist rather than settle down, as Mrs. Ramsay insists is best. She is the epitome of the early 20th-century “independent woman.”
Since Mrs. Ramsay and Lily sit on opposite sides of the spectrum and have many conflicting beliefs, one might assume they would not get along. However, this is surprisingly untrue. Both women admire each other for their differences and contrasting strengths. Mrs. Ramsay sees Lily and likes her independence; though she does not desire Lily’s values for herself, Mrs. Ramsay wants her daughters to be as headstrong as Lily and have the freedom to choose their own life paths. Lily looks at Mrs. Ramsay and loves her captivating, powerhouse nature. They recognize that they complement each other and share a silent, earnest companionship.
Through Mrs. Ramsay and Lily’s characterization, Woolf celebrates and appreciates all types of women, showing that a woman does not have to fit the ideal feminist model to be worthy of admiration. Perhaps this story points out that there is no reason to separate women into categories; rather, women are simply women and should be appreciated no matter what. This gratitude and camaraderie for women is the perfect message for Women’s History Month, so read “To the Lighthouse” for a profound and uplifting depiction of women and their lasting influence.