To the Lighthouse (First Edition) by Virginia Woolf



2015-06-26 10:29:50

To the Lighthouse is a novel by Virginia Woolf (1822-1941). The first edition of this work was published in 1927 by the Hogarth Press, London. Background

Woolf began writing the novel as a therapeutic method of working out unresolved issues that she had with her parents. The setting is a place they used to visit together, before her mother died when she was 13. This and other parallels with Woolf’s own life make this the most autobiographical of all her novels.

To the Lighthouse is one of Woolf’s best known novels, considered a pinnacle of Modernist literature. After writing the first draft, Woolf considered it her best work, and her husband considered it a masterpiece.

The novel was published by the Hogarth Press, the private publishing company established in 1917 by Woolf and her husband Leonard. The proceeds from the first impression of 3,000 copies outsold all previous novels, and allowed the couple to buy a car.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The novel follows the Ramsays during visits to their summer home on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides, and the tensions within the couple and the family. They are joined periodically by friends and acquaintances. The first world war begins and ends, and the mother passes away. The father falls into gloom and self-pity. The remaining Ramsays as well as other guests later return to the summer house ten years after the initial visit, and the aborted trip to the lighthouse ten years earlier actually occurs, resolving issues and bringing the plot full circle. There is a sub plot of an artist character who begins a painting during the first visit, and completes it at the end, realising that the achievement of her vision is more significant than her work’s reception – a metaphor for Woolf’s own attitude towards her work.

The plot itself is considered secondary to psychological analysis and introspection. Therefore there is little dialogue or action. Most of the novel is written as thoughts, memories, and observations. Therefore the novel focuses largely on loss, subjectivity and complexity of perception and experience.


Virginia Woolf is one of the most influential and respected writers of the Modernist era, and one of the most respected female writers in history.

See main article: Virginia Woolf rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions of Jacob’s Room (1922, Hogarth Press, London) are much more valuable if they retain their original bindings and dust jackets, in this instance designed by Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell. They are also much more desirable if signed or inscribed by Woolf.

First editions were sold by Sotheby’s for £7,200 in June 2007, by Swann Auction Galleries for $9,500 in April 2006, by Bonhams for £15,535 in December 2003, and by Christie’s for $19,550 in December 1996, and signed for £15,600 in November 2006.

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