Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Memory and the Past

By Virginia Woolf

Memory and the Past

Because time is such a distorted thing in To the Lighthouse, memory and the past are a vital part of the characters’ present. When a single moment is given the tenth degree, every significant aspect of the moment is interrogated. It’s also important to note that a lot of important information is transferred via characters’ memories – which makes sense, since in real time the novel only truly covers one day.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. In Part One, Mrs. Ramsay makes a number of predictions regarding what events or occurrences various people will remember. Using Part Three as your guide, to what extent were Mrs. Ramsay’s predictions accurate?
  2. Lily’s attitude towards the time she spent at the Ramsays’ summer house ten years ago alternates between sadness and relief. Weigh her emotions. What is the net outcome? Is she nostalgic for that time or happy to be free of it?
  3. How and where does the memory of Mrs. Ramsay come up in Part Three? Is it weird that Lily seems to think of Mrs. Ramsay the most often?

Chew on This

Part Three of the novel cinches Lily Briscoe’s position as the book’s protagonist, as her memories and perspective on the past are the most telling and important.

The primary difference between Lily’s feelings in Part One and Part Two lie in the presence or absence of Mrs. Ramsay, and her feelings toward the past therefore mirror the conflict of her feelings towards Mrs. Ramsay.