Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Time

By Virginia Woolf


Time is not experienced conventionally in To the Lighthouse (but seriously, what is?). Instead, time is anchored in certain select moments, which completely distorts it from the way a clock experiences time. Time is measured as it is experienced by certain people, which infuses select moments with incredible importance and duration. In other parts of the novel, ten years is covered in about a dozen pages. Time is therefore both elongated and compressed.

Questions About Time

  1. What is the effect of compressing ten years into a dozen or so pages? Do you think Virginia Woolf did it successfully?
  2. What are the differences and similarities in how Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, and Lily view and approach time?
  3. In a sense, To the Lighthouse takes place over the span of 24 hours. We begin with an afternoon and evening (part one), enter into a long night (part two, which also happens to be ten years), and then we end with the events of one morning. What is the effect of this? Could the author have done it differently?
  4. In some parts of the novel, many pages are lavished on moments that last nanoseconds. In other parts, barely a word is given to the passing of years. Does this distortion of time accurately reflect how humans perceive the world?

Chew on This

Part Two of the novel, "Time Passes," is the only portion of the novel we see what the characters are so concerned with – the destructiveness of time.