Katharine Smyth – All the Lives We Ever Lived

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Katharine Smyth – All the Lives We Ever Lived. Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

The death of her father has left Katharine pondering about her life and the people playing major roles in it. Amongst them is not only her family but also Virginia Woolf whose works deeply impressed her when she was a student at Oxford. The parallels between “To the Lighthouse” and her own life are stunning, especially when it comes to the impact that places have on the people. It is her family’s summer house in Rhode Island that first and foremost underlines this impression. Re-reading Virginia Woolf gives her the opportunity to understand her grief as well as her family relationships and to finally cope with her father’s passing.

Katharine Smyth makes it easy for the reader to follow her thoughts. Even though it is some years since I last read “To the Lighthouse”, I could effortlessly find my way back into the novel and see the thread that Smyth also saw. I found it an interesting approach for a memoir or biography and I liked it a lot.

There are two major aspects that I’d like to mention. First of all, Katharine Smyth cleverly shows how literature can help to overcome hard situations and to find solace in reading. It has been a concept since the ancient times, the classic Greek drama with its purgatory function and the possibility of a katharsis which helps you to sort out your feelings and opens the way to go on in life. Second, I also appreciated the author’s frankness. It is certainly not easy to write about the own father’s addiction and his slow deterioration, yet, the process of writing might have helped her, too, and embellishing things would have been counterproductive here.

An interesting memoir which was also beautifully written that made me think about which novel I would pick as a parallel to my own life.

Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse

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Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse

A summer house in the Hebrides. Mrs Ramsey is taking care of her family, although she sometimes wonders if this is really the life she has dreamt of. So does her husband. Even though the house is full of people, apart from the eight children there are numerous friends, many of them feel lonely and misunderstood. Even when they are together at the large dinner table. Ten years later, Mrs Ramsey is dead and the summer house forgotten. The war has left people with other thoughts. But now the family wants to go back to the residence which does not look as inviting as it did many years before. Yet, finally, they will be able to go to the lighthouse, since this time, the weather will be fine.

Virginia Woolf’s novel is not easy to access. We have three sections which could hardly differ more than they do. In the first part, we get a lot of insight in the characters’ thoughts and their feelings. Their emotional states are closely observed and it leaves you with an uneasy feeling since all of them are not able to express what they really think and want to say. They hide behind facades. In the second part, the point of view shifts; nature becomes much more present with its forces and what it dies to the house. It is only the servants that we meet and their thoughts on the family. Finally, the original task of going to the lighthouse becomes the big event in the last part. Unfinished tasks are now completed, even though the family is not complete anymore. Their lives have changed, time and the war have left scars.

As it is a classic, much has been said about the novel. The different approaches to life that the characters take and most of all its transience. The force of nature and opposed to it the attempt of seizing and getting hold of it with art. And of course the lighthouse as a guiding light, which the characters always see, want to go to and have to wait until the moment has finally come. Much of this is pretty obvious, but what I found much more impressive than the motives and metaphors was Virginia Woolf’s power of language and most of all, her capacity of creating an atmosphere. Sometimes dark, often moody, you cannot withdraw from what she creates and thus you become a part of the novel.