Dr Liz Burns

Psychotherapist West Cornwall

Limbus 

Talk delivered at 'Limbus' Dartington Hall 1.3.2014

 

I am going to talk about my reading experiences: what significance I think they have had in my personal and professional development, and how they are represented in my work. I propose to outline some theoretical principles; to give some examples of clinical situations and how I think literary inspirations can help/ have helped both with understanding and in practical ways. A lot of this understanding will be personal to me, but I very much hope that my ideas will mesh with yours in a useful way, and I have some suggestions as to how we can make this an experiential morning as well as a theoretical one.

 

Warming the context

I feel privileged to be able to tell you about the work I have done on literary reading and therapists’ development, but I don’t really want to do it cold. I want to ‘warm the context’ as systemic colleague John Burnham would say (References on a handout), so that you and I are in a more interactive place.

 

So, could I ask you just to take a moment to think about an early memory of being read to, or maybe hearing a story or a song? Just think about it, the content, if you can remember it, the sensations which went along with it, how you connect with it now. Stay with it for a moment. I am not going to ask you to talk about it in this big group, so just to hold it in your mind. There will be an opportunity after coffee to discuss any ideas which come up with others here. You can share something about this memory with your neighbour now if you like, or not. If you have difficulty with an early memory please feel welcome to think about something more recent. I should warn you that people can be surprised by the strength of emotional connections, so do take care of yourself if you can, in terms of what you share.

 

5 mins for this and there will be occasional little breaks for reflection

 

Systemic framework

 

This fits very well with thinking about literature and therapy, because of its emphasis on connections, relationship and context. In terms of relationship, I want us to think about what happens between reader and the text. It is dialogical (involves a conversational type interchange between the person reading and the text). It calls upon the reader to use imagination and make emotional links, as well as intellectual ones, to what is set forth in the text.

 

Systems thinking also involves looking at connections: how the relationship between people and things develops and is played out. Psychotherapy, whatever the brand, operates within a context of relationships, seeking to bring forth something new and to transform what was previously the case. Some years ago I became interested in what my background in literature (left behind to some extent when I trained first as a social worker and then as a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist) might help me to understand about the processes of psychotherapy. I perceived engaging with literature and therapeutic conversations as roughly analogous processes, so set out to explore and try to explain how each might help the other. I did this by means of a qualitative research study, which was set out in my PhD thesis and eventually made its way into a book (in your reference sheet). The research itself consisted of a survey, in depth interviews, a group for trainees on Masters family therapy Course at the University of Leeds, and data analysis by several different methods.

 

There is a great deal to be said about this but I want to avoid indigestible theorizing as far as possible, and give you a chance to play with some of the ideas in a practical way. I will be looking in a bit of detail at one or two texts, but referring to quite a few others so hope there is something that everyone can relate to.

 

My abstract made mention of my reading experiences: what I have come to think of as a ‘reading history’. This useful construct emerged from the research. It traces reading practices across a life cycle and can produce a fascinating, emotionally informed, personal history (Burns 2009)), suggesting that reading experiences are developmentally influential. That is to say that the stories we hear, the books we read, the poems/songs we love, the dramas which engage us, draw us into a relationship with them, which shapes the way we engage with our own experience, and help us to explore ourselves in the context of others. I have mostly used these ideas with therapists in training, but it is good to have one or two simple possibilities up one’s sleeve if the opportunity arises to use them directly in therapeutic conversations with clients. Discussions around books, TV programmes and films can mediate conversations which otherwise might not happen.

 

A popular novelist like Stephen King, for example, who is also a gifted writer and almost always has multiple layers of meaning in his stories, has facilitated many a contentious two generation discussion. An example might be: disaffected young person who believes no-one understands him or her, and parents who believe something very similar, and you are the therapist trying to facilitate some dialogue between them. They quite often, in my experience, can share some taste in reading or film material, or can at least engage in a conversation around those activities, when other prompts have failed. It’s also an invitation to the therapist’s curiosity and a chance to move away from problem saturated talk and tedious circularities.

 

I should perhaps apologise here for not talking about Hilary Mantel as mentioned in my abstract. If you only came for that I’m sorry, but I realized that her novels would have taken us in a different direction. I did mention Rupert Bear in the abstract, however, and I do want to talk about him, not because I think there is anything special about him, or because I think my psychotherapy practices bear a recognisable stamp of ‘Nutwood’, but (to give a personal example) because the pattern of reading/being read to at this early stage turned out to be highly indicative of the difference in relationship between my father and me, my father and my only sibling, a younger brother, and eventually between my brother and me. Rupert Bear came up in conversation (as he can possibly do!) and it suddenly became clear to us both that, not only did my brother not share strong associations with that cartoon from the Daily Express, but he didn’t have any recollection at all of being read to by my father. This simple observation: I got read to daily by our father and he didn’t, was a potent context descriptor and held a good deal of meaning for us both. It was rather a shocking revelation to me and, because it was ‘on the table’ we were able to explore the current thoughts and feelings which were prompted. This was a example of how literature (broadly defined) can be a prompter, facilitator and mediator of ‘difficult conversations’. I think the mechanism here is a kind of ‘externalisation’ which can prompt recollections and make discussing emotionally loaded conversations feel a bit safer.

 

I like to maintain my psychotherapy practices are not noticeably influenced by Rupert and the gang. That isn’t the case for another character from childhood reading. I don’t know how many people here remember Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly Molly Mandy stories? You do have to be of a certain age, although they are still in print. Again, my father was in the hot seat and he read tirelessly, the irritation of constant repetition notwithstanding, about a busy little girl, a bit bossy and organizing. She lived with her parents, grandparents and an aunt and uncle, who were all laboriously brought into every story. I only remembered the list of people ‘Father and Mother and Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle and Aunty’, but when I re-visited the books I found a number of significant details, and that on one memorable occasion she went so far as to chivvy the whole lot around the kitchen table to try to solve a family problem. So the little girl who listened (me) not only looked a bit like Milly Molly Mandy but she also grew up to be: first a social worker, then a family therapist with a professional penchant for getting families together to sort out their problems! Fanciful it may be (I prefer to think of it as a bit spooky!), but a taste for 3 generations trying together to solve some of life’s quandaries has stood me in good stead as a family therapist! I had not thought of Milly Molly Mandy for years, then suddenly there she was showing me how much my life had followed the patterns she set down.

 

Short break to reflect on what has been said so far

 

Thinking about the family: what literature has to offer

Part of training to be a family and systemic psychotherapist involves considering the great variety of family forms and patterns, both home-grown and from other cultures. I have been meeting with all sorts of families for more than 40 years, but I know that some of my most convincing ideas about what happens in families come from the involvement I have had with literary texts.

 

To start at the more sensational end, Sophocles, from the 5th century BC in Greece, knew how to engage a reader/viewer, and his telling of the stories of Oedipus has reached across the millennia to influence our concept of human development in the context of family. This story will be familiar to most people here, I imagine, if only because of the use Freud made of it in outlining his theory of psychosexual development. The ancient tragedy of Oedipus is full of violence, incest (albeit inadvertent), and self mutilation. Earlier still, Aeschylus set out the bloody tale of the fall of the house of Atreus, and how the reverberations of violent family enmities affected both individuals and wider social systems in the aftermath of the Trojan war. Family members are set against each other in the most intimate of ways, with the sacrifice of a child Iphigenia, leading to the killing of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her subsequent murder by her son Orestes and his sister Electra. It doesn’t stop there, of course. How could it? since, once started, these processes are hard to stop. Here are the Furies, pursuing Orestes.

 

Closer to our own time Shakespeare focused time and again on families and their doings. The problems in Denmark when old King Hamlet is murdered, and young Hamlet just can’t get it together to sort things out, arguably influence, more than any other, our sense of what it is ‘to be, or not to be’. Hamlet’s preoccupation and propensity for laying about him violently results in the killing of his potential father-in-law and the death of Ophelia.

 

‘King Lear’ shows us how not to grow old gracefully in the bosom of the family, and how to put the cat among the pigeons long before this is a safe thing to do, by dividing his kingdom between his daughters. This is a mistake which seems to have recently been repeated (I make no apology for lowering the tone and bringing the Archers into it) by the troublemaking Auntie Peggy Woolley. It remains to be seen what happens there.

 

These examples from the great tragedies are pretty straightforward to appreciate, but it was not until relatively recently that I really saw the relational darkness at the heart of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. This story operates at multiple levels – as do all stories worth hearing. Ostensibly, this is a romantic love story of two young people from warring families. It has a poignant ending brought about by the chance escalation of events surrounding their ‘star crossed’ affair.

 

But look again – where are the parents of these two children? They are busy indulging themselves in partying as well as feuding. They do nothing to protect their young people from the dangers inherent in the world they have created, and two innocents have to be sacrificed to bring the enormity of the situation home to them. Only when it is too late does societal authority (the Prince) intervene to make them shape up and take on their responsibilities. To me, this story has a particularly contemporary feel. In my work I have met with many parents who desperately want to ‘be there’ for their children, but find this so hard amongst all the other calls on their time, that it takes a crisis, maybe an episode of self harm, maybe a foray into destructive relationships, to enable them to see that, amongst other things, they have to do things differently. I don’t send them all to see Romeo and Juliet – although I might say ‘that reminds me of an old story – have you ever seen Romeo and Juliet. You might have thought it was just about two young people in love, but have you ever thought…?’

 

It is hard to stop talking about Shakespeare in terms of contemporary resonance and significance – anyone who is interested to look further would find Murray Cox and Alice Theilgaard’s book ‘Shakespeare as Prompter’ a good read.

 

These tragedies are at the heart of our culture, with their strong narratives of terrible events and relational violence acted out. I want to turn away from them (it begins to feel overwhelming!) and visit a writer, much closer to our time; a woman, with a great literary vision, based on her attempt to capture the nature of subjectivity /consciousness and to present inter-subjectivity in language. I’d guess that we would tend to see this as both ambitious and eminently worthwhile. In contrast with the writers we’ve just been thinking about, her approach was through the detail of everyday life. I’m not going to spend time talking about the gender divide we might see here (that’s for another day), but part of her mission was also to give proper weight to the domestic, the interior, the personal. Maybe we could talk about this as a more of a woman’s view. You might, in fact, say she is more in the tradition of Milly Molly Mandy than the Oresteia.

 

It may be a bit unconventional to mention Joyce Lankester Brisley and Virginia Woolf in the same breath, but I have found them both rather perspicacious and influential in their different ways. Virginia Woolf, the woman who wrote about needing ‘a room of one’s own’, gives us something to look at which informs our understanding of relational life. We’ll spend a little time with that before going on to think about how she explored the interior world of her characters, illuminated their consciousness and, I think, helped us to make better sense of therapeutic discourse.

 

Virginia Woolf’s beautiful and funny book ‘To the Lighthouse’ somehow captures, for me, the elusive quality of being together with others. Woolf spent a significant amount of her childhood in St Ives, just up the road from where I live now. She holidayed there with her parents, relatives and friends for many years. This book was, amongst other things, an attempt to lay the uncomfortably dominating ghosts of her parents. She said:

"I suppose that I did for myself what psychoanalysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotions. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest."A sketch of the Past p.81 in ‘Moments of Being’.

 

Woolf was, though, first and foremost a writer and her experimental prose attempted to capture subjective experience. She was a literary figure, intent on stretching the capacity of writing (and by necessary implication reading) to mirror and expand our consciousness. She was, however, deeply interested in human psychology and how people live together, and you will probably know that she herself suffered from painful periods of mental distress.

 

‘To the Lighthouse’ describes a summer house party at the seaside. Ostensibly it is set on Skye, but we all know it is St Ives really. Talland House, which was the setting for the Stephens family holidays, is set on a hill overlooking St Ives bay with Godrevy Lighthouse in the centre of the view.

 

Nothing unusual happens, the emphasis being on relationships, minutely observed, mostly, and for the first part of the book, by Mrs Ramsay, materfamilias and hostess. We witness the interchanges between her and her husband, children and guests and are privy to her thoughts and feelings via a ‘stream of consciousness’. To my mind she has a good eye for an engaging image as well as a free ranging openness to her surroundings and the influences which play upon her. I have always thought of this as having something in common with free association – but you may know more about this than I do.

 

After several pages of people assembling for supper, Mrs Ramsay is rewarded by a vision of the family:

 

‘now all the candles were lit, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candle-light , and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round the table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which, far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land; there, outside, a reflection in which things wavered and vanished, waterily.’ ‘To the Lighthouse’ P106

 

Here the visual image is key to making an emotional connection. It is also a metaphor – family in a protected space, an island of dry land, isolated from the world around, defined by the candlelight which holds them together, outside is vaguely threatening and ‘other’.

 

For me this is a potent evocation of the therapy room, a family ‘composed’ by the act of coming together, into the light of the therapeutic conversation. It is an ‘altered space’ which has something of the charmed circle and the theatre about it. The family is assembled against the outer darkness and uncertainty. The space is one where people share consciousness together, albeit momentarily, in which things are fluid and change is possible.

 

I think that Woolf here is showing us what she calls a ‘moment of being’ which she thought stood out from the ‘cotton wool’ of day to day experience. She described it like this:

 

‘Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.’ ‘A sketch of the Past’ in ‘Moments of Being’

 

Sudden revelation of this connectedness is what she calls a ‘moment of being’. I find that a convincing description of the experience we are often searching for in therapy. She uses the language of art and literature to express something transformed, which transcends the assumptions by which we usually negotiate the tasks of everyday living. She gives an example of this from her own childhood experience:

 

..also in the garden at St Ives. I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; “That is the whole”, I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower.’ And in typical writerly mode she adds ‘It was a thought I put away as being likely to be very useful to me later.’ (‘A sketch of the Past’ in Moments of Being p71)

 

This seems to me to be a perception which really indicates a strong convergence of her thinking with what I have come to understand as ‘systemic’. We can interpret this into our own several languages and I hope you will feel moved to do a bit of that after coffee.

 Subjectivity and inner resources

 

Mrs Ramsay had her own sense of herself, and the abilities inherent in accessing that subjective domain. She knits (well known meditative activity!) whilst sitting in silence with her husband after the children have gone to bed:

 

She could be herself, by herself…To be silent, to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless.’ (To the Lighthouse p69).

I was really riveted when I read this for the first time, so perfectly does it capture the exhaustion of constant being and doing, whilst at the same time adding in the possibility that underneath all the over-commitment, the person still exists and can conceive of different states and potential for development. I thought ‘where have you been all my life, Virginia?’ As a family therapist I am acutely aware, and have been since I began to work in mental health services, that, try as we may to make it otherwise, women are the main people we see, whether with their children, as in the service I mostly work in currently, or on their own account. They are often called upon to be the drivers of change, for themselves and for others. How useful then, is this ability to step outside the situation, to position oneself so as to be able to see and feel the possibilities for ‘making things new’ (Ezra Pound ‘modernist slogan’).

 

Maybe a moment for reflection?

 

Change and healing

 

You can read more about this if you want in Virginia Woolf’s other novels such as ‘Mrs Dalloway’, and other prose writings (I’ve made a list available), but I want to go on now to think about another favourite of mine ‘The Ancient Mariner’ a narrative poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (published 1798). We now enter a place of mystery and exoticism. This poem tells of intense individual experience in the context of relationship - albeit the domestic and everyday are pretty far away – in fact that is at the heart of the Mariner’s tragedy. I want to give some thought to what I think is an essential part of therapy – the process of change. The nature of change and the means of accomplishing it has been argued about endlessly across the breadth of what we might recognize as ‘systemic’ approaches, since the beginning, somewhere back in the 1950s. To do the subject justice would take another whole lecture and more so I’m not going to enter that debate, merely to focus on something that we could all recognize – a modification of a situation which is painful, dangerous, uncomfortable and/or unhealthy towards something preferable. We might be talking behaviour, beliefs, quality of attachments, lived narratives and preferably (perhaps) all of those things together. A simple idea from systemic roots is that a change in one part of a system cannot fail to give rise to change in all the other constituent parts.

 

There is often a debate about whether real change (what we might call second order, or discontinuous change following Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (1974) )has to take place over an extended time, or at a particular moment. I would argue that both aspects are important but that an essential part of the systemic therapist’s job is to be able to recognize and facilitate change which happens in a moment.

 

So, let’s see what the Ancient Mariner has to say about this. It may be a very familiar passage, and I noticed that AS Byatt chose it in a recent edition of ‘With Great Pleasure’ on Radio 4. The scene is that an old sailor is recounting the story of his last voyage to an unfortunate ‘wedding guest’, whom he has collared on the very threshold of the nuptial celebrations. It is a terrible story of violence, guilt, ghostly happenings and suffering, all brought on by a moment of apparently random vandalism, in which the Mariner takes his cross bow and shoots the bird of good omen, an Albatross, which has been following the ship.

 

After this it is downhill all the way. His shipmates are understandably outraged and hang the Albatross around the Mariner’s neck as a symbol of his guilt. The ship is becalmed in torrid sea, the crew die to a man, leaving the Ancient Mariner:

 

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide sea!

And never a saint took pity on

My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

 

I looked upon the rotting sea,

And drew my eyes away;

I looked upon the rotting deck,

And there the dead men lay.

 

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;

But or ever a prayer had gusht,

A wicked whisper came, and made

My heart as dry as dust.

 

I closed my lids, and kept them close,

And the balls like pulses beat;

For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky

Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,

And the dead were at my feet.

 

Things could hardly be worse. It is a situation of horror and oppression. The Mariner is imprisoned by his guilt. The curse is upon him for seven days and seven nights. He wishes for death but is unable to effect it. Then as night comes on :

 

The moving Moon went up the sky,

And no where did abide:

Softly she was going up,

And a star or two beside—

 

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,

Like April hoar-frost spread;

But where the ship's huge shadow lay,

The charmèd water burnt alway

A still and awful red.

 

Beyond the shadow of the ship,

I watched the water-snakes:

They moved in tracks of shining white,

And when they reared, the elfish light

Fell off in hoary flakes.

 

Within the shadow of the ship

I watched their rich attire:

Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,

They coiled and swam; and every track

Was a flash of golden fire.

 

O happy living things! no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware:

Sure my kind saint took pity on me,

And I blessed them unaware.

 

The self-same moment I could pray;

And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.

 

The ancient Mariner’s soul appears to be saved and, although he has far still to travel to tell his tale to anyone who will hear, his spontaneous blessing of the water snakes has allowed him to be rid of the corpse of the albatross. He feels again like a living person. I am reminded how often a spontaneous action, not obviously related to the problem in focus, enables a dire situation to be lightened, and a seemingly intractable situation to admit change. This can happen when the focus on problems becomes so exclusive as to block out any other way of seeing the situation. Very much like, in my practice setting, children and parents will come to a session with a very strong story about bad/ disturbed behaviour and all the ills which flow from it. It will be difficult for all in the conversation to do anything but get more and more bogged down in a miserable account in which there seems to be no possibility of change. The problem story becomes the only story there is (narrative colleagues will recognize this very easily – and we may all call it ‘problem saturated’ talk). This may be where the therapist attempts to elicit another perspective or story (a bit like a water snake whose beauty can be admired ) and may say ‘well, that sounds very difficult, but what is the best thing that has happened in the last few days? What has X done that has made you feel less displeased? What signs of hope can you see? In my experience, this question almost never falls flat, I think, especially if he therapist has the courage to persist. After all, people accessing services have already made a step in the direction of hope.

 

I think perhaps Coleridge was also illustrating a sense that, no matter how full of despair a situation may be, the individual may at any time be able to access a reservoir of health and wellbeing by opening him or herself up to the beauty and innocence of nature, and that this may happen when the person least expects it. The mariner’s original crime was a denial or killing of that same relationship, so the remedy makes perfect sense.

 

There are many ways to look at this poem and perhaps there will be some views after coffee.  

 

Helping us to understand and make the best of therapeutic discourse.

 

So where have we got to? I have argued that Literature can help to build our sense of self, both personal and professional, and that influences can be active below the level we are conscious of at the time. Looking back and making connections helps us to be more self aware, and also more empathic. I have suggested that a literary exploration of human nature can enrich the understandings we take from the trainings we have had and the experiences of which we have been a part. I believe that when we practice the art of therapy, we share many preoccupations with writers like Virginia Woolf and, in a different age, the poet Coleridge.

 

I’d like now, in conclusion to spend a little time thinking about the process of psychotherapy as I understand it, and how this has been enhanced by thinking about reading and other literary practices like close critical reading, discussion and the observation of cultural links (intertextuality).This all becomes possible in what we might call a postmodern age where we are positively encouraged to link seemingly disparate elements with idea of generating meaning by so doing.(that’s what all this has been about).

 

When I became enthused about the topic, it was because I dimly perceived that there was something hitherto unconsidered, at least in the professional literature I was familiar with, which I could explore. Some of the most interesting things which came out of the research I did, were to do with the role of intuition in artistic and psychotherapeutic processes, the role of images, and figurative language in general, in promoting intuitive understanding and the way in which this meshed with a systemic approach in therapy. I suppose I wanted some ‘water snakes’ of my own to bless ‘unawares’ and I wanted to see where that would take me. When I began, I was not as aware as I am now of the work of neuroscienists in this area. Now I am more aware, and there have been important developments in that area, and I have been looking (quite casually really, in between other things) for a framework to put those, more abstract, findings into, for the purpose of exploring their meaning.

 

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I came the other day on a paper left lying about by a colleague: a good example of how groups of people working in the same place on similar topics inform each other’s thinking, quite often absolutely inadvertently. It was a chapter by Allan Schore entitled ‘The right brain implicit self: A central mechanism of the psychotherapy change process’.

 

Maybe you have all been busily reading it, but just in case you haven’t, it is about advances in thought about the brain, especially in relation to two distinct but complementary processes associated with the two hemispheres or ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’. It is a most fascinating summary, not least because it argues convincingly, and in some detail, for the importance of the right brain’s function in implicit information processing, emotional response and the formation of what he calls the ‘implicit self’ or selves. This he considers specifically in relation to what happens in therapeutic enactments and how the use of ‘right brain’ functions can lead to profound and lasting change. He says:

‘the key mechanism is how to implicitly and subjectively be with the patient’

 

or, I would add, patients.

 

He says that ‘a large number of disciplines in both the sciences and the arts are experiencing a paradigm shift from explicit conscious cognition to implicit unconscious affect’, in terms of what they value.   I hope you will forgive my ‘shorthand’ in relation to this complex subject when I say that what I have been discussing this morning might be thought of as a kind of ‘work out’ for the right brain. Something we can do, I think, is to make a conscious effort to mobilize our more intuitive capabilities – maybe sharing something with Keats’s notion of ‘negative capability: ‘that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ .

 

If it is your kind of thing, perhaps this can be done through active engagement with literature or other imaginative, transformative media.

 

I was wondering how to finish and I’d like to let the words of one of the writers we have been talking about to be the last ones. In the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, the wedding guest has been stunned, and wakes the next day a wiser man, but also a sadder one. That doesn’t seem quite the right note to leave you on, so I’ll let Virginia Woolf have the last poignant word. ‘To the Lighthouse’ is a book of three parts, the first being about the family and Mrs Ramsay’s reflections; the second describes the house when the family is not there for the period of the war. In this part several people die, as it were off-stage, including Mrs Ramsay. The third part is set when some of the original surviving participants return to the house with the Lighthouse view. The Lighthouse itself is finally visited and proves less romantic close up. A character called Lily Briscoe kind of takes over from Mrs Ramsay as observer. She continues her, not very good, painting, doing her best to convey the essence of what she sees, now that so much has changed, so much has been lost:

 

… There it was – her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in an attic, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.’

 

‘To the Lighthouse’