Essay: Quaker Mysticism and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, by Emily Griesinger

Virginia Woolf in 1902

In her essay, Emily Griesinger agrees with those who say Virginia Woolf should not be considered purely a secularist despite her rejection of traditional Christianity. Indeed, in a careful reading of Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, Griesinger argues that there’s evidence of a particular stream of spirituality. Griesinger writes:

While others have studied Woolf and mysticism, few have interpreted her work through the lens of Quaker mysticism with its emphasis on “Divine Radiance” and “Inner Light.” Such an approach is warranted, however, when reading To the Lighthouse, a novel that “radiates” multiple and seemingly contradictory truths through its central image. The lighthouse is the unyielding “eye” of rational thought piercing the darkness of human ignorance. It is the romantic “eye” of dreams and mystery speaking intuitively to the deepest levels of consciousness. It is also the mystical “eye” of divine guidance leading the soul to salvation and the eternal rest of God.


Griesinger, Emily. “Quaker Mysticism and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.” In Religion, Secularism, and the Spiritual Paths of Virginia Woolf, edited by Kristina K. Groover, 131-150. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

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