November 11, 2015

Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse to be obscured by new apartment complex


Godrevy lighthouse. Image via Flickr.

Godrevy Lighthouse. Image via Flickr.

“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” is the opening line of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. This is the voice of Mrs. Ramsay, promising her young son James a trip to the lighthouse across the water, but only if the weather is fair.

The lighthouse, watched by all and watching all of the novel’s characters, was inspired by Woolf’s own childhood. Until the death of her mother, when Virginia was thirteen, her family spent every summer at Talland House at St. Ives, Cornwall. From the windows could be seen the Cornish sea and beyond, out on the rocks, Godrevy Lighthouse. In her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse, Woolf transposed that view to the Isle of Skye.

Now the famous view is being threatened: The Independent reports that the county council in Cornwall has approved the construction of an apartment building that will completely obscure the view of the lighthouse. Fans and scholars of Woolf are vehemently opposing the decision. Professor Maggie Humm of the University of East London called the move “an appalling act of vandalism,” telling The Independent:

This view from Talland House was the focus of Woolf’s novel and visitors from around the world come to St. Ives specifically to view a key part of the town’s history, heritage and beauty.

Woolf’s great-niece, and author, Virginia Nicholson also sent an objection to the council, writing:

This is a short-sighted move by St Ives and Cornwall’s planners, who seem unaware of the legions of Woolf’s admirers who make the pilgrimage to the town lured by the special, untouched atmosphere captured in my great-aunt’s visionary novel To the Lighthouse—the view of which should remain unobscured for generations to come.

The apartments are insulting for another reason, too. The developers have been permitted by the council to include no affordable homes within the complex, as long as they pay the council a sum of £136,000. In addition to the loss of her beloved view, it seems Virginia Woolf herself is now caught up in Britain’s affordable housing crisis.



Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.