Blog #173: Finlay connections in To the Lighthouse

Naturally, one had asked her to lunch, tea, dinner, finally to stay with them up at Finlay, which had resulted in some friction with the Owl, her mother, and more calling, and more conversation, and more sand, and really at the end of it, she had told enough lies about parrots to last her a lifetime (so she had said to her husband that night, coming back from the party).

To the Lighthouse

While I still have at least one more Anna Karenina blog to write, one comparing the still-born courtship between William Bankes and Lily to the one between Varenka and Sergei, personal matters and other explorations keep interfering.

The personal matters have no place in this blog, but one of the explorations definitely does. Thoughts about the setting of To the Lighthouse led me to wonder about why Virginia chose Finlay as the name for the house or village where the Ramsays are staying. The notes to David Bradshaw’s Oxford edition of To the Lighthouse did not yield an answer, nor did other readily available sources. Eventually, though, ferreting on the internet led me to two plausible Finlay connections.

The first connection is a proven one (one immediately available to Woolf scholars with better memories than mine), since Finlay connects directly to Jacob’s Room. In Jacob’s Room we glimpse Jacob, “carrying in his hand Finlay’s Byzantine Empire.” A check of the short-title catalogue for the WSU Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf turns up the following item: Finlay, George. History of the Byzantine Empire from DCCXVI to MLVII. Everyman’s Library, no. 38. London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1906. Whether Virginia bought Finlay’s book before or after her 1906 trip to Constantinople, Finlay’s name for her was connected to that book and to that city, and the use of Finlay’s name in To the Lighthouse enriches the novel’s repeated Constantinople references. Further, the use of the name might be seen as a tribute to Finlay himself. Of Finlay, the Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that, though born at Faversham, Kent, he attended the University of Glascow, before studying Roman law at Gottingen, and then in 1823 following Byron to fight in the Greek war of independence. Britannica states that his books on Greece and on the Byzantine Empire “provided an innovative emphasis on socioeconomic factors and on the role of the general populace in historical change,” and this aspect of his writing would certainly have been of deep interest to Virginia. Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse both show traces of Finlay and his ideas about the obscure.

The second connection is less provable, though it does tie in well with my earlier Macbeth explorations. Apparently Finlay was the name of Macbeth’s father. If, as seems likely, Virginia knew of this genealogical connection, the use of that name deepens the already deep connections between To the Lighthouse and Macbeth.

“The vicissitudes which the great masses of the nations of the earth have undergone in past ages have hitherto received very little attention from historians, who have adorned their pages with the records of kings, and the personal exploits of princes and great men, or attached their narrative to the fortunes of the dominant classes, without noticing the fate of the people. History, however, continually repeats the lesson that powers, numbers, and the highest civilisation of an aristocracy are, even when united, insufficient to ensure national prosperity, and establish the power of the rulers on so firm and permanent a basis as shall guarantee the dominant class from annihilation. . . . It is that portion only of mankind, which eats bread raised from the soil by the sweat of its brow, that can form the basis of a permanent material existence.”

from Medieval Greece and Trebizond, quoted in the editor’s introduction to the 1906 edition of History of the Byzantine Empire

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