Ninety-two years ago, in May of 1927, Virginia Woolf created a memorable middle-aged female character (and a bohemian artist to boot!).  I always return to Lily Briscoe for inspiration in Woolf’s classic novel To The Lighthouse published by Hogarth Press.

Both TIME Magazine and Modern Library named To the Lighthouse as one of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century.

The character Lily Briscoe (a painter) experienced an epiphany at the age of 44. It happened as she stood before her canvas, and layers of memories accumulated inside her mind. She imagined those who had died. She remembered younger versions of those who had grown. The paths of so many lives, stumbled into her own, unfolded in fragments in her mind as she painted, and Lily thought to herself:

“Like a work of art,” she repeated, looking from her canvas to the drawing room and back again. She must rest for a moment. And resting, looking from one to the other vaguely, the old question which traversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general question which was apt to particularize itself at such moments as these…paused over her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life?

A simple question–one that tended to close in on one with the years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that and the other.…In the midst of chaos, there was shape.”

She would come, yes. But it was with difficulty that she took her eyes off the picture…struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say; ‘But this is what I see; this is what I see, and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her.”

These seem like good words for writers in the midst of complex projects, I think of Lily doing her best to stick to her vision in front of her easel–and remember:  “In the midst of chaos, there was shape.”