Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood’s terrifying picture of the future run amok, starts with an epigraph from To the Lighthouse: “Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air?”
Woolf appears in two seemingly inconsequential instances of name-dropping that nevertheless help establish and substantiate Jimmy/Snowman’s literary background. Recalling great human achievements, all of which were relegated to the distant past, he recites a list to help commit them to memory: “The Divine Comedy. Greek statuary. Aqueducts. Paradise Lost. Mozart’s music. Shakespeare, complete works. The Brontes. Tolstoy. The Pearl Mosque. Chartres Cathedral. Bach. Rembrandt. Verdi. Joyce. Penicillin. Keats. Turner. Heart transplants. Polio vaccine. Berlioz. Baudelaire. Bartok. Yeats. Woolf” (79).
Recalling his university days at The Martha Graham Academy, “named after some gory old dance goddess of the twentieth century” (186), he explains that there was no longer a need for film-making and video arts, as anyone could splice together or digitally alter whatever they wanted. “Jimmy himself had put together a naked Pride and Prejudice and a naked To the Lighthouse, just for laughs” (187).
Also notable is a passage that evokes the interludes that begin each section of The Waves: “The sun is above the horizon, lifting steadily as if on a pulley; flattish clouds, pink and purple on top and golden underneath, stand still in the sky around it. The waves are waving, up down up down” (147).
In an essay written not long before Oryx and Crake, Atwood describes rereading To the Lighthouse in her early sixties, appreciating it in ways that she couldn’t when she first read it at the age of 19. She remarks on the patterns, the artistry, the resonance, “the way time passes over everything like a cloud, and solid objects flicker and dissolve” (Writing with Intent, 241-242). Little wonder that it left an impression that showed up in her next and perhaps most ambitious novel.