This book jacket was designed by Vanessa Bell for the first edition of To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf’s fourth novel published in 1927. Woolf’s novel is inspired by Godrevy Lighthouse in St Ives, Cornwall, where she holidayed as a child with her family including Bell, who was her sister.

Designing book covers and illustrations, Bell was a frequent collaborator at the Hogarth Press, the publishing house ran by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Bell created cover designs for all of Virginia Woolf’s works except her first novel.

What does the book jacket depict?

Many of Bell’s covers are abstract, but her design for To the Lighthouse closely relates to Woolf’s text. Bell chose to visualise the lighthouse, a totemic object within the novel that remains physically out of reach until the final pages. The pillar of the lighthouse stands at the centre of the design, rising from swirling waves below. Above, light beams radiate out into a block of dark colour, on which the novel’s title is written out in white. The lighthouse is enclosed within a border made up of semi-circles, a recurring motif within Bell’s work. Except for the three striking blue lines that define the lighthouse, the whole design is made up of flecks of colour. It evokes pointillism, a painting technique that was developed by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

Bell’s choice of colour – a navy blue and a light grey-blue – echoes Woolf’s own use of blue in the novel: ‘the blue waters of the bay looked bluer than ever … the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam.’

This jacket belongs to the British Library collection of dust jackets.