Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Years by Virginia Woolf

The Years by Virginia Woolf

I read this from the first American edition 1937, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., just gotta love my library, old shelving yet again.

You will never read VW for a thrilling plot, or a story that reveals itself over time, no her stories are the everyday people, or I should say everyday people of her social strata.  The more you read her books and the more you read about her life you can see how she captured so much of it in her stories.

The Years is a story about one family the Pargiter's and their life over the years.  It starts in 1880 and caries onto present day which was actually in the 1930 s., so fifty years and closely spans VW lifetime.

The Colonel has retired from the Indian Army and lives in a suburb of London with his invalid wife and children, also a mistress in the background.  The children grow up, Martin takes up an army career, Morris law at the bar, Edward a scholarly course to Oxford.  Delia marries and is the hostess par excellence, Milly marries into the landed squire gentry and horse world with children.  Rose is the militant suffragette and Eleanor will not marry, stay at home and look after father.

Our opening scene is set, everyone returning home to Abercorn Terrace for tea. Millie takes her mother's place and pours tea, the kettle never pours properly.  All return the Colonel from his mistress, Martin from school, Eleanor from being good to the poor, Morris from his law office.  Such scenes VW excels at.

"It's not boiling,"  said Milly Pargiter, looking at the tea kettle.  She was sitting at the round table in the front drawing room of the house in Abercorn Terrace.  "Not nearly boiling,"  she repeated.  The kettle was an old-fashioned brass kettle, chased with a design of roses that was almost obliterated.  A feeble little flame flickered up and down beneath the brass bowl.  Her Sister Delia, lying back in a chair beside her, watched it too, "Must a kettle boil?"  she asked idly after a moment, as if she expected no answer, and Milly did not answer.  They sat in silence watching the little flame on a tuft of yellow wick.  There were many plates and cups as if other people were coming; but at the moment they were alone.  the room was full of furniture.  Opposite them stood a Dutch cabinet with blue china on the shelves; the sun of the April evening made a bright stain here and there on the glass.  Over the fireplace the portrait of a red-haired young woman in white muslin holding a basket of flowers on her lap smiled down on them.  Milly took a hairpin from her head and began to fray the wick into separate strands so as to increase the size of the flame.

Walking in London.

It was March and the wind was blowing.  But it was so cruel.  So unbecoming.  Not merely did it bleach faces and raise red spots on noses;  it tweaked up skirts;  showed stout legs; made trousers reveal skeleton shins.  There was no roundness, no fruit in it.  rather it was like the curve of a scythe ...

In fact the whole paragraph which is one page long should be savoured.


She leant back in her chair.  How terrible old age was, she thought; shearing off all one's faculties, one by one, but leaving something alive in the center;  ...

Rose a cousin.
"All talk would be nonsense, I suppose, if it were written down," she said, stirring her coffee.

As Eleanor bent to give her the customary kiss, life once more took its familiar proportions.  So she had bent, night after night, over her father.  she was glad to stoop down;  it made her feel younger herself.  she knew the whole procedure by heart.  They, the middle-aged, deferred to the very old;  the very old were courteous to them; and then came the usual pause.  they had nothing to say to her; and she had nothing to say to them.  ...

... the liquid call of an owl going from tree to tree, looping them with silver.

The ending is a large family party, not unlike the ending of Mrs Dalloway.  Cousin Peggy -

Present Day
Thinking was torment; why not give up thinking, and drift and dream?  But the misery of the world, she thought, forces me to think.  Or was that a pose?  Was she not seeing herself in the becoming attitude of one who points to hes bleeding heart?  to whom the miseries of the world are misery, when in fact, she thought, I do not love my kind.  again she saw the ruby-splashed pavement, and faces mobbed at the door of a picture palace; apathetic, passive faces; the faces of people drugged with cheap pleasures; who had not even the courage to be themselves, but must dress up, imitate, pretend.  and here in this room, she thought, fixing her eyes on a couple, ...  But I will not think, she repeated;  she would force her mind to become a blank and lie back, and accept quietly, tolerantly, whatever came.

There the words lay, beautiful, yet meaningless, yet composed in a pattern - nox est perpetua una dormienda.

Delia's husband Patrick an old man now

"And it's just the same with the Irish,"  he went on.  North saw that he was bent on treading out the round of his familiar thoughts like an old broken-winded horse. ...

"North must go and talk to his friends," she said.  Like so many wives, she saw when her husband was becoming a bore ...

He overheard scraps of talk.  that's Oxford, that's Harrow, he continued, recognizing the tricks of speech that were caught at school and college.  

North thinking about his uncle Edward who became on Oxford Don.

Why's it all locked up, refrigerated?  Because be's a priest, a mystery monger, he thought, feeling his coldness;  this guardian of beautiful words.

The Years is not a thrilling story to be revealed, not a book that you can't put down, but rather it's beauty lies in the fact that you can put it down and pick it up and put it down over and over because you want to ponder on each bead on the string of the necklace; individual and perfect in themselves; strung together by a little piece of string; not silky just the life of a family, friends and generations. The Years a vehicle to express deeper thought.


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