Read The Years by Virginia Woolf Free Online
Book Title: The Years|
The author of the book: Virginia Woolf
Edition: Penguin Books Ltd
Date of issue: March 1974
ISBN 13: 9780140026481
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 437 KB
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Reader ratings: 6.2
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May 2nd 2015
The Years is Virginia Woolf's ninth novel, and since it is composed of a series of vignettes about the Pargiter family covering a fifty year period, it is tempting to review it as if it was an old photograph album, one of those with layers of tissue to protect the images. As we slide the delicate paper aside, each image gradually assembles itself:
1880. A family group. The bewhiskered patriarch is squarely camped on the only chair, one elbow propped against a little table on which sits an elaborate china teapot. His grown and semi-grown children are massed about him. He looks as if he has just finished speaking. The others look like they haven’t yet begun. The mother is missing from the picture.
Next page: 1891. This time the image is of a London trolleybus*, the kind that ran on tram tracks and were pulled by horses. There’s a woman sitting on the upper deck. She looks uncomfortable travelling shoulder to shoulder with strangers but she needs to get to her workplace. She also looks like she doesn’t speak about her work to many people, least of all to her father when she diligently returns home every afternoon at five o'clock to serve his tea.
1907: In the centre of the photograph a woman pours tea for her daughter. The daughter stares at her mother pouring tea as if she is imagining the scene as a painting. Another daughter sits in a window-seat holding a book and a pen in her hands, staring into the distance. She looks like she may be thinking about writing.
1908: An old man is lying in a bathchair, covered in a blanket. On a table beside him is a tea pot and some newspaper cuttings, one a photograph of a woman with a brick in her hand, another an obituary for the King.
1911: A group of women taking tea on a terrace. One of them is brown from the sun. She’s been travelling on her own in Spain and Italy. There is an owl in the background.
1913: An elderly woman pours tea for herself in a little room on the top floor of a lodging house in Wandsworth using the old china tea pot she saved from the house at St John’s Wood where she worked all her life.
1914: Some people sitting in a café and, yes, you’ve guessed it, they are drinking tea…actually I can’t do this anymore. This review is turning into a farce and Virginia Woolf’s book doesn’t deserve that treatment.
May 8th 2015
The Years has been the hardest of Woolf’s novels for me to get through and it has also been a challenge to write about, such a challenge in fact that I’ve been forced to do something I rarely do before writing a review: read up on the writer's life to help me understand her work. I bought A Writer's Diary a few days ago, and started it in the middle - 1932 - the year Woolf began The Years.
Here’s an entry from the autumn of 1932: I have entirely remodelled my Essay. It’s to be called The Pargiters (The Years) - and to take in everything, sex, education, life etc.; and come, with the most powerful agile leaps, like a chamois, across precipices from 1880 to here and now…Everything is running of its own accord into the stream, as with Orlando. What has happened of course is that after abstaining from the novel of fact all these years - since Night and Day in 1919 - I find myself infinitely delighting in facts for a change, and in possession of quantities beyond counting: though I feel now and then the tug to vision, but resist it. This is the true line, I am sure, after The Waves - this is what leads naturally on to the next stage - the Essay-novel.
The Essay she is talking about at the beginning of that quote is Professions for Women** published in 1931, which was the inspiration for both The Years and Three Guineas, the Essay-novel she spoke of at the end. As we can see, she had great plans for The Years and wrote nearly two hundred thousand words very quickly. In 1933, she wrote in her diary:
I visualise this book now as a series of uneven time sequences - a series of great balloons, linked by straight passages of narrative. I can take liberties with the representational form which I didn’t dare when I wrote Night and Day.
She began editing that enormous mass of words soon afterwards but the process took years during which she lurched between loving and hating every scene she had written. It appears that she reduced the body of the novel quite a bit during the rewrites, although it is still one of her longest. She removed many of the themes that would have been of interest to us today, the sex, education, life themes which she had spoken of with such enthusiasm at the beginning. The result is a series of beautifully written vignettes, but without a strong underlying theme to knit them together (that’s why my initial attempt to review this book failed - I couldn't find a common thread and was left with nothing but...an elaborate teapot).
(view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)]
To the Lighthouse was the first of Woolf's novels I read and I remember feeling that there was more beauty than realism in the text. In The Years, she set out to write a book full of realism, full of ‘facts’, but she seemed to become uncomfortable with so much 'fact' and the book had to fall back on ‘vision’, on poetic flights, on beautiful images. The ‘facts’ mostly seem to have been in the material Woolf cut from this book and we are left to wonder why. The diary gives accounts of her fragile state of health during this time which may have caused her nerves to fail at the thought of the sniping of her many critics. All books now seem to me to be surrounded by a circle of invisible censors, she noted around this time. She had grown more and more fearful of reading negative criticism, leading as it did to days and weeks of depression, of inability to write.
The five long years which Woolf spent struggling with the manuscript of this book were sad ones, difficult ones, years during which she constantly doubted her own talent. But what is really sad for us today is that the doubts she experienced led to the removal of such a quantity of exciting material from The Years, a project that should have been the high point of her entire novel writing career.
For Proust enthusiasts (may contain spoilers): (view spoiler)[
The Years covers a similar period to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. His work explored a fity year period, from the 1870s - the early Swann/Odette sections - up until the 1920s.
In both works, the action, if it can be called action, revolves around privileged people often seen in drawing room settings. There is a character in The Years, Lady Lasswade, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the Comtesse de Guermantes - we even see her in her opera box at one point. Another character is described making a phonecall for the first time, later seeing an aeroplane rising above rooftops, also a first. There is an uneasy relationship with a faithful family servant who is retired off when the family have no need of her. Taboo subjects such as anti-semitism and homosexuality are skirted around rather than addressed directly.
The biggest resemblance however is the ending. Proust closes his Recherche with an evening party at which many of the principle characters are seen and where their destinies are finally revealed - with many surprises, and the effects of age and time passing are examined. The Years also ends with an evening party at which all the principle characters gather. We find out what they have all become - there are also some surprises - and Woolf writes some fine paragraphs on ageing.
I also noted a comparison between how these two writers gathered their material. Proust was well known for picking up inspiration for his Recherche at his friends' soirées. Woolf did the same thing. Around the time she realised that she shouldn’t add any more scenes to The Years but should be preparing it for printing, she wrote in her diary:
If I go to Edith Sitwell’s cocktail this evening I shall only pick up some exacerbating picture: I shall froth myself into sparkles; and there’ll be the whole smoothing and freshening to begin again.
She spent so much time smoothing and freshening the manuscript that she grew entirely sick of it. Near the end she wrote: I wonder if anyone has ever suffered so much from a book as I have from The Years.
Actually, I think Proust probably suffered more. (hide spoiler)]
**In 'Professions for Women', Woolf argued for the killing of of the 'Angel in the House' figure, the self-sacrificing mother who perpetuates the idea that a woman's role is simply to be decorative and charming. In 'The Years', the mother figure dies at the beginning.
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Read information about the author(Adeline) Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and essayist regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.
During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929) with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
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