“Time Passes” and WWI

While Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse deals heavily with the aftereffects of World War I, the novel does not really address the War until its second section, entitled “Time Passes”. This section consists of ten short chapters. “Time Passes” encompasses a decade’s worth of events in around twenty pages, in contrast to the first section, “The Window”, which consists of 125 pages and describes the details of a single evening. The effect of the severe condensation of time in the second section is disorientation for the reader. The section consists of mostly narration and very little dialogue; it also mostly mentions events after they have already happened: “[Mr. Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success…]” (134). This gives the reader the sense that the entire section was written in retrospect as the narrator reminisced on the things that happened to the Ramsay family between 1910 and 1920. The somewhat historical perspective that is therefore created in this section engages with WWI because it looks back on the War as a past event as opposed to experiencing it firsthand, which mimics the way the reader would be approaching the text as well.

Furthermore, the way that the reader is bombarded with death in this section parallels the chaotic and devastating way Woolf’s generation had to deal with the loss of loved ones. Interwoven with commentary about the passage of time, the narration notes that Mr. Ramsay reaches out for Mrs. Ramsay, although “Mrs. Ramsay [had] died rather suddenly the night before” (128). Additionally, “Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth” (132) and “Andrew Ramsay[‘s] death, mercifully, was instantaneous” (133) after a shell exploded during the War. All of these deaths, being mentioned one after another, allow little time for the reader to process what is happening. As opposed to the generous time given to many different perspectives during the first section of the novel, the narration moves on from each of these deaths with very few comments on their effects. The deaths seem to lose their importance due to the style of the narration, leaving the reader with a sort of numbness that was pervasive in English society following the end of WWI.

One thought on ““Time Passes” and WWI

  1. I think the idea that the feeling created by this section is one of “disorientation” is a really good way of describing it. This seems like another connection to war, because presumably the feeling of disorientation in war is fairly pervasive. Obviously Woolf cannot fully recreate the horrors of war, but the confusion of “Time Passes” helps put the reader in the mindset of disorientation.

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