Times Passes

Yeah, “Time Passes” is a pretty weird section, a pretty stark contrast to “The Window.”  “The Window” takes 120 pages (in our edition) to tell us about the goings-on of one evening—3 or 4 hours pass, maybe.  “Time Passes” takes about 20 pages and spans 10 years.  In “The Window” there is lots of introspection and little action; we are constantly in characters’ heads, being made privy to layer upon layer of convoluted thought processes and distinct perspectives.  In “Time Passes” those same characters who we’ve come to know so intimately are abruptly, casually ripped away; they are literally a parenthetical thought, an aside—like “Oh, and I forgot to mention…”  Because what’s really important is that we focus on our attention on the house.  The building itself.  That’s what “Time Passes” is all about; we watch the house fall apart and decay and rot, and the maid thinks surely the Ramseys will never come back, and they couldn’t honestly expect her to keep up that whole big house by herself anyway, but then they are coming back, and she gets some help from her friend and her son and they clean up the house for the return of Lily and Mr. Carmichael and someone named Mrs. Beckwith (we don’t know who she is yet, right?).  So there’s not a ton of action in this section either.  There’s definitely just as much philosophical thought as there was in the first section.  It’s really a pretty interesting section.  Just a really innovative way of moving the story along; can’t think of anything I’ve read that has done something like that.  Certain parts are really beautiful.  The whole thing’s got kind of an eerie feel to it.  And it’s not insignificant to focus on the house, and on its decay!  I don’t mean to write about it in such a tone as if to say that I think it seems silly or unimportant.  Woolf (obviously) knew what she was doing.  Tara already talked about how effective it is to make the characters’ deaths so abrupt and how that reflects what it’s like living during war time and how common death becomes and how desensitized one can become towards those horrors.  So I think it’s appropriate to turn readers’ attention away from the characters and towards the house, which serves as a really powerful symbol, a poignant image.

There are all these questions repeated throughout: “When would it fall?” (126) “whether they would fade” (126) “How long would they endure?” (126) “Will you fade?” (129) “Will you perish?” (129) “How long shall it endure?” (131).  And we watch throughout the passage the house get worse and worse—we see boundaries crossed, sacred things defiled.  The “airs,” when they first enter the house as night falls, are initially barred from entering the bedrooms: “But here surely, they must cease.  Whatever else may perish and disappear, what lies here is steadfast.  […] here you can neither touch nor destroy” (126).  And loveliness and stillness, they clasp hands in the bedroom, and say to each other, “We remain,” and “Nothing it seemed could break that image, corrupt that innocence” (129).  But of course the image is broken, and the innocence is corrupted, and by page 138, “Nothing now withstood [the airs]; nothing said no to them.”  So even those bedrooms we thought to be so sacred and incorruptible are now rotting, and Mrs. Ramsey’s shawl, having been loosened, now flaps in the wind, and the pig skull on which it hangs is exposed (which is a pretty creepy image).  And the maid laments, because surely the Ramseys would expect “to find things just as they had left them” (136).  But no; everything has changed.  Everything has fallen apart.  World War I has changed everything.  And the passage talks about dreamers down on the beach staring at the sea, searching for answer to their questions, demanding to know the meaning of all this suffering and horror, trying to find stability, wanting to believe that “good triumphs, happiness prevails, order rules” (132).  We hear about “incorrigible hope” (131) and we hear that “dreams persisted” (132), and yet we have to imagine that those dreams were eventually tossed aside, and that that hope was corroded just like everything else.  Because the sea tosses like Leviathans playing an idiot game (symbolizing the destruction and meaninglessness of war), and Nature is cold and indifferent and unstoppable, and because God offers only a brief glimpse behind the curtain—and what we do see, “it seems impossible […] that we should ever compose from their fragments a perfect whole” (128).  Just like Eliot!  Fragmentation.  How we gonna put the pieces back together?  And yet the house gets cleaned up, and people try to carry on with their lives, and well, maybe we can convince ourselves that “it all looked […] much as it used to look” (142).

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One thought on “Times Passes

  1. I feel quite dumb for saying this, but I didn’t think to compare this section to Eliot. It makes perfect sense, though, now that I see your discussion. The fragmentation of time passes perfectly mirrors Eliot’s transitions from scene to scene without any transition or explanation of what is going on. The lack of exposition certainly seems to assist Woolf in her personification of the wind and the flowers, making it a puzzle to determine who they represent–if anything.

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