Time Travel in Virginia Woolf

In the chapters that compose “Time Passes,” Virginia Woolf seems to create her own timeline in which a number of gaps and holes appear. These gaps are not inconsistencies, nor are they inaccuracies when compared to the historical account of World War I. Rather, these holes appear when Woolf describes one scene that seems to exist on two separate occasions, yet are viewed simultaneously. An example of this is the description of Andrew Ramsay’s death. Woolf paints the picture of “ominous sounds like the measured blows of hammers dulled on felt…then again, silence fell; and then, night after night, and sometimes in plain mid-day…there seemed to drop into this silence, this indifference, this integrity, the thud of something falling” (133). Each of these instances of bombings are viewed simultaneously by the reader though they could take place over a period of days, months, or even years. Similarly, Woolf mechanically mentions that in France, Andrew was killed when “a shell exploded” (133). Again, this event could have taken place at any time during the war, yet the gap in the timeline is completely jumped.

This tactic of jumping through holes in the timeline allows Woolf to, essentially, time travel, and with stunning results. By utilizing obscurity of dates, Woolf is able to condense an entire decade into a mere twenty pages and shower her audience with experiences of World War I. This technique can even be viewed when Mrs. McNab is depicted cleaning the house. During her visits, she takes notice of all of the things in the house (the books, the cloak, the shawl, etc.) and their process of decay (135-136). As a reader, it is impossible to tell whether these descriptions are all from one visit, or whether these are observations of Mrs. McNab as she cleans the house over the course of an entire decade. Either way, time seems to exist all at once as the descriptions are absorbed by the reader. It is ironic that, though time passes, Woolf uses these elements of time travel to give the appearance of standing still.

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