To The Lighthouse: Time Passes

In the Time Passes section, Woolf uses a much quicker and shorter usage of time. Instead of spending an entire section to describe the actions of the family on one day, as she did in section 1, Woolf spends a much shorter amount of pages describing 20 years. She also uses mostly non-human entities to describe the passage of time instead of actual humans. Though she says that summers and winters pass through the house’s life, she doesn’t out-right say how much time has passed until she uses brackets and thoughts by Mrs.McNab.

The brackets are used to express that the events within the brackets are happening elsewhere. We can see this when she writes on page 133, “{A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up i France, among them Andrew Ramsey, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.}” This is a sudden departure from the ghost-like description of the aging house to let the reader know that the war was happened and a major character has died. This is said so quickly and without warning so that Woolf’s form may embody how people experienced the war when it happened. It may be in brackets to also let the reader know that the house only knew that time was passing, not that major tragedies were happening.

The thoughts by Mrs.McNab are used to bring together the mundanity of human consciousness that is shown in part 1 and the almost omniscient, quickly passing consciousness of the house. We hear her thoughts on page 135 saying, “Mrs. Ramsay’s things. Poor lady! She would never want them again. She was dead, they said; years ago, in London.” This shows us an estimate of how much time has passed and gives us another insight to a character’s death. It quickly switches back over to the house’s consciousness, where we don’t spend a lot of time on Mrs. Ramsay’s death, but swiftly move through more seasons.

Working with this very quick movement of time by the house’s perspective is the concept of stillness. The stillness is the opposite of human action and the explanation of the house’s spirit. On page 129, Woolf writes, “So loveliness reigned and stillness, and together made the shape of loveliness itself, a form from which life had parted.” The absence of human interactions and thoughts in the house make the slow movement of time seen in the first part turn into a very rapid movement of time by the house. This is because there is only the stillness of the house, and not any human motives or actions to ponder about and spend longer time thinking over. The Lighthouse is seen by the house’s perspective as the epitome of stillness when Woolf writes, “Only the Lighthouse beam entered the rooms for a moment, sent its sudden stare over a bed and wall in the darkness of winter, looked with equanimity at the thistle and the swallow, the rat and the straw” (138).  This calmness that the lighthouse projects onto the house is fleeting and not very effecting, unlike the lighthouse’s characteristics to the humans in part 1. The human characters in part one spend large amounts of time on the lighthouse and project onto it their thoughts, judgements, histories, and feelings. This expands the amount of time Woolf must spend explaining it. This means that the house only projects its stillness onto the lighthouse, so that it what the lighthouse gives back to it.

This technique of slowing down time when it pertains to human life and speeding it up when it pertains to nature and an empty house is a way to express the processing of the war. Woolf separate the events of the war, which happen very quickly, and how the characters process the war, which takes a considerable longer amount of time. Nature and the house are still, seeing the time of the war only as the passing seasons, while humans are unable to see the passing of time or the effects of the war without their day-to-day, moment-to-moment understanding of it.

One thought on “To The Lighthouse: Time Passes

  1. Overall, I agree with your analyzis of this section from Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I also think that your reflection about the brackets is really interesting. As you said it, brackets are supposed to introduce something that happens elsewhere, and I liked the interpretation you gave of this stylistic choice – as if it represented well the surprise that war’s deaths could have on relatives when they learned about it. But I also think that brackets are supposed to introduce something that is not as important as the rest of the narrative, as if it was just a detail that needed to be add. As if, in this case, the deaths of Prue and Andrew were just some details in the history – two deaths among many others. They did not have spectacular deaths for that time period (illness and die at war were common). Plus, their deaths can be seen as a tiny detail compared to the whole history of the house, which seems to be the main subject of this part. Time seems to go faster for a house, which will inevitably ”live” longer than humans, so that the relationship to time are really differently interpreted or felt wether you are a human or a house. So, meanwhile the house ”lives”, a lot of people are born or die, without changing the course of its own ”history”.

    I also liked you reflection about loveliness, stillness and the lighthouse. I think that your analyzis is really interesting. I agree when you interpret the vision of the movement of time for nature or objects in relation with humans. But I also think that, even how short this section can be, we feel how much time actually has past – especially because nothing happened there but the cycle of nature, cycle that has been repeated over and over again. As if this speed in time physically represented in this book by the short passage actually testifies of a much longer time. The state of house, especially, can testifies of the time that has passed. Time seems to be even longer than what it actually was, for example in the quote you used : ”She was dead, they said; years ago, in London”. The use of the syntagma ”years ago” puts the reader into confusion : it is not clear, we don’t know exactly how much time has passed, but this expression always connotes a long time – much longer than ten years, the actual time that has been passed in this section. So this add to the feeling that time has been long, even though Woolf does not spend so much time talking about this. As if time has been suspended during these ten years. So I belive, as you say it by talking about ‘stillness”, that even though this passage is short, time was long, and was felt as long. This is thus interesting the way Woolf deals with this.

    I also agree with your analyzis of the relationship of human to time in the aftermath of the war – that it takes much more time to go over it than to actually do the war. However, this war is known to be a very long war, almost endless, because people felt that they could not see the end of it. People were told it would be a short war, but it was not. So I think that, during the war, time seemed like suspended, and was seen as abnormally longer.

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