To the Lighthouse – “Time Passes”

In the “Time Passes” section of To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf greatly speeds up the way she conveys time. She goes from devoting over one hundred pages to a single day in Part I to devoting less than twenty pages to ten years’ passing. Time is an important concept in this novel, and it is represented differently in the different parts. In “Time Passes,” time is represented in a more conventional and harsh way than it is in Part I. Part I focuses on the many details of a particular day and also expounds on the thoughts of several characters. “Time Passes,” in contrast, does not focus on people and their thoughts but rather on time’s effect on physical things, such as the house. For example, the narrator says that “a thistle thrust itself between the tiles in the larder,” “swallow nested in the drawing-room,” and “the floor was strewn with straw” (137). I think that Woolf chose to convey time in this way during the war period because people felt like they had no control over what was happening and began to feel like their lives were essentially meaningless. Time took over everything, and there was no stopping it. In “Time Passes,” Mrs. Ramsay (the protagonist), Prue, and Andrew all died; this signifies that even the most promising and good people are overtaken by time. The fact that each of their deaths was described quite frankly and briefly in brackets emphasizes the alienation and disillusionment that people felt as they watched the death toll from WWI rise to extreme figures. People knew what was happening, yet they could not process it. In “Time Passes,” the Ramsay family is all but destroyed, and this represents the state of Europe during and after WWI.

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One thought on “To the Lighthouse – “Time Passes”

  1. I find it interesting how you described time as a concept or almost like a theme in this book. I had not thought of it that way until now because I was simply seeing time as part of the setting and the speed with which time passes was just a literary choice Woolf was making as she wrote the different parts.

    On a different note, I completely agree that Part 2 rapidly speeds up the progress of the novel by fixating on the stagnant house and using the life events/deaths of all the characters during those 10 years as alternate plot action. The way time continues on so rapidly feels to downplay the significance (and these are significant life events that happen during these 10 years) of the characters lives and the tragedies that occur.
    This sort of stagnant place in life is very reflective of the years following WWI. How could the people recover from such a tragedy? This is best seen during Chapter 4 when the wind is asking the objects of the house “Will you fade? Will you perish?” (129). This sentiment seems to be reflective of the way people in Europe must be feeling as they wonder about the fate and meaning of their lives. I also believe that the objects in the house could be indicative of the resilience the war survivors must show as when the objects answer, “We remain” (129). I imagine after the war it felt as if there was nothing left but your continued existence.
    Additionally, the style Woolf uses with the brackets to convey the traumatic events during those 10 years makes the information feel less personal and ultimately like news lines. This sort of disconnect would have been abundant during the war when news articles would have listed the names of hundreds of dead at a time, without much tribute to anything personal.
    While Time Passes only represents about 20 pages in the novel, it shows the vast destruction that occurred to the family during those 10 years. Additionally, we see how shaken and destroyed the summer home is in the end, likely reflecting how the entire European continent felt after the war.

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