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.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”, contains elements that coincide with Decadence and that diverge from it. One commonality between the two can be found in Eliot’s attention to surface details. He writes, “Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” so as to say that something as trivial as a coffee spoon is how he is counts his entire life. He says too, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” This brings importance to things that are purely surface details. We  also see sophistication of taste when Eliot writes, “Talking of Michelangelo”, “the taking of toast and tea”, “the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain”, and “my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.” These kind of sophisticated appearances of taste is common in Decadent writing, but I believe Eliot is using them in a much different way than, say, Wilde would. Wilde would perhaps say that taste and pleasure are more important than morality, but Eliot is using these examples of taste as a way to say that not even taste matters. We can find this when he writes, “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter.”

Contrasting with Decadence and the sophistication of taste, however, we see Eliot write of things considered ordinary or even low-class. He writes of “sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” and “the pools that stand in drains”. He also mocks those who speak with sophistication when he writes, “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-” and this is purposely meant to contrast with the examples of high taste mentioned above. He, like the modern age itself, is bringing “common” life into the “sophisticated” life. This is seen heavily through the food he mentions, alluding to the modern availability of varying kinds of food to the lower classes in cheaper ways.

The Use of Romanticism and The Enlightenment By Friedrich Engels

In “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844”, Engels provides an argument for the poor in the biggest industrial cities in England by using Romantic elements such as the sublime, emotional appeal, and human degradation brought upon by industry. We first see the sublime, though applied to technology and not to nature, being experience when Engels writes, “Here hundreds of steamships dart rapidly to and fro. All this is so magnificent and impressive that one is lost in admiration. The traveler has good reason to marvel at England’s greatness even before he steps on English soil” (1101). Here, he is using the sublime to recognize the loss of mental clarity that people experience when they’re confronted with new and impressive feats of technology.  He immediately attacks this loss of mental ability in the next sentence, when he says “It is only later that the traveler appreciates the human suffering which has made all this possible” (1102). Thus begins Engel’s use of Romantic emotional appeal. When he describes the “deplorable” conditions that the poor live in, he is channeling the emotions of the reader rather than the rational thought. This emotion is used still to attribute the conditions to the faculties of industry, and thus, saying that human greediness found so easily in the “capitalists” degrades the poor as well as the wealthy. We find this in the lines, “Are they not all equally interested in the pursuit of happiness? And do they not all aim at happiness by following similar pursuits? Yet they rush past each other as if they had nothing in common…But no where is this selfish egotism so blatantly evident as in the frantic bustle of the great city” (1102). This is a clear depiction of both the poor and the wealthy being declined to selfish animals because of the economy they have built. These lines, however can also be used in an Enlightenment argument, as well.

We see that Engels uses Enlightenment ideals in his argument by the lines previously mentioned because the people rushing by each other are all potentially useful economic bodies for society. Engels argues for connection between individuals so that society as a whole could benefit economically, a strong Enlightenment ideal. We also see an argument of reason when he writes of the strong work ethic of the poor, despite their conditions in the city. Engels writes, “Here, too, can be seen most the strenuous efforts of the proletariat to raise themselves from their degraded situation.” (1106). This is an appeal to the rational idea of earning one’s place in society. We see that the poor are, indeed, struggling to get a place at the table by the same industrious means as the wealthy, but are coming up empty handed. The lines on page 1107, “Indeed no one can blame these helots of modern civilization if their homes are no cleaner than the occasional pigsties which are a feature of these slums” clarify the reasons the poor cannot “raise themselves” out of their conditions. The argument in this sentence is a complex one because it can be seen both as an Enlightenment one, through an appeal to the existence of strong work ethic in a member of society, and a Romantic one, through appeals to the degradation to “pigsties” that humans are placing upon other humans.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Wollstonecraft speaks towards more of an Enlightenment argument than a Romantic one in this selection. Her and her female colleagues often warned their readers of the dangers of romanticizing reality, especially in the subject of men romanticizing women into objects of fantasy rather than actual people. She states her desire for a logical and focused argument when she says “Consider, Sir, dispassionately, these observations” (Damrosch 289). By including the words “dispassionately” and “observations” so quickly into her argument, Wollstonecraft prescribes a tossing away of the male imagination and fantasy, which women of this time period often criticized of “flatter[ing] women into subjection” (288). We also find support for Enlightenment ideals in the lines, “the more understanding women acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty- comprehending it – for unless they comprehend it, unless their morals be fixed on the same immutable principle as those of man, no authority can make them discharge it in a virtuous manner” (289). This clearly outlines the fact that Wollstonecraft’s argument is not one of emotion, but of reason. In these lines, she states that women should be taught the same education as men so that they will hold the same value in society as men and, therefore, that their value to society is what will give them true virtue. This upholds the Enlightenment ideals of the being as an economic value and salvation through work and intellect.

Although she refutes the “reason” men had been using to justify the oppression of women, she doesn’t necessarily attack it with emotion, as a Romantic would. She uses her own, modern reasoning as her fight against the traditional reason, saying, “Who made man the exclusive judge, if woman partake with him the gift of reason?” She goes on to say, in chapter one, that the problem lies not in reason, but rather in how reason is being used. It is perhaps best explained in the last lines of that chapter, where she says, “Society, therefore, as it becomes more enlightened, should be very careful not to establish bodies of men who must necessarily be made foolish or vicious by the very constitution of their profession.” Here, she is not advocating a Romantic retreat inward, but is calling for men to be able to have more control over their own morality, as this will help end the spread of misogyny within the intellectual sphere.

She enacts a voice of sarcasm when she says, “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces” and goes on to say that frailty and susceptibility of the heart will lead to weakness and contempt. She uses the same kind of exaggeration Burke incorporates to lead to her attack on his own work, saying, “I shall not waste my time in rounding periods.” This is clearly setting up her argument to be posed somewhat against the Romantic way of writing and thinking.

Solitude and Value in “Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree”

There are many instances where Lines contrasts the ideals of the Enlightenment. One such moment is found in lines 20 through 29. In these lines, starting with “And with the food of pride sustained is soul – In solitude,” there is more focus on the individual self than with his place in society. The subject “nourishe(s)” a “morbid pleasure” and  in this, we are drawn to his internal workings instead of whatever economic value he may have around him. This “morbid pleasure” would be ignored or cast out of attention by the ideals of the Enlightenment, but it is seen as a source of wisdom in this Romantic piece. The last lines are a direct attack against the Enlightenment teachings. The subject is said to have an “unfruitful life” and yet the subject is also seen as wise to have this life. This type of Romantic rhetoric attacks the Enlightenment idea of the self only having value as an economic unit. Instead, a contemplative, internal, and “unfruitful” life makes one valuable.