To the Lighthouse

Time is a recurring theme throughout Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In Part I (The Window), Woolf stretches time, devoting the first 124 pages to a single day. This reflects the desire of some of the characters for time, that day, to stand still.  Mrs. Ramsay in particular wishes for them to always be together as they are in the dinner scene and for her youngest children, Andrew and Cam, to never grow old and suffer as she has.

In contrast, in Part II (Time Passes) ten years are compressed into approximately 20 pages. The passage of time is reflected by the deterioration of the house on the beach. While only a few words are devoted to the lives of its former inhabitants, the house’s increasingly poor state reflects their own experience over this period. The series of tragedies in the background of WWI are sudden and confusing. Their presentation in a short, objective, bracketed form disrupts the narrative and generates this effect. These years and events are then condensed into a few pages as they are slowly processed over many years. This reflects the way in which the world attempted to process the events and implications of WWI. In its aftermath a strong sense of confusion, shock, and disillusionment was felt. Nature seemed disrupted, as it is around the abandoned house: “…(for night and day, month and year, ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and wanton lust aimlessly by itself” (134-5). This processing was extremely gradual. Likewise, Woolf’s compression of ten years into 20 pages suggests that little changed over the course of these ten years as the characters, most likely, grappled with these sudden tragedies and, to some extent, the disruption of nature itself (the loss of the constant, binding force of Mrs. Ramsay in many ways represents this disruption of nature in their lives). Time moved on, but many people did not and so the narrative focuses on the state of nature and the beach house as opposed to the characters.

Decadence in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”

Traces of Decadence can be found within T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock.” The poem, first of all, has a sensuality associated with Decadence as Prufock, the speaker, muses on love, long nights and vague physical descriptions of a nameless, faceless woman.  At the same time, it expresses a dissatisfaction with life and art alike.  Individuals in the poem seem to have the Decadent sophistication of taste (the women talk of Michelangelo while frequent mention of tea, talk, porcelain, and novels is made) but this does not satisfy. Prufock, for instance, states that he is no “Prince Hamlet.” He is not a hero–tragic or otherwise–but has more in common with the attendant or even the Fool. In other words, the art and literature of the past does not suit him or meld with the confusing world and feelings he finds himself in. Similarly, many of the stanzas end with Prufock asking a question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”, “Should I then presume?”, and “How should I begin?” Decadence was, in part, preoccupied with metaphysical questions accompanied by Christian notions of temptation and damnation. Likewise, Prufock is haunted by the decisions he has made and the actions he has and has not taken. He wonders about the nature of the world and his role within it.

However, these questions also signal a divergence from Decadence. The amoral or perverse attitudes of Decadence were often flaunted. Individuals were open and unapologetic about their interest in sophistication and sexuality and the idea of “art for art’s sake” was popular. Simultaneously they were unapologetic for their sometimes contradictory or unreasonable actions and lifestyle. Prufock, on the other hand, does appear to feel some form of regret or guilt and the questions he asks in regard to parting his hair or eating a peach at the poem’s end reflect his feeling that everything has become meaningless.

The Enlightenment and Romanticism in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844’

In The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Engels is extremely critical of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the poor and the indifference of the middle and upper classes to their suffering.  His outlook and writing are rooted in both aspects of the Enlightenment and Romanticism.

For one, Engels greatly values “experiencing” the problems and conditions faced by the poor more so than simply reading about them and he is particularly critical of the middle class for isolating the poor and isolating themselves from the poor.  For example, on page 1102 Engels writes, “He can only realise the price that has been paid for all this magnificence after he has tramped the pavements of the main streets of London for some days.”  Romanticism places greater value on direct experience and Engels utilizes this to encourage the individual to actively seek to better understand the plight of the poor.  In a similar manner, Engels appeals to the senses, utilizing the sense of smell in particular to generate sympathy and to encourage an emotional and physical reaction from the reader.  This utilizes the Romantic emphasis on emotion and the senses.  Engels also makes a point to directly criticize the Enlightenment view of the self as having value as an economic unit.  On page 1102 he writes, “Here men regard their fellows not as human beings, but as pawns…everyone exploits his neighbor.”  Romanticism criticized this view of humanity as well, placing greater emphasis on the individual.

At the same time, Engels does employ aspects of the Enlightenment as well.  The clearest example of this is Engels emphasis on reason and his attempts at appealing to one’s sense of reason (so greatly prized by the Enlightenment).  On pages 1106 and 1107, he criticizes the illogical city-planning and construction, describing it as “unplanned” and “chaotic.”  In this way Engels argues that not only has the Industrial Revolution led to the poor’s suffering but that it has not always progressed with attention to reason, overlooking certain areas and leading to serious problems within English society.

“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”

After reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing, my initial thought was that it was clearly an Enlightenment argument. She relied heavily on reason and rationality, presenting a logical argument and multiple examples to support equality for the sexes. The language was, mostly, succinct and she even stated that she sought to avoid “flowery diction” and instead persuade by the “force of my arguments” (292). This emphasis on rationality, logic, and critical reflection suggests that Wollstonecraft’s argument was a product of the Enlightenment. She also emphasizes the importance of education for young women, an important idea in the Enlightenment, and expresses religious doubt characteristic to the Enlightenment as she criticizes the use of the Bible to define the role and value of women. However, as I reviewed the reading again, I also began to see the argument as a product of Romanticism.  In the same passage as my above examples, she writes, “Should I express my conviction with the energetic emotions that I feel whenever I think of the subject, the dictates of experience and reflection will be felt by some of my readers.” She goes on to say, “I shall not waste my time…in fabricating the turgid bombast of artificial feelings, which, coming from the head, never reach the heart” (292). She values emotion and experience, as the Romantics did, and uses raw feeling to guide her. Wollstonecraft frequently refers to the human soul, a subject of interest to Romantics, as well. This Romantic interpretation is also supported by Wollstonecraft’s critique of the “rationality” that men use to subjugate women and she refers to their rationality often in a sarcastic way to point out contradictions, as in the second paragraph of page 293. In this way she avoids becoming dependent on the reason of the Enlightenment and highlights its flaws or limitations, looking to other ways of knowing and understanding, such as experience and emotion. Based on these observations, Wollstonecraft seems to be heavily influenced by both periods, although the alignment with the Enlightenment may be slightly stronger.

“Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree”

I came to conclude that the presence of the idea of the self having value as connected to Nature in the text provided the greatest contrast to Enlightenment sensibility. According to this sensibility, the self is valuable as an economic unit; the work that one provides to a society is their value. However, in this text multiple references are made to the individual who designed the bench and his finding peace and purpose in his seat under the titular Yew tree. The man feels isolated and purposeless until he discovers this seat and immerses himself in nature. In lines 20-22, he “sustained his soul in solitude…these gloomy boughs had charms for him.” His time spent among nature–the trees, rocks, and thistles–gives him peace. Most persuasive are lines 42-43, in which “In this deep vale he died, this seat his only monument.” This can be interpreted as the only real value of his life being the seat he created to be more connected to or a part of the natural world. These passages also support the Romantic idea of finding salvation through harmony with Nature, which strongly contrasts the Enlightenment idea of finding salvation through work ethic as well.