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.

Decadence in T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains some elements of Decadence but at the same time diverges from it. One way Decadence is shown is through somewhat subtle sexual innuendos. For example, the persona speaks of “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” and of “one…throwing off a shawl” (6, 107). Both of these phrases hint at sexual acts. Another characteristic of Decadence present in the poem is amorality, which is shown through the slightly amoral attitude of the speaker. He says that “There will be a time to murder and create,” casually mentioning the act of murder (28). Another way Eliot uses Decadence is through conveying a bit of sympathy to social outcasts. In one line, the speaker talks about “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows” (72). He feels bad for these men and likely empathizes with their loneliness. It is clear that Decadence is a part of this poem.

However, this poem also goes against Decadence in some ways. One is that rather than outright flaunting his amoral attitude and his stance against traditional morality, the speaker is subtle, even unsure about it, as he questions himself repeatedly, “‘Do I dare?'” (38). He is also subtle about his mention of tawdry subject matter — sex does not pervade this poem, but rather it is mentioned in a subdued way only a couple of times. Though Decadence is present in the poem, it is only to a certain extent.

London Labour and the London Poor

Henry Mayhew employs both aspects of the Enlightenment and Romanticism in his book London Labour and the London Poor in order to get his message across to a broader range of people during this time of transition in England. When he relays the accounts of the two children in these selections, he is using the reasoning aspect of the Enlightenment as well as self-value as an economic unit; they way they tell their stories is very matter-of-fact and even detached at times, and they seem to primarily be concerned with making money. For example, after describing her obviously difficult lifestyle, the watercress girl tells Mayhew that she “never see[s] any children crying” because “it’s no use” (1109). She does not feel sorry for herself, as she sees her way of life as the only one there is for her because she has “a living and vittals to earn” (1110-11). Another example of this is when Jack tells Mayhew that when they shovel snow, it “gives [them] chilblains on [their] feet; but they don’t mind it when [they’re] working” (1113). Not only is he detached as well, but he is finding value as an economic unit. He does not mind getting frostbite if he is making money.

Mayhew also utilizes the Romantic aspect of emotion throughout these selections when he tells background information about the children, like how they were when he came upon them. For example, he describes the watercress girl as a “poor child” dressed in a “thin cotton gown” and “carpet slippers” in severe, cold weather (1109). The imagery he uses here is meant to incite pity in the readers. When Mayhew happens upon Jack, he describes him as “his legs and body being curled round almost as closely as those of a cat on a hearth” as he was settling down to go to sleep in a corner (1111). He goes on to tell how Jack hopped to his feet as soon as he saw Mayhew, asking him to “‘give a half-penny to poor little Jack'” (1111). The repetition of the word “poor” with both these children emphasizes their sad, lowly conditions and evokes sympathy in the reader. Mayhew sets readers up to feel emotional and then relays the children’s matter-of-fact stories in order to best get his point across.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Though Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” embodies literary aspects of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism, in my opinion it is primarily an Enlightenment argument. Throughout the selection, Wollstonecraft continuously returns to the same concept: reason. Her goal is to prove her assertions to the readers. She makes clear arguments for her points and uses concise language. In the introduction, she tells the reader that she “aim[s] at being useful” and “wish[es]…to persuade by the force of [her] arguments” (292). She also says that elaborate language is nothing but “false sentiments” and “over-stretched feelings” (292). Wollstonecraft prefers and uses reason, an Enlightenment ideal, over emotion, a Romantic one.  Her words and ideas are also cast outward, to the public, instead of acting as inward contemplation such as in Romantic pieces. She indirectly addresses both “[her] own sex” and “men,” and she wants everyone to hear what she has to say (292-293). Self-direction and forging one’s own path are emphasized over happenstance. She encourages women to “strengthen [their] bod[ies] and exercise [their] mind[s]” (300). All of these characteristics point to Enlightenment ideals.

Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree

The lyrical ballad “Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree” by William Wordsworth contrasts with Enlightenment sensibility in that it focuses on communion and harmony with nature as opposed to the mastery of it. The speaker says that “the wind breath[ing] soft” and the “curling waves…against the shore” will “lull thy mind” (5-6). This implies that nature is soothing and also creates a content tone. In Enlightenment pieces nature is not viewed as a source of tranquility but rather as something to be used, particularly for economic purposes. The male subject in this poem turns to nature for salvation and pleasure after facing “jealousy…hate, and scorn” from the public (16-17). The inclusion and description of human emotions throughout also differentiate this poem from Enlightenment ideals which tend to focus on reason. The beauty of nature is inspiring to the subject in this poem; nature “subdue[s] him to herself.” This Romantic idea greatly contrasts with the idea of the mastery of nature in Enlightenment works.