It occurred to me as I turned the last pages of The Years that the number of people in the act of reading Virginia Woolf in the world might be an easily acquired number. In fact, the amount of people reading The Years, during this last week of 2013, might be slimmer. What does this have to do with my post? I suppose it’s my particular reaction to her, this many years after her death. She has crumpled me, turned me inside out and instead of having the effect that people who almost kill themselves experience, which is to declare a new lease on life, I feel like I’ve turned around and seen myself aging and am unloosed at that picture. And this thought contributes to the whole thought “Who is reading Woolf? And why aren’t they reading her if they aren’t?”
Reading The Years, I heard time pounding forward, a train pulling me too quickly through my life. Beyond that identity crisis, Woolf, like Dickens or Hardy doesn’t merely describe a character to introduce them, but the description contributes to the whole. In The Years, EVERYTHING moves forward and reveals this theme. No one can escape time. Not the brilliant. Not the rich. Not even the well-respected. Here is Uncle Edward in the Present Day section:
“He was spare and thin. He looked as if his face had been carved and graved by a multitude of fine instruments; as if it had been left out on a frosty night and frozen over. He threw his head back like a horse whose bit no longer irked him. His movements were from habit, not from feeling. What had he been doing all these years?”
Woolf historians have written endless commentary and research of her novels, so I won’t attempt to cross-reference or compare. I only want to declare the utter affect her words have on a passerby like me and stand at awe. The novel is broken into years, like one’s life, so that you can engross yourself and forget that time is passing. This is her design. Also, you get to see how homes change, belongings begin to stand for time, and the family dog never has a good end.
The Years looks at the moments of life in which Buddhists would advise us to hover. However, Woolf seems to say that no matter how you look at it, however much you try to hold it down and observe it, life rushes by and can never stop for mortals. To Thornton Wilder’s question, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?” Woolf seems to answer in The Years with: It doesn’t matter. We all end up with dead dogs, sad servants and children singing off key to stand for a future we won’t inhabit. (My interpretation, of course.)