He Had Grown Gaunt From Time

The Years

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.)

10 responses to “He Had Grown Gaunt From Time

  1. **Reading The Years, I heard time pounding forward, a train pulling me too quickly through my life**


    I remember reading “The Moth” and thinking, I shall NEVER write like this –NEeeeeeeeeVER…

    …so beautifully, profoundly, amazingly, symbolically….

    All we can do is learn from her, become better writers.

    There is a reason Woolf is studied and cherished.

    LOVE reading your stunning, relevant posts, dear!! xx

  2. I, too, love reading your eloquent posts.

    As a young woman, I couldn’t read Woolf simply for the power of her writing. Her pain overwhelmed everything she wrote and pulled me into an undertow of tragedy.

    Now, reading your response to The Years, I picture Woolf’s suicide: Stones in the pockets of her heavy coat holding her to the earthen bed of a living stream.

    If, if, if… If she had not suffered from debilitating headaches… If she had not been born a woman… If she had lived in another era… Could she have decided to leave the river bank and enter the stream, riding with it into the sun, and join a tribe of like-swimmers feasting on a sandy island?

  3. Once you begin reading Virginia Woolf, it’s hard not to be forever awed.

  4. Although we said it differently there is a thread of a connection to the sentiment. Life is train. It keeps on chugging, only this particular train doesn’t stop to pick up and drop off. I haven’t read that book in years. Maybe it’s time again. I always fell humbled when I read her words. I have to remind myself she is a force all her own and very few equal her.

  5. I have to read this book right now–I don’t know how I’ve never read it before.

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