The Years

Oddly, I can’t find a previous entry for this book although I have vivid memories of reading it in New York on one of my summer sabbaticals. The image of the final party was the one that stuck with me, and it becomes vivid again upon rereading. I read this one slowly, carefully, knowing exactly what a toll it took on Woolf to write, slogging through drafts and cutting and rewrites for years. Perhaps the title can also be a nod to the length of time it took her to complete this work.

The book follows the Pargiter family across the years, from 1880s through “present day” which would have been the 1930s. Eleanor is the oldest girl, caring for their aging father into her spinsterhood. Rose fights for suffrage rights. Delia marries an Irish gentleman. Edward teaches classics at Cambridge. One of their nephews, North, is back from farming in Africa. Sally/Sara befriends the Polish “Mr Brown” and her sister Maggie marries a Frenchman, Rene/Renny. Peggy becomes a doctor, tired from her work and wondering what it all means.

Perhaps Woolf sums it up best in a letter to Stephen Spender:

But what I meant I think was to give a picture of society as a whole; give characters from every side; turn them towards society, not private life; exhibit the effect of ceremonies; Keep one toe on the ground by means of dates, facts: envelop the whole in a changing temporal atmosphere; Compose into one vast many-sided group at the end; and then shift the stress from present to future; and show the old fabric insensibly changing without death or violence into the future—suggesting that there is no break, but a continuous development, possibly a recurrence of some pattern; of which of course we actors are ignorant. And the future was gradually to dawn.