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The Years by Virginia Woolf

The Years (1937)

by Virginia Woolf

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1,179146,832 (3.81)47
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    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)

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This book had many false starts, but ended up a clear and perfect novel. I very much enjoyed "The Pargiters" which showed how Woolf had once thought it could be fiction paired with essays. The characters prevailed, including the memorable Sara Pargiter and her aunt Eleanor. I have written more about them here:

1 vote conniekronlokken | Jan 6, 2015 |
I will not call the early going a slog, but the novel did fail to engage me until page 140 or so. After that, all was well. The novel took off as a proper Virginia Woolf novel should. By the end of the long party scene which closes the book I was familiarly dazzled. I have to admit that I find the content almost unsummarizable. There's no plot to speak of. It's the technique that astonishes. Woolf's concern is not the quotidian, and often not the particular, but the structural. There are any number of exchanges between characters, sometimes arguments, in which the reader has no idea of the issues involved. Woolf deliberately takes the emphasis off the particular here and this somehow pulls the characterizations into the foreground more strongly. I'm not sure how she does it. It's impressive. She uses the technique throughout. As for the timeline, it seems almost capricious. Here are the years which form the chapter heads: 1880, 1891, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1918 and Present Day. As with a bildungsroman, Woolf's interest is in the developmental arc over time. The overwhelming feature of the novel is the sense of the result of experience. But unlike the bildungsroman there is no movement toward a set goal, life being thinly plotted. Neither is there a single central character but rather an ensemble effect. Much takes place offstage: births and deaths and weddings and childbirth. Woolf's concern is with the interstitial moments, when the effect of time, certainly Proustian time though without the flashbacks, has its collective impact. This novel is certainly a candidate for rereading, so enigmatic are its means of advancing the narrative. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
"Tell me about William Whatney," she said. "When I last saw him he was a slim young man in a boat."
Peggy burst out laughing.
"That must have been ages ago!" she said.
"Not so very long," said Eleanor. She felt rather nettled. "Well -" she reflected, "twenty years - twenty-five years perhaps."
It seemed a very short time to her; but then, she thought, it was before Peggy was born. She could only be sixteen or seventeen." (pg. 205)

We've all experienced this, haven't we? This somewhat unsettling realization when something that we perceive in our minds to have occurred "not so very long" ago really happened more like two decades (and then some) in the past.

Nice to see that Virginia Woolf understood that even in 1937 when she wrote this novel.

I mean, I fall into this mind trap ALL THE TIME. I still, on more occasions than I care to admit, think 1990 was ten years ago rather than (gulp) 22 years long gone. I chalk this up to approaching my mid-40s, but after reading Virginia Woolf's novel The Years, now I'd like to look at this differently.

"They talked as if they were speaking of people who were real, but not real in the way in which she felt herself to be real. It puzzled her; it made her feel that she was two different people at the same time; that she was living at two different times in the same moment." (pg. 167)

Yep. That's it exactly. We are two different people at the same time, living at two different times in the same moment. We're a combination of our present and our past. ("What is the use, she thought, of trying to tell people about one's past? What is one's past?" (pg. 167)

Virginia Woolf's second-to-last novel The Years is a commentary about the passage of time, which she brings forth for the reader by showing her characters - members of the large, well-to-do Pargiter family and their extended family - through 1880-1918. (The last chapter is titled "Present Day," which I suppose is 1939, when the novel was published.) The Pargiters live in London, and at the beginning of the book, are in that sort of odd stage when you're just watching and waiting for a loved one to pass away. (In this case, their mother.)

Not too much happens in The Years. People visit each other, talk about their life and their travels. They sometimes die. It's a reflective, thoughtful sort of novel, and truthfully, this takes a little while to get used to - especially if you, like me, are not generally a classics reader or one who doesn't normally read novels set in this time period. (Woolf's passion for the semicolon is also more than a bit distracting.) It isn't until almost halfway through the story that you begin to see the connections among the characters, the passing of time as evidenced by the changing seasons and the weather.

Honestly, up to that point, I kind of considered abandoning this, but then I started gaining an appreciation for what Woolf was trying to say. With the exception of Mrs. Dalloway, which I absolutely loved right off the bat (kudos to one of the most awesome college English professors ever), I'm finding that this is my typical reaction to Virginia Woolf. I start off a little perplexed, a little lost and confused, and then I get immersed in the story.

Just like life, no?

"My life, she said to herself. That was odd, it was the second time that evening that somebody had talked abut her life. And I haven't got one, she thought. Oughtn't a life to be something you could handle and produce? - a life of seventy odd years. But I've only the present moment, she thought. Here she was alive, now, listening to the fox-trot. Then she looked round. There was Morris; Rose; Edward with his head thrown back talking to a man she did not know. I'm the only person here, she thought, who remembers how he sat on the edge of my bed that night, crying - the night Kitty's engagement was announced. Yes, things came back to her. A long strip of life lay behind her. Edward crying. Mrs. Levy talking; snow falling; a sunflower with a crack in it; the yellow omnibus trotting along the Bayswater Road. And I thought to myself, I'm the youngest person in this omnibus; now I'm the oldest ... Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a life?" (pg. 366-367)
( )
  bettyandboo | Apr 2, 2013 |
A lovely book, one of my favourites by the author. This book was one that you could easily lose yourself in, and is well worth reading.

One of my favourite aspects of the book were some of the descriptive passages the author had. Long, flowing and elegant passages throughout the book which not only helped paint a beautiful picture but were often symbolising something occurring with the characters and plot. These were stunning, Woolf's writing and observations shine in this book, especially with these descriptive passages.

I can't say I have a favourite character, but I did enjoy following the generations of characters throughout the timeline. As the title suggests, the book does follow the same group of characters throughout the years. I think the author did a wonderful job at portraying this as the characters are developed and the full story is told when using a large stretch of time.

The book did slow down in the second half of the book. There were a few times I was not as interested in the plot and characters in the second half as well. It seemed to be a little repetitive by this point and the story just didn't have the same spark as the first half. But by the end, I was happy. It was a very fitting ending, and helped make up for the lull in the second half of the book.

Also found on my book review blog Jules' Book Reviews - The Years ( )
1 vote bookwormjules | Jul 16, 2012 |
Of the three novels I've read by Virginia Woolf ("The Years," "Jacob's Room" and "The Waves") this is the one I liked best. Perhaps because it has a more traditional narrative structure than the other two or because the overall theme was more obvious, I didn't feel as though I was missing some great point as I did with the other two.

"The Years" is very much about the passage of time, shown through some vignettes looking into the experiences of the Pargiter family (and their near relations.) The novel stretches from the 1880's to the 1930's, as the family ages, looks back and tries to make sense of their lives.

The characters are really interesting and the relationships between them often complex (and often only hinted at) which makes this book a fun and entertaining read. ( )
1 vote amerynth | May 3, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Virginia Woolfprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bell, VanessaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munck, IngalisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, FintyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156997010, Paperback)

The principal theme of this ambitious book is Time, threading together three generations of an upper-class English family, the Pargiters. The characters come and go, meet, talk, think, dream, grow older, in a continuous ritual of life that eludes meaning.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:35 -0400)

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"The Years narrates fifty years in the life of the Pargiter family. A novel about the passage of time and the small moments that comprise everyday experience"--container.

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