The Years Not Kind to Woolf’s Readers

In The Years, Virginia Woolf lifts the curtain on one English family over a 50-year period.Woolf’s novel isn’t a story in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of episodes, like pieces of a drama. There’s little description of people or settings. No one character predominates. Readers have to figure out who is who before they can figure out what is going on.

When the book opens, it’s 1880 and the Pargiters of Abercorn Terrace are waiting for the Mrs. Pargiter to die. She’s been an invalid so long, her death is a relief to her husband and children.

Woolf pops in on the family periodically over the years. Several of the children marry and have children of their own. The family home is put up for sale. The long-time housemaid is dismissed. The unmarried Pargiter children become poorer and more eccentric.

The Years is not a book to read when you are recovering from the flu. It’s a book that requires all your concentration, and maybe even a notepad to keep the characters straight. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t warrant the effort. Woolf’s genius is evident, but the novel fails to make her characters or their world come alive for readers.

The Years
By Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, Brace 1937
435 pages
#6 on the 1937 bestseller list
My grade: C+


© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni