To The Lighthouse shows Virginia Woolf’s lyricism in a most enchanting manner and Time Passes, the second movement of the novel, superbly reveals her lyricism. Part II covers a span of ten years and is made of ten sections. The first section begins with the most unconventional and uncommunicative passage in the whole novel. But the comments from Mr. Bankes and Andrew, such as ‘well, we must wait for the future to show’ and ‘It’s almost too dark to see’ introduce the two main themes of Part II, the theme of darkness, and the accompanying theme of waiting or hoping for a return of the light.
Elegy on Darkness and Anguish of Human Life
Section I concludes with the literal fact that all the lights of the house are put out. And section 2 begins with a lyrical mood:
“So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a down-pouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers.”
Sections 1 to 6 of this part, which together create an elegy on the darkness and anguish of life, conveying poignantly the pain of death and the horror of war, are written with an imaginative or poetic intensity. The tragic facts of transience and death have been depicted with a remarkable poignancy of appeal, but it may also be noted that they have been set against the antithesis of human energies or aspirations.
Man is to Create a Nobler World
Man should never be driven to a conclusion of despair by the cruel and unavoidable facts of nature. The weight of the novel’s aspirations have not been rested upon nature. The point is rather that, since the desired human order has no sanction or support in the external world, the responsibility for creating and sustaining it is thrown back upon man himself, and his nobler powers are summoned to action. And that had been Mrs. Ramsay’s response—a more determined effort to promote human relationships and individual fulfilment.
But her efforts had seemed to be brought to nothing by her death. But in Part III, The Lighthouse, this appearance is refuted by an intensive demonstration of her persisting power. What she had achieved in her life continues to fructify in the lives of her children, and in the mind and art of Lily Briscoe. The latter especially complements and continues Mrs. Ramsay achievements, in the other sphere of art, and, under her inspiration, reaches towards the complete vision she had sought.
Demands of Ordinary and Actual Experience
It is found in the early sections of Part III that Lily’s inadequacies in ordinary human relationship are markedly contrasted with Mrs. Ramsay’s gifts. But then, in her complementary activities, she is shown doing almost exactly what Mrs. Ramsay had done in Part I. As Lily begins her picture she exchanges ‘the fluidity of life for the concentration of painting;’ and her pursuit of ‘this other thing, this truth this reality’ at the back of appearances, while, it parallels Mrs Ramsay’s, is equally counteracted by the insistent demands of ordinary and actual experience. For the most part we find her engaged in recalling and celebrating Mrs. Ramsay; and her thinking about her amounts to a accompany of her life, which brings a clear understanding of her achievements. But what emerges most clearly is that Mrs. Ramsay is not simply the object of her contemplation, but is in the fuller sense her inspiration. And the force of her inspiration for Lily’s vision is what her active influences had been in life. This is how Lily recalls Mrs. Ramsay who is no more in the land of the living.
“That woman sitting there, writing under the rock resolved everything into simplicity; made these angers, irritations fall off like old rags; she brought together this and that and then this, and so made out of that miserable silliness, and spite (she and Charles squabbling, sparring had been silly and spiteful) something—this scene on the beach for example, this moment of friendship and liking-which survived, after all these years, complete, so that she dipped into it to refashion her memory of him, and it stayed in the mind almost like a work of art.” So, what Mrs. Ramsay had been in her life provides an answer then to Lily’s questioning of life, and reveals how a human order may be established within the flux of nature.
Harmonising the Opposed Masses
Thus, ultimately we find that the key to the conclusion is the final stroke of Lily’s painting, a line drawn in the centre, which relates and harmonises the opposed masses. The line suggests the Lighthouse which Mr. Ramsay has just reached, and which, as its title implies, the whole novel has been approaching. The Lighthouse, as the analogy of the line implies, has become the object in relation to which Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s opposed views of reality have been comprehended and related.
The Exaltation of Inner Reality Over the Outer
Still, at the end, as throughout the novel, there remains both the persistent division between the inner and external realities, and the exaltation of the former over the latter. But the conclusion is something less than a resolusion in the full sense. It is a relationship established almost entirely from the point of view of the intuitive imagination, and on the terms most to its advantage. It is symptomatic that the longer first and final parts of the novel are given over to the workings of that imagination, and that the chaotic energies of the natural world are abstracted and isolated in the brief middle section—Time Passes. Whatever reality is not subjected to mind’s processes is not allowed its due weight and effect. In consequence, with all its excellence as a work of art, the novel is rather limited to sphere of art.
No Art for Art’s Sake
A careful reading of the novel will clearly reveal that there is no art for art’s sake aestheticism in this novel. The deliberate approach to the physical reality of Lighthouse rejects any temptation to make it an ivory tower. There is a consistent and strenuous attempt to relate the ideal to the actual, to accept life on the level of its necessary conditions, as well as on that of visionary aspiration. The attempt stops short of a final resolution of this divided, and limiting view of life. But it is a considerable advance beyond the near absolute division obtaining in the earlier novels; and a step towards the more engaged and mature achievements of The Waves and Between The Acts.
Thus we find that the first few sections of Time Passes moves at first pessimistically — echoing the thoughts of Mrs. Ramsay—showing us signs of futility and impotence. The ultimate meaninglessness and lack of purpose in life is represented in the death of Mrs. Ramsay. But the novel having reached its lowest point of despair, turns in Section 9 where the advances of nature, time and decay are stemmed once more by human activity. The house is to be reinhabited and from now on moves forward to its attempt in Part III to establish some positive answer to the question “What remains?” So came Mrs. MCNab, came Mrs. Bast. “Mrs. MCNab groaned; Mrs. Bast creaked They came with their brooms and pails at last; they got to work.” And very soon ‘some rusty laborious birth seemed to be taking place’. And according to N.A. Davenport—“This birth brings the house back to what it was, and the people return; the long night is over and when Lily wakes up a community is again about to be established, and individual life to continue.”