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Virginia Woolf: The Years

While less successful critically, this novel sold more than many of her other works, not least because it is more conventional. Indeed, it is the relatively straightforward account of three generations of the Pargiter family. Of the four main women characters, two remain unmarried – Rose to become a suffragette and Eleanor to bring up the family after the early death of her mother. Delia supports Parnell and marries an Irishman, while Milly marries a north country squire and becomes a traditional wife. And, indeed, this is one of the key themes of this book – the limited opportunities for intelligent, educated women in the early part of the twentieth century.

There are men in this book, too. North, for example, is a World War I veteran who has gone off to make a new life in South Africa. Two of the men remain unmarried as well. Edward might be homosexual, though Woolf never explicitly states this, but Martin merely dislikes family life. Woolf primarily tells the story in three main parts. The first part is the funeral of the elder Rose Pargiter, where we see the passing of the baton from the Victorian to the Edwardian generation. The next section is brief interactions between several members of the family, broken up by the First World War. Her final main section is a family gathering in 1937. Because of the broad sweep of the novel, she is not able to fully develop any of the characters. Nor does she have much use for the techniques of stream-of-consciousness and impressionism she used in her early writings. But, as a generation novel, showing changing attitudes over time, this is a pretty good book.

Publishing history

First published in 1937 by Hogarth Press