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Posts Tagged ‘The Years’

The Years is, of course, Virginia Woolf’s 1937 novel. The Years (Les Années) (2008) is also a memoir by French novelist Annie Ernaux. Intrigued—coincidence or connection?—and enticed by reviews, I read Ernaux’s memoir and was captivated.

She tells her story without using the pronoun “I,” yet her voice is clear and consistent throughout. And her recollections are my own too. Relating her life by means of “we” and “they,” the narrative stands as a collective memoir of a generation, hers and mine. I also found several links, both direct and implied, between Ernaux and Woolf.

I’m grateful to the editors of Bloom, who gave me an enthusiastic go-ahead on this project and provided it with a home. You can read my essay, “The Years by Annie Ernaux: Memoir of a Generation.”

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The Bulletin of the New York Public Library dating from 1897 through 1977 is now online and includes the Virginia Woolf Issue, Issue 2, Winter 1977.

This issue features the Stephen family on the cover, along with multiple articles on The Years and essays that examine Three Guineas.

A special treat in the issue is Woolf’s hand-drawn genealogy of the Pargiter family that appears on the reverse of the Contents page, Page 155 in the PDF. Issue 2 begins on page 152 in the PDF numbering.

Thanks to Vara Neverow and the VWoolf Listserv for news of this online resource.

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Andrea Barrett is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her science-infused stories are extraordinary, but until recently I hadn’t read her early work from before the 1996 National Book Award winning Ship Fever.

Recently I came across Barrett’s 2015 essay in the literary journal Agni, “The Years and The Years.” Barrett starts by noting that while The Years isn’t considered one of Woolf’s finest novels, for her it “made possible the first I would publish.” I was thrilled to find this connection between Woolf and Barrett.

Crafting her first novel in the mid-eighties Barrett had her themes, her time and place. To fill them she had characters and relationships spanning three decades. But after writing hundreds of pages and discarding most of it, she couldn’t find a satisfactory way to shape the material. Then she read The Years. She describes the opening scene as an overture—“technically brilliant, profoundly moving”— in the way it introduced the characters and their lives with “ripples that reinforce each other as they intersect  …. Everything, it turns out, changes everything. Everything repeats and reverberates.”

Barrett went to Woolf’s diary, to where she sets out her ideas for The Years: “I want to give the whole of the present society …. with the most powerful and agile leaps, like a chamois, across precipices from 1880 to here and now.”

The structural elements of The Years became a framework from which Barrett was able to give shape to her story. She discovered that, like Woolf, she could skip over portions of time, “shining a beam on one moment and then, years later, on another, suggesting swiftly by thought and conversation what had happened in the space between.”

The result was Lucid Stars, published in 1988. Each of four sections is broken down into dated chapters, and each part’s block of years has a different central character with her own voice. Each section stands apart from the whole while at the same time knitting it together. Like The Years.

Woolf continued to influence Barrett. She tells how Orlando, Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves all showed her the intricacies of writing about biography, history, politics, and war in fiction. Barrett did all of this, in her own voice and style, in the stories and novels that followed Lucid Stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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to the lighthouseI first read Virginia Woolf as a college junior. I started with Mrs. Dalloway for a class and moved on to The Years on my own. My love for Woolf was immediate, but I knew my readings were only scratching the surface.

Over the years, I dipped into more Woolf — To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, Orlando — all just for fun. It wasn’t until I enrolled in a master’s program and made Woolf my focus that I truly took an in-depth approach to her and her writing.

But that doesn’t mean Woolf can’t be instructive for the common reader, as evidenced by my own experiences and those indicated by three recent pieces I found online. An article in Bustle, “18 Books Every Woman Should Read When She’s 18 (Because I Sure Wish I Had),” argues that every 18-year-old woman should read To the Lighthouse. And in Sydney’s Daily Life piece, “The Truth About Feminism,” Annabel Crabb cites A Room of One’s Own as an explicitly feminist piece she read as an 18-year-old, while a current-day college students cites the book as a feminist classic as well.

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Elizabeth F. Evans

Elizabeth Evans

Elizabeth Evans will give a lecture titled “Virginia Woolf’s Airplanes: Air Power and Aerial Views Between the World Wars” at 6 p.m. on Feb. 17 in Technology Building Room 301 at Purdue University North Central. It is free and open to the public.

Evans, assistant teaching professor at the University of Notre Dame, will examine the effects the growing importance of military air power had on British art and literature during the interwar years. Her research focuses specifically on Woolf’s work, specifically Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and The Years (1937).

In a 2013 essay, “Air War, Propaganda, and Woolf’s Anti-Tyrrany Aesthetic,” which appeared in Volume 59, Issue 1 of the journal Modern Fiction Studies, Evans argues that Woolf is both attracted to and troubled by the unique point of view the airplane provides. She admires its aesthetic possibilities but is disturbed by its seemingly inevitable links to warfare.

Evans edited Woolf and the City: Selected Papers from the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf (2010). She is now at work on a book about aerial views in British and Anglophone writing from the early twentieth century to the present.

For more information, contact Dr. Heather Fielding, PNC Assistant Professor of English, at hfieldin@pnc.edu or at 219-785-5327.

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