Places: The Years

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1937

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: 1880-1937

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Years, TheEvery major shift in date within the novel is introduced by a panoramic descriptive sequence that contrasts the capital with the surrounding countryside or more distant vistas, but the lists of landmarks cited undergo an unsteady evolution. The novel’s opening, set in 1880, refers to shoppers in the city’s West End, clubs in Piccadilly, Marble Arch and Apsley House, coupled with a derisory reference to the poorer areas of Bermondsey and Hoxton. The 1891 sequence begins with the great churches of St. Paul’s and St. Martin’s and also encompasses Parliament Square and the Law Courts; however, these are situated within a much broader frame of reference taking in the southern coast, the north of England, and Devonshire. The introduction to the 1907 chapters uses much broader brush-strokes, taking in whole districts at a time–Covent Garden, Hammersmith, Shoreditch, Wapping, and Mayfair–but is more narrowly confined to London.

This series of contexts serves to frame the residences of the various members of the Pargiter clan. In the midst of all their movements, however, one London location continually recurs, seemingly unchanging and always reminding the Pargiters of happier and more innocent days: Hyde Park, especially the Serpentine, the Round Pond, and nearby Kensington Gardens. Other London landmarks that recur–the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, and the Law Courts–are merely noted in passing, but the park is a place of refuge.

Pargiter homes

Pargiter homes. The first and most important residence of the various members of the Pargiter clan is a town house in Abercorn Terrace, to the west of Piccadilly. Its cluttered drawing room is dominated by a Dutch cabinet laden with blue china; its dining room has carved chairs and a fine sideboard; it is equipped with a night-nursery and schoolroom, and it has a pleasant back garden.

The first home with which this one is sharply contrasted is situated in a little street in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, where the colonel keeps his mistress, Mira; this reappears in the story at a much later date as a residence of family members now living in severely reduced circumstances. In the meantime, Eleanor and Sara move continually from one address to another, moving down the property-ladder all the while, even though the house in Abercorn Terrace is not actually sold until 1913. Browne Street, Hyams Place, Richmond Green, Ebury Street, and Milton Street provide addresses for a sequence of modest homes whose descriptions are scanty, except continually to emphasize the fact that they are not in Abercorn Terrace.

*Oxford

*Oxford. University city where Edward is a student. Oxford provides several significant locations, but they are described only in vague terms. For example, readers are never told to which Oxford college Edward is attached, although “the Lodge” is a significant setting. The other significant Oxford location is a small house in Prestwich Terrace.

Wittering

Wittering. Village in which Eleanor spends some time visiting Morris at his mother-in-law’s house. There is an actual English village called Wittering in East Anglia, but the one in the novel is in Dorset; it too is described very vaguely, equipped with a Station Road and a High Street but little else.

*India

*India. Asian country that is one of many places mentioned in the story as locations briefly visited by Eleanor; others include the south of France and Greece. Uganda is also mentioned in passing, as is Germany–with whom Britain is at war for much of the novel–but in the same way that most of the addresses featured in the plot are negatively defined by their lack of resemblance to Abercorn Terrace, locations in continental Europe and beyond are only important in terms of their geographical and social distance from London. Given that the world at large is so nebulously conceived, it is hardly surprising that as the march of time draws the characters further and further away from the old night-nursery and private schoolroom, they gradually lose all sense of direction and belonging.

BibliographyBell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. A standard biography that provides background, as well as photographs of family and friends, indexes and appendices, and a limited and dated bibliography. Also contains pertinent references to the creation of The Years.Gorsky, Susan Rubinow. Virginia Woolf. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A good starting place for any research and commentary. Discusses The Years and other works of the author and provides a chronology, annotated bibliography, and an index.Guiguet, Jean. Virginia Woolf and Her Works. Translated by Jean Stewart. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1965. An exhaustive study of most of Woolf’s works. Examines The Years and other novels individually and in comparison with other works. Also provides a brief biography and an overview of the historical period, as well as a bibliography and indexes.Majumdar, Robin, and Allen McLaurin, eds. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975. The informative introduction provides a brief biography of Woolf. Individual criticisms of her major and minor published works include many references to The Years. Also includes a selected bibliography and index.Marcus, Jane, ed. New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. A crucial compilation of women’s viewpoints. Supplies an extremely useful political complement to earlier criticism of The Years.
Categories: Places