September 27, 2014

'Time passes'


 
 
Thinking no harm, for the family would not come, never again, some said, and the house would be sold at Michaelmas, perhaps, Mrs. McNab stooped and picked a bunch of flowers  to take home  with her. She laid them on the table while she dusted.  She was fond of flowers. It was a pity to let them waste. Suppose the house were sold (she stood arms akimbo  in front of the looking glass) it would want seeing to -- it would. There it had stood  all these years with a soul in it. The books and things  were mouldy, for, what with the war and help being hard to get, the house had not been cleaned as she could have wished. It was beyond one person's strength to get it straight now. She was too old. Her legs pained here. All those books needed to be laid out on the grass in the sun; there was plaster fallen in the hall; the rain-pipe had blocked over the study window and let the water in; the carpet was ruined quite; they should have sent someone down to see. For there were clothes in the cupboards; they had left clothes in all the bedrooms. What was she to do with them? They had the moth in them -- Mrs. Ramsay's things! ... There was the old gray cloak she wore gardening (Mrs. McNab fingered it). She could see her, as she came up the drive with the washing, stooping over her flowers (the garden was a pitiful sight now, all run to riot, and rabbits scuttling at you out of the beds) -- she could see her with one of the children by her in that gray cloak.  There were boots and shoes; and a brush and comb left on the dressing-table, for all the world  as if she expected to come back tomorrow.
 
from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
 
Back to my book, to the middle section, the shortest one. I remember some of it, but not all.  It's years that pass, ten years, with losses ('So she was dead; and Mr. Andrew killed; and Miss Prue dead too, they said'), and the beginning of war ('Mr. Carmichael brought out a book of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success. The war. people said, have revived their interest in poetry.'), and the Ramsays' house standing empty, because the family did not come.  We learn all this through wandering images of wind and animals and weeds entering the house, through the old charwoman's 'witless' thoughts and memories, through village gossip {'Some said he was dead; some said she was dead. Which was it? Mrs. Bast didn't know for certain either.'}, and through simple. stark statements, in parentheses, of what has happened.
 
      So loveliness reigned and stillness, and together made the shape of loveliness itself, a form from which life had parted... Loveliness and stillness clasped hands in the bedroom, and among the shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs, the prying of the wind, and the soft nose of the clammy sea airs, rubbing, snuffling, iterating, and reiterating their questions -- 'Will you fade?' 'Will you perish?' -- scarcely disturbed  the peace, the indifference..., as if the question they asked scarcely needed that they should answer:  we remain.

 
For all our love of country houses in books, this is a different one. Haunting, more than lovely and still, until '(Lily Briscoe [has] her bag carried up to the house late one evening in September.)'.   

{The painting is Woman Sweeping, by Edouard Vuillard, found here.}

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