Woolf, Virginia: The Years
(researched by Jared Jones)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Virginia Woolf. The Years. Tavistock Square, London: Hogarth Press, 1937. 

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The first edition was published in a green cloth binding with a paper dust cover designed by Vanessa Bell.  

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

240 leaves.  [6] pp. 1-469, [5].  The page number of each chapter page appears at the lower center of the page, while the normal pagination appears at the top-right of the text.  These chapter pages are located at pp. 1, 94, 138, 157, 172, 206, 230, 241, 301, and 325.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The first edition is neither edited nor introduced by anyone.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

The Dust Jacket is illustrated by Vanessa Bell.  There are no illustrations on the cover or within the work.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The pages measure 181mm X 113 mm with the text on the pages measuring 139mm X 85mm.  The margins are between 20 and 23 mm---depending on the exact margin.  The font used is a serif font--most likely Fournier--and each line is about 3mm in height and 20 lines measure to 84R.  The dust jacket of the book is very appealing, as is the muted green color of the cover.  The text is large enough to be read easily and is well-printed (there are no readily apparent mistakes or smudges).  The chapters are normally dates, except for the final paragraph with reads “PRESENT DAY”.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The pages are white with a slightly rough texture and are straight-edged.  The condition of the copy that I examined is excellent.  The paper appears to have been well-made due to its current physical condition—there are no rips or tears to be found.  This copy does not seem as worn out as one might expect a copy in circulation to be, although the end pages at the front and rear of the book are slightly stained/yellowed.

11 Description of binding(s)

The work is bound in a traditional cloth binding—in this instance, it is bound in green cloth.  Both the front and rear covers are unmarked and the spine has the title of the book, the author’s name, a star, and the publisher.  

Transcription of the spine: “The | Years” is located horizontally towards the top of the spine and is followed by a star insignia which is followed by “Virginia Woolf.”  “The | Hogarth Press” is located at the bottom of the spine.

12 Transcription of title page

THE YEARS | VIRGINIA WOOLF | [wolf crest] | Published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at | The Hogarth Press, Tavistock Square, London | 1937.

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Woolf’s manuscript holdings are spread throughout, but many are located within the British Library. The New York Public Library is also noted to have “a synthetic collection” of her manuscripts as well.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Dust jacket, inside front flap: “THE YEARS | By VIRGINIA WOOLF | 8s. 6d. net | This new novel by Mrs. Woolf | is one of the longest written by | her.  In form, it is different | from any of its predecessors. | Its theme is the passing of the | last fifty years, seen through the | everyday life of separate indi- | viduals.  The theme is presented | in the concrete details of their | daily life and the impact upon | individuals of all the forces that | mould society, from fear and | love to war and politics.  The | pattern of the book is also | drawn in certain repeated | phrases and verbal echoes | which seem to reveal to the | reader the strange psychologi- | cal and social forces which | drive each individual inexor- | ably along his own separate | path.  The paths of all these | people begin in the ‘eighties of | the last century, diverge and | cross and diverge again through | the years, and finally meet once | more, at the end of the book, | in the present day. |  This jacked is designed by | VANESSA BELL


Unnumbered page 4 (located adjacent to the title page) advertises other works by Virginia Woolf.

The page following the title page states that it was “Printed by R. & R. Clark, LTD., in Edinburgh.”

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

While under the ownership of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Hogarth press published two editions of the work—the original 1937 first edition and a 1940 “uniform edition” that had a different dust jacket than the original but is really just a second impression.  Once acquired by Chatto & Windus in 1946, they reprinted the “uniform edition” in 1950, 1958, and 1965.  In 1969, the publisher joined with Jonathan Cape and reprinted the “uniform edition” impression of The Years under the Hogarth Press name in 1972 and 1979.  Random House acquired the publisher in 1987, and published one final “Definitive Collector’s Edition” of the work as “Hogarth Press” in 1990.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

There are two issues of the first editions with seven total printings.  The first edition, first issue was printed in 1937, and the first edition, second issue was printed in 1940, and later reprinted in 1950, 1958, 1965, 1972, and 1979.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

First American edition; Harcourt, Brace, and Company—1937 (10,000 printed). There were twelve re-impressions totaling 37,900 copies between April and Oct. 1937.

Armed Services Edition; Harcourt, Brace, and Company—1940 (156,700 copies).

Pan books—1948 (40,000 copies printed)

Penguin Books—1968 (25,000 copies printed).  Reprinted in 1971 (15,000 copies), 1973 (12,000 copies), and 1974 (15,000 copies)

Photo-offset reprint of the First American edition; Harvest Books—1969 (7000 copies at $2.85). 

Reprinted in June 1973 (3000 copies), October 1973 (3000 copies), September 1974 (5000 copies), and November 1975 (5085 copies).

Panther Books—1977 (30,000 copies for £1.25 each).  There were nine further printings, but no dates were given.

Manuscript for the Novel-Essay portion of the Years—Microprint plate facsimile—Readex Microprint Corporation. 1977 (2000 copies printed for $16)

Photo-offset reprint of above manuscript. Harvest books—1978 (9831 copies printed. $4.95)


Worlds Classics edition; Oxford University Press—June 1992 (5000 for £4.50). Reprinted in May 1992 (3000 copies).

Penguin—1998, 2002

Oxford University Press—1999, 2000, 2006, 2009, 2012



Cambridge University Press—2012



6 Last date in print?

The latest date in print as of February 19, 2018 seems to be Apr. 25, 2017 as part of a “Virginia Woolf series” by Vintage.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

Hackett’s 70 Years of Best Sellers lists it as the fifth highest-selling work of 1937 under the Harcourt and Brace publishing company.  It does not sell enough to make the overall bestsellers list (selling more than one million copies).  No information was garnered through looking at Mott’s Golden Multitudes, though Snaith’s Virginia Woolf: Public and Private Negotiations notes that in April 1937, 10,250 copies were sold in England, and that by September, Woolf had noted that 40000-50000 copies had been sold in America across nine American editions.  It was noted to have been sold at $2.50 in Publisher’s Weekly advertisements with advance copies costing $2.75 each.

However, A Bibliography of Virginia Woolf by Kirkpatrick and Clark lists the numbers that were printed.  It seems that 431,239 copies were accounted for as printed across publishers as of 1992.  Certain printing numbers are unknown.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

At least 10,250 copies were sold in England and an additional 40000-50000 copies were sold in America in 1937.  More complete metrics for sales were not able to be found at this time.  To see numbers printed by year, refer to section 5. 

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

After browsing through Publisher’s Weekly editions from Jan. 30, 1937 to mid-September, 1937, I was able to locate three different advertisements.  The first was in the “Spring Announcements 1937” edition of Publisher’s Weekly.  It was simply an entry on the larger Harcourt, Brace And Company advert under a “Fiction” heading.  This advert simply listed “Virginia Woolf: THE YEARS” followed by its release date of April 8 and price listed at $2.50.


The second advertisement chronologically was found in the March 6, 1937 edition of Publisher’s Weekly.  The top third of the page was printed in black with white text, and the lower two-thirds in black text on white paper.  The page is intersected in the middle by a line (white and black as appropriate).  The text reads: “The new novel by | Virginia | Woolf | will be published” on the left side of the line in black, and “April 8” on the right.  On the lower portion, the text reads, “ [bullet] THE YEARS is Mrs. Woolf’s | first novel since 1931 | [line break] | [bullet] The longest and most consiste- | ently readable, exciting, and im- | portant work of fiction of her dis- | tinguished career, it will be the | outstanding novel of the spring | for Mrs. Woolf’s following.  And | it is confidently expected to intro- | duce her to a large new audience. | [line break] | [bullet] March 15 advance copies will | be ready.  Giant books will be | available for display for the taking | of orders before publication.  On | the same date, we shall go to press | with announcement circulars for | you April first statement mailings. | April 8, $2.75 | [double line break] | HARCOURT, BRACE & CO. | 383 MADISON AVE., NEW YORK” on the left of the line.  On the right, in large font, it reads “The | Years”.  See the picture below.


The final advertisement found was located in the May 29, 1937 edition of Publisher’s Weekly.  It was simply written in black text on a white page.  The title and author were located at the top of the page in larger font, followed by an advertisement that praised the work and showed the cost.  Transcription: “THE YEARS | by Virginia Woolf | has led all other novels on the “What America Is Reading” | best seller chart in the N.Y. Herald Tribune Books for four | consecutive weeks.  America is reading Virginia Woolf as | it never has before.  And talking about it. | Which presages an excellent summer market for a novel | which happens to be, in many critics’ opinion, the finest | work of this distinguished novelist. 5th large printing, $2.50 | HARCOURT, BRACE & CO., 383 MADISON AVE., NEW YORK”

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

None were found.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

After extensive research in the Film Literary Index, as well as IMDB, it does not appear that a film version of this novel was ever produced.  Furthermore, after researching through James Salem’s A Guide to Critical Reviews, it also does not seem as though there are any other performances through music, the stage, or radio broadcasts, however there does seem to be an audiobook recorded by Finty Wiliams in 2006.

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

Els Anys, Aurelia Company. [Catalonian translation]

Woolf, Virginia, et al. Évek. Franklin-Társulat Kiadása, 1940. [Hungarian]

Woolf, Virginia, and Dezső Tandori. Az évek. Európa Könyvkiadó, 2007. [Hungarian]

Woolf, Virginia, Mitchell Alexander Leaska, et al. Le livre sans nom: Les Pargiter : roman-essai

à l’origine d’Années. Des femmes, 1985. [French Translation]

Woolf, Virginia. Années. Stock, 1938. [French Translation]

Woolf, Vrginia. Années. Éditions Stock, 1979. [French]

Woolf, Virginia. Les années. Gallimard, 2008. [French]

Woolf, Virginia. Les années: roman. Mercure de France, 2004. [French]

Woolf, Virginia, and René Lalou. Années. Stock, 1985. [French]

Woolf, Virginia, Germaine Delamain, et al. Les années. Gallimard, 2008. [French Translation]

Woolf, Virginia. Die Jahre Roman. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1985. [German]

Woolf, Virginia.  Die Jahre: Roman. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., 1990. [German]

Woolf, Virginia, Herberth E. Herlitschka, et al. Die Jahre: Roman. Fischer Taschenbuch, 1985. [German]

Woolf, Virginia, Brigitte Walitzek, et al. Die Jahre: Roman. S. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002.

Woolf, Virginia, and Brigitte Walitzek. Die Jahre. S. Fischer, 2000. [German]

Woolf, Virginia. Los años. Editorial Lumen, 1983. [Spanish]

Woolf, Virginia. Los años. Debolsillo, 2011. [Spanish]

Woolf, Virginia. Los años. Eds. Lauro, 1946. [Spanish]

Woolf, Virginia. Los años. Lumen, 2010. [Spanish]

Woolf, Virginia. Lata. Czytelni, 1958. [Polish]

Woolf, Virginia, and Małgorzata Szercha. Lata. Czytelnik, 2006. [Polish]

Woolf, Virginia. Sāl’hā. Nigāh, 1998. [Persian]

Woolf, Virginia. Sālhā. Intishārāt-i Nigāh, 1990. [Persian]

Woolf, Virginia. Salha. 2000. [Persian]

Woolf, Virginia. انتشارات نگه،, 2006. (Salha) [Persian]

Woolf, Virginia. Yıllar. İletişim Yayınları, 2004. [Turkish]

Woolf, Virginia, and Dilek Berilgen Cenkçiler. Yıllar. 2013. [Turkish]

Woolf, Virginia, and Oya Dalgıç. Yıllar. İletişim Yayınları, 2009. [Turkish]

Woolf, Virginia. Aarene gaar. København : H. Hagerup 1941. [Danish]

Woolf, Virginia, et al. Os anos. Novo Século, 2011. [Portuguese]

Woolf, Virginia, and Pedro Elston. Os anos. 1992. [Portuguese]

Woolf, Virginia, and 김수정. 세월. 대흥, (Sewol—title) (Taehung--Publisher). Seoul. 1991. [Korean]

Woolf, Virginia, and Артем Осокин. Годы: роман. Текст, 2005. [Russian]

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A


Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Virginia Woolf (née Adeline Virginia Stephen)—acclaimed female British novelist, and author of such works as Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927)—was born on January 25, 1882 in the Kensington district of London, England.  She was the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen—an author, historian, and mountaineer—and Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson)—a nurse, model, and author herself who died when Virginia was thirteen years old.  Virginia had three full siblings: Thoby, Vanessa, and Adrian, as well as four half-siblings: Laura Stephen, George Duckworth, Gerald Duckworth, and Stella Duckworth, who all lived at 22 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington.  James Russell Lowell, the American poet, became her godfather after befriending her father.  Her sister Vanessa is noteworthy for designing the dust covers of many of her works, including the first edition of The Years


Overall, Virginia seemed to have a happy early home life.  Along with her sisters, she was educated in the household where they had access to a quality library, while her brothers were educated at Cambridge.  She became involved in literary activities from a young age—her father was friends with a few authors and critics including William Thackeray (father of his late first wife) and George Henry Lewes.  Furthermore, at the age of nine, Virginia started her own “family newspaper” that she called the Hyde Park Gate News.  The Woolf family spent their summers in St. Ives, along the coast.  Her happy life at home began to change, however, with the death of her mother.  Tragedy (and Virginia’s depression) continued as Stella died two years later, and her father died in 1904—three years after she finished studying German, Greek, and Latin at King’s College, London. 


Virginia met the man who was to become her husband, Leonard Woolf, in 1904, later marrying on August 10, 1912.  Virginia’s first published work The Voyage Out (1915), took her nine years to draft and was originally titled Melymbrosia.  Two years later, she and Leonard established the Hogarth Press—which she later used to publish her works in Britain, as well as works by Freud and Eliot.  She published Night and Day in 1919, Jacob’s Room in 1922, and in 1925 published arguably her best work Mrs. Dalloway.   To the Lighthouse, another well-respected work was published three years later in 1928.  She published only three more novels after this, Orlando (1928), The Waves (1931), and The Years (1937).  Besides novels, she published essays such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938).


Virginia Woolf committed suicide on March 28, 1941 by drowning herself in the River Ouse.  She was cremated by Leonard and he spread her ashes at Monk’s House—a cottage in Rodmell Village that they had bought together in 1919. 


Woolf’s manuscripts are scattered fairly widely, though Kirkpatrick’s bibliography of Woolf notes that The Years papers may be found in the Smith College Library and the New York Public Library (refer to section one for wider manuscript holdings).


Consulted for this assignment: 

“Virginia Woolf.” Biography, https://www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018.

“Virginia Woolf | Biography, Books, Death, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Virginia-Woolf. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018.

Virginia Woolf Biography - Life, Family, Children, Death, History, Mother, Young, Old, Information, Born, House. http://www.notablebiographies.com/We-Z/Woolf-Virginia.html. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018

Kirkpatrick, B. J., and Stuart N. Clarke. A Bibliography of Virginia Woolf. 4th ed., Clarendon Press, 1997

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

With an author like Virginia Woolf, one might posit that the contemporary reception history to be quite long and complex, and it is certainly the case here.  Majumdar’s Virginia Woolf: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1915-1974 notes that there are forty-three separate reviews of the work in 1937 alone.  For the most part, the novel was quite well-received.  Many of these critics feel that this work is masterful, with Peter Jack from The New York Times stating that, “In short, Mrs. Woolf has written her longest novel, her richest and most beautiful novel, out of many years in the practice of writing…” (Critical Heritage 390).  However, there are certainly noted exceptions, such as Edwin Muir’s review in Listener, where he complains that Woolf has not answered the central question of time within the novel “with her usual skill” (Critical Heritage 386).  Muir goes on to note that the novel’s apparent discontinuity is a factor in his assertation that it is a disappointing work.  Woolf herself wrote about this reception in A Writer’s Diary, and states that the review depressed her (Critical Heritage 386).  While Muir wrote a harsher review of the work, he is certainly the exception to the norm.  Of the multitude of reviewers that thoroughly enjoyed the work, Richard Church’s treatment of it in the John O’ London’s Weekly is more emblematic of the wider reception: “The result is a book which one reads, as one reads certain long poems, with such a concentration of attention that at times one has to stop, overborne by the mood of beauty which the work engenders in one; to stop and unravel the complicated strands of pleasure.” (Critical Heritage 379).     

The reviewers each tend to speak about the same/similar facets of Woolf’s work.  As one might expect in a novel that is aptly titled The Years, many of these contemporary reviews are centered around the idea of time that is central to the novel.  They each comment upon the manner in which Virginia Woolf is able to simultaneously evoke the sense of time and timelessness.  Multiple critics state that Woolf has an innate ability to deal with the ideas of “the infinite” appropriately—in relation to time.  For instance, Howard Spring, in the Evening Standard, notes that “The title is extraordinarily apt.  You get to feel not the men and women spaced here and there along its flow, but time—the years themselves—are the ‘heroes’of the book” (Critical Heritage 377).  Furthermore, each critic makes a point to describe Woolf as writing in a style akin to a lyric poet rather than that of a prosaic writer.  Additionally, many critics note that Woolf uses symbols, plot devices, and imagery that refrains throughout the novel—such as death, wind, and dinners.  Lastly, of note, are the times that the reviewers point out that Woolf deals more with the characters themselves, rather than focusing on wider events from 1800-1937.  The English Review sums this up best when noting that, “The major happenings of 1800-1937 are barely touched upon, but the human background of the story changes with infinite subtlety as a painting will change with the dust and damp, fires and bare hearths of a decade” (Critical Heritage 388). 


Kirkpatrick, B. J., and Stuart N. Clarke. A Bibliography of Virginia Woolf. 4th ed., Clarendon Press, 1997.

Majumdar, Robin, and Allen McLaurin, editors. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Contained reviews from: Time and Tide, Times Literary Supplement, Observer, Evening Standard, John O’ London’s Weekly, New Statesman and Nation, Listener, English Review, The New York times, Nation, and Scrutiny.

Majumdar, Robin. Virginia Woolf: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1915-1974. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1976

Meyer, Agnes E. “Virginia Woolf and ‘The Years’: Author Adopts a New Style as Objective as That of Historian. Book Depicts Futility and Complexes of Us Moderns.” The Washington Post  (1923-1954); Washington, D.C., 7 Apr. 1937, p. 7.

Woolf, Virginia. “Cool, Clear Light of Virginia Woolf’s Mind: The Years.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif., 18 Apr. 1937, p. C8.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

With Virginia Woolf’s death in 1941—within five years of the release of The Years, the possibility for subsequent reception via her obituary or comparisons to future novels have been impacted somewhat.  However, a portion of The Years was released in 1978 as The Pargiters: The Novel-Essay Portion of The Years as transcribed by Mitchell A. Leaska.  This opened up a decent amount of reception beyond critical/scholarly analysis of The Years for a portion of the novel, though this should be treated as a separate work.  Searches in various newspaper databases, collections of critiques, and other literary indexes (such as Ebsco, Gale Literary Index, Virgo, Google, ProQuest, and the Book Review Digest) revealed no non-scholarly reviews of the original work in print.  The only non-scholarly reviews of the work post-1942 are in reviews of later editions of the work, such as the review by Elizabeth Evans for Anna Snaith’s scholarly edition of The Years in Modernism/Modernity (vol. 20, num. 3), or in the occasional blog entry.  One such blog-style review by the author Andrea Barrett, takes a personal approach to the novel—noting how it shaped her and her own writings (American Scholar).  Neither of these avenues focus so much on the novel The Years, but rather in its presentation and/or impact on those who read it. 


The much more fruitful location for the reception of this work post-1942 may be found in scholarly criticism of The Years and of Virginia Woolf herself.  With an author like Woolf, with an esteemed catalogue that includes Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, she has been the focus of much literary criticism.  Many critics will, however, divide her earlier writings from her later writings—such as The Years and Three Guineas—when discussing her works at large.  With those that focus purely on The Years itself, the topics often vary greatly—from critiques of the patriarchy within the work (Virginia Woolf’s Late Cultural Criticism), elements of time and how they operate within the work (“The Years and Contradictory Time”), to family dynamics and identity (“Virginia Woolf’s The Years: Identity and Time in an Anti-Family Novel”).  It would be neigh impossible to look for common threads throughout all of the criticisms regarding The Years and Woolf in general—though it is worth noting that Woolf’s works have often been regarded as having feministic elements.  “Virginia Woolf: The Ironic Feminist” is one such review that looks at Woolf’s works as a whole in relation to feminist theory and how it evolved through her career. 


It is worth noting here that The Years does not receive the amount of scholarly criticism that Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, or even Three Guineas receives.  This may be partially due to the novel being her last published before her death, or perhaps that scholars don’t regard The Years to have as much literary merit as the aforementioned works.


Barrett, Andrea. “Virginia Woolf’s The Years.” The American Scholar, 6 Apr. 2015, https://theamericanscholar.org/virginia-woolfs-the-years/.

Evans, Elizabeth F. “The Years Ed. by Virginia Woolf, Anna Snaith (Review).” Modernism/Modernity, vol. 20, no. 3, Nov. 2013, pp. 608–10. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mod.2013.0065.

Inez. “About the Author.” Andrea Barrett, 25 May 2013, http://andrea-barrett.com/bio/.

Majumdar, Robin. Virginia Woolf: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1915-1974. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1976.

Majumdar, Robin, and Allen McLaurin, editors. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

Saariluoma Liisa. “Virginia Woolf’s The Years: Identity and Time in an Anti‐Family Novel.” Orbis Litterarum, vol. 54, no. 4, June 2007, pp. 276–300. onlinelibrary.wiley.com (Atypon),

        << https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0730.1999.tb00287.x>>

Snaith Anna. “The Years and Contradictory Time.” A Companion to Virginia Woolf, Jan. 2016. onlinelibrary.wiley.com (Atypon), doi:10.1002/9781118457917.ch10.

THE YEARS by Virginia Woolf. www.kirkusreviews.com, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/virginia-woolf-2/the-years/. Accessed 31 Mar. 2018.

Wood, Alice. Virginia Woolf’s Late Cultural Criticism: The Genesis of “The Years”, “Three Guineas” and “Between the Acts.” A&amp;C Black, 2013.

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

Virginia Woolf’s The Years, published by the Hogarth Press in March of 1937, was the first (and only) of her works to ever become a “bestseller,” though it only made the list during the year of its release.  With a literary catalog as rich as hers—including works such as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and renowned essays such as A Room of One’s Own—this may seem an incredible fact.  Each of these works receives far more scholarly attention than The Years and are generally thought of as holding more literary merit by those same scholars.  Furthermore, The Years differs from many American bestsellers in that it was originally published in England and, while it may not be as literary as her other novels, it was penned by an author at the forefront of the modernist and feminist literary movements.  Additionally, it is a novel that lacks an overarching/central antagonist or conflict—focusing instead on the lives of three generations of the Pargiter family through all of their individual highs and lows.  Each of these points, however, should not be thought of as demerits and may indeed have been the reason that this novel was able to reach the sales figures and overall positive reception amongst a wider audience that it did.  When compared against her other novels, The Years seems to have appealed to a wider, more general audience due to the more simplistic, yet still lyrical nature of the work.  Furthermore, the relatability of the characters within the novel—going about their everyday lives—added to the positive general reception of the work.  Finally, her merit as a celebrated author bolstered the reception of her novel both within England and the United States after its release. 


Beginning with the novel itself, The Years begins in 1880 and traces the course of the extended Pargiter family until “Present Day” which is assumed to be 1937—the same year of its publication.  While it spans a great number of years, it’s scope is not nearly as great.  It eschews from mentioning great happenings of the time period in favor of focusing on the granular, small aspects of this one family’s everyday life.  It does this to such a degree that the first World War is hardly mentioned, even though the “1914” and “1917” sections of the novel take place right before the war and in the middle of the war, respectively.  The only notable instances of the war come fleetingly during these of sections of the novel—with characters commenting upon guns, military service, the German forces, and bombing raids periodically throughout the latter section (Woolf 288-300).  Woolf does not go into greater detail on the “Great War” than this.  The only instance that the war is actually named comes in the final sentences of the “1918” section (which only spans four pages in the 1937 Harcourt edition of the novel).  Crosby, the former housekeeper of the Pargiters, walks down High Street commenting negatively upon her new employers.  She notes, “The guns went on booming and the sirens wailed.  The war was over—so somebody told her as she took her place at the counter of the grocer’s shop.  The guns went on booming and the sirens wailed” (Woolf 305).  Following this instance, the novel skips straight to the “Present Day” and does not deal with the immediate ramifications of the war.  By instead focusing on the plights and day-to-day aspects of the Pargiters’ lives, Woolf was better able to connect with her audience without re-hashing tales of the war that were prevalent before the publication of this novel.  Woolf’s writing is much more relatable for the everyday person in England (and America) who was not directly involved in the conflict—instead simply having to make adjustments to routine, as depicted when the family has to go to their basement due to the raids (Woolf 300). 


Besides plot elements that engendered a sense of relatability, Woolf’s beautiful lyrical-prose style certainly lead to its popularity.  However, the composition of this novel is unlike anything that she had written prior to its publication.  Originally, The Years was meant to be a “novel-essay” that would alternate between fictional scenes and chapters that provided historical context and critical commentary by Woolf—with a working title of The Pargiters (“The Pargiters”).  This work was to be extraordinarily experimental—much more in-line with how she experimented with form in Mrs. Dalloway—and would focus primarily on feminist arguments and commentary.  However, as Woolf began to fear that she would be unable to finish the work (“Virginia Woolf”) and “daunted by the problematic ‘marriage of granite and rainbow’” (Kirkus Review) as she switched between fiction and essay, she co-opted the fictional aspects of the novel into The Years.  The essay sections were simply omitted from the book, and not brought to light until 1977.  They were combined with the prose portions and published by the New York Public Library after being edited by Mitchell A. Leaska and repackaged as The Partigers: The Novel-Essay Portion of The Years (Archive.org). This history partially explains why The Years is considerably less experimental than some of her prior works—the novelistic portions that were in The Partigers would have inspired the rest of The Years to have been more straightforward.  The straightforwardness is in accordance with the finalized novel that was eventually published. 


Instead of a “novel-essay” hybrid, The Years simply, and elegantly, told the tale of the Partiger family in Woolf’s very lyrical style of prose.  Many of the sentences within the work are beautifully written as only Woolf would be able to, such as: “It was raining gently, and as she stood at the door, breathing in the mild damp air, she watched the curious shadows that trembled on the pavement under the trees” (Woolf 44).  Her writing is certainly far from being labeled “prosaic” as many contemporary reviewers were apt to note (Critical Heritage).  Many reviewers noted that this was a wonderful work, with some even positing that this was her best endeavor to the date (Critical Heritage 390).  As a result of such praise, both for Virginia Woolf as an author and for the work itself, it is not difficult to see how this novel became a bestseller. 


The only “experimentation” that could be found within the novel is in the changing point of views of the sections.  This is nowhere near the degree of Mrs. Dalloway which included a stream-of-conscious narrative with random jumps between narrator.  In The Years, the narration shifts are clearly marked by a space on the page or by the introduction of a new section of the novel.  While it does employ free indirect discourse like her other works, it is much easier to follow the basic plot of this novel.  This more simplistic nature, yet one that is full of elegant writing, puts the work much more in alignment with other novels that became bestsellers at the time. 


It is also of note that The Years is considerably longer than most of Woolf’s other novels.  Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are both only about half as long as this one.  This puts it in line with other bestsellers during 1937 and the surrounding years.  Gone with the Wind is much longer, but novels like The Citadel by Cronin, It Can’t Happen Here by Lewis, and The Rains Came by Bromfield are closer to the same length (20th-Century).  The number of leaves in a novel is not an absolute determinant though, as the novella Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck became a bestseller for the year as well.  There merely seems to be a correlation between slightly longer novels and their appearance on the fiction bestsellers list that The Years seems to adhere to.


The inclusion of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men on the bestsellers list the same year as the Years is especially noteworthy due to its place among works deemed to have “literary merit.”  Of Mice and Men is worth juxtaposing against this novel for that reason.  Both of the authors are ones that have an extensive literary catalog—and a catalog of works that have stayed relevant throughout the course of English literature.  The primary difference though is in the point of each author’s career that they made the bestsellers list.  The majority of Woolf’s renowned works came before the publication of The Years, with only a feminist-essay collection Three Guineas, a biography of a friend Roger Fry, and Between the Acts—a novel published posthumously—coming after this work (“Chronological”) and none of these charted.  With Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men was his breakout work, and his later masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath also made the bestsellers list in 1939 starting a trend where many of his works charted through to 1961 (“20th Century”).  While many of his works were popular with a general audience, they also maintained literary importance—especially The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men.  Steinbeck’s works, and The Years each deal with similar issues, however.  The plight of the “common man” is a central theme of each—which may be seen with George and Lennie’s search for work during the Great Depression in Of Mice and Men and the family lives of the Pargiters.  Additionally, class-issues are important within both the works—the Pargiter family is more well-to-do, but comments upon the circumstances of the poor (which George and Lennie would fall into).  While Steinbeck’s work deals with the ramifications of the Great Depression it is not epic in scope, much like The Years.    Furthermore, each is written in a manner that is easily and rather quickly read.  These similarities may indicate that the relatability of each of the works—in combination with the simpler plot structures and vocabularies—were important for the general audience at the time. 


In regards to Woolf’s public persona, by the time The Years was published—the last novel she published in her lifetime—Virginia was already a successful and well-renowned author.  When promoting this novel, many advertisements drew upon her storied career.  The March 6, 1937 edition of Publisher’s Weekly contained an advert that noted that this was “Mrs. Woolf’s first novel since 1931” (“Publishers” 1109) and also noted that it was “[t]he longest and most consistently readable, exciting, and important work of fiction of her distinguished career,” (1109).  This advertisement in particular echoes the earlier sentiment that the readability and ease of plot is more marketable towards a wider audience.  However, it makes a point to push the novel to consumers based on the basis of Woolf’s literary career—going as far as to claim that this novel would become the most important of her notedly distinguished career.  This turned out not to be the case, but as a marketing ploy, it certainly seemed to work.  This advertisement in particular ended with the claim, “it is confidently expected to introduce her to a large new audience” (1109) which can be believed as this is her only novel to become a bestseller.  A later advertisement from the May 29, 1937 edition of Publisher’s Weekly echoes both of these points by saying that “America is reading Virginia Woolf as it never has before.  And talking about it.  Which presages an excellent summer market for a novel which happens to be, in many critics’ opinion, the finest work of this distinguished novelist” (2150). 


The reason that this novel was able to move so many copies and find its place on the bestsellers list does seem to be a combination between the beautifully elegant prose style that Woolf uses, the marketability of Woolf as an author due to her past successes, and the less-experimental plot/structure of the work.  It dealt with ideas and themes that were more relatable to a wider audience and the length of the novel was more in accordance with the other bestsellers.  Each of these factors combine so that this novel, more than any of her prior works, seemed to be in the best situation to jump onto the list and sell numerous copies.  It is less of a “literary masterpiece” like Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse and more of a pleasant read that was able to be popular both inside of England and abroad in America.  It is a work that many readers could, and certainly did, get behind.   


Works Consulted for this assignment:

20th-Century American Bestsellers Database. http://bestsellers.lib.virginia.edu/decade/1930. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018. Included submissions on The Citadel, It Can’t Happen Here, Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Gone with the Wind and The Rains Came

“1938 Books and Bestsellers” Pop Culture Dot US, http://pop-culture.us/Books/1938.php. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.

Chronological List of Works By Virginia Woolf. https://www.uah.edu/woolf/chrono.html. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.

Majumdar, Robin, and Allen McLaurin, editors. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Modern Library, 1965.

“The Pargiters.” The New York Public Library, https://www.nypl.org/node/57973. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.

The Pargiters – Modernism Lab. https://modernism.coursepress.yale.edu/the-pargiters/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

THE PARGITERS by Virginia Woolf. www.kirkusreviews.com, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/virginia-woolf-5/the-pargiters/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

The Publisher’s Weekly: The American Booktrade Journal. Vol. 131: January-June, 1937, R. R. Bowker Company, 1937.

“Virginia Woolf | Biography, Books, Death, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Virginia-Woolf. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway. Wordsworth Editions, 1996.

Woolf, Virginia. The Pargiters, the Novel-Essay Portion of The Years. Edited by Mitchell Alexander Leaska, New York : New York Public Library : distributed by Readex Books, 1977. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/pargitersnovel00wool.

Woolf, Virginia. The Years. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Wordsworth Editions, 1994.

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