The middle section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, “Time Passes,” is an experiment in making visible the invisible. Woolf narrates the collapse into ruin of an abandoned house, showing how time passes not by but through its material structure. Woolf presents the consequent ruination of the empty house as beautiful—as an aesthetic event in itself, independent of human action or witness. Her attention, however, falls not on the ruins themselves but on the architectonics of ruin that unfolds through them, an aesthetic perspective that challenges a static and anthropocentric history of ruin-gazing. This central scene of beautiful ruin is bookended by the more celebrated, anthropocentric artistic triumphs of Mrs. Ramsay’s party in part 1 and Lily Briscoe’s painting in part 3. Rather than the conventional reading of time and ruin as an antagonist to art, “Time Passes” offers a vision of an alternative (and inevitable) beauty of change and loss in the world without us, and an image of time which has nothing to do with a human art that needs to transcend it.
"The Fall of the House of Ramsay: Virginia Woolf's Ahuman Aesthetics of Ruin,"
Criticism: Vol. 62
, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol62/iss1/5