[Here Mr. Carmichael, who was reading Virgil, blew out his candle. It was midnight.] [Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.] [Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised so well.] [A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.] [Mr. Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success. The war, people said, had revived their interest in poetry.]
The text from To The Lighthouse, quoted above, is the sum total of all bracketed asides that appear in the novel's second section, "Time Passes." The compelling question is, why were brackets chosen to emphasize this particular information, and how do the bracketed sections fit in with the rest of the section?
Obviously, one purpose of the brackets is to convey personal information about the family in the midst of a narrative dedicated to the empty summer house. Death of a family member occurs in three out of the five sets. This is an effective plot device to fast-forward time and to age the surviving characters. But Woolf's text is not heavily burdened with plot devices, generally. Her prose is whittled to its bare essence. So the brackets must mean more than self-conscious literary trickery.
The first and fifth bracket sets are like bookends, both about Mr. Carmichael. In the first, the information about him blo...
... middle of paper ...
...e powerful when read in the midst of the rest of the text, the story of a dying family, a deteriorating house, a falling away of the light from the lighthouse. They also remind the reader that life and death exist beyond places of sentimental houses. The brackets themselves add an emphasis beyond what is possible with a parentheses. Are they as strong as a voice-over would be in a movie? I don't think so. Rather, I imagine them as dialogue, spoken in the voices of children, neighbors, and documents, background noise that add to the overall effect but are only a tiny portion of the text that surrounds them.
Works Cited and Consulted
Latham, Jacqueline, ed. Critics on Virginia Woolf. Florida: University of Miami Press, 1970.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Introduction by D.M. Hoare, Ph.D. London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1960
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