She could not follow the ugly academic jargon, that rattled itself off
so glibly, but said to herself that she saw now why going to the
circus had knocked him off his perch, poor little man, and why he came
out, instantly, with all that about his father and mother and brothers
and sisters, and she would see to it that they didn’t laugh at him any
more; she would tell Prue about it. What he would have liked(1), she
supposed(2), would have been to say(3) how he had gone(4) not to the
circus but to Ibsen with the Ramsays. He was an awful prig –– oh yes,
an insufferable bore.
(Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse)
What’s the time orders between (1), (2), (3), and (4)?
When I consulting the reference time (2), it seems (4) < (1) < (3). But I think there’s no need to have perfect tense in “What he would have liked.” This is confusing me.
I believe that this is a valid re-wording of the sentence in question:
She supposed (2) that he would have liked (1) to say (3) how he had gone (4) […]
This hopefully makes it slightly less opaque that all the other events are prior to reference time (2), and go in the order of 4-> (1/3) -> 2; that is, at time N, he went to Ibsen; at time N+1, he (probably) wanted to say something about it; at time (N+2) she supposed that he had wanted to say something about it at time N+1.
I don’t see how you can escape the use of “would have liked”, though, even after rearranging the sentence.