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The waves by Virginia Woolf

The waves (1931)

by Virginia Woolf

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In The Waves, Virginia Woolf has created a masterpiece. From the elegant prose to the innovative structure (yes, innovative even at a distance of almost 85 years) to the philosophy life and death, this book is a revelation. I found it both unsettling and oddly comforting.

Woolf uses the friendship of six people, three men and three women, to discover both the living world and death. The book is written in an almost poetic style, sticking largely to interior speak. There is very little direct interaction between the friends. There are nine sections, presented chronologically that range from early childhood through school, middle age, and the end of life. The writing is odd – it’s hard to figure out if you’re supposed to believe these people are really thinking these poetic words or is it almost what the brain sees and processes before we’d actually put language to it? In the end it doesn’t matter because it’s beautiful and different and therefore more impactful.

I read the paperback book with a pencil in hand – underlining passages, writing questions, and making connections – something I’ve not done since college but that made a big difference in my reading. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and I intend to do some research on it after I let it settle and form some of my own opinions. It is also a book to be reread and I’m sure it will mean something different to me over the decades to come.

On a personal note, many of you know that my dad died very quickly and unexpectedly this year way too young – only 63. I think this book meant something much different to me after that experience than it would have before. The whole last section of Bernard’s musing on his life and inevitable death really struck me as a gradual personal acceptance of death and separation from earthly matters. That is, until the last paragraph.

I’m obviously pretty blown away by this book. It’s been a while since I read something both challenging to read and personal at the same time. I think it’s impressive that Woolf was able to do both – stretch a reader’s boundaries in language and form but still make a personal book that can be deeply connected to.

Fascinating. ( )
3 vote japaul22 | Oct 21, 2014 |

I must say I was very glad to be completely unspoilered for this before I read it.









It took me a few pages to work out what was going on, but once I did I wondered why nobody else has ever tried the tight-third multiple narrative quite this way. It's a really different, gripping and intimate pattern of story-telling, giving a rounded presence, both inside and out, to each of the six characters. (Susan perhaps getting less of a fair shake.) It blew me away.

It's also obviously a response to Ulysses, where Joyce tried a similar trick, but from fewer points of view and covering a single day. In The Waves, which is about a sixth the length of Ulysses, less is more, and we get decades in the space of 170 pages.

I had always thought of Woolf as a young novelist. But one of the points that struck me from The Waves was its evocation of my own experience of getting a bit older and watching my friends getting old with me, usually at more or less the same rate. So I wasn't completely surprised to find that she was much the same age as I am, in her late forties, when this was published in 1931. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 5, 2014 |
This is poetry, and life, and insecurity, and growing, maturing, and love, and work, and pain, and more poetry, and summer and winter and spring and fall, and friendship, and desire, and time, and memory, then death, while the waves crash on. ( )
  sighedtosleep | Sep 1, 2014 |
Thus when I come to shape here at this table between my hands the story of my life and set it before you as a complete thing, I have to recall things gone far, gone deep, sunk into this life or that and become part of it; dreams, too, things surrounding me, and the inmates, those old half-articulate ghosts who keep up their hauntings by day and night; who turn over in their sleep, who utter their confused cries, who put out their phantom fingers and clutch at me as I try to escape—shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.My umpteenth reading of The Waves and it still floors me. There's not a wasted word here: Woolf's attention to rhythm—she was listening to Beethoven's String Quartet in B-flat Minor, Opus 130 while writing this novel, and Beethoven's nuances are found in her prose at all turns—and the ways in which she questions subjectivity, interpersonal relations, the ways in which we are connected and yet disparate from those around us are on display here more so than in any of her other fictional works.

The last section is sadly not as famous as the last section in Joyce's Ulysses, but it may well be even more gut-wrenchingly brutal in its philosophical underpinnings and the ways in which Woolf engages with poetics to sustain the flow of her inquiries into what it means to be human. On each reading there is something more to be found here, something more to be learned, something to relish and treasure, some keen diamond-edged truth that slices just as much as it illuminates. A book that can never have an equal, hands down. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
I wasn't invited to this party, I guess. I love Woolf's essays and her ideas about fiction, but, with the exception of Mrs. Dalloway, I've never been able to stomach her actual novels. It's not their interiority, her famous "difficulty" - it's that her characters are all such hopeless middle class British twits. I don't WANT to spend all this time inside these people, it's like being force fed nothing but cold, milky tea all day long. It's a kind of Downton Abbey of the soul, except that the servants have no inner lives at all. Her modernist rival Joyce's great gift was to give us the inner lives of two men - one who was enormously self-absorbed and one who wasn't at all, and thus begin to sketch how varied human consciousness is. If only Woolf could have had more breadth along with her depth... ( )
1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Woolf, Virginiaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garnett, AngelicaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parsons, DeborahIntroduction and Notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The sun had not yet risen.
The sun had not yet risen. The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Gradually as the sky whitened a dark line lay on the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became barred with thick strokes moving, one after another, beneath the surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually.”
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
There is nothing staid, nothing settled in this universe. All is rippling, all is dancing; all is quickness and triumph.
Percival has died (he died in Egypt; he died in Greece; all deaths are one death).
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156949601, Paperback)

One of Woolf’s most experimental novels, The Waves presents six characters in monologue - from morning until night, from childhood into old age - against a background of the sea. The result is a glorious chorus of voices that exists not to remark on the passing of events but to celebrate the connection between its various individual parts.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:31 -0400)

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One of Woolf's most experimental novels, this book presents six characters in monologue against the vivid background of the sea.

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