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The Waves by Virginia Woolf
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The Waves (1931)

by Virginia Woolf

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
The Waves has the distinction of being my final read of my year of #Woolfalong. Although I technically have enough time left to squeeze in The Years, as I had originally intended, I know I won’t read it this year now. So, I shall be saving that for another day.

Approaching The Waves, I think I had already decided it was difficult, infamously so perhaps – I knew some people love it while others find it almost unreadable, it’s hard not to be influenced by such conflicting opinions. Like Jacob’s Room, the last Woolf novel I read, I suspect I will get more out of The Waves with a second reading, but I certainly liked it very much, far more than I expected to. The beginning and the end were my favourite sections. Such exquisite renderings of childhood and old age.

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”

Certainly, The Waves is not an easy read, it is challenging, and is considered her most experimental novel, and by many Virginia Woolf’s greatest achievement. It is a novel which explores the continuity of human life, through six inner monologues, spoken, by six friends. Taking us from childhood to old age, in togetherness and in moments of isolation. Small incidents, brief moments are shown to often have great importance, as the novel progresses we gradually get a sense of all these lives, each of them connected to the others, through their past and their friendship. Their soliloquies weave together, crossing one another, creating a sense of a shared existence between Bernard, Susan, Louis, Neville, Rhoda and Jinny.

“We are about to part,” said Neville. “Here are the boxes; here are the cabs. There is Percival in his billycock hat. He will forget me. He will leave my letters lying about among guns and dogs unaswered. I shall send him poems and he will perhaps reply with a picture post card. But it is for that that I love him. I shall propose a meeting – under a clock, by some Cross; and shall wait and he will not come. It is for that that I love him.”

Bernard is a storyteller, Susan keen to put the city behind her as soon as she can, living in the countryside she becomes a mother. Jinny is a London socialite, Rhoda filled with self-doubt, Neville seeks out a series of men as the object of his love, while Louis – the outsider seeks acceptance. For me Bernard and Susan were the characters who spoke loudest to me, who emerge from Woolf’s poetic novel most fully formed.

“I have torn off the whole of May and June,’ said Susan, ‘and twenty days of July. I have torn them off and screwed them up so that they no longer exist, save as a weight in my side. They have been crippled days, like moths with shrivelled wings unable to fly. There are only eight days left. In eight days’ time I shall get out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty-five. Then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions that wrinkle and shrivel – hours and orders and discipline, and being here and there exactly at the right moment will crack asunder. Out the day will spring, as I open the carriage-door and see my father in his old hat and gaiters.”

One of their particularly shared experiences is their hero like devotion to the memory of Percival, a friend who dies part way through the novel. Percival never speaks to us directly, like Jacob Flanders in Jacob’s Room we experience him only through the eyes of others.

Between the sections of soliloquy which chart each stage of these character’s lives, childhood, school, young adulthood, middle-age, are brief interludes. These interludes, describe a coastal scene, each one depicting a different time of day, from sunrise to sunset. I found these interludes to be strangely poignant, they add to the feeling of connectedness between human beings and the natural world, the ebb and flow of life.

“The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.”

Woolf’s prose is glorious, there is a rhythm and flow which I read with complete awe. I couldn’t help but ask myself how she managed to achieve such poetic prose, there is a delicious sense of movement, of the passage time, of life continually flowing, moving forward. Perhaps the best way to read such a novel is to simply allow the prose to wash over you, for the reader to put their trust in Virginia Woolf and ‘go with it.’

Realising that The Waves was going to be an incredibly difficult novel to write about succinctly (I write book reviews not critical essays) I have decided to keep it simple, and short. Sometimes it is better to let an author speak for themselves, which is why I have included so many quotes. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jan 1, 2017 |
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. It is more interesting than the other books I've read by Virginia Woolf. In it, Woolf has finally succeeded in breaking free of traditional narrative form. It ceases completely to be a narrative and becomes a sense. The book is part play, part extended poem. It is an incredible flow of individual self awareness eddying and combining to form a communal sense of self written like a spoken word performance. The style made me think of Walt Whitman’s essay-like poetry, and also of Greek tragedy, with the chorus narrating the action. I thought that Woolf got across the inner voices, and I mean deep inner voices, of the six narrating characters very well indeed. It was like overhearing how it feels to be performing the actions described, rather than imagining yourself in the place of the characters whose story is being narrated to you. We don’t overhear an internalised conversation about what has happened. Instead Woolf puts words to the sensations we feel when we are in the midst of acting. Very clever. I felt lifted out of myself as I was reading, as though I was hovering above, looking down, and at the same time as though I was seeing the action through a macro lens, so close to the characters they might feel my breath. The depiction of grief was astonishing in the way it embodied the sense of time stopping, of other people's continuation being offensive, of nothing mattering when the person who acted as anchor in your life has gone. I remember that from when my dad died. The changes that friendships undergo as we age and experience shapes us were also well depicted and caused me to reflect on the friendships that I have had for many years. How easy some are, how others take more effort and a forgiving nature to sustain.

Louis and Rhoda were my favourite characters early on, although I liked Bernard, too. Louis and Rhoda are outsiders, one desperate to break in, the other trying to escape notice. Louis knows he is cleverer than his more privileged friends, but the accident of his colonial birth means he will never have the same opportunities as them. Rhoda wants to be left alone with her rich interior world. She has no interest in being fêted or admired like Jinny, and she doesn't find fulfilment in practicalities like Susan. She lacks confidence, though, because she feels that her self is the wrong kind of self to be. Bernard revels in his multiple personalities, yearns to be famous, and always has one eye on what his legacy might be. His awareness that he only really has a self while being observed by others fascinated me. Towards the end, I preferred Neville and Susan. They seemed to distill into something I understand, in this moment when I am of a similar age to them, post-Percival.

All good, then. But no. Woolf has to spoil it in the final section of the book by casting aside her innovative chorus of inner feelings and reverting to a standard, dull narrative. Bernard drones on about how his life has passed, and it breaks the spell. From a magical sphere of disembodied voices, I was pulled back to a sort of mundanity, and I had to force myself to read to the end, even though Bernard was telling me what I had worked out, even though I wasn't interested in his conscious perspective. I wonder why Woolf chose to end the book that way. ( )
  missizicks | Feb 5, 2016 |
Wonderful writing by Virginia Woolf - the plot, such as it is, is unimportant. It is the quality of writing which is truly captivatiing ( )
  PaulAllard | Dec 9, 2015 |
3.5 out of 5.
I'm still intimidated at the thought of reading this book and I've just finished it. Woolf's writing here is often a bit too much to handle; you really do have to let it wash over you like the rhythm of waves upon a shore. But she delivers some of the most exquisite writing here - whether the depictions of the beach, a well-honed sentence exploding internal emotion outward, or even just a small phrase of realization... there's almost too much to take in at one go. It becomes often overwhelming, but also sort of hypnotically attractive. The reading doesn't necessarily get *easier*, but you find yourself pulled along more smoothly as it goes on. It is a unique piece of writing, that much is absolutely true.

More on Friday: http://ragingbiblioholism.com/2015/09/25/the-waves/ ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
3.5 out of 5.
I'm still intimidated at the thought of reading this book and I've just finished it. Woolf's writing here is often a bit too much to handle; you really do have to let it wash over you like the rhythm of waves upon a shore. But she delivers some of the most exquisite writing here - whether the depictions of the beach, a well-honed sentence exploding internal emotion outward, or even just a small phrase of realization... there's almost too much to take in at one go. It becomes often overwhelming, but also sort of hypnotically attractive. The reading doesn't necessarily get *easier*, but you find yourself pulled along more smoothly as it goes on. It is a unique piece of writing, that much is absolutely true.

More on Friday: http://ragingbiblioholism.com/2015/09/25/the-waves/ ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Woolf, VirginiaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bell, VanessaCover artistsecondary authorsome 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.”
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:47 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

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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