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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 45 (next | show all)
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 |
For the unprepared reader the first hundred pages can be as baffling as an unknown code. But once the code is cracked, the whole experiment has a brilliant simplicity.
Imagine this: a biography of you and your five best friends. From early childhood to death. Told not within the usual matrix of bald accountable facts, social landmarks of achievement and failure. But through a linguistic transposition of the ebb and flow, the forging and eroding, of the waves of our inner life. Those secret and unspoken moments known only to ourselves when we feel at our most isolated or connected, our most transfigured, lost or unknowable. The narrative a fluid continuum where all six of you are continually merging and separating in a fellowship and divorce of feeling. The six of you ultimately becoming one voice endeavouring to give shape to this one shared life.
So The Waves is the biography of six characters, all of whom speak for the other five as much as for themselves. But it's a new kind of biography. A biography of sensibility. A kind of archaeology excavating identity entirely from what’s buried and sacrosanct. Epiphanies, private moments of triumph and failure - or what Virginia Woolf called "moments of being".

Virginia Woolf speaks somewhere of her earliest childhood memory – of being in bed as a very young child and listening to the sound of the waves distantly breaking on the beach out in the night. She believed the experience remained at the very heart of her inner life, a kind of oracle. The native ground from where all her shoots would spring forth. Authenticity, for her, was to be found in the secret and unspoken experiences of life, her “moments of being”. All six characters in The Waves experience a similar crucible childhood moment. A haunting moment of sensibility which will subsequently act as a motif in the quest to know intimacy and achieve identity. The opening section of The Waves, a depiction of the dawning of day, calls to mind the act of creation itself. For she is questioning the origins and nature of consciousness in this novel. Except no god appears. Instead we see nature as a dispassionate encompassing force locked into its relentless merciless rhythms. The first section introduces us to the six children and their first impressions of the world around them. Baptism comes here, not in church, but when the nurse squeezes a sponge and sends rivulets of sensation down the spines of the six children. An early indication of how Woolf will concentrate on private rather than public events to build the biographies of her six characters. By the end of the first part all six are identifying themselves in relation to each other, all six are struggling with fears and insecurities, all six jarred and flailing in their attempts to achieve identity – as for example Rhoda: “Let me pull myself out of these waters. But they heap themselves on me; they sweep me between their great shoulders; I am turned; I am tumbled; I am stretched among these long lights, these long waves, these endless paths, with people pursuing, pursuing.”
Each section depicts the next phase in the lifespan of the characters. And in each section prevails the endless repetition of the sound and rhythm of the waves. Ultimately the suggestion is that it’s only through sensibility, our creative inner life, that we are able to achieve love, forge abiding worth and find the fellowship that are the principle sources of light and warmth in life.
It’s left to Bernard, the writer, to draw some sort of conclusion: “And in me too the wave rises.it swells; it arches its back. I am aware once more of a new desire, something rising beneath me like the proud horse whose rider first spurs and then pulls back. What enemy do we now perceive advancing against us, you whom I ride now, as we stand pawing this stretch of pavement? It is death. Death is the enemy. It is death against whom I ride with my spear couched and my hair flying back like a young man’s, like Percival’s, when he galloped in India. I strike spurs into my horse. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death.” ( )
  wellsie | Feb 18, 2015 |
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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.”
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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)

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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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