Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

The Waves by Virginia Woolf (1931, 297 pages)

I want firstly to thank Nicole of  Bibliographing (whose blog I have been following for a long time) for sending me this book.   I have been intending to  read Woolf   for a long time (I read her short story "The Mark on the Wall" and posted on it while I was reading The Waves) and I will now always be grateful to Nicole for giving me the nudge I needed. 

Woolf (1882 to 1941) is for sure the most influential female literary artist of the 20th century.   She really seems to have no competition for this title.   Her literary output was tremendous.   In addition to numerous novels now in the canon she wrote essays that are still treasured and  wonderful short stories.   She was born into a wealthy highly cultured English family.    She was a member of the Bloomsbury group.    In her literary style she experimented with different techniques for conveying the stream of consciousness of the people in her novels.   

The Waves, based on my brief research,  is considered her most experimental novel.   In it she combines the interior monologues of three men and three women.   There is a seventh major character off stage, Percival, who passes away half way through the book.   Each of the characters emerge from the stream of soliloquies as a personality with their own needs.   They also all blend into one and help create each other.   I am glad I read Ford Madox Ford's incredible Parade's End (the final section of which was published in 1928) shortly before I began The Waves.    Both books are about the construction of reality out of the fragments of experience.    Making use of the Wikipedia definition,  I sort of see both works as "Cubist novels":

In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics.

Both also make prolific use of cultural references though perhaps Ford's are more diverse.   Much of the prose of The Waves feels like a wave is going over us.   There are sections of the novel where there are some transitional scenes as we move from sunrise to sunset all of which take place by the shore.   As I read the work I knew I would   just have to accept I would not fully understand it and just sort of let the beauty of the prose take me under its power.  I think trying to arrive at a neat intellectualized account of the meaning of the novel is a perversion of the wonder of it.    I had marked numerous passages I wanted to quote but decided I could not really pick out just a few quotes.  I did learn something from this passage about the lingering sadness caused by the death too young of friends and loved ones I wanted to share:

Among the tortures and devastations of life then is this -our friends are not able to finish their stories.
There is much wisdom in this work.    Many passages to marvel at and savor abound in The Waves.  The Waves can be read  as poetry started and stopped at any section.   

I would like to read the three or four best of her novels-if you have any suggestions please leave a comment.

Virginia Woolf is one of the icons of twentieth century literature admired by many for her life style as much as her work.  


Hannah Stoneham said...

Lovely review Mel - I am a big fan of The Waves but yes it is more challenging in terms of technique and convention than Woolf's other novels. Have you read her essay "A Room of One's Own" (which I think was originally delivered as a speech) - I think that you would enjoy that. Also - the piture - is that the latest front cover?

Thanks indeed for sharing

Suko said...

Mel, may I recommend Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse? They are my favorite novels by Virginia Woolf.

nicole said...

So glad you enjoyed this! Woolf and Ford are certainly alike in many ways, and I find that once you sort of make the jump to appreciating these "Cubist novels" it's much easier to read and enjoy others.

Emidy @ Une Parole said...

I really need to read something by Virginia Woolf. She sounds like such a great author!

Eileen said...

I've heard Faulkner's As I Lay Dying described as a Cubist novel too. I love The Waves but I've never thought of it that way.

Mel u said...

Hannah-I will read "a room of one's own soon"-as to the picture, which I like a lot, I just did a google search for images

Suko-I will read the two works you mentioned-thanks-

Nicole-yes Ford and Woolf were a very interesting and mutually informative back to back read-

Emidy-maybe you could start out with one of her short stories (a number can be found on line)

E. L. Fay-It has been a while since I read a Faulkner novel but for sure I can see that-

ds said...

I second Suko. Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves are Woolf's masterpieces. In a way, the first two prepare you for the last. I agree with your Cubist thoughts. Great review, Mel!