First Half of The Waves by Virginia Woolf

I haven’t been very good at finishing the books for Woolf in Winter (WIW) on time and posting about them.  I tend to take Woolf’s work in 40 to 50 page chunks per day…I also get distracted by all my shiny library loot and my TBR stacks and wait until too late to start my WIW read.  This week I didn’t start The Waves until Wednesday, and consequently am only about half way through (148/297 pages).   Rather than wait until I’m done and miss the posting window, I decided to just write about the first half of it (with a follow-up on the second half coming when I’m done).

This was the only WIW read that I hadn’t read before, which means that my copy wasn’t all marked up.  It was nice to be able to discover it without any of my preconceptions from the first (or second or third) reading clouding my judgment.  There were so many gorgeous passages in this book (In 148 pages I used at least 70 sticky highlighter things to mark passages) and so many great ideas that it’s hard to pick just a few things to focus on.    Woolf also jumps easily between sections of male and female voices (when the characters are away at school).

This brief passage rolled around in my head for awhile.  “’But when we sit together, close,’ said Bernard, ‘we melt into each other with phrases. We are edged with mist.  We make an unsubstantial territory.’” (16)  It sounds almost Whitmanesque.

I hadn’t realized that the book starts out during the character’s childhood, and it was great to see how the characters developed throughout their lives.   Certain traits that are delightful in children can become tiresome when they grow-up. Bernard has a vivid imagination and is able to tell stories about the world around him.   While this is an absolutely necessary trait for a writer, it becomes tiresome when he can’t seem to live in the moment because he can’t turn-off the impulse to narrate and create out of what he sees.

Susan and Neville are my two favorite characters so far.  Both are focused on solid things and seem most self aware.  Neville aches with his love for Percival which he knows he can never consummate (given its homosexual nature and the time period of the novel).   His analysis of situations also goes deeper the Bernard’s and is more rooted in solid things and the actual feels of the other characters v. Bernard’s imaginings.

“And now, let Bernard begin.  Let him burble on, telling us stories, while we lie recumbent.  Let us describe what we have all seen so that it becomes a sequence.  Bernard says there is always a story.  I am a story.  Louis is a story.  There is the story of the boot boy, the story of the man with one eye, the story of the woman who sells winkles.  Let him burble on with his story, while I lie back and regard the stiff legged figures of the padded batsmen through the trembling grasses.’” (pg. 37)

Only Susan seems truly content both alone and in the presence of others.  She’s not a superficial dazzling party girl like Jinny nor does she want to be someone she’s not like Rhoda.  She’s content with a simple domestic country life and the forthcoming reality of a life of marriage and children.   Having read Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf, I think Susan is someone Woolf wishes she could have been at times.  Lee discusses Woolf’s jealousness of her sister’s children and her need to create something of her own (a void she fills with her creative work).

So far I’ve found The Waves to be deep and something I needed to take my time with, but not “difficult” per say…More in about a week, when I’m done with it.   I’m also interested in reading more of Woolf’s essays on fiction, as my edition of  The Waves has on the back cover the sentence that The Waves is “the novel that most epitomizes Virginia Woolf’s theories of fiction.” In the mean time, I’m interested in hearing what everyone else’s favorite passage was.

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4 Responses to First Half of The Waves by Virginia Woolf

  1. Very interesting and well-written. I’ll put a link to your blog on my Facebook page – maybe you’ll get some readers and contributors. It would certainly be worth their while to visit and drop you a line!

  2. Eva says:

    I agree that I think Susan is the polar opposite of Virginia, and that might be why she’s so idealised. 🙂 Susan’s my favourite, although I empathise quite a bit with Jinny too (except I have more to my personality than clothes & boys! lol). I’ll be interested in what you have to say about Bernard once you’ve read the second half!

  3. kiss a cloud says:

    You are the second person in the shared read to compare The Waves with Whitman! I will be rereading him soon, and will definitely be thinking of this book when I do.

    I agree this is more deep than difficult, but to me the difficulty lies less in the understanding but more in the approach towards it and how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t sound incomprehensible. I found it was less difficult to understand it when approached certain ways, but it seems there is no way around the difficulty of talking about it. So elusive.

    But my favourite passage.. so many.. but this is one:

    ‘How tired I am of stories, how tired I am of phrases that come down beautifully with all their feet on the ground! . . . I begin to long for some little language such as lovers use, broken words, inarticulate words, like the shuffling of feet on the pavement.’ [183]

    Thank you so much for reading along!!

    • Ooo that’s a good passage! I look forward to reading it sometime in the next couple days. I read in one of your comments on your blog that you plan to continue to continue with more Woolf. What do you plan to read next? I’m going to go with Moments in Being and then Night and Day.

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