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.