(Day 4/30 of the 30 day blog challenge. Read more about it here!)
It is hard for me to write about The Waves because it is such a near and dear book to me. I discovered it during my first year of grad school, a period of time that was both incredibly stressful and academically gratifying at the same time. I expected to hate the novel– I had read Between the Acts by Woolf in undergrad and thought its plot was boring and pointless. But The Waves was such a magical read because the way in which Woolf fleshes out her six narrators in such an innovative manner.
But before I go any further, let me back up and attempt to explain the premise. The Waves consists of six narrators: Susan, Rhoda, Jinny, Bernard, Neville, and Louis, and a seventh prominent friend, Percival. The novel explores their lives and their relationships to one another by focusing on their inner thoughts and perceptions, which are narrated as soliloquies (in other words, the other characters do not hear these soliloquies– only the reader has access to them). By listening to their abstract thoughts, we intimately get to know each character and their perspective on each of their friends and the world they live in
This is easiest shown through a few passages:
Jinny – “Now, too, the time is coming when we shall leave school and wear long skirts. I shall wear necklaces and a white dress without sleeves at night. There will be parties in brilliant rooms; and one man will single me out and will tell me what he has told no other person. He will like me better than Susan or Rhoda. He will find in me some quality, some peculiar thing. But I shall not let myself be attached to one person only. I do not want to be fixed, to be pinioned… This is the beginning.” (55-6)
Susan – “I do not want, as Jinny wants, to be admired. I do not want people, when I come in, to look up with admiration. I want to give, to be given, and solitude in which to unfold my possessions.” (54)
Neville – “‘Bernard’s stories amuse me,’ said Neville, ‘at the start. But when they tail off absurdly and he gapes, twiddling a bit of string, I feel my own solitude. He sees every one with blurred edges. Hence I cannot talk to him of Percival. I cannot expose my absurd and violent passion to his sympathetic understanding. It, too, would make a ‘story.’ I need some one whose mind falls like a chopper on a block… Louis is too cold, too universal.’” (51)
There is no real plot (although there are events that bring our narrators together), but the novel is really driven by the narrator’s perceptions of themselves and of each other. And the beauty is that these perceptions change as they age and as they become more familiar with one another. The payoff of reading The Waves is that you become so intimate with all six narrators that the signal to each of their sections (ex. “said Jinny/Susan etc.) is unnecessary at the end– you know exactly who is narrating at any given time.
The Waves isn’t for everyone, but it’s a gorgeously-written novel that I can’t get enough of. Has anyone else read it, or anything by Virginia Woolf?