The Waves – Virginia Woolf

« … and lie under this thin sheet afloat in the shallow light which is like a film of water drawn over my eyes by a wave. »

Virginia Woolf.

She writes The Waves, as with the last of her books I read, Mrs. Dalloway, similarly indistinct. Mrs. Dalloway written with words that flow, this written with disparate senses that speak her mind, each moving one to the next. She has no division of section, no separation of scene. As with Mrs. Dalloway, there are no chapters, only space.

The Waves has passages, verse written with a beginning. An introduction which tills the senses for a new day. She sets each beginning, each scene, through streams of words, both poetic and ethereal. Starting at the shore… with waves. It seems as if, since there is always some seashore beginning or ending a day, it’s a good place for her thoughts to rest. As if, overtaken by phrases and images, her mind seeks footing.

Her verse is written through individual soliloquy, seems to me to be mono-percepted; she sees only what she, herself, is seeing – her mind possesses her. She writes from ‘within’ her mind – as if to say, « I am not out of it, but completely within it. »

Her six characters are split by gender, male presents as strength, they are more celebrated within this society. Percival, not one of the six, instead is the source of all strength; an enigma, his is the attention they seek. Percival is loved by Neville. She regards the six ‘friends’ thoughtfully. She is both careful to allow herself acceptance of self-comfort and understanding of these platitudes according to perspective, yet harsh in her portrayal of each voice’s existence. These personalities together, she commands.

Neville, the observer, the connector, giving these three boys a place to secure themselves to the strength of Percival. As the boys approach their commencement from education to their adulthoods, Neville then regards Percival, (p. 60), « He will forget me… He will pass from my life. » Then, (p. 152), death is not discerning, since Percival is dead, yet « I watch people pass; holding tight to rails… determined to save their lives. » Neville seems God’s authority to which she watches, yet can’t brazenly dismiss.

The boys, Louis, Bernard, they are image. They seek imagery. Louis despises ‘dabblers’ in imagery. He resents the power of Percival, (p. 57), « yet it is Percival I need, for it is Percival who inspires poetry. » Bernard is the voice of imagery, the storyteller. He is authorship, the author of the body, not the writer of this book.

Susan is fear, she is judgment – she cries, (p. 40) « I do not pray. I revenge myself upon this day. I wreak my spite upon its image. » Of the three girls, she embodies tradition. She exemplifies this life according to female interpretation. As God wishes, this is what He would want.

Jinny is female as a girl would look. She is the essence of female. She is prettiest, popular, colorful … with « my dress billowing around me … » (p. 62, p. 34, p.46). Female is demure, watched. Then, (p. 101), she gets ‘achy’, « … silk is on my knee … my feet feel the pinch of shoes. » Female is hypersenstive, delicate. She is youth, (p.102), « Wine has a drastic, an astringent taste. I cannot help wincing as I drink. » Female is peevish, impulsive. Jinny, the source of all imagination, (p.220), « My imagination is the body. » She is the writer’s portrayal of all that is feminine.

The least of these is Rhoda. Rhoda is vague, she is « not here, » (p. 43), « … I have to look first and do what other people do when they have done it, » she needs to see before she can do. Name-less, face-less, she is watched « from behind bushes. » She feels impercepted, though she is seen since she is observed. She is withdrawn, goes unnoticed, (p. 106), « Hide me, I cry, protect me, for I am the youngest, the most naked of you all. » Rhoda is exposed, susceptible, vulnerable should those upon whom she relies be negligent or inattentive. Rhoda seems the writer’s anxiety.

These six are one body in Christ, one body within the host’s mind’s forever.

Mrs. Woolf seems to find life in this world to be monotonous. Her words repeat, her phrases re-surface, as if washed anew. It’s poetic. The book at times, though, is tiring. An exhaustion of symbolism, her writing has compassion for arrogant perspective. These words, and other of her works, have morbid credibility.

The final passage resounds with reluctance. The end of the book, the last passage, she speaks as all of the book, not as each or any one view. As, (p. 288), « I have been talking of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, and Louis. Am I all of them? Am I one and distinct? » And, here, (p. 289), she proclaims to be Percival, too, with the feelings He may have felt, « Here on my brow is the blow I got when Percival fell… ». Then she continues with the senses each character by name, may feel or has felt, as she has written each one throughout the book. She doesn’t speak of God, but of church, chapel, priest, (p. 266), « Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends…, » and hers, her view, is to be washed, again, « And in me too the wave rises… « .

She closes with dramatic consequence. These words are final…

The End.

The next Virginia Woolf book I seek will be « Night and Day » …

I read.

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