February 27, 2010

The Waves - Virginia Woolf

The Waves was the fourth and final read for The Woolf In Winter Read Along and I have to say that I am glad it was not the first book chosen! I definitely found this book the most difficult of the four to read and while I found many elements within it that I loved, overall I would have to say it was my least favourite read of them all. The discussion for this book is being hosted by Claire.

The Waves follows the lives of six friends as they move from childhood into adulthood, middle age and old age. I loved the way that Woolf structured the book with each section of the book starting with a passage describing the movement of the sun - with the inference that the movement of the sun has direct parallels with the lives of the characters. I found these 'sun' passages grounding for me as a reader in terms of where the prose was heading next - without these passages I might have been even more lost at times! In the introduction to my copy of the book these passages are also likened to Claude Monet's impressionist paintings - I found this interesting as Monet is my favourite artist and it gave me another reason for why these sections of the book resonated with me so well.

Whilst I did find the book challenging to read there were elements through it that I did connect with - the feelings and thoughts of the characters as they moved through the different phases and stages of their lives - the reference to symbolic and actual life cycle events and milestones. One of my favourite scenes was where one of the female characters, Jinny was preparing to go to a party as a young woman;

'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. I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge, as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day to break open. I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend. I have not yet broken into my hoard. This is the beginning.

I could really relate to this paragraph - Jinny being so excited that this new part of her life if beginning and all the hopes and dreams she carries with her for the future. Jinny's reflections at this time are contrasted beautifully with Rhoda's who feels more apprehension and uncertainty about where she is at this moment in time;

I am not yet twenty-one. I am to be broken. I am to be derided all my life. I am to be cast up and down among these men and women, with their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a rough sea. Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time the door opens. I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uppermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.

The relationships between the characters and how these change and develop over time is another focus of the book that I enjoyed. I particularly loved this reflection from Louis;

To be loved by Susan would be to be impaled by a bird's sharp beak, to be nailed to a barnyard door. Yet there are moments when I could wish to be speared by a beak, to be nailed to a barnyard door, positively, once and for all.

I loved this reflection for what it says about the relationships we often become involved in - they might not always be the best for us but we seek them anyway!

I think The Waves is a book that I will have to go back to at some stage once I have continued my Woolf reading. I plan to move on now to reading more about Woolf herself in the hope that it will help me to love her writing even more. A huge thank you to Sarah, Emily, Frances and Claire for organising the Read Along and for introducing me to one of my new favourite authors.


claire said...

Karen, thanks so much for reading along! This wasn't my favourite either. I really saw Woolf's brilliance on a cerebral level but on the emotional it failed to resonate with me as much as the others we've read did. I do not even know if I will ever reread this again. I'm glad that I've read it and that I know what is in it, but don't know if I'll ever feel the compulsion to pick it up again. Loved Woolf's genius here as usual, but I really felt it a tedious read and not very fun.

But anyway, I also liked the contrast between Jinny and Rhoda. What Woolf wanted to explore here, regarding self and body, was demonstrated the most in both these women. Jinny being in charge of and comfortable with her body, while Rhoda seemingly body-less. Is one way of being more true? Is the self more pronounced with or without help from the body? Is the body essential to the self? The self essential to the body? Am I making any sense?

Karen said...

Hi Claire - Like you I could definitely see the brilliance from Woolf - but I needed so much more to care! I also don't think I will read this one again - although my further reading into Woolf and her life may make me change my mind?
I think you are making perfect sense with your final thoughts! For myself I believe that the mind and the body are ultimately connected.

Stephanie said...

I have read several of Woolf's novels, but I hadn't heard of this one. It does sound interesting, and I love the way you described it. It is interesting the way she kept the story grounded in time, using the position of the sun, though the narrative was kind of abstract and hard to follow.

Karen said...

Hi Stephanie - It was definitely a clever writing technique - it didn't quite work for me in terms of readability but I appreciate the cleverness!

laura said...

Hello, my name is Laura, I'm from Romania, and I'm preparing a presentation on "The Waves" for my English literature class( I'm in my 3rd year at the university) and I saw something really interesting in this post, this being the relationship between Claude Monet's paintings and the book, could you tell me what edition of the book were you using? Thank you! I'm really sorry if I'm posting this wrongly, but I didn't know how to get in contact with the person that wrote the review. Hopefully you will read this...

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