Sunday 28 February 2010

The Waves

I had to take my own photo of 'The Waves' by Virginia Woolf as I could not find an image that had the same cover. There is no nice 'wave' design on this one, it is rather ordinary.

For anyone really enjoying the 'Woolf in Winter' reading challenge, and who wants to read some very intellectual and erudite thoughts on The Waves, please visit over on Claire's site Kiss a Cloud and follow a few of the links.

This book is a real challenge, and I fully intend to read it all, just not this week (and To The Lighthouse is well down the TBR pile I confess). I should have known, after Mrs Dalloway, that I could not expect a novel in the conventional sense, but it did not prepare me for The Waves. So I launched in with naive enthusiasm expecting to find at least a 'story' of some kind. Then I tried the 'just read and let it flow into you' technique. I think it tells you so much about Virignia, how much she lived inside her own head, and how her life was centred on intellectual and emotional engagement and reflection.

You know the idea that some people are visual readers, who take in the words by looking, and some are aural readers, who take in the words by hearing them, actually saying the words aloud in their head. My daughter says she reads slowly because she says the words to herself. Now I think I probably am mostly visual, but with Virginia Woolf I think you have to be aural, to go slowly and appreciate the density of the language. Older daughter Tish (having helped me writing the Mrs Dalloway review) commented that surely such writing would never get past the editor, and I said that was probably one of the perks of self-publishing (that you can do something that has never been done before and not just end up with a pile of rejection letters.) If one of the rules of good writing is to not overdo the adjectives, then any editor worth his salt would have cut this book down by at least a third. But then I have to take it all back because when I look at the half dozen little notes I have made myself they are all about the language:

Rhoda speaking of a chorus of birds startled by the opening scullery door: "Off they fly like a fling of seeds."
The boys talking (am often unsure who) and within a few lines we get: "incorrigible moodiness", "innumerable perplexities", "profound distinctions" and "ferocious tenacity" (this last one being my favourite).
Susan, later, (p.70): "The day is stark and stiff as a linen shroud."
Rhoda (p.77): "I see the wild thorn tree shake its shadow in the desert."

I am yet to discover what life has in store for Susan and the rest (and I can't help but have an image of Susan from the Narnia books when I read her name) so I will leave you with her feelings about school, which are just so perfectly expressed I may post them to my home education e-mail list. Here she is watching from the train window going home for the holidays:

"But the day is still rolled up. I will not examine it until I step out on to the platform in the evening. I will not let myself even smell it until I smell the cold green air off the fields. But already these are not school fields; these are not school hedges; the men in these fields are doing real things; they fill carts with real hay; and those are real cows, not school cows. But the carbolic smell of corridors and the chalky smell of classrooms is still in my nostrils. The glazed shiny look of matchboard is still in my eyes. I must wait for fields and hedges, and woods and fields, and steep railway cuttings, sprinkled with gorse bushes, and trucks in sidings, and tunnels and suburban gardens with women hanging out washing, and then fields again and children swinging on gates, to cover it over, to bury it deep, this school that I have hated." (p.44)


  1. Very interesting. This post makes me want to read her.

  2. Nice post :) thanks !

  3. This one is still on my TBR pile, along with To the Lighthouse. I love, love, LOVE Mrs. Dalloway, though, and have read so much other Woolf I can't even count.

    I would counter-argue with Tish about the language not getting past an editor, though. Ulysses was not self-published, and though editors did argue with Joyce about the language and the book's accessiblity, he stuck to his guns and kept his own identity.

    Just my two cents! :)

  4. I actually really love the cover design on your copy. It is the only one I've seen without waves though, but the authenticity of it is very appealing.

    I'm a visual reader myself but you are right that you have to be aural with Woolf. Love the passages you pulled; exactly those little gorgeous detailed phrases that made me really love this book. (If not for those, I would have found it unbearable, as it was very tedious to read.)

    I absolutely fell in love with To the Lighthouse though, everything about it was wonderful. It still posed a bit of a challenge, as it's Woolf after all, but to me it never felt like work. It was just gorgeous and profound and moving.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Martine! And I'm so happy you found the shared read helpful. I'd love to hear how you get on with the rest of The Waves..

  5. Even though your cover does not have any waves - i do rather like it - it reminds me of a beach somehow. Love this post - thank you for sharing, hannah

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  7. I love your observation about the book having appeal for aural readers, I found it a bit of a struggle when I read it but loved some of the individual passages which were quite striking and beautiful. I found To the Lighthouse to be an easier read. Reading your posts on Woolf I find myself thinking I really must dip back into her work.


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