23 thoughts on “THE WAVES – Virginia Woolf

  1. The sun sharpened the walls of the house, and rested like the tip of a fan upon a white blind and made a blue finger-print of shadow under the leaf by the bedroom window.


    ‘Look at the tablecloth, flying white along the table,’ said Rhoda. ‘Now there are rounds of white china, and silver streaks beside each plate.’

    ‘Up here Bernard, Neville, Jinny and Susan (but not Rhoda) skim the flowerbeds with their nets.’

    Read up to: ‘She has kissed me. All is shattered.’

  2. ‘I lie quivering flung over you.’

    Starting with real poeticised sea waves, we now ‘hear’ characters talk out towards us, if perhaps not always to each other, equally poeticised, as if deep in their minds they know they are in a book or on a stage whereby we shall link what they say, link their words together to make a gestalt, make a hawling from their spoken waves. All seems rhapsodic, rapturous even, rapt in self, replete with eager anticipation … or with dread?

    Read up to: ‘The yellow warmth in my side turned to stone when I saw Jinny kiss Louis. I shall eat grass and die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted.’

  3. ‘There is the white house lying among the trees. It lies down there ever so far beneath us. We shall sink like swimmers just touching the ground with the tips of their toes. We shall sink through the green air of the leaves, Susan. We sink as we run. The waves close over us, the beech leaves meet above our heads. There is the stable clock with its gilt hands shining. Those are the flats and heights of the roofs of the great house.’

    Read up to: ‘If we died here, nobody would bury us.’

  4. ‘; and if Susan cries he will take my knife and tell her stories. The big blade is an emperor; the broken blade a Negro.’

    Was this the knife that perpetrated the gory murder one of the children said he witnessed happening under the apple tree?

    ‘I will not conjugate the verb,’ said Louis, ‘until Bernard has said it. My father is a banker in Brisbane and I speak with an Australian accent. I will wait and copy Bernard. He is English. They are all English. Susan’s father is a clergyman. Rhoda has no father. Bernard and Neville are the sons of gentlemen. Jinny lives with her grandmother in London. Now they suck their pens. Now they twist their copy-books, and, looking sideways at Miss Hudson, count the purple buttons on her bodice. Bernard has a chip in his hair. Susan has a red look in her eyes. Both are flushed. But I am pale; I am neat, and my knickerbockers are drawn together by a belt with a brass snake.’

    ‘Those are yellow words, those are fiery words,’ said Jinny. ‘I should like a fiery dress, a yellow dress, a fulvous dress to wear in the evening.’

    ‘The world is entire, and I am outside of it, crying, “Oh save me, from being blown for ever outside the loop of time!”’

    ‘Things are huge and very small. The stalks of flowers are thick as oak trees. Leaves are high as the domes of vast cathedrals. We are giants, lying here, who can make forests quiver.’

    These speakers are children about to go to big school but here with a small school teacher, children on the brink of being grown up, children whom we get to know accretively by what they say. A Sarban-like idyllic quality, over-mature words perhaps, as if stylised by some Goddess looking down and putting words into their mouths. It’s probably the greatest novel ever written, because if I don’t say that it will vanish in a huff; it is so rarefied, attenuated, rhapsodic, rapturous even, that it threatens to vanish into gossamer fairy dust in the land of Elvedon that the children thinks they discover at one point.

    Read up to: ‘; Bernard moulds his bread into pellets and calls them “people”.’

  5. ‘We troop upstairs like ponies,’ said Bernard, ‘stamping, clattering one behind another to take our turns in the bathroom. We buffet, we tussle, we spring up and down on the hard, white beds. My turn has come. I come now.

    IMG_3515 IMG_3517

    …lemon-coloured sponge and soaks it in water; it turns chocolate-brown; it drips; and, holding it high above me, shivering beneath her, she squeezes it. Water pours down the runnel of my spine. Bright arrows of sensation shoot on either side. I am covered with warm flesh. My dry crannies are wetted;

    Bathtime for the children, dreams, at least one unwelcome. The language is unsurpassable. This book needs to be experienced at least once in life. Painterly, rhapsodic, richly fraught. But there is nobody who can summarise its power. Hopefully, this its first gestalt real-time review will be able to do so by the time it takes its own power from my words, quite beyond my own power to give it to them.

    Read up to: Meanwhile the concussion of the waves breaking fell with muffled thuds, like logs falling, on the shore.

  6. Now there is this gulping ceremony with my mother, this hand-shaking ceremony with my father; now I must go on waving, I must go on waving, till we turn the corner.

    And now follow the speeches telling of their gender-respective schools to which they travel – Harry Potter like? – these speeches almost statuses on Facebook?

    Now the awful portals of the station gape; “the moon-faced clock regards me.”

    We are all callous, unfriended. I will seek out a face, a composed, a monumental face, and will endow it with omniscience,

    Sadly more Jesus Christ than Harry Potter, I guess.

    and I feel come over me the sense of the earth under me, and my roots going down and down till they wrap themselves round some hardness at the centre.

    Read up to boys watching cricket: ‘And now,’ said Neville, ‘let Bernard begin. Let him burble on, telling us stories, while we lie recumbent. Let him 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.’l

  7. ‘Now let me try,’ said Louis, ‘before we rise, before we go to tea, to fix the moment in one effort of supreme endeavour. This shall endure. We are parting; some to tea; some to the nets; I to show my essay to Mr Barker. This will endure.’

    These ‘speeches’ by schoolboys and schoolgirls (unutterably poetic and musical and rhapsodic) are as if gifted by Virginia Woolf to those in mature retrocausation across the whole periods of their 70 years of lives each. If it is indeed 70, I have myself reached that waves-shed as I might now call it instead of watershed. Aptly I read this today in Rhys Hughes ‘Mermaid Variations’ (here): “She had given him the past, not just a memory but somehow as a set of recurring experiences. How to set them in motion again was the one mystery left.” THE WAVES represent a growing solution to that mystery.

    ‘I see my body and head in one now; for even in this serge frock they are one, my body and my head. Look, when I move my head I ripple all down my narrow body; even my thin legs ripple like a stalk in the wind. I flicker between the set face of Susan and Rhoda’s vagueness; I leap like one of those flames that run between the cracks of the earth; I move, I dance; I never cease to move and to dance. I move like the leaf that moved in the hedge as a child and frightened me. I dance over these streaked, these impersonal, distempered walls with their yellow skirting as firelight dances over teapots. I catch fire even from women’s cold eyes. When I read, a purple rim runs round the black edge of the textbook. Yet I cannot follow any word through its changes. I cannot follow any thought from present to past.’

    I have a crush on this book.

    Read up to: ‘The game is over. We must go to tea now.’

  8. ‘But they also leave butterflies trembling with their wings pinched off; they throw dirty pocket-handkerchiefs clotted with blood screwed up into corners.’

    This material exceeds even my decades-long memory of it. The blissful apotheosis of literature. The above quote is In connection with one boy’s dark but admiring and envious view of soldiers at war, with whom he will march alongside – in his mind – in his future? And other mixed ‘perplexities’

    ‘I must open the little trap-door and let out these linked phrases in which I run together whatever happens, so that instead of incoherence there is perceived a wandering thread, lightly joining one thing to another.’

    A boy also imagines or dreams or actually sees one of the teachers in his private moments. Staggering stuff. And other epiphanies, ecstasies, moments of poetic truth.

    ‘Yesterday, passing the open door leading into the private garden, I saw Fenwick with his mallet raised. The steam from the tea-urn rose in the middle of the lawn. There were banks of blue flowers. Then suddenly descended upon me the obscure, the mystic sense of adoration, of completeness that triumphed over chaos. Nobody saw my poised and intent figure as I stood at the open door. Nobody guessed the need Ihad to offer my being to one god; and perish, and disappear. His mallet descended; the vision broke.’

    Read up to: ‘Out of my suffering I will do it. I will knock. I will enter.’

  9. The consuming thrill of reading these ‘speeches’ or thoughts filtered via the wondrous Woolf at the door of life, opening it for these girls as they leave school and sense their own bodies’ futures. It is breathtaking.
    I have a problem, it seems, with this real-time review. I cannot escalate my praise for ever. I cannot do justice without the scope of infinite escalation of praise. But that might make boring reading, giving no point to this review at all. Perhaps I should make my own thoughts or ‘speeches’, these review entries so far on a daily basis, come in waves rather than in an upward graph. Spasms of reaction, ebbing and flowing? Like Canute I need to stem myself into proper tidal reaches, flayed or flensed to such a sensitivity as this book exponentially gives you, then the next day rising on thermals of rap-ture as litera-ture…
    But one can never react to order. Turning THE WAVES into waves of reaction with deliberation? We shall see. Now reading of the children as they are growing older and leaving school, perhaps the up and down waves of life will be easier to rehearse?

    Read up to: ‘I will bind my flowers in one garland and advancing with my hand outstretched will present them—Oh! to whom?’

  10. ‘He has bid us “quit ourselves like men”. (On his lips quotations from the Bible, from The Times, seem equally magnificent.) Some will do this; others that. Some will not meet again. Neville, Bernard and I shall not meet here again. Life will divide us. But we have formed certain ties.’

    The boys leave school, together and one by one, as it were, the bee in their communal bonnet flown free? The meaning of the inscrutable bee may be otherwise. Honey, pollen, workers…?
    And I wonder if the waves in this book are not only rapture and non-rapture, my own waves of reaction, but also the alternating waves here of gender, as the boys leave school, then the girls, and so on. The memorable description of a train journey et al.

    ‘The bird flies; the flower dances; but I hear always the sullen thud of the waves; and the chained beast stamps on the beach. It stamps and stamps.’

    Read up to a girl’s ‘But behold, looking up, I meet the eyes of a sour woman, who suspects me of rapture. My body shuts in her face, impertinently, like a parasol. I open my body, I shut my body at my will. Life is beginning. I now break into my hoard of life.’

  11. The train journeys continue, voices visualising the future, harking to the ancient past, history and literature, speculating about being alongside the social classes with whom one will mix, or mix with now in the train, language that flows like a honey borne upon white waves.
    Apt that I somehow happen to be reading THE WAVES alongside this book: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/tender-stories-by-sofia-samatar/#comment-10363

    Read up to: The wind rose. The waves drummed on the shore, like turbaned warriors, like turbaned men with poisoned assegais who, whirling their arms on high, advance upon the feeding flocks, the white sheep.

  12. “Every hour something new is unburied in the great bran pie.”

    Bran pie, or brain?
    An extended absorbing provocative ‘speech’ from Bernard, exploring his own Proustian selves, seeing spires over grey fields, not green ones. He visits his prospective fiancée (?) and her father…

    Read up to; ‘”I fancy I shall often repeat to myself that phrase, as I rattle and bang through life, hitting first this side of the carriage, then the other, “Oh, yes, Mrs Moffat will come and sweep it all up.” And so to bed.’

  13. ‘I see it all. I feel it all. I am inspired. My eyes fill with tears. Yet even as I feel this, I lash my frenzy higher and higher. It foams. It becomes artificial, insincere. Words and words and words, how they gallop—how they lash their long manes and tails, but for some fault in me I cannot give myself to their backs; I cannot fly with them, scattering women and string bags. There is some flaw in me—some fatal hesitancy, which, if I pass it over, turns to foam and falsity. Yet it is incredible that I should not be a great poet. What did I write last night if it was not good poetry? Am I too fast, too facile? I do not know. I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.’

    Watching boats on the river, the now-tantamount-to-men, and other mitigations of self. These words need to be read long with faint but manically fast minimalist music, as I just did.

    Read up to: “That would be a glorious life, to addict oneself to perfection; to follow the curve of the sentence wherever it might lead,”

  14. ‘All divisions are merged—they act like one man.’

    That is prefigured by the previous ‘speech’ and the new ‘speech’ now becomes an amazing description by Louis in the ‘eating-shop’, of the other customers, customers and comestibles, a gestalt for human diaspora or a flocking like migrant birds. Louis now even prefigures the next ‘speech’ after his, which is Susan (which I will read the next time I pick up this book).

    Read up to: ‘But when I get up, brushing the crumbs from my waistcoat, I slip too large a tip, a shilling, under the edge of my plate, so that she may not find it till I am gone, and her scorn, as she picks it up with laughter, may not strike on me till I am past the swing-doors.’

  15. “Our bodies, his hard, mine flowing, are pressed together within its body; it holds us together; and then lengthening out, in smooth, in sinuous folds, rolls us between it, on and on. Suddenly the music breaks. My blood runs on but my body stands still. The room reels past my eyes. It stops”

    A gestalt real-time review of this book should be the whole book itself.
    The three girls now in their early twenties, having finished finishing school etc. Look at Wikipedia for this book if you want the differentiation of characters. It is more a symphony of selves. Each a movement towards the whole. Possibly the greatest work of literature.

    Read up to: ‘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 uttermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.’

  16. “But there is a rock; they sever.”

    A new italicised section of authorial ‘waves’ description – between character ‘speeches’. Here such a section is more hard-edged, and I thought of Picnic at Hanging Rock. I don’t yet know why. Or perhaps I do?
    Bernard’s speech then ensues as he travels by train into London, the nature of the city, the gestalt of humanity, and much more. His need for an audience. Meeting the others tonight, to complete himself. Only they will do. A useful paragraph below listing those others who make speeches through this book. A book that gets even better and better.

    ‘Over us all broods a splendid unanimity. We are enlarged and solemnized and brushed into uniformity as with the grey wing of some enormous goose (it is a fine but colourless morning) because we have only one desire—to arrive at the station.’

    ‘I think also that our bodies are in truth naked. We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.’

    ‘We shall meet tonight, thank Heaven. Thank Heaven, I need not be alone. We shall dine together. We shall say good-bye to Percival, who goes to India. The hour is still distant, but I feel already those harbingers, those outriders, figures of one’s friends in absence. I see Louis, stone-carved, sculpturesque; Neville, scissor-cutting, exact; Susan with eyes like lumps of crystal; Jinny dancing like a flame, febrile, hot, over dry earth; and Rhoda the nymph of the fountain always wet. These are fantastic pictures—these are figments, these visions of friends in absence, grotesque, dropsical, vanishing at the first touch of the toe of a real boot. Yet they drum me alive.’

    Read up to: ‘There is no stability in this world. Who is to say what meaning there is in anything? Who is to foretell the flight of a word? It is a balloon that sails over tree-tops. To speak of knowledge is futile. All is experiment and adventure. We are for ever mixing ourselves with unknown quantities. What is to come?’

  17. ‘The door opens, the door goes on opening,’ said Neville, ‘yet he does not come.’

    That London dinner where they are all to be present. The expectation is obsessive in Neville, waiting for Percival, Percival as the one who never deigns to speak to us readers, pompous git, but N must love P? The dinner seems to centre on P, who is about to leave for India. Sometimes, I feel we readers are left behind, while they all vanish behind the front-loaded speeches into their own respective slits of bespoke hanging rocks.

    One of Rhoda’s speeches here: ‘Even I who have no face, who make no difference when I come in (Susan and Jinny change bodies and faces), flutter unattached, without anchorage anywhere, unconsolidated, incapable of composing any blankness or continuity or wall against which these bodies move.’

    After P arrives, all, bar him, reprise glimpses of speeches they have made earlier in this book, including Neville (up to where I have read so far):

    ‘The man lay livid with his throat cut in the gutter,’ said Neville. ‘And going upstairs I could not raise my foot against the immitigable apple tree with its silver leaves held stiff.’

  18. ‘There is a red carnation in that vase. A single flower as we sat here waiting, but now a seven-sided flower, many-petalled, red, puce, purple-shaded, stiff with silver-tinted leaves—a whole flower to which every eye brings its own contribution.’

    ‘But while I admire Susan and Percival, I hate the others, because it is for them that I do these antics, smoothing my hair, concealing my accent. I am the little ape who chatters over a nut, and you are the dowdy women with shiny bags of stale buns; I am also the caged tiger, and you are the keepers with red-hot bars.’

    Read up to: ‘I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.’

  19. ‘But I shall have contributed more to the passing moment than any of you; I shall go into more rooms, more different rooms, than any of you. But because there is something that comes from outside and not from within I shall be forgotten; when my voice is silent you will not remember me,’

    Read up to: ‘It is hate, it is love,’ said Susan. ‘That is the furious coal-black stream that makes us dizzy if we look down into it. We stand on a ledge here, but if we look down we turn giddy.’

  20. Read up to: ‘Love is not a whirlpool to her. She is not giddy when she looks down. She looks far away over our heads, beyond India.’

    Or Africa?
    I am in the happy chance position of reading and reviewing here Samatar’s TENDER book of 2017, that has a kindred spirit with the ‘speeches-as-waves’ of Woolf (that I regularly draw attention to.)

  21. Pingback: Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

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