Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

9780141182711“Thus when I come to shape here at this table between my hands the story of my life and set it before you as a complete thing, I have to recall things gone far, gone deep, sunk into this life or that and become part of it; dreams, too, things surrounding me, and the inmates, those old half-articulate ghosts who keep up their hauntings by day and night; who turn over in their sleep, who utter their confused cries, who put out their phantom fingers and clutch at me as I try to escape—shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.”

Virginia Woolf, The Waves


Reading Virginia Woolf requires a releasing of the faculty we have so carefully trained to be grounded in time and fact. Her fluid and probing prose allows such a deep and troubling glimpse in to the human heart that one comes away wiser and broader than before. This is not my first floating into The Waves—what I have already tasted makes me want to swim far out into her embracing world of character and reflection.

This review from a GoodReads reader sounds perfect for the Salon!!

My umpteenth reading of The Waves and it still floors me. There’s not a wasted word here: Woolf’s attention to rhythm—she was listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Minor, Opus 130 while writing this novel, and Beethoven’s nuances are found in her prose at all turns—and the ways in which she questions subjectivity, interpersonal relations, the ways in which we are connected and yet disparate from those around us are on display here more so than in any of her other fictional works.

The last section is sadly not as famous as the last section in Joyce’s Ulysses, but it may well be even more gut-wrenchingly brutal in its philosophical underpinnings and the ways in which Woolf engages with poetics to sustain the flow of her inquiries into what it means to be human. On each reading there is something more to be found here, something more to be learned, something to relish and treasure, some keen diamond-edged truth that slices just as much as it illuminates.

Salon Details

  • Four-meeting study
  • Recommended edition:
    • The Waves by Virginia Woolf, with introduction by Kate Flint; Penguin edition (2000); ISBN-13: 978-0141182711
    • The Waves by Virginia Woolf, with introduction by Jeanette Winterson; Vintage Classics Ed. (Oct. 2016) ; ISBN-13: 978-1784870843

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Posted on

September 12, 2017