The Waves, by Virginia Woolf

This is the copy of The Waves I read from:

Somehow I had in mind that the last posting on this was the 28Th, but when I started seeing every one’s postings I thought, goodness me it’s today Friday and of course living in the States we are already behind time wise. So I’m scrabbling to get my thoughts together. Yes I did meditate on things in my mind but paper and pen must be the fruition of thought.

My first thoughts were do I want to wade into The Waves. Did I want to put all the effort needed into it and be committed to the read. You know that feeling you have when at the seaside on the beach. Shall I change, put the swimsuit on and even if it is on, do I really want to wade into the sea. Once you’ve stepped in your committed. Salty wet and sand in ones hair, seaweed in ones’ toes. Now you have to at some point take a shower and put oneself straight, but then you decide, yes it’s worth it, to feel the waves bounce you around from trough to height and down again, and that’s how I felt with “The Waves”.

First I did not like it as much as Mrs Daloway, or To The Lighthouse. I was greatly remiss in not reading Orlando, but hope to a some point. I need a little distance from Woolf , after reading the Waves.

I would first say don’t read this book in a depressed state or even a shade of grey. Humans as Blogland shows, are social interactive people and need this connectivity to blossom and be fruitful creatively. That’s why Woolf had her Bloomsbury group. To be to isolated as you felt these characters were is somewhat sad and soul destroying. Did she feel this way later in life? One has to feel she did, because some of the thoughts of the characters I feel are bang on.

Bernard the storyteller, Louis linguistically, the outsider, Neville the homosexual, Susan wife and homemaker, Rhoda suicidal, Jinny the lover. It’s not a novel, it’s a soliloquy, this thought that thought, flung into the space of mind, orbiting around, but never landing. Never making a connection with terra firma. But never the less, thoughts I’m sure we’ve all had. These thoughts I think are very age related. I think Woolf captured that. The striving and jostling for position in youth, the middle part of ones life working on the path you have set your foot too. Then the latter part thinking what was all that striving all that work, what was it all about.

Susan seems the most fulfilled.

“In this hot afternoon,” said Susan, “here in this garden here in this field where I walk with my son, I have reached the summit of my desires, the hinge of the gate is rusty; he leaves it open. the violent passions of childhood, my tears in the garden when Jinny kissed Louis, my rage in the schoolroom …”

“I am fenced in, planted here like one of my own trees…”

Neville coming to terms with life.

“I no longer need a room now,” said Neville, “or walls and firelight. I am no longer young. I pass Jinny’s house without envy, and smile at the young man who arranges his tie a little nervously on the door-step. Let the dapper young man ring the bell; let him find her. I shall find her if I want her, if not, I pass on. The corrosion has lost its bite – envy , intrigue and bitterness have been washed out. We have lost our glory too….”

Rhoda of life says.

“… What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and servility! How you chained me to one spot, one hour, one chair, and sat yourselves down opposite! How you snatched from me the white spaces that lie between hour and hour and rolled them into dirty pellets and tossed them into the wastepaper basket with you greasy paws. Yet those were my life.”

Neville at the coming together of the friends.

Now sitting side by side,” said Neville, “at this narrow table, now before the first emotion is worn smooth, what do we feel? Honestly now, openly and directly as befits old friends meeting with difficulty; what do we feel on meeting? Sorrow. The door will not open; he will not come. and we are laden. Being now all of us middle-aged, loads are on us. Let us put down our loads. What have you made of life, we ask, and I? You, Bernard; you, Susan; you, Jinny; and Rhoda and Louis? The lists have been posted on the doors. Before we break these rolls, and help ourselves to fish and salad, I feel in my private pocket and find my credentials – what I carry to prove my superiority. I have passed. I have papers in my private pocket that prove it….”

“…Change is no longer possible. We are committed. Before, when we met in a restaurant in London with Percival, all simmered and shook; we could have been anything. We have chosen now, or sometimes it seems the choice was made for us – a pair of tongs pinched us between the shoulders. I chose. I took the print of life not outwardly, but inwardly upon the raw, the white, the unprotected fibre. I am clouded and bruised with the print of minds and faces and things so subtle that they have smell, colour, texture, substance, but no name…”


It was different once,” said Bernard, “Once we could break the current as we chose…
We have to leap like fish, high in the air, in order to catch the train from Waterloo. And however high we leap we fall back again into the stream. I shall never now take ship for the South Sea Islands. A journey to Rome is the limit of my travelling. I have sons and daughters. I am wedged into my place in the puzzle”


“…I luxuriate in gold and purple vestments. Yet I prefer a view over chimney-pots; cats scraping their mangy sides upon blistered chimney stacks; broken windows; and the hoarse clangour of bells from the steeple of some brick chapel.”


… My mother must have followed the drum, my father the sea. I am like a little dog that trots down the road after the regimental band, but stops to snuff a tree-trunk …”


That goes on. Listen. there is a sound like the knocking of railway trucks in a siding. that is the happy concatenation of one event following another in our lives. Knock, knock, knock. Must, must, must. Must go, must sleep, must wake, must get up – sober, merciful work which we pretend to revile, which we press tight to our hearts, without which we should be undone. how we worship that sound like the knocking together of trucks in a siding!”

The above passage almost flows like a poem from W. H. Auden. The Night Train.

Of course where to stop quoting, where to end this review without becoming tedious.

I don’t think I would have tackled Woolf without the incentive of the group. But I am glad that I have and feel the richer for it literary wise.

Now I have a great urge to go back to my Persephone books.


P.S. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you should so wish, as on the 28Th I shall have the drawing for the note cards. I think that’s why I had the 28Th in mind.


2 thoughts on “The Waves, by Virginia Woolf”

  1. YES! I strongly agree with your thoughts on the lack of social connection in the novel; that's my biggest issue with it, and the reason I don't like it as well as Mrs. Dalloway and other Woolf favorites of mine. It's been very interesting, though, to see how other readalong participants were drawn to just that aspect. Really one of the things I've enjoyed about (re)reading these books with such a wide diversity of people. Thanks for joining us, Christy!

  2. The isolation.. sad and soul destroying.. I felt that. Which may be the reason I don't feel like rereading this anytime soon (or maybe ever, for that matter). With Mrs D and To the Lighthouse and Orlando, I wanted felt the need or desire to read them at some point in my life again, but didn't feel that here. I just thought, I don't know if I can go through this again. Though not so much about the sadness but the imbalance of the writing, which, though beautiful, felt so tediously weighty.

    Thanks so much for reading along! 😀

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