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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An experiment that none have built upon or emulated: Woolf's The Waves

I can't say that everyone should rush out and get a copy of Virginia Woolf's The Waves, but if your taste in literature leans toward the experimental and the unconventional, this might be worth a read. As noted in previous posts, it's a novel composed of "soliloquies" delivered in turns by six characters, w/ each section covering a different span of their lives. It's not a style or motif that has exactly caught on - though Faulkner experimented w/ multi-vocal narration at around the same time Woolf was writing. It reminded me in some ways of the documentary films in the Up series, as part of her intent is to follow the characters in intervals from childhood through adulthood. One difference, though, is that the characters are all from the same upper-crust British milieu. It could, however, have been a greater novel if it weren't so damn depressing. None of the characters seems, as an adult, to have fulfilled the dreams of his or her youth; all are depressed and out of sorts (or dead) by the end; particularly depressed is Bernard, the aspiring writer and intellectual who never amounts to much as a writer, businessman, or family man, and he fittingly has the last section all to himself (the only section in which all don't speak at least for a bit), as he speaks to a stranger in a restaurant (perhaps to "you," the reader) and tells of the sorrows of his life: very Prufrockian, measured out his life in coffee spoons, heard the mermaids, but they don't sing to him, etc. Woolf herself must have been in dark days around the time of composition of The Waves (1931); she begins each section w/ a topical description of landscape and of waves moving across water, but she can't seem to get out of her own way with these passages, the beauty of nature is almost always corrupted by some kind of vision of decay: pus oozing from a dead caterpillar, that kind of thing. For an experiment to be great, does it need to have great results? Woolf is on a dead-end course in The Waves, it seems - it's a work of, at times, great beauty, but it's an experiment none have built upon or replicated. It's a work designed for grad students ("Water imagery in Woolf's The Waves," etc.)

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