The Waves by Virginia Woolf


Introduction to Woolf’s The Waves:

… she is also, more immediately, following the advice ‘to think back through our mothers’ that she gave in A Room of One’s Own.

… in Woolf’s first version, however, these waves of feeling were, right at the beginning of her draft, something else. They were linked, quite explicitly, to the rhythms of a woman’s body as she gives birth. ‘Many mothers, & before them many mothers, & again many mothers,’ she wrote:
    have groaned, & fallen. Like one wave, succeeding another.
    Wave after wave, endlessly sinking & falling as far as the
    eye can stretch. And all these waves have been the prostrate
    forms of mothers, in their nightgowns, with the tumbled
    sheets around them holding up, with a groan, as they sink
    back into the sea.

As Rachel Bowlby has noted, ‘throughout Woolf’s writing, artistic creation by women is figured as both a symbolic equivalent for mothering and something which is compatible with actual mothering.’ 

… the ideal creative mind must be androgynous, containing elements of both the female and the male …

... significantly, bearing the issue of maternity in mind, Woolf claimed, some months before starting work on the novel, that this was now a desire which she had put behind her:
    Children playing: yes & interrupting me; yes & I have no
    children of my own; & Nessa has; & yet I don’t want
    them any more, since my ideas so possess me; & I detest
    more & more interruption; & the slow heaviness of physi-
    cal life, & almost dislike peoples bodies, I think, as I grow
    older; & want always to cut that short, & get my utmost
    fill of the marrow, of the essence.

... Susan's mode of existence is merging with natural forms. 'I cannot be divided, or kept apart' from field, barn, trees, the seasons, the breeding, pollinating agricultural world. She fantasizes, as a child, of becoming a wold woman of the woods with matted hair, eating nuts, peering for eggs through the brambles, sleeping in hedges.


Bernard: She is making for the beech woods out of the light. She spreads her arms as she comes to them and takes to the shade like a swimmer. But she is bling after the light and trips and flings herself down on the roots under the trees, where the light seems to pant in and out, in and out. The branches heave up and down. There is agitation and trouble here. There is gloom. The light is fitful. There is anguish here. The roots make a skeleton on the ground, with dead leaves heaped in the angles. Susan has spread her anguish out. Her pocket-handkerchief is laid on the roots of the beech trees and she sobs, sitting crumpled where she has fallen.

'I saw her kiss him,' said Susan. 'I looked between the leaves and saw her. She danced in flecked with diamonds light as dust. And I am squat, Bernard, I am short. I have eyes that look close to the ground and see insects in the grass. 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.'