Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I thought I'd pop out from my hole and confess that I have been reading Virginia Woolf's The Waves. My experience reading the work is an object-lesson of how sometimes you have to wait to enjoy books, to gain entrance into them. For years I had deterred reading the work - even though Woolf's essays and journals and Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are all in my personal, passionate canon - I think I was put off by the italicized nature imagery that sets off each section as the characters fade into old age, the sun setting time for them. But yesterday after reading and transcribing Millicent Dillon's biography of Jane Bowles and Hermione Lee's biography of Woolf I picked it up, from my bookshelf - I have tried to read it several times over the years. I was in poor health yesterday, have been rather invalidlike the past two weeks - like I'm mimicking my subjects - but instead of reading trash I craved to read more of the novel, laying on my back, my heating pad on me. For, oh, what a feat, The Waves is. How I admire it, as a writer and a reader, what Woolf performs here. The maternal Susan as a child who sees her two friends kissing: "Now I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief." Rhoda, the alienated, tortured, wallflower, hiding behind a marble column at a party: "I am not yet twenty-one. I am to be broken. 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. The wave breaks. 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." This is a novel that is also philosophy - Woolf is writing about the Self and Other and isolation and its relationship to community. It's telling, though, I think, as I'm reading it, that the three male speakers - Bernard, Neville, and Louis (based on T.S. Eliot) - even as youths inspire to be great poets, Louis with his "malevolent and searching eye," who considers himself in the context of history and humanity, Neville with his scraps of poems, Bernard who is always making phrases, drawing "the veil off things with words" - while the women are not artists or authors - Susan aspires to be a farmer's wife (where I am right now), Jinny the socialite who is all-body, Rhoda always in threat of disappearing. I read somewhere that VWoolf wanted to make Rhoda a fiction writer, but chose not to - too close of a mirror?