Annotated Bibliography for The Waves

Updated December 12, 2000
Created August 15, 1997

Bell, Carolyn Wilkerson. "Parallelism and Contrast in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves." Philological Quarterly 58 (1979): 348-59. Bell argues that The Waves is Virginia Woolf’s most serious and coherent attempt to scrutinize the moment of vision, the novel. The first moment lies in the fourth and fifth sections, during which the group reunites the first time and Percival dies. The second moment lies in the eighth and ninth, during which the group reunites for the second and last time and Rhoda and Bernard die. The two series of moments are parallel, yet their content and imagery contrast. It is in these contrasts that, Bell believes, one discovers the true depth of Woolf’s tragic vision.

Graham, J.W. "Manuscript Revision and the Heroic Theme of The Waves." Twentieth Century Literature 29: 3 (1982) : 312 - 332. The author discusses whether there is a heroic theme in The Waves and how Virginia Woolf incorporates such a theme. He sees Percival as the hero of youth, illusion, unconsciousness, and action" and Bernard as "the hero of maturity, disillusionment, consciousness, and vision" (316). By comparing Drafts I and II of the book, Graham shows how Virginia Woolf developed the heroic theme. For instance, in draft one the vision of a fin in a waste of water is Rhoda’s, while in the final draft Woolf links it to Percival, who is clearly a hero. Examining changes made in the drafts leads Graham to conclude that the heroic theme is developed when Percival’s heroic status is emphasized, when the ritualistic dinner celebrations are elaborated, when Bernard’s role as Percival’s successor is reinforced, and when, in the summing-up, the hero is liberated into "another realm of being" (327) and returns "to time as the champion of his fellow men" (327). However, the heroic theme is not able to dominate The Waves because of the form of the text. The "dramatization of Consciousness" (331) means that the fin idea, not the heroic theme, must dominate.

Graham, J. W. "Point of View in The Waves : Some Services of the Style." University of Toronto Quarterly 39 (1970) : 193 - 211. Rpt. in Virginia Woolf. Ed. Thomas S. W. Lewis. St. Louis : McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975. 94 - 112. In this article Graham discusses Virginia Woolf’s struggle to create a new kind of narrative fiction and her decision to dispense with a narrator in favor of a translator who appears "explicitly only in the use of the word ‘said’" (98). The only vestiges of the narrator with whom Woolf began the first manuscript of The Waves are the comments made by the translator as she examines the natural world in the interludes and the role that Bernard plays in the summing-up of the book, when he becomes the voice for all six speakers. Graham contends that Virginia Woolf uses style in the book to serve the same purpose that the earlier narrator served and to make clear the complex vision which lead to her writing The Waves.

Hulcoop, John F. "Percival and the Porpoise: Woolf’s Heroic Theme in The Waves." Twentieth Century Literature 34 : 4 (1988) : 468 - 488. J. W. Graham’s article "Manuscript Revision and the Heroic Theme of The Waves" is cited in this article as Hulcoop disagrees with Graham’s earlier analysis. Hulcoop believes that the heroic theme does dominate the book as a "refusal to be vanquished by death, this defiance of dark and nothingness" and that is "indistinguishable from the theme of effort" (470) which Graham also discusses. Hulcoop also sees the heroic theme as being intertwined with the fin idea. He connects this idea to death, against which the supreme effort must be made. Bernard’s clearest statement of this effort is in his determination to fight the battle of daily life and inner loneliness. Just as "Percival represents courage, Bernard represents ‘unegotism,’ and Woolf considered these two among the prime human virtues" (484) -- those she would assign to a hero.

Jacobs, Peter. "The Second Violin Tuning in the Ante-Room: Virginia Woolf and Music." The Multiple Muses of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Diane Gillespie. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1993. 227-60.  Jacobs treats the significance of music to Virginia Woolf starting biographically and moving to the literature. He traces the progress of the music experience in the texts. To Rachel in The Voyage Out music is a pacifying force that, almost paradoxically, refers to overpowering hidden feelings. To The Waves’ Bernard, the experience of music is more complicated, more intense, more highly developed than the experiences existent in the previous novels and reviews Woolf wrote (245). Jacobs maintains that musical analogies never dominated Woolf’s writings, were never mere formal devices, but were integrated into the whole of her art; that Woolf believed the art of writing is nearly allied to the art of music (260).

Lee, Hermione. "The Waves." Modern Critical Views: Virginia Woolf. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York:  Chelsea House, 1986. 101-117.  Lee presents a nice overview to some of the main issues at work in the novel and in the structure of the novel. She contrasts the work to other works by Woolf and to other uses of the "stream of consciousness" techniques by other Modernist writers (102-5). She writes of the novel as a "long prose-poem," pointing out the use of rhythm in the language itself (105-6). One of her most interesting points is the way in which Woolf has done away with any focus on relationships in The Waves, making the novel very different from To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway (109-110). This point becomes what Lee sees as a major fault in the novel. The lack of action, of definiteness also is criticized by Lee (110). Lee also discusses issues of class in The Waves an how each of the characters fit in this issue (112-3). The article also presents information about the six main characters that a reader might not have picked up on.

Levin, Gerald. "The Musical Style of The Waves." Modern Critical Views: Virginia Woolf. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 215-22. Levin argues that Woolf used a musical style as a basis for The Waves. Taking from a 1930 diary entry, Levin regards a Beethoven fugue as an example of what Woolf attempted when writing the story. Levin explains the fugal style, that a single theme generates motifs heard throughout - in different voices entering the fugue at the different moment and ending in perfect accord (218). He maintains that although a single theme is never spoken of in the text, it exists as an idea. He classifies the musical style of The Waves as pantonal: "the tonalities or six characters each become the thematic center at the moment of expression but are absorbed in to a whole which the novel discloses gradually" (218-19). The musical style in The Waves finely represents the text’s continuous and fluid core.

Marcus, Jane. "Britannia Rules The Waves." Virginia Woolf: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Margaret Homans. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993. 227-48. Marcus considers The Waves a story of the submerged mind of empire. Imperialist history texts, she says, are divided into chapters titled "the rise of . . ." or "the fall of . . . ." The Waves explores the way in which the cultural narrative ‘England’ is created by an Eton/Cambridge elite who reproduce the national epic (the rise of . . .) and elegy (the fall of . . .) in praise of the hero (228). The "poetic language" and "experimental structure" in The Waves are "vehicles for a radical politics that is both anti-imperialist and anticanonical" (243).

McConnell, Frank. " ‘Death Among the Apple Trees’ : The Waves and the World of Things." Bucknell Review 16 (1968). Rpt. in Modern Critical Views : Virginia Woolf. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia : Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 53 - 65. McConnell discusses Virginia Woolf’s reputation as a mystical writer, especially as it applies to The Waves, since it was Woolf’s mystical vision of the ‘fin in a waste of waters’ which lead to the writing of the book. The author of this article believes that her writing The Waves was Virginia Woolf’s way of turning "vision into version" (56). As an example, Bernard takes his vision of the fin in the waste of water and plans to work it into a story which will explain his and his friends’ lives. The Waves, in McConnell’s view, is a "tough-minded and sobering examination of the chances for the shaping intellect to shape meaningfully at all" (65) instead of a mystical story of a vision that could never be put into words, as it has sometimes been viewed.

McGee, Patrick. "The Politics of Modernist Form; Or Who Rules The Waves?" Modern Fiction Studies 38:3 Autumn (1992) : 631-50. McGee addresses Marcus assumption that The Waves is a story of the submerged mind of empire. He argues that Marcus overlooks the politics of literary form at the heart of The Waves and possibly of the modernist project itself.

McGavran, James Holt Jr. "Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and The Waves: A Balcony of One’s Own." South Atlantic Review 48: 4 (1983) : 58-73. McGavran discusses the ways in which Woolf is connected to Shelley as a writer and the way in which Woolf makes allusions to the works of Shelley, especially in The Waves. He also points out a connection between the Clarissa of The Voyage Out and Mrs. Dalloway through Shelleyan allusions. One intriguing point he makes is that as a feminist, Woolf cannot simply be a follower of Shelley. She can embrace his style, but as she points out through Rhoda, Shelley’s "escapism" can be dangerous, too. The author points out that her attitude to Shelley can be compared to the "anxiety of influence" proposed by Harold Bloom (61). He then develops some specific allusions, especially those found in Rhoda’s soliloquies.

Payne, Michael. "The Eclipse of Order: The Ironic Structure of The Waves." Modern Fiction Studies 15:2 (1982): 209-18. Payne offers insight into the seemingly confusing plot in The Waves. He contends that there is no structural plot; that order is eclipsed in the narrative method, which consists of internal soliloquies prefaced and followed by interludes. The plot, he writes, is totally subjective. The reader comes to know the characters consciously and subconsciously, the latter of which Woolf so extensively deals with that understanding external realities, for the reader, is a complex exercise.

Poresky, Louise. "Life and Death in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves." Virginia Woolf Miscellanies 1 (1991) : 65-70. Poresky discusses the notion of Woolf’s use of inversion, the central one being of life and death. She argues that though the characters seem to be maturing into life they are dying in every sense.

Ruddick, Sara. "Private Brother, Public World." New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf. Ed. Jane Marcus. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1981. 185-215. The notion of "private brother, public world", as Ruddick describes, addresses the dichotomy, usually associated with women, that the private, or indoor boy is the nourishing and loving brother, willing to share a bit of his world with his sister. However, the outdoor boy interferes in that the societal expectation of a male exposes itself. In an assertion of might and authority. Ruddick relates this dichotomy with Thoby leaving Virginia to question the true identity of her brother. Ruddick concludes that "knowledge of anyone is tentative and incomplete" (192). Concerning The Waves, Ruddick argues that Woolf gave herself a voice which is that of a male inheritor who is trustworthy and moral. Bernard, Ruddick writes, represents the best aspects of brotherliness while matter of factly disassociating himself from judgment and alluring might" (214).

Scott, Bonnie Kime. "The Word Split Its Husk: Woolf’s Double Vision of Modernist Language."  Modern Fiction Studies 34: 3 (1988) : 371-385. This article is focused on Woolf as a Modernist woman and her view and relationship with language. The title of the article comes from a line in Mrs. Dalloway that she applies to The Waves. Scott makes a number of her points through metaphor. For example, she uses a description Woolf wrote in her diary of boys making sandcastles and she as the sea with the "double vision. I mean, as I am not engrossed in the labour of making this intricate word structure [the castle]. I also see the man who makes it. I should say it is only word proof and not weather proof" (Diary 5: 340; 18 November 194-0). Scott uses this metaphor to view Woolf in relation to the men of Modernism. Later on, Scott also attempts to give Woolf’s water imagery a positive spin since it is so often viewed as referring to death (375). The rest of the article focuses on Bernard and Rhoda as contrasts in dealing with language. Bernard is close to a narrator, but Rhoda has a hard time just communicating.

Shanahan, Mary Steussy. "The Artist and the Resolution of The Waves." Modern Language Quarterly 36: 1 (1975) : 54-74. The author makes some very interesting claims about the composition, structure, and vision represented in The Waves. She uses Woolf’s diary entries to help support her argument that The Waves is a book that Woolf wrote in a completely different style than the rest of her novels. Her use of six voices was a way to fragment the rigid narrative voice used in most novels. Shanahan looks at all of the voices, but she is most interested in Bernard: "the fragmentation of vision and personality which characterized the first eight sections of the novel must be transcended" (63). Bernard encompasses all of the fragments into one in the end.  According to Shanahan, Woolf has a vision of fragmentation, and then in her resolution of The Waves goes beyond that vision (61-5). Bernard is a representation of Woolf’s artistic purpose in The Waves.

Stewart, Jack F. "Existence and Symbol in The Waves." Modern Fiction Studies. 18 : 3 (1972) : 433 - 447. A discussion of Virginia Woolf’s concern with silence in The Waves begins this article before the author says that Woolf’s interest in silence lead her to see her art as an exercise "that fuses existence and symbol" (435), which Stewart believes she accomplished in The Waves. He sees her "rhythmic rise and fall of phrasing . . ." as "the rhythm of the waves, and also the rhythm of hand and heart" (436), where life assumes the patterns of a sequence of dreams. Thus the waves are "an archetypal symbol of feelings and biological rhythms, of consciousness and life" (437). So too is Percival’s existence a symbol as the six voices struggle to accept his death. Stewart says that both Bernard, whose struggles to live with the loss of Percival are seen most clearly, and Virginia Woolf long for something that is outside existence, to some symbol which makes the world of speech less real than the world of silence, to something permanent, even if it is death. To conclude his article, Stewart says, "This wavelike rhythm, which is the symbolic essence of the book, carries the reader beyond fiction as a sum of contending life-streams into the silence of Being to which lyrical and existential literature aspire" (447).

Stewart, Jack F. "Spatial Form and Color in The Waves." Twentieth Century Literature 28: 1 (1982) :  86-107. This article focuses on the spatiality aspects of The Waves, especially in terms of its similarities to that used in painting, sculpture, and architecture. Woolf’s creation of The Waves is similar to the creation of art (87-8). Stewart compares Woolf’s use of color and light in the novel to that of Monet and the Impressionist artists. Color is never viewed alone but in its relation to or directly as light in most of Monet’s works. Stewart points out specific passages in The Waves in which color is often mentioned in conjunction with light, especially in the interludes (89-93). He also writes about the definite shape of characters used in the novel, something one would find in Post Impressionist art, like the works of Van Gogh. If one has some knowledge of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art, this article is a very interesting read. Stewart does not put much effort in explaining the art styles themselves, so the article can be confusing to those not very knowledgeable about art.

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