Relevant Diary Entries to The Waves

Updated December 13, 2000
Created August 15, 1997

>From Vol. 3 of The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Originally, Woolf intended to call the novel The Moths:

1. 139 Saturday 18 June, 1927 Slowly ideas begin trickling in; & then suddenly I rhapsodised (the night L. dined with the apostles) & told over the story of the Moths, which I think I will write very quickly, perhaps in between chapters of that long impending book on fiction. Now the moths will I think fill out the skeleton which I dashed in here: the play-poem idea: the idea of some continuous stream, not solely of human thought, but of the ship, the night&c, all flowingtogether:intersected by the arrival of the bright moths. A man & a woman are to be sitting at a table talking. Or shall they remain silent? It is to be a love story: she is to finally let the last great moth in. The contrasts might be something of this sort: she might talk, or think, about the age of the earth: the death of humanity: then moths keep on coming. Perhaps the man could be left absolutely dim. France: near the sea; at night; a garden under the window. But it needs ripening. I do a little work on it in the evening when the gramophone is playing late sonatas. (The windows fidget at their fastenings as if we were at sea.)

2. 203 Wednesday 7 November, 1928 Yes, but the Moths? That was to be an abstract playpoem. That was to be an abstract mystical eyeless book….

3. 229 Tuesday 28 May, 1929 I am not trying to tell a story. Yet perhaps it might be done in that way. A mind thinking. They might be islands of light–islands in the stream that I am trying to convey: life itself going on. The current of the moths flying strongly this way. A lamp & a flower pot in the centre. The flower can always be changing. But there must be more unity between each scene than I can find at present. Autobiography it might be called. How am I to make one lap, or act, between the coming of the moths, more intense than another; if there are only scenes? One must get the sense that this is the beginning; this the middle; that the climax–when she opens the window & the moth comes in. I shall have the two different currents–the moths flying along; the flower upright in the centre; a perpetual crumbling & renewing of the plant. In its leaves she might see things happen.

4. 254 Monday 16 September, 1929 Six weeks in bed now would make a masterpiece of Moths. But that wont be the name. Moths, I suddenly remember, dont fly by day. And there cant be a lighted candle. Altogether, the shape of the book wants considering--& with time I could do it.

Now Woolf refers to the novel as The Waves:

5. 285 Sunday 26 January, 1930 The Waves wont sell more than 2000 copies. I am stuck fast in that book–I mean, glued to it, like a fly on gummed paper. Sometimes I am out of touch; but go on; then again feel that I have at last, by violent measures–like breaking through gorse–set my hands on something central. Perhaps I can now say something quite straight out; & at length; & need not be casting a line to make my book the right shape. But how to pull it all together, how to compost it – press it into one – I do not know; nor can I guess the end–it might be a gigantic conversation. The interludes are very difficult, yet I think essential; so as to bridge & also give a background–the sea; insensitive nature--I dont know. But I think, when I feel this sudden directness, that it must be right: anyhow no other form of fiction suggests itself except as a repetition at the moment.

6. 300 Wednesday 9 April, 1930 What I now think (about the Waves) is that I can give it in a very few strokes the essentials of a person’s character. It should be done boldly, almost as caricature…. The abandonment of Orlando & Lighthouse is much checked by the extreme difficulty of form—as it was in Jacob’s Room. I think this is the furtherest development so far; but of course it may miss fire somewhere…. It is bound to be imperfect. But I think it possible that I have got my statues against the sky.

7. 312 Wednesday 20 August, 1930 The Waves is I think resolving itself (I am at page 100) into a series of dramatic soliloquies. The thing is to keep them running homogeneously in & out, in the rhythm of the waves. Can they be read consecutively? I know nothing about that. I think this is the greatest opportunity I have yet been able to give myself; therefore I suppose the most complete failure. Yet I respect myself for writing this book. Yes—even though it exhibits my congenital faults.

8. 339 Saturday 20 December, 1930 It occurred to me last night while listening to a Beethoven quartet that I would merge all the interjected passages into Bernard’s final speech, & end with the words O solitude: thus making him absorb all those scenes, & having no further break. This is also to show that the theme effort, effort, dominates: not the waves: & personality: & defiance: but I am not sure of the effect artistically; because the proportions may need the intervention of the waves finally so as to make a conclusion.

9. 343 Tuesday 30 December, 1930 What it wants is presumably unity; but it is I think rather good (I am talking to myself over the fire about The Waves). Suppose I could run all the scenes together more?--by rhythm, chiefly. So as to avoid those cuts; so as to make the blood run like a torrent from end to end—I dont want the waste that the breaks give; I want to avoid chapters; that indeed is my achievement, if any here: a saturated, unchopped, completeness; changes of scene, of mood, of person, done without spilling a drop. Mow if it cd. Be worked over with heat and currency thats all it wants. And I am getting my blood up. (temp. 99)

>From Vol. 4 of The Diary of Virginia Woolf

10. 34 Tuesday 7 July, 1931 O to seek relief from this incessant correction ( Im doing the interludes) & write a few words carelessly. Still better, to write nothing; to tramp over the downs, blown like thistle. As irresponsible. And to get away from this hard knot in which my brain has been so tight spun—I mean The Waves.

11. 35 Tuesday 14 July, 1931 I had meant to say that I have just finished correcting the Hampton Court scene (This is the final correction, please God.)

12. 35-6 Friday 17 July, 1931 Yes. This morning I think I may say I have finished. That is to say I have once more, for the 18th time, copied out the opening sentences. L. will read it tomorrow; & I shall open this book to record his verdict. My own opinion,--oh dear--, its a difficult book. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so strained. And I’m nervous, … And it may be a failure. And I can’t do anymore. And I m inclined to think it good but incoherent, inspissate; one jerk succeeding another. Anyhow it is laboured, compact. Anyhow I had a shot at my vision & if its not a catch, its a cast in the right direction. But I’m nervous.

13. 36 Sunday 19 July, 1931 "It is a masterpiece" said L. coming out to my lodge this morning. "And the best of your books". This note I make; adding that he also thinks the first 100 pages extremely difficult, & is doubtful how far any common reader will follow. But Lord! What a relief! I stumped off in the new rain to make a little round to Rat Farm in jubilation, & am almost resigned to the fact that a Goat farm, with a house to be built, is now in process on the slope near Northease.

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