Tuesday, July 1, 2008

THE WAVES by Virginia Woolf

I've finally gotten around to Woolf's The Waves only to discover that it wasn't worth the wait. Yes, it's a beautiful book...but unfortunately it's not a very good one. It's a beautiful failure. The whole thing is simply too overwrought--the prose tries always to overflow, burst its banks, while the author forces it into a stylistic and structural straightjacket. The Waves is a marked artistic falling off from the heights of Dalloway and Lighthouse, a regression to symbolism that negates the symbolism/naturalism Wilsonian Modernist melange of the earlier novels. (That's Edmund Wilson, by the way, not Woodrow. Edmund adumbrates his theory of Modernist literature as the synthesis of symbolism and naturalism in Axel's Castle.) Woolf rejects her earlier Modernism and drowns it in a symbolist tidal wave. (I could be all too playfully clever and call it a 'title wave,' but I do have a small amount of taste.) The novel reads like a transcript of a seance with the author as medium: all the voices are a single voice, all the consciousnesses are Woolf's, and because of this lack of differentiation--worse, this lack of emotion or personality-- the novel fails to solicit our sympathy and even transforms its moments of pathos into laughable Woolfian self-parody. As an unintentional comic novel, it's almost as good as D.H. Lawrence's best/worst efforts.

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