The Structure of the Text
The main text consists of two distinct 'sub-texts'. First there are nine italicized sections and one final sentence. These describe intervals of time during the passing of a day, ranging from before sunrise to after sunset. The intervals are not necessarily drawn all from the same day, for there is the suggestion of different seasons in the passages. At first the sea and landscape are grey, colourless, and indistinct, reminiscent of winter. Then, gradually, they become more clearly delineated, and the surrounds acquire colour, subdued at first, but later rich and vibrant.
Later again, the colours and atmosphere of the surroundings evoke harvest and summer, before all sinks into darkness again at the end of the book. These hints of other seasons suggest a deliberate desire on the part of Woolf to make this one day evoke the whole seasonal round of the year, changing and yet ever changeless. This in its turn evokes a universality, a call to the eternal cyclicity of the universe, making the preludes much more than just descriptions of intervals in a day. In a very real sense, temporally they represent Time itself.
Spatially, the preludes range over a beach, a house set some way back from it, some of the interior and contents of the house, the garden surrounding it, denizens of the garden, and the surrounding landscape. It is suggested that the house and garden are on an island, and certainly reference is made frequently to the all-encompassing sea, and occasionally to distant lands and places. This landscape is described with a luxuriant use of language, which makes it seem at once other than real and more than real. Apparently trivial objects are described with a wealth of loving detail, heightening their other-worldliness.
The second subtext is printed in normal typeface. It consists of a series of 'speeches', each attributed to one of six characters - Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Rhoda, and Susan. A seventh character, named Percival, is referred to by the others, but never heard from directly. The characters are linked to their speeches solely by use of the form "said X", as in "'I see a ring,' said Bernard".
As Naremore 38 points out "it is easier to say what the convention [of the characters' speech] is not than to say what it is". The characters do not speak lines in any literal sense, despite the repeated use of 'said' and quotation marks. In only a few places does there seem to be anything approaching communication in the normal sense of the word, and even this can only be regarded as partial. This communication seems to occur in three main ways.
Firstly, there is a shared use of imagery, where an image used by one character is taken up by another:"'Horns and trumpets,' said Rhoda, 'ring out ... There is a dancing and a drumming, like the dancing and drumming of naked men with assegais.'
Secondly, there are occasions where two characters are reminiscing together:"'Going upstairs I could not raise my foot against the immitigable apple tree with its silver leaves held stiff.' [said Neville]
'The leaf danced in the hedge without anyone to blow it,' said Jinny.
'In the sun-baked corner,' said Louis, 'the petals swam on depths of green.'
Thirdly, and most rarely, there is something that could probably be interpreted as snatches of conversation. This is, however, still far from the direct exchange of information that one might expect in a conventional novel:"' The flower,' said Bernard, ' ... is become a six-sided flower; made of six lives.'
' A mysterious illumination,' said Louis, 'visible against those yew trees.'
' Built up with much pain, many strokes,' said Jinny.
As the above examples (and many others) demonstrate, the language of the characters in general is too sophisticated and stilted to be normal speech. This quality is particularly pronounced when they are children, but the incongruity is only partially ameliorated as they develop, and then only because our expectations of an adult's speech are higher than of a child's. At the same time, the utterances are too well ordered and artificial to be a direct rendering of their thought stream. Therefore, in light of the very sporadic nature of the communication discussed above, and in view of the fact that Woolf herself used the term 42 , I propose to call the speeches 'soliloquies', although with some reservations.
As the subtext consisting of soliloquies forms the bulk of the book, I propose to call each division of this subtext a 'chapter'. This division is effected by the italicized subtext mentioned earlier. As, with the exception of a final sentence, a piece of this subtext precedes each chapter, I propose to call each such piece a 'prelude'. Thus, the sequence of the novel overall is a prelude followed by a chapter, repeated nine times, and then a final sentence.
The preludes appear to function in the text in at least three distinct, and equally important ways.
First, they complement the chapters, in their analogical sequence of time. Each interval of the day reflects a period in the lives of the six main characters, who are all roughly the same age. At dawn the characters are children. As the sun makes its way upwards they grow older, and go first to school, and then as it rises towards noon, college or work. It reaches its zenith and thus starts its downward curve just as everyone is informed of Percival's death.
This symbolizes clearly both the height of their communion at that moment, and the start of the decline of their multiple relationship.
The characters grow older as the day progresses into afternoon, and as the sun sinks into the sea, the stage is set for Bernard's final speech, summing up the lives of the members of the group. This correspondence between time of day and stage of life is not however simply linear. In the earlier preludes traces of decay are apparent, and in the later ones, hints of renewal, de-emphasizing slightly the smooth curve from dawn up to noon and then down to dusk.
To quote Gorsky 43 , "The waves may be beautiful, but they are also deadly; the birds sing in chorus or assert themselves aggressively, they fly 'lovelily' or pick at the body of a worm until it festers; flowers bloom in colour or waft 'dead smells' as they decay; fruits ripen and then bloat and turn rotten, oozing thick excretions from split skin. The sun shines at noon in the interlude which introduces Percival's death". This intermingling of elements points to a more universal and cyclic progression, performing a similar function to the round of seasons mentioned above, and which is ultimately introduced into the lives of the characters as well.
Secondly, the preludes explicate the title of the work. By the unspecified nature of the location in which they take place, and by the cyclic universality of the times in which they are set, they generalize their central symbol. The waves become more than the mere movement of water, more even than a moving image. Rather, they become a metaphor for the very pattern of life, a literary realization and representation of the sine-wave of existence. As James Hafley has aptly put it, suggesting that this, if anything, is the central message of The Waves, "the individual life is a wave, and life itself the sea; to look at oneself as only one wave is to perish when that single wave breaks, but to see oneself as an indivisible part of the sea, composed of innumerable drops of water - as part of wave after wave - is to gain immortality" 44 .
Thirdly, the preludes provide a set of images, drawn from outside the character's lives, which are textually separated from their soliloquies. In this way, they provide a source of reference to the real world in the characters' speeches. These images also provide a partial channel for something approaching communication, or at least the transference of information, between the characters. As this occurs in the text, it most frequently takes the form of one character using an image drawn from a prelude, where that image has just been referred to in a previous character's soliloquy. This creates a link, albeit tenuous, between the two characters involved.
Thus the preludes, far from being irrelevant to the main sequence of the text, as they at first appear, are an integral and vital part of it. They punctuate the narrative, give structure to the work
©Andrew Treloar, 2017. W: http://andrew.treloar.net/ E: email@example.com
Last modified: Monday, 11-Dec-2017 14:42:14 AEDT