3.1 Introduction to Waves Criticism
Virginia Woolf is regarded by many as one of the more successfully inventive novelists of the twentieth century. There is therefore, not surprisingly, an extensive critical literature dealing with her works, complemented by the usual biographies, published collections of letters, and two versions of her diaries. Within this critical canon every overall survey of her output devotes considerable space to The Waves, which is generally recognized as one of her two or three major works. In addition to this general coverage there are several monographs dealing specifically with the book, and a number of articles which concentrate on particular aspects of the text 45 .
Because the book is so tightly written, and contains so little dross, any study shorter than book length can only serve to illuminate one or two aspects of this multi-faceted work, or point out themes for further exploration. However, while all the above critical works approach the text in many different ways, and emphasize quite different aspects of the work, they have one thing in common: they all discuss the characters and/or the characterization to a greater or lesser extent. This is demonstrably a major area of critical interest. Why should this be the case?
In most other novels there are many strands to the work, many aspects of the author's technique, all of which may offer possible routes for investigation. Some of these might be the narrator, the plot, the use of dialogue, and so on. In The Waves, by contrast, we are only given preludes, and chapters which themselves consist entirely of the characters' soliloquies. In fact, over 93% 46 of the book consists of the characters talking about their lives, each other's lives, or life in general. It is as if Virginia Woolf were trying to pare the novel form down to basics, so as to concentrate the reader's attention on what she was saying in this singular work, rather than being distracted by such extraneous elements as plot, description or narration.
This feature of the text also means that if we want to examine the characters, our only direct source of information is the soliloquies: what the characters say themselves, and what the other characters say about them. This latter source of information is, in fact, not as useful as it could be. With the exception of Bernard's reflections on the group and its members, the characters rarely comment on each other. While the members of the group obviously do not exist in isolation, they do restrict their interaction largely to descriptions of facts or feelings, and only infrequently analyze either each other, or their relationships with each other.
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