Chapter 4
Topic for Investigation

As has been demonstrated in the previous section, there are substantial areas of disagreement within many existing critical works regarding Virginia Woolf's use of characterization in The Waves.

It could be argued that for anyone to undertake further research into this area, or indeed into any aspect of Virginia Woolf's work, would be merely to go over ground that has already been thoroughly covered. However, the continuing output of books and articles 69 dealing with Virginia Woolf and her works seems to indicate that this argument has not convinced others. Indeed, this very output shows that many of the critical issues, characterization among them, are far from settled.

The views of the critics on the two aspects of characterization selected above have already been discussed (sections 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 respectively), but it may be useful to summarize them briefly here. With regard to character differentiation there is no clear agreement. Only two of the thirteen critics examined favour the view that the characters are clearly differentiated. The remainder are split between no differentiation, and the 'mixed' view, with the latter being favoured by six to four. With regard to character development, the situation is somewhat clearer. Here, the majority of the critics hold the view that there is clear development of the characters. Of the remainder, two see no development, and two see only Bernard as developing in any significant way. This marked diversity of critical views on such an important area suggests it as a topic for investigation.

The centrality of an understanding of the characters to an understanding of the text has also been demonstrated in section 3.1. It is supported by the fact that most of the critics surveyed found it necessary to spend a large amount of their works explicating and interpreting the characters' lives. This is another reason for examining the characters very closely.

Finally, some of the methods used by the critics in the existing studies are open to criticism on two substantive grounds. The first concerns their use of quotations as evidence. This is sometimes sparse and inconsistent. The critics are often far from unanimous in what they assume the quotations mean. By way of illustration, take the first few lines of chapter 1:

"I see a ring," said Bernard, "hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light."

"I see a slab of pale yellow," said Susan, "spreading away until it meets a purple stripe."

"I hear a sound," said Rhoda, "cheep, chirp; cheep, chirp; going up and down."

"I see a globe," said Neville, "hanging down in a drop against the enormous flanks of some hill."

"I see a crimson tassel," said Jinny, "twisted with gold threads."

"I hear something stamping," said Louis. "A great beast's foot is chained. It stamps and stamps." (p. 6).

Of the critics who comment directly on this passage, six (Bazin 70 , Kelley 71 , Leaska 72 , Moody 73 , Richter 74 , and Thakur 75 ) see in it some sort of foreshadowing of the character's lives, four (Gorsky 76 , Kelley 77 , Naremore 78 , and Rosenthal 79 ) see it as demonstrating their sameness, and two (Moody 80 , and Thakur 81 ) see in it early differentiation of the characters. Although it would probably be possible to maintain some diluted combination of all three of these viewpoints without direct contradiction, each of these critics is, in fact, using this quotation to support their interpretation, with their quite different views on the interpretation of this passage being consistent with the thrust of their arguments for the whole text.

On this evidence it would seem likely that the quotation is being interpreted by the critics within the interpretative frameworks which they have constructed, rather than on its own merits - yet the quotation is being used by them precisely to support these very frameworks. This is not to deny that any interpretation of a text depends in some part, or is influenced in some way, by whatever preconceptions the critic brings to the text. However, the use of quotations alone as the main support for arguments must be strongly questioned when different critics hear the same passage as saying quite different things.

The second point of contention is the critics' too frequent use of sweeping and unsupported generalizations, particularly on a structural level. These occur in three broad areas, and only some examples of critical comment will be given now, leaving the full discussion to section 7.2.

The first area is that of the statements about the 'sameness' of the character's speech/idiom/voice. A typical example would be Bennett's belief in the characters' use of the "same subtle and imaginative idiom" (p. 32) throughout the text.

The second area concerns statements about sentence length or structure, such as this one from Gorsky: "sentence length and structure vary not from individual to individual, but from one time period to another" (1972 pp. 458 - 9, 1978 p. 111).

The third area involves individual word usage. Quoting from Graham this time: "the ... vocabulary of any one speaker do[es] not change noticeably between childhood and middle age" (p. 194). No substantiation of these opinions is given in the articles and books from which they have been taken, and in the absence of any evidence of a detailed study designed to establish their truth, one is forced to the conclusion that they are simply opinions, with no supporting evidence or necessary basis in fact. Yet these three areas cited above (among others) are clearly of some critical importance, otherwise why would so many critics comment on them? (Only a sample of views has been given here). Some hard evidence would be welcome.

In this thesis, I seek to analyze the use of characterization in The Waves with the aid of a computer, making particular reference to the twin areas of differentiation and development, and commenting on the interpretative implications for the views of the critics, and for an understanding of the text as a whole. In the final analysis, there were three main reasons for choosing this topic. The first was the current state of critical thought in the area. The second was the importance of the area for an understanding of The Waves , and by extension, for an understanding of Virginia Woolf's work as a whole. The third was the approach adopted in much of the available critical literature - in particular its lack of rigour. In the following chapters I explain the methods used and discuss the results obtained.


End of Chapter

[ Next Chapter ] [ Table of Contents ] [ E-mail Author ]

©Andrew Treloar, 2015. W: http://andrew.treloar.net/ E: andrew.treloar@gmail.com

Last modified: Monday, 04-Sep-2017 16:30:38 AEST