There are many different potential ways of looking at an author's use of characters in a text. Within the critical literature dealing with The Waves, two aspects of the characterization seem to be addressed most frequently. The first aspect, largely synchronic in nature, concerns whether the characters/voices are presented or perceived as different from each other, to what degree this occurs, and the process whereby it takes place. The second aspect is diachronic and addresses the problem of whether there is a change in the perception or presentation of the characters/voices over time. These two aspects, differentiation and development, predominate in the sections of the critical literature dealing with characterization, and also show the greatest lack of critical consensus.
It should also be pointed out that when discussing characterization within the text, not all the critics understand the same thing by the term. In particular, many critics feel that the discussion should not be in terms of conventional 'characters' as such; some feel that the discussion should rather be in terms of 'voices', while some prefer to talk of both. In this study I have not attempted any form of classification on this basis when discussing either the text, or the critics.
This decision was made for three reasons.
First, the methods of computer-assisted investigation I have used do not enable any distinction on this basis. A decision as to whether the term 'character' or 'voice' is more appropriate must essentially be a critical-interpretive one.
Secondly, individual critics have chosen their preferred terms in line with their interpretation of the text. (This is discussed in more detail in sections 3.2.2 and 3 2.3 when examining individual critical views)
Thirdly, any attempt to examine the reasons other critics have advanced for making such a distinction would have diverted attention away from the book itself and towards the critics.
Therefore, in discussing the views of the critics 47 , I will merely mention which term they use, without commenting further.
With regard to their views on the differentiation of characters within The Waves, the critics can be best divided into three substantive groupings.
First, there are those who view the characters as fully fledged individuals or personalities, clearly delineated and quite distinct. Of this group, Daiches 48 is the most definite in his views. The six characters "as they picture themselves in their monologues emerge as complex and interesting personalities, very carefully conceived" (pp. 102 - 103), although "the various aspects of [each] character" only "come together in the course of the book" (p. 104). He also rejects any suggestion that Bernard is somehow different from the other five, as some critics maintain. Kelley 49 agrees that in The Waves Woolf has "succeeded in presenting ... the lives of six very different human beings" (p. 144),although she too sees this difference as developing gradually during the book. Leaska 50 also sees the children as distinguished into unique individuals by their perceptions (p. 161).
Finally, Burrows 51 , in an article dealing primarily with Jane Austen, but using The Waves for purposes of comparison notes that with respect to use of modal auxiliaries, "Woolf's characters are sharply differentiated" (p. 19).
Secondly, there are those who take the contrary view that the characters are either aspects of a greater whole, or are at least united in some fashion. Here, Guiguet 52 is the most definite in his views. He states that the six are "clearly outline" in nature (p. 298), neither "complete ... [nor] self sufficient individuals" (p. 298).
He prefers to discuss any differences between the six in terms of voices, rather than characters: "these are not six voices in search of characters, but a single being in search of voices" (p. 285). He does state elsewhere, however, that the voices are "indistinguishable ... [with] the same texture, the same substance, the same tone" (p. 283). This single being, the sum total of the characters, is Virginia Woolf herself, the characters aspects of her personality.
Brewster 53 regards The Waves as a kind of "group biography" (p. 126). By this, she does not mean a biography of six individuals who form a group, but a biography of the group as a whole. She views the six as "one many-sided personality" (p. 126) or "aspects of a multiple personality" (p. 128), without stating (unlike Guiguet or Bazin) who this personality might represent.
Richter 54 also sees the characters as six slices of a single being, each personifying various "aspects of the human personality" (p. 120).
Rosenthal 55 views the voices somewhat differently, with the six forming a common voice, rather than a common mind. The voices, which to his mind were never intended to be characters, are united in the similarity of their speech. Any hints of individuality are merely a "necessary impurity" (p. 145) within the "richly textured verbal environment" (p. 144) of The Waves, an impurity inherent in the novelistic form Virginia Woolf chose to use.
Thirdly, there are those who seek some compromise between, or combination of, these two opposing views. Not surprisingly, this group of critics is the largest, preferring critical moderation (some would say compromise) to extremes. It is also the group which shows the greatest diversity of views. Broadly speaking, it can be further divided into three sub-groups.
Gorsky's views may stand as a pattern for the first of these groups. In a substantial article on the subject 56 , she states her main thesis as being that a three-faceted view of the characterization is essential to an understanding of the text and Virginia Woolf's purpose in writing it. The three facets are those of the individual, the communal, and the typical.
With regard to the characters' individuality, Gorsky is quite unequivocal: "the six characters are, at the most traditional level, individuals" (p. 453). Communally, together with Percival, they "symbolically create a single complete person 57 " (p. 108). This last facet, which is Virginia Woolf's expression of the individual as a "part of a greater whole 58 ", enables Woolf to round out her characterization of humanity and leads into an "alternative means of communication, a non-verbal sharing of experiences and thoughts" (p. 451) between the characters. As typical figures, they seek to say something to us all. For Gorsky, the multi-layered nature of characterization in The Waves should be recognized as an "essential clue to the intentions and achievements of the book" (p. 465), namely that people do not exist in isolation, and that in some mystical sense, we are all part of one another 59 .
Moody 60 also belongs to this subgroup. While he does not feel that the characters are as solid as does Gorsky, he does concede that they do "embody a structure of feelings" (p. 49). Secondly, the characters' perceptions interweave and overlap so that a multiple relationship is suggested as well as their separate lives (p. 51). Thirdly, they function as types within the novel, Susan, Jinny, Neville and Louis evoking a range of the "forms and conditions which personality assumes" (p. 55), to which Bernard and Rhoda contribute "two opposed views of life" (p. 55). No reason is given by Moody for this apparently arbitrary division of the characters.
Rantavaara's 61 views are also not unlike Gorsky's in outline. Like Moody, she softens the identity of the characters: "the characters are not primarily meant to be personalities, their main role is ... to represent components of the mind" (p. 28), and she describes them elsewhere as six "childish ignorant minds" (p. 12). She does agree, though, that collectively they form one human mind. This mind she identifies as being either that of Virginia Woolf, or any other "sensitive, imaginative, creative human being" (p. 9). As well as this familiar six-in-one image, she also regards the characters as representing types on the narrative level and qualities in human consciousness on the symbolic level (p. 9).
Bazin 62 makes the fourth member of this group, and her interpretation is probably the most complex. She sees the use of the six characters as being Virginia Woolf's way of depicting a human personality in all its ambiguity. Each of the characters, while remaining credible as an individual, symbolizes an aspect of that personality. Thus the characters are at the same time both single and many (p. 144), making The Waves the biography both of a group and of a single person. As Bernard's autobiography "envelops the group biography" (p. 145) in the final chapter, so Bernard subsumes all the characters into himself. Yet in another sense, Bernard himself may be viewed as a "representation of one element ... in Virginia Woolf's own personality" (p. 145). Finally, and at a still deeper level, the six represent not just aspects of Virginia Woolf's personality but aspects of the "human personality" (p. 145). This is close to, but distinct from, the concept of 'character as type' referred to by Gorsky and Moody.
The second sub-group consists of Naremore 63 who sees the voices as being in some senses at once multiple and one, although without feeling that they function as types. He views the soliloquies as being spoken by "one pervasive voice with six personalities" (p. 152), whose individual voices betray only a "superficial diversity" (p. 151). However, he does concede that within the limits of the convention Virginia Woolf is "generally a remarkably convincing interpreter of six different personalities" (p. 159). The superficial diversity referred to above is reflected by the characters all speaking with a "consistency of style and tone" (p. 160), though Naremore does not substantiate this. This consistency in turn is meant to suggest an "underlying equivalence of the various characters" (p. 160).
At the same time, he points out that "if we take the first section as a series of direct expressions of consciousness, then we have to conclude that the characters from birth have a clearly defined vision of themselves as personalities distinct from others" (pp. 163 - 164). His interpretation is in places contradictory, and he sometimes gives the impression of not always being convinced by his own arguments.
The third subgroup comprises Thakur 64 , who is like the critics in the first sub-group in that he sees the six characters as different, but feels that they represent "types of character" (p. 109) as well. These typical characters are outworkings of the innate personalities they possess at the start of the book.
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Last modified: Monday, 11-Dec-2017 14:42:01 AEDT