November 20, 2017
Virginia Woolf, The WavesOn this day in 1931 Virginia Woolf's The Waves was published. She was just forty-nine, and she would live and write for another decade, but this was the last of her major works -- a series of six books over nine years that would change the face of modern fiction. A journal entry from eight months earlier, written on the morning that she finished the last chapter, shows that Woolf had some sense of her latest accomplishment:
Woolf's allusion to madness was not made lightly. Earlier journal entries express her anguish over the psychological and narrative problems which she encountered during the writing of The Waves. It must certainly have occurred to her that a book which tries to voice the lives and sensibilities of six fragmented characters might not be healthy for a writer with her psychological history, one who feels how "difficult it is to collect oneself into one Virginia; even though the special Virginia in whose body I live for the moment is violently susceptible to all sorts of separate feelings." The central event of the book required her to once again revisit the trauma of her brother Thoby's premature death -- some critics say the trauma of her own sexual abuse, also. There were constant waves of illness and health, despair and buoyancy, and resolve: "One will not perhaps go to the writing table & write the simple & profound paper upon suicide which I see myself leaving for my friends" and "The only way I keep afloat is by working" and "If I never felt these extraordinarily pervasive strains -- of unrest, or rest, or happiness, or discomfort -- I should float down into acquiescence. Here is something to fight: & when I wake early I say to myself, Fight, fight. If I could catch the feeling, I would: the feeling of the singing of the real world."
The following passage is from the very end of the novel. The italicized lines are on a plaque which Leonard Woolf put beneath a sculpture of his wife in the garden of their Rodmell, Sussex; her ashes were scattered there after her suicide in 1941:
The waves broke on the shore.
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