Virginia Woolf and Literary Experimentation

When I think of literature that is considered great precisely because it is abnormal, the first writer who comes to mind is James Joyce, author of “Ulysses.” However, I don’t think it makes sense for me to write about that book, as I have never read the whole thing. I’m not sure if I ever will. It sounds terrifying.

A modernist writer I have read, however, is Virginia Woolf. I adore her. She might be my favorite writer. My favorite book of hers, and maybe my favorite book ever, “The Waves,” is certainly unconventional, and certainly at odds with the literary expectations of her time. The book, which consists of six stream-of-consciousness-esque soliloquies spoken by six characters, deliberately wants its readers to have a hard time deciphering whom is speaking. Its six characters – Louis, Bernard, Neville, Rhoda, Susan and Jinny – are individuals with varying personalities, histories, and ambitions. However, the more of the book you read, the more it feels as though the six voices are more alike than they are different. In fact, it’s almost like they’re all simply facets of one singular voice. A passage from the novel touches on this: “‘But when we sit together, close, we melt into each other with phrases. We are edged with mist. We make an unsubstantial territory.”

This apparent lack of regard for individualism challenges what many readers expect from novels – strong, stand-out characters and a distinctive narrator to latch on to. “The Waves,” however, refuses to give this to the reader. Her characters are, in a sense, one character, one voice, and that is the point of the novel. And I don’t think she could have conveyed this idea as powerfully as she does without playing with voice and narration, and in doing do breaking the rules of her form.

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