Virginia Woolf: The Waves
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is a landmark of modernist fiction, “my first work in my own style!,” she wrote. Daringly experimental, The Waves eschews conventions of plot in favor of extended soliloquies divided over six voices and inset with enigmatic passages of ravishing, impersonal narration. Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Bernard, Louis, and Neville begin the novel as children and mature into the polyphonic violence and wonder of the early twentieth century. And yet, these figures—whose biographical details sometimes remember the lives of the Bloomsbury Group and its periphery—are vivid studies in the richness of psychological experience. Embodying, so Woolf hoped, “the exact shapes my brain holds,” The Waves is an exploration of the nature of modern consciousness and the limits of the novel. Why, above all her other works, did Woolf consider this novel the fullest and most precise achievement of her art of fiction?
In this class, we’ll read The Waves in its entirety, along with a selection of Woolf’s shorter works and a cadre of critical and philosophical supplements. Some of the questions that will preoccupy us will include these: What was Woolf trying to understand about the operations of consciousness or the ends of the novel? How does her experiment in fiction work and what are its effects? What does it mean to write fiction without characters? What do we mean when we call Woolf’s language poetic? How does her work mix genres—or invent them? How is The Waves a document of modernity and of modernist fiction? And what does it mean to read Virginia Woolf right now?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
July 22 — August 12, 2020