The ​Waves (1931) is Virginia Woolf’s most experimental and saturated piece of writing. During the process of composition its self-awareness was prefigural. That is to say, its production of sound, figure, and language were ahead of the author’s conscious intention to the extent that she was – famously – obliged to go stumbling after her own seemingly autonomous voice. In one sense, then, The Waves obviously represents a high-Modernist breaking and remaking of novelistic form. But in another sense it is really the acme of a certain kind of rhetoric in which Woolf was long practised and in which she had achieved great facility; and it takes that sort of fluency about as far as Woolf would have wished to go.

The Waves consists of soliloquies spoken by the book’s six characters: Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, and Louis. Also important is Percival, the seventh character, though readers never hear him speak through his own voice. The monologues that span the characters’ lives are broken up by nine brief third-person interludes detailing a coastal scene at varying stages in a day from sunrise to sunset.

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