21L.701 | Spring 2001 | Undergraduate
Literary Interpretation: Virginia Woolf's Shakespeare

Study Materials

Below is the text of a series of e-mail exchanges that help provide a sense of the dynamic of the class.

Email list: Conversations/Documents

[As you can see, the first third is dominated by the instructor: then the students take over. This is, in my opinion, how a seminar should work.–D.H.]

One day after Class #3:

Instructor:

Let me sum up where we are and where we are going: We have all read, suggested questions, and made insightful observations about *Room,* and we shall build on these during the next class period. If I were to sum up the key words not yet fully confronted (certainly not yet exhausted), they would be “voice,” “androgyny” and “anger.”

--Voice, as noted repeatedly, is tricky when the “I” asserts it is both fictive and not to be valued as such: We are so used to assuming authority on the basis of personality, we may have trouble understanding from whence she derives hers, and her ability to judge, without resorting to our conventional notion of a merely factual “I.” Let us try to go with her for awhile longer, and allow that her “I” may be–as announced–exemplary of a woman who cares about fiction. Thus we can hear not only her judgments on writers, but see the fluctuating attitudes and comments of her “I” as in themselves an exemplary narrative.

--Androgyny seems to mean at times “balance” between something conceived of as male and something conceived of as female; at other times, the discussion focuses on fusion or permeability as that which creates incandescence. Sex, gender, social construction, essentialism, metaphor: These would be key debating terms were one to try to work out Woolf’s position(s) on androgyny. For the moment, let us simply consider our own assumptions as to the relationship (if any) between a sexed body and a mental state or disposition; furthermore, let us seize upon Woolf’s contention that we have too few differences or sexes as expressing her desire to get beyond the male/female binary so insisted upon (still, despite fascinating exceptions and permutations) in our culture. In other words, the danger of “fusion” taken too literally would be sameness and dullness; the danger of “balance” would be locking us into the immature “private-school stage of human existence where there are ‘sides’” (p.106 or 110).

--Anger occupies a complex position in *Room.* One might say that, if “Milton’s bogey” is the image of a man who must be worshiped (thus blocking a woman’s access to and thoughts about the larger “reality” beyond a particular social order), then Woolf’s bogey might be a writer’s version of “the angel of the house,” a woman who always nourishes and cherishes and soothes (thus avoiding charges of being an angry or “arrant feminist” who will be rejected rather than listened to by all). Given that she was raised in a world where a woman’s only socially accepted role was to be such an angel, it is not surprising that she could not forget the power of such an image and ideal; moreover, as a writer, she wished to be heard. Anger, in such a context, could be seen as not only distracting but debilitating. But conversely, Woolf sees that righteous anger is often appropriate, has her speaker curses buildings and lampoon professors, and distinguishes open anger from that which is hidden or turned inside upon oneself–this last is what she most deplores. We might ask whether anger at one’s social position is more openly accepted now, of whom, by whom; whether certain kinds of writing, certain genres, benefit more than others from calm or anger; and whether we wish to refine Woolf’s vocabulary further.

Instructor:

This is a follow-up to Joyce’s bluestocking query. Here’s a link every Lit student should have bookmarked:
http://dictionary.oed.com

This is THE historical dictionary par excellence–begun in, you guessed it, the Victorian era (the great time of systematization of everything in massive tomes, such as this and the Dictionary of National Biography co-edited by Virginia’s dad, Leslie Stephen). It gives earliest known uses of words, and is now being updated (since folks have discovered earlier uses of some words over the past 100+ years, not to mention new coinages).

Just reading this OED entry on “bluestocking” is enough to make one feel sympathetic to Woolf, as she tries to reconstruct a history of women’s writing and confronts gendered deprecation at every turn. Who but a saint would be able to read it and read it without on occasion making a little dig in the other direction, to avoid being drained or angered beyond productivity? Notice the attempt at a corrective under entry 2. Notice also how a class/religious insult turns into a gendered one–not unusual in English. The word “shrew,” for example, was a late medieval term for peasant.

  1. Attrib. Wearing blue worsted (instead of black silk) stockings; hence, not in full dress, in homely dress. (contemptuous.)

    1. Applied to the ‘Little Parliament’ of 1653, with reference to the puritanically plain or mean attire of its members.

      1683 Autobiog. Sir J. Bramston (1845) 89 That Blew-stocking Parliament, Barebone Parliament, a companie of fellowes called togeather by Cromwell, the armie and councell thereof pickt out for the purpose.

    2. Applied depreciatively to the assemblies that met at Montagu House, and those who frequented them or imitated them.

      [1757 MRS. MONTAGUE Let. In Doran Lady of Last C. (1873) He [Mr. Stillingfleet] has left off his old friends and his blue stockings. 1780 F. BURNEY Diary (1842) I. 326 Who would not be a blue stockinger at this rate?] 1791 BOSWELL Johnson viii. 86 These societies were denominated Blue-stocking Clubs. 1885 F. CUSS E. Barnet 113 A member of the..Blue Stocking coterie.

    3. Hence, of women: Having or affecting literary tastes; literary, learned.

      1804 Edin. Rev. IV. 219 To hear blue-stocking ladies jingle their rhymes. 1824 MACAULAY Misc. Writ. (1860) I. 127 The travelled nobles and the blue stocking matrons of Rome.

  2. Blue Stocking lady: Orig. one who frequented Mrs. Montague’s ‘Blue Stocking’ assemblies; thence transferred sneeringly to any woman showing a taste for learning, a literary lady. (Much used by reviewers of the first quarter of the 19th c.; but now, from the general change of opinion on the education of women, nearly abandoned.)

    1790 WOLCOTT (P. Pindar) To Apollo Wks. 1812 II. 277, I see the band of Blue Stockings arise, Historic, critic, and poetic Dames. 1807 Edin. Rev. X. 192 This would scarcely go down..even among the blue stockings of Montagu house. 1822 HAZLITT Table-t. II. vii. 168, I have an utter aversion to blue-stockings. I do not care a fig for any woman that knows even what an author means. 1858 DE QUINCEY Autobiog. Sk. Wks. 1862 I. xiii. 353 note, The order of ladies called Bluestockings, by way of reproach, has become totally extinct amongst us.

One day after Class #4:

Instructor:

Nate had a query about feminism, its motivations and goals, and its applicability to men (and/or analogous movements or goals for men). Quite big and important questions to think about. I gave a preliminary response of my own [see next posting], but would be happy to hear what background, ideas, and general thoughts you bring to this topic–a good way to get a better sense of where we are coming from, in terms of the familiarity with gender stuff generally. Comments welcome.

For those uncomfortable or overwhelmed by Shakespeare generally, this play in particular, or simply feeling at sea (with Cleopatra?), a few ideas to help:

  • One, of course, Laurence mentioned: read through quickly, get the “gist”, and then go back to footnotes and such on the next go.
  • Second, try using structure: as in Woolf, where the 6 chapters do allow you to locate some “shape” undergirding her stream, the acts (and, dare I say it, all those scenes) also help structure one’s thinking about this most fluid of Shakespeare’s plays: Fluid in imagery, in diction, in location, and fluid in our perspectives on the characters. Consider making an outline, with just a phrase about each scene’s gist (if you can figure one out).
  • I am asking the film office to make available to you videos of a few productions so you can hear some of the language at least–I won’t say these are great productions, nor that they are great “theater” or film (one is the BBC-TV series, known for fidelity and a lack of imagination and sufficient fun). But they do let you look at some facial expressions and particular actors’ choices on line readings, so this is another route towards deciding what you think the tone is. At the same time, this is a good reminder of why drama is different from other literary genres, in that it asks to be interpreted variously, by different actors and viewers at different moments. Kind of like life. These tapes should be available by Tuesday p.m., with any luck at all, so that might provide a nice way to “review.” But entirely optional.
  • Finally, turn some of your questions around and pat yourself on the back for discernment: in one of the most plaintive but also downright funny lines of the play (depending on perspective), Cleopatra says to Antony, “Not know me yet?” That’s exactly what you’ve realized makes this play difficult: we don’t have the comfort of solid ‘knowledge’ about these characters established and sustained, but instead see them changing over time, from different angles and eyes, as illusory and elusive “objects” of inquiry. But in time, we also come to understand them better in each moment, if not over time–they become “subjects.” And that’s fun.

Instructor:

My first stab at a reply to Nate’s query: because feminism has most generally been seen as the struggle for equality between the sexes, which (given historical realities) has meant for the most part trying to improve the status of women, its goals have shifted over the generations to match those areas where women are perceived to be second-class citizens. That is, the goal in the eighteenth century was basically to be considered a rational creature worth listening to; in the nineteenth, access to education and the right to vote; in the early twentieth century the right to vote (still) and influence on legislation concerning behaviors affecting women, such as legalizing birth control; in the 70s, a more general “cultural feminism” that wanted an equal rights amendment, legalized abortion, and more representation of women in government and the professions, but also increased respect for the opinions and experiences of women; and in the 80s, well, harder to say, as by then feminism had become quite diverse and led to many different–and sometimes even antithetical–goals. Child care, comparable pay, and breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ are among recent (and current) concerns, as are the situations of women in different cultures and of different classes.

As to the place of men in feminism, it has always been important: “allies”–such as John Stuart Mill in the 19th c., Bernard Shaw at the turn of the 20th, and since the 60s many many men–have campaigned with and on behalf of women (hence, the naming of the National Organization for Women, NOW–not “of” Women). And beyond that, there have been a number of very different types of activity going under the title of “men’s studies” or “men’s groups”: some were initiated by men sympathetic to feminism who wanted to be more equal partners with the women in their lives; others by men who wanted to break out of the stereotyping of masculinity that is the counterpoint to femininity stereotypes, who wanted to be able to express other emotions, make other life choices, etc.; some who wanted to find value in male companionship as feminists did in “sisterhood”; and still others have wished to reassert forms of male privilege or superiority (obviously, these last are not sympathetic to feminism). Lots of men have found common cause in a way that fits Woolf’s take on androgyny, that is, rather than seeing power as the goal and a zero-sum game, they see benefits for both men and women if all get a wider range of social choices (such as choosing various jobs or childrearing, respecting activities traditionally gendered, etc.).

One day after Class #7:

Instructor:

A reminder that tomorrow, we’ll start with a swift but focused look at *A&C* before beginning to discuss *Mrs. D*. For purposes of review (especially if you aren’t watching the video and don’t have time to re-read the play) let me suggest you focus on the following scenes/passages, with special emphasis on the starred passages:

  • I.i
  • I.iii-iv
  • *II.ii.172-end.
  • II.vii
  • III.iii-vii
  • III.xi
  • *III.xiii.1-12, 152-194.
  • IV.v-vi
  • IV.viii-ix
  • *IV.xiv.1-37
  • *IV.xv.50-end especially
  • *V.ii.1-8, 71-100, 191-end

Think poetry.

One day after Class #10:

Instructor:

I hope you are all carrying some enjoyable images in your minds from the film of Mrs. Dalloway and that, while we emphasized places where simplification was either chosen or necessary, you also hang on to the sources of pleasure for you in this version…after all, as you have noted, it was hardly an easy thing to attempt, given the sheer scope and the importance of subjective perceptions and meditations (and nuance, and change) in the novel.

While on the topic of pleasure, I’ll just mention Michael Cunningham’s recent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours (VW’s working title for Dalloway), which you might want to put on your summer reading list now that you are among its ideal readership. It mixes VW writing the novel with a 1990s New York group of characters named Clarissa, Sally, Richard, etc. (who are and are not correlated to the novel), and a third woman “Mrs. Brown,” a housewife after WW2 whose name derives from a famous critical essay of Woolf’s, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” [Mr. Bennett being Arnold Bennett, an older contemporary of VW’s who wrote in a more realistic tradition, and Mrs. Brown being an imagined character whom VW considers as portrayed by Mr. B. and herself, very differently].

In the more immediate future, there’s Cymbeline. In addition to applauding Abby’s idea of a dramatic reading, if possible, let me suggest a few “ins” to this play:

Yes, there’s a princess with an evil stepmother…which tells you something already: we aren’t in realism land. This is “late Shakespeare,” and he relishes artifice and dense poetry. But/and there’s “serious” psychological and social stuff being expressed through myth, story, and in some cases near-ludicrous action. And there’s an historical dimension for Shakespeare, which we might easily miss–especially since, as in his comedies, he’ll go back and forth between a plausibly distant setting and a more contemporary one (think about the craftspeople in the “ancient” Athens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The history comes from Holinshed, same source as for many of WS’s more “realistic” history plays; here, it has to do with a king of the Britons at about the time of Christ, during Roman imperial control. Thus, the play is set in England’s semi-mythic past, and does involve England’s emerging sense of its own nationhood during Shakespeare’s time, while also recognizing (or struggling with) European continental culture, influence, and corruption (When Posthumous goes to Rome, it looks a lot more like Renaissance Italy than Caesar’s land; yet when the Roman legions invade via Wales, they are Romans again…). In other words, we’re bouncing back and forth between history and fairy tale, ancient and (their) modern world.

The intro. to the Oxford edition is written by a theater historian, and has the advantage of recording what has been done in some theatrical productions (see p.14 for a much younger ravishing–and in danger of being ravished–Vanessa Redgrave, playing our heroine Imogen). I’d say read the play first, look at the pictures, and look at the intro. as is useful to you; as always, feel free to disagree with the scholar’s interpretations though, even as he may be giving you useful facts and contexts.

One day before Class #14:

Posting from student leader of that day’s discussion:

Whos-Afraid,

I looked up the plant I tried to convince everyone during class just must look phallic:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Plantago_lanceolata

It’s Plantago lanceolata (found in the desert) from the Act 4 Scene 2 burial.

Possible discussion questions for Orlando (chapters 1-3):

Woolf tells the story of Orlando in a biographical format. Why does she choose to do this? Does it work well?

Nick Greene comes as a disturbing surprise when invited to visit Orlando’s estate. Why does Orlando continue to pay Nick Greene even after he has ridiculed him?

Is Orlando’s change in sex gradual? When is any change in sex first noticed?

Considering the following passage (from Harcourt version on page 139):

“Many people, taking [Orlando’s transformation] into account, and holding that such a change of sex is against nature, have been at great pains to prove (1) that Orlando had always been a woman, (2) that Orlando is at this moment a man. Let biologists and psychologists determine. It is enough for us to state the simple fact; Orlando was a man till the age of thirty; when he became a woman and ahs remain so ever since.”

Is it possible that Orlando was always a woman? Is she inviting biologists and psychologists to find out through her “historical” account the truth in the same way that she invites readers to criticize the book in the introduction?

How does Woolf show the passage of time (look at page 98 in same version of text as above)?

One day after Class #13:

Posting from a student:

Here’s a 12 second snippet of virginia woolf speaking… slightly eerie, huh?

[Note: the site containing this recording is no longer available]

Class #14:

From the next student discussion leader:

Hey everyone,

Joyce–thanks for the cool link

So Orlando– Yep this book is pretty much loaded. I’m not quite sure where to start with the questions, so these are in no particular order of importance:

  • What is the significance of the color green (and the other colors red, purple, orange)? I know I asked this in class, but it continually showed up throughout the last three chapters as well.
  • Does Orlando ever fully become a woman? What does it mean to become a woman? Does the clothes argument hold up or does Orlando exhibit qualities of both males and females at times regardless of clothing?
  • On pg 180 in the Harcourt edition gives one example of how men and women do not preceive the truth about the other sex. “Men cry as frequently and as unreasonably as women, Orlando knew from her own experience as a man; but she was beginning to be aware that women should be shocked when men display emotion in their presence, and so, shocked she was”. Are there qualities that are preceived as male or female that are really neither? How do these misperceptions play out in this novel?
  • What is the significance that Orlando was declared “female” by the courts?
  • How does the idea of acting or playing a role add to the novel? A couple examples of this are:
    • Pg 165 “remembering that it is becoming in a woman to wee, she let [tears] flow”
    • Pg 222 “Never was any play so absorbing. She wanted to cry Bravo! Bravo! For, to be sure, what a fine drama it was–what a page torn from the thickest volume of human life.”
  • What does “life” mean to Orlando and how does that differ from what the narrator portrays as “life” ?
  • How does Society affect Orlando? How does this change as she exhibits more male qualities? more female qualities?
  • There is a move from the notion of Orlando having bisexual relationships with “Lovers” to that of having a husband as time moves into the Victorian Era. Why does the Husband concept win out over time?
  • What is the meaning behind the (as I read it) “Immaculate conception” of the child?
  • In ch. 6, the idea if having multiple “selves” comes through. This is also briefly eluded to when Shelmerdine’s name is shifted to Bonthrop on pg 261. Does this adequately explain how each character changes throughout the novel? Are these changes effected by other things such as nature?
  • What is Sir Nicholas’ role at the end of the novel? How has time changed his role and perceptions of poetry?

Okay I know these are lots of random questions but I had about a million more. I hope some of these will be useful tomorrow.

Link provided by another student, providing all the New York Times’ book reviews of Woolf:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/17/specials/woolf.html?1220inside

Class #16:

From student leader for first segment of To The Lighthouse:

First things first:

“The Fisherman and his Wife”
[Note: the site containing this excerpt is no longer available]

“The Charge of the Light Brigade”
http://www.nationalcenter.org/ChargeoftheLightBrigade.html

Second things second:

The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay is rather an interesting one. they seem almost opposites. and yet, they seem to work after all. okay, i guess this isn’t really a question, but definitely deserves attention.

What is the importance of Time? (and of Beauty?)

What is the role of women here? of men? consider Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay, how they’re linked. and also, Tansley and Mr. Ramsay. see pgs 6 & 48. and the dinner scene.

Waves, waves, waves (5, 15, 20, 28, 39, 47,). they’re everywhere. what do they mean?

What does the lighthouse signify?

Alright. This is just to get us started. more to be addressed in class, i promise. Same bat time, same bat place…

One day after Class #17:

From student leader for latter parts of To the Lighthouse:

Discussion Questions for “Time Passes” and “The Lighthouse”:

  1. How are brackets used in “To the Lighthouse”? How are parentheses used? How is the text they contain different from the non-partitioned text and from each other? Who is speaking?
  2. Who is speaking in the first part of “Time Passes”? How is Time characterized? How is the reader made aware of time passing? Does it seem like ten years, or does it seem longer/shorter?
  3. What role does the war play in “To the Lighthouse”?
  4. How are Mrs. Ramsay’s responsibilities transferred to her children and her husband after her death? What does this do to them?
  5. What does Lily’s painting represent? What is its role in the book?
  6. What happens between Lily and Mr. Ramsay when she comments on his boots? Did you feel that this interaction was appropriate to their social relationship? How do each of them react to the other?
  7. How does Mr. Ramsay seek attention in the second half of “To the Lighthouse”? Does this correspond with or contradict his earlier ploys? Has he changed at all over the past ten years?
  8. What is the relationship between Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James? How does it shift during the trip to the lighthouse?
  9. What does the fate of Minta and Paul say about Mrs. Ramsay? About society? How does Lily compare herself to them? What was Mrs. Ramsay’s “mania for marriage”? (look at page 175)
  10. Why does Lily cry? What is she crying for?
  11. Why does Woolf structure the section “The Lighthouse” in such a defined manner? Why does she keep switching between Lily and James and Cam, and why does she use the technique of “looking at the island” or “looking at the boat” so much in order to switch between the two?
  12. What is the relationship between Mr. Carmichael and Andrew?

And, of course, because it was inevitable…

How are Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway similar? Virginia Woolf seems to have a fascination with matriarchs who are pivotal to the fates of all of the other characters, but seem somehow unaware of or unwilling to accept their power. How are their personal thoughts similar? What about their family and friends? Why does Mrs. Ramsay die and Mrs. Dalloway live?

Compare, “There she sat” on pg. 202 to “There she was” at the end of Mrs. Dalloway. What happens in both scenes?

Virginia Woolf also seems to like characters with “Chinese eyes”. Does this trait seem to have any connection to personality? (Think about Elizabeth Dalloway and Lily Briscoe.)

Specific passages to think about:

On page 149: Lily observes that, “tragedy [is] not palls, dust, and the shroud; but children coerced, their spirits subdued.”

On page 164, pertaining to Mr. Ramsay:
“He liked that men should labour and sweat on the windy beach at night; pitting muscle and brain against the waves and the wind; he liked men to work like that, and women to keep house, and sit beside sleeping children
indoors, while men were drowned, out there in a storm.”

On page 166, the paragraph beginning with “But I beneath a rougher sea…”

On page 177 (in parentheses), pertaining to William Bankes: “It was his great grief - he had no daughter.”

On page 178: “The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again; then one became like most middle-aged people, cautious, furtive, with wrinkles between the eyes and a look of perpetual apprehension.”

On page 186: Starting from “The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye…”

On page 196: “Charles Tansley did that too: It was part of the reason why one disliked him. He upset the proportions of one’s world. And what had happened to him, she wondered, idly stirring the plantains with her brush. He had got his fellowship. He had married; he lived at Golder’s Green.”

Class #20:

Posting by student leader for The Winter’s Tale:

  1. What is the meaning of the conversation about flowers between Perdita and Polixenes? IV.iv.80

  2. How do the relationships between Paulina, Hermione, and Leontes work?

  3. Are there any parallels between Paulina/Hermione/Leontes and the Ramseys/Lily Briscoe?

  4. Why is Mamillius killed off?

  5. Ditto for Antigonus. III.iii.58

  6. In Winter’s Tale, there’s a tragedy, a speech by Time, and then a pastoral sort of comedy. Terrible things, like people dying (sort of), happen in the tragedy. Then the kids fix up their parents’ problems in the pastoral by marrying appropriately.
    For Lighthouse, the really terrible things, like people dying, happen in the middle section Time Passes. What is Woolf saying by shifting the Winter’s Tale structure?

  7. The last section in Winter’s Tale is about the kids of the people in the first section. How does this reflect on the relationships between Mr. Ramsey and his two youngest kids in the Lighthouse section of Lighthouse? And also Lily’s comment about how it’s a tragedy.

  8. In a couple of passages, Leontes links his suspicions with dreams. Why is this? Is he somewhat aware of the fact that he’s paranoid?

    “Affection! thy intention stabs the centre/Thou dost make possible things not so held,/Communicat’st with dreams (how can this be?)…” I.ii.139

    “Your actions are my dreams./You had a bastard by Polizenes/And I but dream’d it.” III.ii.82

  9. Leontes has no Iago. Antigonus mentions this at II.i.140. His suspicions also seem to appear very suddenly, catching everyone by surprise. Leontes’ personality change seems to be more of a plot device than any realistic behavior.

    Similarly, in the second part of the play, Autolycus keeps being told about events that are like “an old tale.” V.ii. Kind of a self-conscious artifice sort of thing going on in the play. Which maybe (or maybe not) ties back to the flower conversation.

    Why does Shakespeare do this?

  10. Why does Hermione pretend to be a statue?

  11. What are these ballad things that Autolycus is selling?

Class #22:

Posting by student leader for day one on The Waves:

  1. Dual timeframe – Woolf seems fond of this. Time is doing weird things in this novel, moving at (at least) two speeds. What’s VW’s game? What point is she driving at with this constant play on the (literal) flow of time?

  2. (Non-)Characters – The voices in the book are almost indistinguishable from a syntactic standpoint; only Bernard (the wordsmith) stands out verbally. Why won’t this woman just suck it up and right differentiable characters, with their own voices? Or, put more productively: what

    different viewpoints do the six speakers embody, and what purpose do they serve in coming together? What, in other words, is the theme of this book, its real (hidden) concern?

  3. Musical metaphors – Rhoda and Louis ‘perform a duet’ on page 140, an interruption in parentheses that works beneath the level of the other text; it is a whispered aside to be shared with the audience, still in Woolf’s elevated language. Why don’t the speakers get their own

    vernacular, and how do musical metaphors like ‘duet’ and ‘soloist’ inform a reading of the book?

  4. Why waves? – Well, why waves?

  5. Image patterns – I almost loathe that phrase. What does VW make (and what does she intend us to make) of the recurring images in the book? Not just waves, here, but the flowers she conjures up, the spinning of thread, the ripples in a pond (more water!), the formation of a circle. What other art forms are informing her creation?

  6. And finally – Percival. The guy doesn’t really ‘show up’ so much as cast a shadow. He’s the point the others circle around, yet he’s something of an Absent Presence, never really fully there except in his influence. Why has VW set the book up this way? How are we meant to see his character, as the paragon of which the voices speak, or as just some dude?

Class #23:

Leader of discussion for second half of The Waves:

Wow, Wally’s questions apply all the way to the end of the novel….:)
I’ll just add some questions and points of discussions not already mentioned. The starred ones are the more important ones. The non-starred ones are more picky and interpretation oriented.

  1. Why is Percival’s death announced so abruptly after the italics section preceding it?

    And a related question– why are the italics sections there? What would be the ’effect’ of the novel if they were not there? Are they reminiscent to other ‘set apart’ portions of Woolf’s novels?

  2. *As Wally points out, the ‘characters’ or ‘views’ are difficult to differentiate in the syntax of their thoughts. However, I believe it is still possible to distinguish between the six different characterizations. Agree/Disagree? How?:) And how do the different voices react to Percival’s death?

  3. Why are there only three ‘speakers’ –Neville, Bernard, and Rhoda— in the section announcing Percival’s death?

  4. *Some more page numbers that deal with the issue of TIME that Wally brought up – what role does time play here? Is it a similar function to To the Lighthouse or different? How does Woolf show that time passes during the non-italics portions? Pg. 184, 190, 227-228, 258, 271, 273.

  5. *How do the ‘characters’ change from childhood? What doesn’t change?

  6. What do we make of this second ‘duet’ (thanks Wally:P) between Rhoda and Louis? Pg 226

  7. Notice in the last italics section that the darkness takes on the qualities and actions of the wave (pg. 237). There has been an interplay between light and water throughout the italics sections and here they merge. Why?

  8. *Of course, what do we do with this shift to an outward, ‘autobiographical’ section at the end? Why is it there? Why does Bernard rehash the incidents already discussed in the book? i.e. Why is the Hampton Court meeting described twice from his perspective? What does Bernard mean that he is “tired of stories?” (pg 238)

  9. *(I’m not sure how to phrase this next question….. Is Bernard’s perspective on the others, especially Rhoda, ‘accurate?’ Does is match what they have said? But since they may be ‘views’ instead of ‘characters’ this question might be even more complicated or irrelavent.)

    What is the difference between “streams” and “waves” and what they do in the 6 characters’ lives? (i.e. 257 vs. 293… pg 279 is helpful)

  10. What drives Rhoda to kill herself? There seems to be a recurrence of ‘Septimus-like’ language in her thoughts. I am bothered that it is so nonchalantly or briefly treated by Bernard in the end…..and by his seeming ‘simplication’ of the reasons…Maybe you all can help me understand it more.

  11. Bernard’s ‘rebirth’ (pg 286) happens in terms of perception, not emotions. Significance?

  12. *How can there be “no division” between Bernard and the rest of his friends, as he claims in pg. 288-289? Can we trace this internal connection and blending of these views/voices throughout the novel?

  13. What does Bernard mean by “he [Bernard] is dead.” (pg 291)? What’s going on in this section? How does he separate from the ‘haiy old man?’

  14. *On how many different levels do the waves ‘rise and fall’ in the book? On page 297 it specifically deals with ’the eternal renewal’ as Bernard puts it.

Finally: Once again, there is an echoing of previous Woolf works in this novel. I mentioned Septimus above, but we can also find connections with Orlando and To the Lighthouse. One place that stood out was pg. 277– idea of island of light in the midst of a “huge blackness,” which we saw in the dinner scene of Lighthouse.

Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2001