Exposure and development: re-imagining narrative and nation in the interludes of The Waves.
The Waves, widely regarded as one of Virginia Woolf's most experimental texts, attends to national identity as well as textual experimentation. Specifically, the nine interludes, often neglected in criticism on The Waves, are deeply concerned with the politics of empire which "resonate through the interludes.... their images replay[ing] ruling-class expectations of mastery and fears of turbaned, armed warriors assaulting their shores" (Scott 31).
In their essential function, the interludes of The Waves show the movement of the sun from rising in the east to setting in the west, fixing and moving the reader's gaze from the east, a site of expansion and empire-making, to the west, the site of the British homeland. (3) Here I refute Jane Marcus's germinal argument that The Waves "emphatically dramatizes the very historical moment in which the sun does set" (155). In fact, the light of empire is not extinguished by any means. (4) Instead, the interludes reveal how, like their ongoing solar and oceanic cycles, the imperial impulse continues--and, at this moment of anxiety about the future of the empire, specifically continues in the homeland as well as in the colonies. (5)
Imperial colonization enacts violence ideologically by reducing its subject to an object and by placing it within the realm of the Other. Imperial colonization enacts violence materially by subjecting that subject/object to the position of the Other through physical and political domination (see footnote two). Considering these effects of objectification, the colonized space and the feminized space operate comparably, then, in the ideology of imperialism which requires that each occupies the place of the Other in opposition to the dominant (colonizing and/or patriarchal) force of empire. Thus, in The Waves, it is not surprising to find the incorporation of feminine images in the representation of the colonized. What is surprising is the use of feminine images to also represent the imperial project itself. It is these two intertwined depictions of the feminine within imperialism--the subjugation of the feminine as it is relegated to the status of the colonized and the utilization of the feminine to further the cause of imperialism--that I propose to unravel in this essay and that I argue the interludes of The Waves also seek to expose and resolve.
As I explore at length in the first section of this essay, The Waves utilizes the imagery of the sun to demonstrate the effects on representations of the feminine, here used to denote the companion to the monolithic term "patriarchy," in both the imperial project in general (in its use of images and bodies of women to promote and extend the empire) and colonization in particular (in its inhabitation of feminized spaces). As the sun of the interludes, at first metaphorized as a lamp borne aloft by a woman, comes to invade feminized spaces in the novel, the feminized subjects, be they women's bodies or the domestic space of the home, become objectified through the aggression of the sun which, I argue, essentially operates as an imperialistic and patriarchal figure in the interludes. (6)
As if in response to patriarchy's employment of images and bodies of women, The Waves also concerns itself with creating a new kind of textual space or "cultural project" that "consists ... in offering the possibility of different modes of subjective positionings in language beyond the pretty fictions of the patriarchal order" (Paccaud-Huguet 230). These "subjective positionings" include identity formation at both the national and textual levels: the text challenges empire as a basis for national identity and challenges patriarchy as a basis for narrative. To that end, The Waves disrupts patterns of narrative and form to create not only new stories but new ways of telling stories through its imagery of light and shadow and through its structure of cycle and disruption.
Critics and historians have already delineated how identity configurations of British female subjects, both produced by and performed for patriarchal imperialism, are critical to national identity and, therefore, to imperial ideology. As Kathy Phillips has argued in her detailed analyses of Woolf's work, "The attitudes that determine the pecking order at home also fix the hierarchical oppressions of the Empire" (182). The equation also works in reverse: the same attitudes, hierarchies, and, one could say, stories, are repeated at home as they have been played out in the colonies. Historians Cain and Hopkins claim that "elite women acted as influential adjuncts to the masculine empire, whether as missionaries, doctors, managers of emigration societies, founders of the Girl Guides, or as propagandists," and that "[t]he gentlemanly elite was to this extent strengthened by its lady-like complement; both had their roles shaped by the empire they were trying to civilize" (13). They, thus, tell the story of women's role in empire building as being "adjuncts" and "complement[s]" to the patriarchal powers of imperialism. These stories of empire, as retold in the interludes of The Waves, reveal the "hierarchical oppressions of the Empire" (Phillips 182) and their effects on women, the domestic space of the home, and on narrative construction. (7)
I propose, therefore, that The Waves attempts to reverse the objectification of women in the service of empire in its "reshaping" (Katz 232) of imperial and modernist tropes of enlightenment and textual experimentation. The Waves' portrayal of the imperial project and its effects on the homeland in its use of gendered bodies of women and domestic spaces does not preclude all possibility of locating a new shape of identity subjectivity for women. Instead, I concur with Tamar Katz's reading of modernist textual experimentation:
Modernist experiments in narrative form often take as their goal the reshaping of narrative to a newly-envisioned subjectivity. Stream-of-consciousness, impressionism, point-of-view narration--a range of narrative strategies offer the perceptual processes of the subject as the real story, and in doing so raise the question of just what shape subjectivity might possess. (232)
I argue that Woolf's textual experimentation not only questions "what shape subjectivity might possess," but also attempts to propose a new shape of female subjectivity through a new textual form that re-imagines narrative construction and, with it, national identity and the feminine inscriptions upon which it relies.
The tension between these two impulses of exposing and proposing emerges early in the first interlude in the image of the sun as a woman shining a lamp: "as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon had raised a lamp" (TW 7). Although tempting to suggest that Woolf illuminates a feminist presence in the novel through this imagery of a female sun, I argue that the lady with the lamp does not operate as a feminist figure, controlling the solar cycle, but is instead a figurehead for the sun and a tool of imperialism. (8) Viewed this way, the lamp may be interpreted as the light of empire extending from the horizon back to the homeland. As I will argue, this imagery of the light becomes increasingly violent and militaristic throughout the interludes, extending the effects of empire and its violence onto the domestic spaces of England. Through both the narrative's reclamation of the imagery of enlightenment and shadow, and through the form of the text's experimentation in the interludes, Woolf attempts to extinguish imperialism's domestic gaze and reclaim language which has been in the service of empire. I, therefore, take the paradoxical position that The Waves creates at once an alliance between the feminine and nature through the imagery of the sun and a simultaneous critique of that alliance. This position proves productive because of the way Woolf reveals how the feminine, through this solar imagery, is portrayed as complicit in the work of empire and thus paves the way for Woolf's re-imagining of the feminine through imagery of shadow.
This essay, then, proceeds to argue for The Waves' exposure of imperialism's annexing of female imagery and its subsequent development of alternative feminine representations. I do so by considering, first, how the feminine is inherent in the work of empire and how the interludes of The Waves both expose and undermine that relationship and, second, how the textual experimentation of the interludes contributes to both the revelation and disruption of this relationship. (9) To that end, I argue that Woolf deploys her experiments with narrative and form to recover the image of the feminine from its uses by imperialism and to simultaneously create a space in which that feminine can thrive outside of the reach of empire and its violence.
Gendered Imperialications: Women's Bodies & The Light of Empire
During the interwar period, the imperial project utilized women in its efforts to both produce citizens and represent national ideologies. Historian Susan Kent's research on images of women during World War I reveals that:
metaphors utilized to explain and justify the war drew upon images of women in a variety of ways. Women were depicted variously as the terrain of war in representations that decried the rape of Belgium and France; as the objects of war in propaganda and recruiting posters; as the victims of war in reports of German atrocities; as the parasitic beneficiaries of war in Punch cartoons or irate letters to newspaper columns; as the wagers of war in tributes to women's wartime service, particularly that of munitions workers; even as the cause of the war in some accounts of prewar suffrage militancy. (9-10)
Kent's descriptions of images of women during the war illustrate the various manipulations of these images and their apparent transformative quality from "victims" to "the cause of war" as best suited the need of the wartime propagandists. After the war, women's bodies facilitated establishing definitions of self and other as well as (re)produced national subjects when they were "culturally] appropriat[ed]"(Moran 149) by and for patriarchy and imperialism through their "corporeal identification" which marked them as "implicitly incompatible with the spiritual aims of citizenship" (Garrity 245). Through the machinations of patriarchy and imperialism, then, women's bodies, marked as pure and as purely bodies, became vessels for the production of citizens and for the symbolic representation of imperial ideology. In the colonies, the role of women was to provide an "attachment to the mother country" by making colonies which were "peopled with loyal British women as well as British men.... Without that home-life settlers will bring with them none of [their] peaceful influence" (Thane 31). Women were both essential and essentialized in the project of empire by representing and recreating the homeland in the colonies. For women to provide this "attachment to the mother country," they must already embody and portray an established representation of the mother country. Their identity, as Jane Garrity argues, "arises from the ability to reproduce conventional models of British womanhood--models which, whether generative or purely sexual, are dependent on some valorization of an essentialized female body" (260). Both physical and national identitifications, then, mark women's bodies and demarcate women as signifiers of nation and empire.
In The Waves, the light of imperialism fixes its gaze on the bodies and identities of women as a site of tenuous national identity and imperial domination. As The Waves also criticizes imperialism's use and determination of female identity, it reveals deeply established inscriptions of the feminine in the work of empire. I argue that in the interludes of The Waves the image of the sun as the lady with the lamp exposes these implications of imperialistic demarcations for women. (10) Through the lady with the lamp, the woman's body heralds not only the sun and the light of empire, it also calls forth other symbolic representations which inscribed women's bodies, namely the re-emergence during the inter-war period of the emphasis on woman's maternity, purity, and domesticity. (11) From the first interlude, the body of the lady with the lamp is employed in the work of imperial enlightenment as the bearer of the light which spreads from the horizon to the home:
Behind [the horizon], too, the sky cleared as if the white sediment there had sunk, or as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon had raised a lamp and flat bars of white, green and yellow, spread across the sky like the blades of a fan. (12) (7)
Demonstrating both agency and complicity, this passage shows how the woman is both powerful in her ability to raise the lamp of the sun, changing the colors and texture of the air, sea and sky, but is also an agent of a power outside herself (i.e. the lamp). Her body, specifically her arm, is used to hold up the lamp whose light shines on the waves, the beach, the garden, and the house, and thus extends the light from the horizon to the home.
Jane Marcus persuasively refers to this arm as "the mighty white arm of empire and civilization" (159), placing the agency of empire in the body of the woman itself and extending the symbolism of geographical enlightenment specifically to imperial activity. Although I agree with Marcus's correlation between the lady/sun and empire, I argue that the lamp itself, not the woman's arm, contains the light and thus represents imperial enlightenment. The woman's arm, only a tool for holding the lamp, situates the body of the woman as a manipulated figurehead lacking agency of her own. (13) In the interludes, broadly, I suggest the woman's body becomes the tool for spreading the light of empire, and her status as imperial instrument indicates that The Waves perceives women in an inextricable and subordinate relation to imperialism.
Some critics characterize the feminized sun as a herald of a new, feminist space. For example, Madeline Moore sees that "[i]n the first prologue prior to the children's birth, the creative force of nature is anthropomorphized as a great mythic woman who is the source of all creation. She is the symbolic figure out of which Woolf establishes a cosmogony in The Waves" (228-9). For Moore, the lady with the lamp becomes a powerful protofeminist and the basis for the entire "cosmogony" of The Waves. Moore's analysis ultimately essentializes women as earth mothers and as producers (and reproducers) of nature, platonically reducing them to a lesser status than the thinking man. Specifically, by associating women with nature, Moore's reading reduces women to a less-civilized, utilitarian and/or iconographic status rather than proposing equality or alterity for women, and therefore falls short of locating an alternative to patriarchal forms and stories, including mythic ones.
I instead align this argument with Jane Goldman's which states that the sun in The Waves is "predominantly patriarchal," demonstrating women as the "enslaved functionary of the patriarchal order" and as "appropriating the icon of masculine subjectivity (the sun)" (189). To this I add that Woolf preserves the essence of the sun's patriarchal position in order to criticize the use of women as figureheads of patriarchy and imperialism. (14) As the sun's gender transforms throughout the interludes, its "patriarchal" position is ultimately revealed.
Throughout my argument in this section, I trace three progressions in the interludes: the progression of the sun's gender from feminine to neutral, the progression of the sun's characterization from feminine to primitive, and the progression of the imagery of the sun from feminine light to feminine darkness. First, the sun's gendered physicality, first seen in the image of the lady with the lamp, devolves by interlude three into that of a girl. Eventually, the metaphor of "The girl who had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks offire in them dance" (73) in the third interlude regresses further into a neutered "it," staging the continued evolution of the sun into an ungendered and violent entity. The fourth interlude abandons the feminine imagery of the sun so that it no longer "couch[es] on a green mattress" or "dart[s] a fitful glance through watery jewels'" Instead, the sun, now directly "bare[s] its face" and "look[s] straight over the waves." Although Woolf actively promotes androgyny in other texts, namely A Room of One s Own, in the interludes of The Waves, I argue that the seemingly androgynous "it" enacts violence when associated with imperialism and is therefore a place holder for patriarchy. (15) This, then, is not the kind of idealized social and/or authorial androgyny Woolf advocates in AROO but a gradual unveiling of the patriarchal forces behind the feminine figurehead of imperialistic enlightenment.
Paralleling this progression to gender neutrality is a simultaneous devolution of the light from feminine to primitive, in both the text's use of "lances" (108) in the fourth interlude and its conversion of the lady with the lamp into "turbaned men with poisoned assegais" in the third and fourth interludes (75, 109). The sun thus moves from a feminine icon of enlightenment to a now specifically masculine stereotype of the primitive warrior. Mariana Torgovnick asserts that "the primitive was coded metaphorically as feminine, collective, and ecstatic, and civilization was coded as masculine, individualistic, and devoted to the quotidian business of the family, city, or state" (14). In this definition, the masculine governs the civilized state and empire, each inhabited by the primitive feminine. Torgovnick further argues that this "fascination with the primitive ... can express itself in a variety of ways: negatively--for example, as fear of the primitive or as a detour into violence; and positively--as admiration for the primitive, conceived to be the conduit of spiritual emotions" (7). The association of woman with the negative expression of the primitive--with violence--is exactly the kind of progression or "detour" at play in the interludes of The Waves. Although the solar imagery abandons the mask of the female figurehead, the evolution of the imagery as well as the common association of women with the primitive as outlined by Torgovnick, suggest a continued interchange between the feminine-which is at once both the pure English rose and the primitive savage--and the imperial project. This association reveals not only the appropriation of women's bodies for the spread of imperialism through the lady with the lamp, but also the inherent violence involved in this act. (16) Significantly, the etymology of "couch" used in conjunction with the lady with the lamp in the interludes reveals additional violence. Although in The Waves it denotes to "lie or lay down," it also connotes its other definitions--"to lie in ambush" and "to lower a lance into position for an attack"--further suggesting the ambiguity of women's involvement in empire and war in the interludes.
The devolution into the primitive also reveals the paradoxical position of women in empire as passive symbols rather than active agents in empire making, conveniently manipulating and adapting the images of women to advance the cause of empire. (17) In the fifth interlude, the solar imagery is more explicitly connected to the work of empire:
It was no longer half seen and guessed at, from hints and gleams, as if a girl couched on her green-sea mattress tired her brows with water-globed jewels that sent lances of opal-tinted light falling and flashing in the uncertain air like the flanks of a dolphin leaping, or the flash of a falling blade. (148)
The "water-globed jewels" in this passage connect the sun to sea exploration, empire building and the booty of each, decorating the female figurehead with imperial activities which she then carries and carries out. By the end of the description, these "jewels" are connected further to violence as well as they "sent lances" like "the flash of a falling blade." Through the solar imagery, the interludes of The Waves reveal how the ideology of empire creates a false alliance between the feminine and nature and uses that alliance to further its imperial goals. The imagery of the sun also exposes patriarchy as hidden behind feminine representations, making the image of the lady with the lamp a kind of Trojan horse, appearing at first a benign girl but eventually revealed to be accompanied with the violent "lances" and "blades" of warfare. The conversion is complete as what once were the lady with the lamp's "blades of a fan" (7) in the first interlude become in the fifth interlude "a falling blade" (148) of the warrior's lances.
Although the increasing gender neutrality of the sun may appear to create an androgynous space in the interludes, the association of that space with primitive and violent, militaristic imagery proves destructive for women and the images of them used to advance the light of empire. The disturbing depiction of the woman's body as a tool for spreading the light of empire takes on not only the activity of empire per se, of enlightenment, but also its violent attitudes and patriarchal behaviors through the imagery of the sun's military acts of stereotypical savages with spears and assegais and of the war machine of cavalry. Thus, the images and bodies of women are implicated through the imagery of the sun to be complicit agents of empire and its violence, albeit unwitting ones. In contrast to the episodes, where the characters are working to distinguish themselves in their gendered, national, and vocational identities, the interludes develop a dissolution of these same identities as the sun becomes gendered neutral and then masculine, for example. The violence of the waves, at its height in the fourth interlude, preceding Percival's departure for India, continues in the fifth and sixth interludes, after Percival's death. In this way, the violence of the waves replicates the activities of empire, continuing its crashing upon and through the colonies even after the dream of imperialism has died. (18) Kathy Phillips suggests that "[references to imperialism and militarism often occur together because, once a country accepts the need for colonies, it must rely on force to put down local rebellions and fend off other European nations" (225), asserting the inexplicability of colonialism, read here as an extension of imperialism, and violence.
In addition, as the solar imagery becomes gender neutral, and the facade of the feminine is abandoned, the light of the sun increasingly penetrates the domestically coded home and homeland. From the first interlude, as the light touches the house, it "sharpen[s] the walls of the house, and rest[s] like the tip of a fan upon a white blind and ma[kes] a blue fingerprint of shadow under the leaf by the bedroom window" (8). Here, the light is figured as necessary as the house and "all within" is still "dim and unsubstantial" and in need of enlightenment. In the second interlude, as the sun lays "broader blades upon the house" (29), the sharpness of the light in the first interlude becomes "blades" so that what in the first interlude seems like a neutral clarity, here becomes a tool of violence. In the fourth interlude, where the light has devolved from feminine to neutrality, it now "[falls] in sharp wedges inside the room," reasserting the violence of the light's imagery--"A knife looked like a dagger of ice" (110)--and conjuring the imagery of the warriors' "lances" and "assegais." The imagery of the sun, as "sharp," "blades," "a knife," and "a dagger," thus appears to invade and attack the house, revealing how imperial violence comes to bear on the home of the homeland. Nearly every interlude's description moves from the horizon to the house, moving the imagery of violence from the distant sites of colonization into the supposed havens of domesticity in the homeland and enacting the effects of imperialism on the colonizing country as well as on the colonized.
The third progression follows the transformation of the imagery of the sun from feminine light to feminine shadow. As the light strengthens, it contributes to the creation of its opposite, darkness, and with it creates a greater distinction between light and dark, self and other, masculine and feminine. In the fourth interlude, "as the light increased, flocks of shadow were driven before it and conglomerated and hung in many-pleated folds in the background" (110). Here, the shadows become cloth-like, and are gendered feminine, as the light drives it/them out of view. With this feminizing of the shadows, the unmasking of the sun as masculine is complete. Furthermore, the sun's striking "straight upon the house" with "sharp-edged wedges of light" in the fifth interlude is even more of an attack on the "dark windows" "of impenetrable darkness" (150) of the feminized home. The light of empire is locked out of the house, unable to penetrate the feminine, domestic sphere still described here as "darkness." The inscription of the feminine as uncivilized or savage, evidenced earlier in the imagery of the sun, here becomes displaced in and converted into the shadows of the domestic sphere. These feminized shadows now become the target of the imperial light's pursuit and violence, a threat that must be extinguished although created by that selfsame light. Ultimately, in the sixth interlude, as the "[l]ight driving darkness before it split itself profusely upon the corners and bosses; and yet heaped up darkness in mounds of unmoulded shape" (166), the light pursues but cannot eradicate the darkness or shadows. (19) The transformation of the activities of the sun from bearing the feminine light to attacking the feminine darkness exposes both the masculinist basis of imperial activity and the effects of that activity on the feminine, be that representations of women's bodies or the feminized space of the home.
All three progressions--from feminine to androgyny, from feminine to savage, and from feminine light to feminine darkness--work to expose the violence inherent in imperialism. Through the use of feminine imagery, the interludes also expose how this violence first utilizes a feminine facade and then abandons it when attacking the feminized, domestic spaces of the homeland.
As if in response to the invasion of the light, the imagery in the interludes of The Waves, having exposed these representations of women as both light and shadow, reverses itself and reclaims the image of feminized darkness. In the closing interludes, the image of the lady with the lamp, tainted with imperialist ideology and practice, is revealed as no longer useful for women. Woolf instead reclaims the ideology of women as dark or unenlightened (primitive) by here refiguring the imagery of shadow in the interludes as a space of alterity for female subjectivity. The description of shadow and darkness, used throughout the interludes, by the eighth interlude encompasses all of the landscape of the interludes:
As if there were waves of darkness in the air, darkness moved on, covering houses, hills, trees, as waves of water wash round the sides ofsome sunken ship. Darkness washed down streets eddying round single figures, engulfing them; blotting out couples clasped under the showery darkness of elm trees in full summer foliage. Darkness rolled its waves along grassy rides and over the wrinkled skin of the turf, enveloping the solitary thorn tree and the empty snail shells at its foot. Mounting higher, darkness blew along the bare upland slopes, and met the fretted and abraded pinnacles of the mountain where the snow lodges for ever on the hard rock even when the valleys are full of running streams and yellow vine leaves, and girls, sitting on verandahs, look up at the snow, shading their faces with their fans. Them, too, darkness covered. (237)
Here, the antithesis to the lady with the lamp, the "girls, sitting on verandahs ... shading their faces with their fans" (237), emerges as an alternative to embracing the light and work of empire. Instead of being invaded by the militaristic sun, the girls are protected by darkness and shield themselves from the imperial solar gaze; instead of being light bearers, emanating or carrying the light themselves, the girls are shadow seekers, refusing to participate in the work of enlightenment. The language of darkness with its implied femininity and subjection of the feminine, inherent in the ideology of empire, changes in the interludes to a language of possibility and freedom, defying the trope of darkness as savagery or ignorance and converting it instead into a means of protection from the light of empire. Unlike the house in the interludes which is shuttered away from the light--containing "still denser depths of darkness" (150)--the girls, rather than cloistered from incorporation into the imperial project, are posed to see a world without the harsh light of empire and free from the violence and inhabitation of the imperial sun.
With the setting of the sun, Woolf temporarily extinguishes the light of empire and its co-opting of the imagery and labor of women. In doing so, she proposes the darkness as a place of possibility for a new female subjectivity to emerge. Just as Woolf proposed removing the Angel in the House, described in The Pargiters as "the woman that men wished women to be" (qtd. by Hussey 219), she here proposes removing the woman as bearer of imperial enlightenment, the Lady with the Lamp. As the cyclical nature of the sun promises that it will return, Woolf prepares for a new image of woman, resistant to the light of empire and its violence, to replace the iconic lady with the lamp. In the face of the oncoming darkness, the imagery of the girls shading themselves from the light, rather than triggering ignorance or danger, presents a conscious refusal to be touched by or to be bearers of the light of empire. Through these girls the text suggests that future generations may not embrace the light of imperialism, may not engage in the work of empire. Additionally, the girls "look up at the snow," focusing on an element that resists the potency of the imperial sun and directing their own gaze upon a symbol of resistance. Whereas the lady with the lamp, the "woman couched," conducted light, these girls refuse to look at it, and in turning from it, turn also from the inscriptions of imperial enlightenment on female subjectivity that accompany it. (20)
Textual Occupation: Pushing Words to the Margins
The textual experimentation of The Waves likewise exposes similar concerns about empire as those witnessed through the solar imagery of the interludes. Just as the imagery of the sun exposes the strategic use of images of women in the imperial project and the violent ramifications of this practice on the feminine, The Waves employs a linguistic practice that has a penetrating presence, demonstrates a two-way movement of hybridity, (21) and reveals an anxiety about ending and continuing, further exposing the text's concerns about the practices and effects of imperialism through its narrative construction. (22) The Waves as a visual text tries to fill its entire world by filling all the blank spaces on the page. Its dense, blocky form, found most clearly in the later episodic chapters, extends the textual experimentation of Woolf and others beyond that seen in Woolf's earlier works. This attempt to fill the page can be seen to represent the imperial impulse to fill the blank spaces on the map. The increased occupation of the margins of the text as the narrative progresses parallels and pictures the heightened imperial activities in the 1930s (see footnote nine) as well as the heightened anxiety about the continuation of empire. In addition, as I argue in detail below, the incorporation of interludic language into the episodes, depicts an impulse toward "literary hegemony" on the part of Bernard in particular and the episodic narrative in general. (23) If, as Simon Gikandi has argued, "the imperial map of the world was to thread its way into the cultural products of the West and become a vital part of its 'texture of linguistic and cultural practice'" (5), The Waves reflects the violence of its cultural practice, a practice which attempts to push out all other voices and into all other spaces. In this way, The Waves can be seen as a text which exposes the practices of imperialism in its physical construction of a visual monopoly of the words on the page.
The Waves betrays its deep anxiety not only about the empire's dominance but also about its future. National cultures, as Anthony Easthope claims, "are ... reproduced through narratives and discourses" (12), and so the national culture reproduced through The Waves is one of intense anxiety about its position in the world, both nationally and textually, demonstrated most clearly through the imperialist "hero" (123), Percival, who dies from being thrown from his horse or because "[h]is horse tripped" (151), turning the activities of imperialism into a farce. In the interludes of The Waves, this anxiety emerges through concerns about hybridity and conclusion, both concerns of this later stage of imperialism as well.
The hybridity of the text is evidenced in the cross-pollination of interludic and episodic languages. In the fifth interlude we hear the echo of Louis' beast from the episodes: "The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping" (150). The language of the interludes is in turn taken up by the episodes. At Percival's dinner, Rhoda's remarks incorporate interludic imagery of "birds' wings," a "white arm," and "the sea" (139). Rhoda alludes to several of the tropes of the interludes, but in many sites of the episodes, the exact language of the interludes mingles with the narrative. Bernard's soliloquy in the last episode serves as the most striking example: "Day rises; the girl lifts the watery fire-hearted jewels to her brow; the sun levels his beams straight at the sleeping house ... the house is whitened; the sleeper stretches; gradually all is astir. Light floods the room and drives shadow beyond shadow to where they hang in folds inscrutable" (291-92). The specific interludic language of the girl's watery jewels and the house's folds of shadow suggest a violation of the boundaries of the established form and create a hybrid discourse between the episodes and interludes. In addition, the specific gendering of the sun as "his beams" creates a further hybridity with the previous phrase's depiction of the sun as "the girl." In Bernard's final monologue, as Patrick McGee states, "the voice of the interludes," "[n]o longer italicized, no longer safely confined to the margins ... erupts from within the discourse of the imperialist subject" (638). The narrative of The Waves moves beyond the textual borders demarcating interlude and episode and threatens the purity of narrative with hybridity. As McGee continues, "if Bernard's final monologue is explicitly contaminated by the voice of the interludes that are supposed to frame it, then the entire set of monologues, by virtue of the abstractness of Woolf's style is implicitly contaminated by such a frame" and "this instability of the frame is also an instability of the center" (639). McGee's analysis utilizes the language of hybridity in its concern about contamination and the resulting unsettling of identity, in his analysis of narrative identity, and, in post-colonial theory such as Bhabha's, of national and imperial identity. Thus, again, the two activities of narrative construction and national and imperial identity construction and maintenance intertwine in the novel and prove their co-reliance. It is at this moment of greatest textual hybridity that the narrative of the text becomes the most resistant, demonstrating in Bernard's final cry of defiance--"Against you will I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!" (297)--all of the anxiety about the return of the empire to the homeland, the encroaching contact with the other (narrative), and the desire for continuance. (24)
The interludes develop these concerns about continuance and hybridity when the light, upon invading the domestic space of the house in the fourth interlude, creates ambiguity and monstrosity: "A jar was so green that the eye seemed sucked up through a funnel by its intensity and stuck to it like a limpet" (110). In this example, the sun of empire does not enlighten or civilize the domestic, it creates freakish hybrids and monsters, its violence proving destructive to the purity of the domestic and indicating the anxiety of imperial decline and of contamination. (25) Once the light enters the house in the sixth interlude, the language becomes inundated with violent military imagery: "The blind hung red at the window's edge and within the room daggers of light fell upon chairs and tables making cracks across their lacquer and polish. The green pot bulged enormously, with its white window elongated in its side" (165-6). (26) The red of the blind conjures the blood and violence of war, but also the "daggers of light" that "fall" upon the symbols of domesticity--chairs and tables--and cause cracks in their polish. Here, I further propose that the "lacquer and polish" and "green pot" imply the spoils of empire brought home from the colonies, merging the feminine and the colonized in the same space and representing the presence of the colonies in the homeland. The translation of the imperial impulse onto homeland domesticity is secured through the symbols of the colonies, exposing the anxieties about bringing the empire into the home and its potential contamination.
Yet, The Waves reverses or answers this position of anxiety through its textual form which, as the interludes break up the chronicle of the chapters, demonstrates the possible disruption of the traditional patterns and stories of narrative and nation. The episodes of The Waves, while enacting a break from traditional narrative form, still progress systematically from childhood to old age and death. With the addition of the interludes, The Waves strays further from traditional narrative form by breaking the pattern of beginning, middle and ending, and interspersing the stories of the lives of the characters with a separate narrative of the ongoing solar and oceanic cycles. Although the lives of the characters continue to play out the sequence of traditional narratives (albeit in a very nontraditional narrative form), this narrative is interrupted by a static, continuous story of the sun, "arrest[ing] the linear sequence of writing by using the techniques of simultaneity through the use of spaces of silence like the interludes of nature" (Laurence 180). (27)
The use of both "poetic language and experimental structure" in the interludes enacts what Jane Marcus terms "anti-imperialist" "radical politics" that liberate the image of woman from the confines of collaboration with the imperial project (Marcus 155). By re-imagining women's affiliations with nature through the shadows of possibility rather than through the light of empire, the interludes "suggest the end of writing and the end of a certain kind of culture" (Marcus 155) based on the hierarchies of patriarchy and imperialism as reinscribed through narrative. The interruption of traditional patterns of narrative in The Waves "resist[s] not only authoritative narratives that use words to define and communicate thoughts and feelings but also the very hierarchically structured patriarchal culture that relies upon and uses these words to dictate to, define and dominate women" (Burford 269). The interludes, then, despite revealing the power of patriarchy and empire through its imagery of the sun and its violence, paradoxically serve to disrupt the patriarchal and imperialistic episodes, creating a textual alternative that resists conventional narrative progression and creates a place in the text that exists outside of traditional forms and their hierarchies.
Woolf's experimentation with textual form, then, is also an experiment with spaces of personal and national identity, an attempt to find a place where different kinds of stories and nations may be created and enacted without the threat of dissolution or destruction. Woolf accomplishes this by creating not only an experimental narrative form, but by interspersing the narrative of the episodes with an alternate story of the interludes. In this alternate space, the cycle of the sun promises that the story of the interludes will continue and can, in fact, continue free of humanity's imperialism and language of violence, domination, and inhabitation. In this alternate space, too, not only can the imperialistic language be reclaimed and reworked, but the imperial ideology, too, can be refigured.
Exposure and Development: The Old Empire and the New Woman
Throughout my explorations of the solar imagery and the textual experimentation in The Waves, I illustrate how the interludes expose the machinations of imperialism through the unveiling of the sun as masculine, imperial, and violent and also imperialism's effects on women and the feminine through the confiscation of the female figure as a representation of imperial ideology and practice and the extension of the inherent violence involved in these practices upon the feminine other of the colonized as well as on the feminine sites of the homeland. Eventually and simultaneously, as the shadow imagery replaces the attempted enlightenment of the imperial sun, the textual experimentation also refigures imperial ideology through its practices of hybridity and disruption, experimentation and alterity. Thus, the exposure of imperialism's ideological and practical apparatuses lays juxtaposed with the development of future subjectivities of the feminine and of narrative as a kind of post-occupation reconstruction of the text.
In the third interlude, as the light of the sun enters the house, the furnishings appear to meld into one another so that they are both "separate" and "inextricably involved" (75). Likewise, the text of The Waves, comprising two separate but connected narratives and narrative strategies in the interludes and episodes which operate independently and interconnectedly, replicates the text's ideological tensions through its material form. Woolf's positioning of these two textual formats of the episodes and interludes in juxtaposition and dialogue with each other foregrounds the tension between the imperial impulse to colonize and the possibility of a new story beyond imperialism. With the conclusion of the interludes, as the shadows encroach upon the girls on the verandah, the interludes present a scene with the potential for the playing out of new narratives. If, as Torgovnick has argued, "In its most generalized sense, 'primitive' refers to a posited but ultimately unknowable original state" (4), then I propose that Woolf deliberately points back to a supposedly primitive or dark place outside the light of imperialism, a place with other and undiscovered alternatives for the stories of women and nation. In order to develop feminine subjectivity and narrative, Woolf seeks to begin in an imagined prehistory, in a time and place that exists prior to or outside the inscriptions of the feminine developed by patriarchy and imperialism. (28)
In this way, the interludes act as preludes, preparing the scene and creating anticipation for a new woman to speak on this stage still set in darkness. (29)
The final line of the novel, "The waves broke on the shore," could be read as a continuation of the language of imperialism in its reference to the imperial and militaristic activities of the sun and with that the promise of imperialism's continuation. As part of the interludes, though, it can also be read as a break with the tradition, ideology and language of empire. Just as Woolf reclaims and refigures the language of darkness, she in this final interlude refigures imperialistic language of violence by turning it upon itself. Thus, The Waves concludes with the newly-redefined darkness which offers new possibilities for women and the text to develop away from the light of empire. (30)
Burford, Arianne. "Communities of Silence and Music in Virginia Woolf's The Waves and Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage." Virginia Woolf and Communities: Selected Papers from the Eighth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf. Jeanette McVicker and Laura Davis, eds. New York: Pace UP, 1999. 269-75.
Cain, P.J. and A.G. Hopkins. British Imperialism, 1688 - 2000. 2nd Edition. Harlow: Longman, 2002.
Garrity, Jane. Step-daughters of England: British Women Modernists and the National Imaginary. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003.
Goldman, Jane. The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf: Modernism, PostImpressionism and the Politics of the Visual. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 189.
Hussey, Mark. Virginia Woolf A to Z: A Comprehensive Reference for Students, Teachers and Common Readers to Her Life, Work and Critical Reception. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.
Katz, Tamar. "Modernism, Subjectivity, and Narrative Form: Abstraction in The Waves" Narrative 3.3 (October 1995). 232-51.
Kent, Susan. Making Peace: The Reconstruction of Gender in Interwar Britain. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.
Laurence, Patricia Ondek. The Reading of Silence: Virginia Woolf in the English Tradition. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1991.
Marcus, Jane. "Britannia Rules the Waves." Decolonizing Tradition: New Views of Twentieth-Century 'British' Canons. Ed. Karen R. Lawrence. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992.
Moran, Patricia. Word of Mouth: Body Language in Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. Charlottesville: U P of Virginia, 1996.
Moore, Madeline. "Nature and Community: A Study of Cyclical Reality in The Waves." Virginia Woolf: Revaluation and Continuity. Ralph Freedman, ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1980.
Paccaud-Huguet, Josiane. "The Crowded Dance of Words: Language and Jouissance in The Waves" Q/W/E/R/T/Y 5.1 (1995): 227-40.
Phillips, Kathy J. Virginia Woolf Against Empire. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1994.
Scott, Bonnie Kime. Refiguring Modernism, Volume Two: Postmodern Feminist Readings of Woolf, West and Barnes. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.
Sharpe, Jenny. "Figures of Colonial Resistance." The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, eds. London: Routledge, 1995.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism." The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, eds. London: Routledge, 1995.
Thane, Pat. "The British Imperial State and the Construction of National Identities." Borderlines: Gender and Identities in War and Peace 18701930. Ed. Billie Melman. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Torgovnick, Mariana. Primitive Passions: Men, Women and the Quest for Ecstasy. New York: Knopf, 1997.
Wilson, John. "Noctes Ambrosianae." Blackwood's Magazine. See Roth, Nicole. "The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire." Mooney, Jennifer. The 19th Century British Literature: The Empire Abroad. Course home page. Spring 2003. Dept. of English, U of Vermont. 28 Sept. 2005. http://athena.english.vt.edu/~jmooney/ 3044annotationspz/sunneversets.html.
Woolf, Virginia.The Waves. San Diego: Harvest, 1959
(1) A longer version of this article appeared as a chapter under the same name in my dissertation, "The Corporeum: Re-imagining Body, Land, Nation and Text in Virginia Woolf and Olive Moore." U of Colorado at Boulder. 2006.
(2) I refer to imperialism and colonialism according to the following definitions: "'Imperialism' is the concept that comprises all forces and activities contributing to the construction and the maintenance of transcolonial empires. Imperialism presupposes the will and the ability of an imperial center to define as imperial its own national interests and enforce them worldwide in the anarchy of the international system" (21); "'Colonialism' is a relationship of domination between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonized people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis" (16 -17) from Jiirgen Osterhammel's Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview. Trans. Shelley Frisch. Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1997. Thus, colonialism implicitly requires domination of one group over another whereas the ideologies and materialities of imperialism, which may result in colonialism, do not. Imperialism does, however, involve "an incursion, or an attempted incursion, into the sovereignty of another state.... one power has the will, and, if it is to succeed, the capacity to shape the affairs of another by imposing upon it. The relations established by imperialism are therefore based upon inequality and not upon mutual compromises of the kind which characterize states of independence" (54). See this and an extensive discussion of British imperialism in Cain and Hopkins.
(3) See also Garrity 286.
(4) See various historians' arguments, such as those of Cain and Hopkins who argue that "the growth of the formal empire was a product of Britain's relative decline as a great power: the extension of sovereignty in Africa as only a poor recompense for the shrinkage of the informal economic empire elsewhere" (27), but that "imperialist enterprise was enfolded in a grand development strategy designed by Britain to reshape the world in her own image. It was spearheaded, not by manufacturing interests, but by gentlemanly elites who saw in empire a means of generating income flows in ways that were compatible with the high ideals of honour and duty, and it remained a dynamic, expanding force long after decline, as measured by British comparative industrial performance, is conventionally thought to have set in" (57), as well as Jennifer Mooney, who, on her University of Vermont website, cites that the British Empire was actually at its height in the 1930s. India and Pakistan did not become independent nations until 1947, remained "Dominions" for some time thereafter, and are still considered "Protectorates."
(5) For the purposes of this project, and in accordance with the focus of the interludes themselves on England, my analysis focuses on the effects of the imperial gaze on the homeland, not on the colonies and the colonized. For criticism on The Waves analyzing the effects of empire in the interludes and elsewhere in the text, see Phillips; Marcus; Heidi Stalla, "Empire and Elveden: New Light on The Waves" Virginia Woolf Bulletin. Vol 12, (Jan. 2003): 20-29; and Patrick McGee, "The Politics of Modernist Form: Or, Who Rules The Waves?" Modern Fiction Studies 38.3 (Fall 1992), 631-50.
(6) The episodes also depict both the ideology and activities of imperialism in the homeland as they dramatize how, as Patrick McGee states, "there are obvious and subtle differences of gender and class among the six characters, but all of them are shaped by the imperialist ideology into which they are fitted and into which they fit" (ibid. 645).
(7) In addition, see Goldman, in which she claims that "Rhoda imagines becoming the ultimate female imperial subject, a counterpart to Percival" (194), and demonstrates the ways in which women saw themselves as active participants in the imperial project.
(8) See Madeline Moore's proposal that "Looked at in strictly biographical terms, the cosmological woman-as-sun, who dominates the poetic prologues of The Waves, resembles Julia Stephen, who was both nurturing and arbitrary, and was possibly a model of a deified sun goddess for her adoring daughter" (27) in The Short Season Between Two Silences: The Mystical and the Political in the Novels of Virginia Woolf (Winchester: Allen & Unwin, 1984), as well as Jane Marcus' argument in "Britannia Rules the Waves" regarding the sun in the interludes comprising an invocation of the sun as in Sanskrit poems, creating "a discourse for an alienated Western woman like Rhoda to have a 'heroic death,' like Indian widows in sati" (137).
(9) The narrative of the episodes, while important, useful and necessary to extend the connections between women, empire, and modernist form that I suggest, have already accrued much critical attention and thus are, here, supplemental to the primary focus of this argument on the more neglected developments of narrative and nation in the interludes. In this reading, then, the episodes become the text between the interludes, rather than the typical reading the other way around. To that end, my attention to the episodes is minimal, often footnoted, and discussed in their connection to and in their tension with the interludes.
(10) The phrase "the lady with the lamp" denotes popular depictions of Florence Nightingale which showed Nightingale holding up an oil lamp over the soldiers at Scutari. Woolf would have been familiar with these images and with Lytton Strachey's critical account of Nightingale's life and work in Eminent Victorians. Woolf's depiction of the sun as a lady holding a lamp above the horizon summons these images and their depictions of Nightingale as a ministering angel as well as Strachey's subsequent criticism. See Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (Middlesex: Penguin, 1948), as well as Renee Dickinson, "The Lady with the Lamp: Florence Nightingale and The Waves" The Art of Exploration: Selected Papers from the Fifteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf. Ed. Helen Southworth and Elisa Kay Sparks (Clemson: Clemson U Digital Press, 2006).
(11) Susan Kent writes on the role of maternity and motherhood for the "new" feminists after WWI: "Britons sought a return to the 'traditional' order of the prewar world, an order based on natural biological categories of which imagined sexual differences were a familiar and readily available expression.... A gender system of separate spheres for men and women based upon scientific theories of sexual difference, a new emphasis upon motherhood, and an urgent insistence upon mutual sexual pleasure within marriage provided parameters within which 'normal' activity was to be carried out and a return to normalcy effected.... As Riley has argued, 'women's' thorough implication in 'the social'--especially, as it became, in the interwar years, obsessively focused on maternity and motherhood--limited feminism's ability to exist and operate effectively" (140-141). See also, Denise Riley, War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (London: Virago, 1983), and Jane Lewis, The Politics of Motherhood: Child and Maternal Welfare in England, 1900 - 1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1980).
(12) The fans of colors and later of waves further the feminine imagery. The description of this imagery as feminine is confirmed through association in the penultimate interlude when the "girls, sitting on verandahs, look up at the snow, shading their faces with their fans" (237).
(13) See Jane Garrity's further discussion of women and women's bodies' collaboration in the work of empire in which she states that "In The Waves, perhaps more than in any other of her works, Woolf acknowledges that women's quest for linguistic inclusion is legitimized by and embedded in the doctrine of expansion and rule" (271).
(14) See also Eileen B. Sypher's commentary in Ginsberg and Gottlieb's Virginia Woolf: Centennial Essays (New York: Whitston Publishing Company, 1983) in which she states that "the image of the female sun is tentative. (Often the sun's 'femaleness' is imaged in a simile and after the sun becomes hot, 'uncompromising' (TW 148), Woolf drops the metaphor/simile altogether and the sun becomes 'it')" (195).
(15) In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf writes that "[p]erhaps to think, as I had been thinking these two days, of one sex as distinct from the other is an effort.... Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.... Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine" (AROO [Harvest, 1957] 97-8).
(16) At the same time, in the episodes, Percival's work in India represents the work of the empire in the colonies (see pages 116, 123, 126, 136, 137, 145, 147, 151 and 153). The narrative of the episodes adds a double valence to the primitivism of the sun by extending its militaristic violence to the colonies. The primitive, then, as seen in the colonial subject and in the bodies of women, both comes under attack by the empire and figures as an image of the attacking empire.
(17) See Kathy Phillips's argument that "[i]n trying to recreate an unspoiled land in England, Jinny further forgets that she has portrayed the jungle not only as a refuge of beautiful license but also as a place of death" (175). Jinny here actively participates in the creation of nation and imperial identity through her portrayal of the jungle in contrast to England, yet, Phillips claims, she does so unwittingly, "forget[ting]" the consequences of her rhetoric.
(18) For further discussion of military violence in the episodes, see Phillips' discussion of Percival, Louis and British education where she argues that "Percival epitomizes ... two of the most dangerous qualities inculcated by the schools--regimentation and militarism" (155), culminating in Woolf "expos[ing] the totalizing impulse of Empire as totalitarian, and, in fact, Louis resembles the fascists coming to power in Europe in the decade before The Waves" (161).
(19) This progression of increased violence demonstrates the anxiety of the feminine in the homeland during peacetime. To review a specific example, Alison Light argues that "[s]ince war, whatever its horrors, is manly, there is something both lower-class and effeminate about peacetime" (7). Alison Light, Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars (London: Routledge, 1991).
(20) For further discussion of the implications of Woolf's use of light and shadow see Patrick McGee's argument that in the episodes,"[t]he collective identity of all these individualized characters depends on the ethnocentric mapping of the world into areas of light and areas of darkness" (645). In addition, though, he claims that "[Marcus'] reading still would have Woolf dividing the world along ethnocentric lines into a zone of light associated with culture (the West) and a zone of darkness associated with nature (the East)" (646). Thus, McGee asks us to consider the ways in which we read light and darkness and suggests, too, that Woolf attempts to question and undermine these associations with culture and nature.
(21) Homi Bhabha describes hybridity in detail as "the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities; it is the name for the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal.... the revaluation of the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects. It displays the necessary deformation and displacement of all sites of discrimination and domination. It unsettles the mimetic or narcissistic demands of colonial power but reimplicates its identifications in strategies of subversion that turn the gaze of the discriminated back upon the eye of power" (34-5) "Signs Taken for Wonders." The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, eds. (London: Routledge, 1995), and: "The paranoid threat from the hybrid is finally uncontainable because it breaks down the symmetry and the duality of self/other, inside/outside. In the productivity of power, the boundaries of authority--its reality effects--are always besieged by 'the other scene' of fixations and phantoms" (116) in "Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of ambivalence and authority under a tree outside Delhi, May 1817." The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994). Bhabha's analysis of the breakdown of inside/outside boundaries contributes to this argument as I suggest below that The Waves embodies both the dissolution of inside/outside narratives and the subsequent anxieties produced.
(22) In the last episode, Bernard asks, "Should this be the end of the story? a kind of sigh? a last ripple of the wave? a trickle of the water to some gutter where, burbling, it dies away?.... But if there are no stories, what end can there be, or what beginning? .... our waters can only just surround feebly that spike of sea-holly; we cannot reach that further pebble so as to wet it. It is over, we are ended" (267), fusing both anxieties about narrative and imperial activities and closure in his concerns about telling and ending stories in the metaphor of accessing other lands.
(23) Jane Marcus argues that not only are "[t]he fragmented selves of the 'civilized' characters in The Waves ... directly related to the politics of British imperialism" (144), Bernard's character specifically enacts these imperial politics as in "an act of literary hegemony; he absorbs the voices of his marginalized peers into his own voice" (142). Bernard's "literary hegemony" then narratizes the visual production of the text in its own encroachment on the margins.
(24) See also The Interrupted Moment by Lucio Ruotolo where he argues that in the latter interludes "[t]he rhythm of the interludes is now marked by Bernard's unyielding rhetoric. As if in a final act of proud transcendence, Bernard's art stamps its image on the surrounding emptiness. The last aspect of the external world is reduced to a vestige of his own rhetoric, and the world, as it were, dies with him" (170). Here, Ruotolo demarcates the interludic space as "surrounding emptiness" and that with the death of Bernard as author, the narrative dies as well. Lucio P. Ruotolo, The Interrupted Moment: A View of Virginia Woolf's Novels (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986).
(25) An alternative reading here, by looking at the episodes, would consider the following episode's dinner with Percival as a moment of unification. Rather than creating monstrous, hybridized identities that merge one character into another, this moment creates a unifying identity around Percival which the characters relish. Jinny, in fact, says: "Let us hold it for one moment, ... love, hatred, by whatever name we call it, this globe whose walls are made of Percival, of youth and beauty, and something so deep sunk within us that we shall perhaps never make this moment out of one man again" (145).
(26) The violent entry of the sun in the domestic sphere of the house precedes the characters' remembrance of the colonist, Percival, during their everyday living of the sixth episode. Louis considers his death as one of many ("all deaths are one death" ) and then exhorts himself to "out of the many men in me make one" (170), echoing the unifying effect of Percival. Susan imagines Percival "com[ing] home, bringing me trophies to be laid at my feet. He will increase my possessions" (172), echoing the booty of imperialism in this interlude. Jinny briefly alludes to Percival as "[i]n one way or another we make this day.... Some take the train for France; others ship for India. Some will never come into this room again. One may die tonight" (176), but, like Louis, couches this in a discussion of unification as "[t]he common fund of experience is very deep" (175). Neville compares himself to Percival and finds that he "could not ride about India in a sun-helmet and return to a bungalow," and compares his lover to Percival who consoles Louis "for the lack of many things--I am ugly, I am weak--and the depravity of the world, and the flight of youth and Percival's death, and bitterness and rancour and envies innumerable" (181). In all, the characters of the episodes recall the unity brought by the imperialist, Percival, a unity that the imperial sun here, in the preceding interlude, disfigures and destroys. In this comparison, then, the ideals of imperialism as represented by Percival in the episodes, are shown to be false compared to the realities of its consequences as shown by the activities of the sun in the interludes.
(27) Miriam Wallace also argues that "Even the interstices of italicized text are contiguous: to each other visually, to the voices sequentially, and through shared images" (299). Miriam L. Wallace, "Theorizing Relational Subjects: Metonymic Narrative in The Waves" Narrative. 8.3 (Oct. 2000): 294-323.
(28) See also Gillian Beer's discussion of "Virginia Woolf and Prehistory" in Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996) in which she writes that "prehistory is seen not simply as part of a remote past, but as contiguous, continuous, a part of ordinary present-day life" (9) and that "in Woolf" there is an "emphasis upon lost and unreclaimable origins" as well as "a counter-insistence on perpetuity and on the survival of what precedes consciousness, precedes history" (11). Both movements, of a lost origin and of a survival of prehistory, are at work here in the interludes of The Waves as we see Woolf both yearning for an imagined and attempting to locate an actual reality of the feminine outside of patriarchal and imperial history.
(29) The narrative device of stage setting is witnessed even more clearly in the conclusion of Between the Acts which poses the main characters Isa and Giles as if on a dark stage and about to perform: "Isa let her sewing drop. The great hooded chairs had become enormous. And Giles too. And Isa too against the window. The window was all sky without colour. The house had lost its shelter. It was night before roads were made, or houses. It was the night that dwellers in caves had watched from some high place among rocks. Then the curtain rose. They spoke" (219) (New York: Harvest, 1969).
(30) See also characters' comments throughout the episodes in which Woolf claims spaces of darkness and shadow as places of possibility for new identity formation. At Percival's dinner, Bernard comments: "I have been traversing the sunless territory of nonidentity. A strange land. I have heard in my moment of appeasement, in my moment of obliterating satisfaction, the sigh, as it goes in, comes out, of the tide that draws beyond this circle of bright light, this drumming of insensate fury" (116). Rhoda, at the same dinner, states: "and look--the outermost parts of the earth--pale shadows on the utmost horizon, India for instance, rise into our purview. The world that had been shriveled, rounds itself; remote provinces are fetched up out of darkness; we see muddy roads, twisted jungle, swarms of men, and the vulture that feeds on some bloated carcass as within our scope, part of our proud and splendid province, since Percival, riding alone on a flea-bitten mare, advances down a solitary path, has his camp pitched among desolate trees, and sits alone, looking at the enormous mountains" (137). In both musings, these territories of opportunity are described in terms of imperialism and sites of the other which are both inherently feminine and colonial. In this way, identity formation is linked again to the feminine, nationalism and imperial activity. Bernard's comment on the "sunless territory of non-identity" confirms the places of darkness and shadow as outside of pre-conceived identity demarcations, again making it a place filled with possibility for the feminine.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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