The order of a smashed window-pane: novel Elegy in Woolf's The Waves.
As Woolf indicates in The Waves, the emphasis on order in English public school and university education seeps into the form of the elegy, so that there, too, order reigns supreme. Her parade of schoolboys, who "march, two by two ... orderly, processional, into chapel," ties the schoolyard to the battlefield, a connection that calls into question the place of order and control in the elegiac tradition (Woolf 2006,23). Woolf scholars have uncovered in her fiction a nuanced critique of traditional elegiac consolation--in which the dead are replaced with poetry--and have used her work as a catalyst for reconsidering the means by which consolation comes about and the form that it takes. The reading of The Waves in this essay, however, shifts the discussion of modern elegy from aesthetic and psychological concerns to cultural and political ones, as Woolf uses the novel to trace a link between the organization of elite institutions and the modern elegist's control over representations of the dead. In exposing that link, Woolf reclaims the elegiac enterprise for literature of her own devising: that which relies on the echoes of other voices in the elegy's long history but remains at odds with the cultural emphasis on order and control that has so limited elegy's scope. Woolf's exploration of order is political, ethical, and generic, as she rewrites the terms of the genre to make visible the mourners and subjects that traditional elegy erases.
Elegiac inheritance, reduced to order
By putting elegy into the mouth of a male character, Bernard, Woolf minimizes the risk of being taken for a writer of sentimental literature, the literary domain into which female writers were frequently shunted. Bernard's elegy is shaped by a public school and university education Woolf could only know secondhand, but her place at the margin of formal English education affords her a clear view of the ways in which the form and content of elegy developed out of its close association with England's prestigious educational institutions. It is a context that both nurtures and limits elegy's role in literary discourse.
What became known as the Bloomsbury Group began as a gathering of Thoby Stephen's Cambridge friends, at which his sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, were often quiet observers. As Leonard Woolf remembers of the group: "Our roots and the roots of our friendship were in the University of Cambridge. Of the 13 persons ... three are women and ten men; of the ten men nine had been at Cambridge, and all of us, except Roger [Fry], had been more or less contemporaries at Trinity and King's" (1964, 23). The Cambridge ties separated the men from the women until Thoby Stephen's death provided another kind of bond across gender lines. When he died, Virginia Woolf attempted to acquire a written record of him from the friends who knew him best; (2) Quentin Bell, Woolf's nephew and biographer, surmises, "That unknown part of Thoby was important to her partly ... [for] an amused yet resentful curiosity about the privileged masculine society of Cambridge" (1972, 117). Critics tend to identify Thoby, Virginia Woolf's favorite brother, as the inspiration for the character Percival in The Waves, (3) but he makes a far more significant contribution to her work by kindling her interest in elegiac literature more generally. Just as Thoby's absence drew together the men and women of the Bloomsbury Group, his death might be regarded as the catalyst for Woolf's study of the elegy and its ties to elite education in England.
Most of the male members of the Bloomsbury Group were also members of the Apostles, the famous Cambridge society, which has a particularly strong history of elegiac work. (4) In his major study of the elegiac tradition, Peter Sacks observes that it was through the work of two young Apostles that Shelley's "Adonais" was published in England: "Despite his unpopularity in England, Shelley impressed them and their intellectual club, The Apostles, as having been one of the greatest poets of the preceding decades, and the club was soon to defend this estimate in a debate against the Oxford admirers of Wordsworth" (1985,166). In turn, one of those two Shelley admirers, Arthur Hallarn, became the subject of Tennyson's In Memoriam when Hallarn died at the age of twenty-two.
The Apostles' ties to elegy extend into Woolf's own era. In 1931, the same year that The Waves was published, the Apostle and Bloomsbury Group member Desmond MacCarthy produced Portraits, which includes a prose elegy to J. K. Stephen, Virginia Woolf's cousin. In Portraits, MacCarthy proposes that Stephen replace Thomas Gray, the poet best known for his "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," as the school bard of Eton. MacCarthy argues that "the Byron group had their Matthews ... the Tennyson group, their Hallarn" and that "J. K. S. belongs to those dim, romantic figures, who have loomed much greater in intimacy than in performance" (1949, 254). It is Stephen's lack of an established public persona that makes him so useful as an elegiac figure, since MacCarthy can dwell on youth and Eton, rather than limit himself to Stephen's particular character. Woolf could not have missed how MacCarthy's elegy hollows out the figure who is ostensibly at the center of elegiac attention, much less how grounding elegy in the schoolyard excludes those who, like Woolf herself, could not take part in such experiences. When MacCarthy argues that Stephen be crowned Eton's poet, he does so on grounds that "when he wrote about the school, he recalled the scenes and places which already rose in our minds in absence, places we knew would be some day remembered more poignantly" (251). Like Percival of The Waves, whom Bernard uses to recall the schoolboy days in which his own talents promised much, MacCarthy, who is often seen as a model for Bernard, uses Stephen as a portal to the time and place of boyish camaraderie. (5)
In Three Guineas, Woolf calls on women to make the most of their "outsider" position by keeping themselves free from "unreal loyalties" such as the "pride of nationality," followed by "college pride, school pride," and so on (1966, 80). The link between school and nation makes her criticism of the elegy, a genre so closely tied to the institutions of English education, a highly political one even without overt references to the recent war. Although MacCarthy's elegy inclines to nostalgia, Woolf uses the public school setting of The Waves to acknowledge the contemporary association of the public school with the efforts of the First World War. Contemporary readers of both MacCarthy's and Woolf's work would have been all too aware of the public schools' propensity to "melt the boys down and run them all out of the same mould like bullets," which tied the schools irrevocably to both the glory and the horror of wartime (Parker 1987, 17). Although the deaths in The Waves are not, as in Jacob's Room, explicidy tied to the First World War, Woolf's invocation of elegy in The Waves provides an equally powerful and pointed criticism of the costs of a culture so deeply driven by school pride and national feeling. Creeds such as the one John Galsworthy penned both echo and supersede public professions of religious faith: "I believe that we have made the country, and shall keep the country what it is. And I believe in the Public Schools, especially the Public School I was at" (quoted in Parker 1987, 19). If the modern elegy has distanced itself from the religious transcendence that marked elegies of earlier times, Woolf is also eager to separate it from the public school ideals that take religion's place.
The cultural associations among religion, public school, patriotism, and the war led, as one would expect, to great pressure on elegists of Woolf's time to recuperate losses. Their work needed to attest that, as E. B. Osborne wrote, "the youth we have lost in these dread years has not perished in vain" (quoted in Parker 1987, 24). At the same time, as Melissa Zeiger notes, "elegiac pastoralism has been increasingly implicated in the political deception that led to World War I" (1997,14). Jahan Ramazani has done the most in recent scholarship to develop a sense of the modern elegy, revising and building on Sacks's classic psychoanalytic study of traditional elegy. Extending the study of elegy to the literature of the twentieth century, Ramazani characterizes the modern elegist as performing an act of mourning that encompasses not only the individual dead or even unenumerated war casualties but also "the diminished efficacy and legitimacy of poetic mourning." As a result, Ramazani argues, "the genre develops by feeding off a multitude of new deaths, including the body of its own traditions" (1994, 8). It is this ravenous modern elegy that Woolf lets loose in The Waves, as Bernard moves capriciously from the death of his friend to the losses of the other mourners and on to his own artistic failures. Mourning becomes indiscriminate. But Woolf's critique of elegy moves beyond the modern elegy's appetite for loss. In unfolding Bernard's elegy within her novel, Woolf does not suggest that modern elegy is aesthetically inadequate for representing mourning, the line that many war poets took and upon which Ramazani's argument rests. Nor is it defined in terms of health and pathology, success and failure, as Sacks argues, leaning on Freud's analysis of mourning and melancholia. Louis Fradenburg, speaking for many feminist scholars of elegy, writes, "When 'health' is defined as submission to the rule of law, a subjection for which we are to be compensated by figures that transcend mortality and individuality, then we need a political reading of the elegy, of theories of the elegy, and of elegiac theory" (quoted in Zeiger 1997, 4). Building on Fradenburg, Zeiger argues that "the need for political consciousness in this arena becomes even more apparent when criteria of success and failure are invoked: of 'successful' mourning in the first place, but then of cultural 'success' as its reward and counterpart" (4). By indicating that elegy is structured on the ideology of order and control that flourishes in public school and prepares officers for war, Woolf suggests that the writers who seem the most obvious sources for the modern elegy--well-educated and well-connected young men--perhaps offer only a form of elegy too politically compromised to render an adequate mourning.
Disengaging elegy from its traditional ideological trappings, even as she remains reluctant to abandon its possibilities, Woolf refashions the elegy for modern use. This led to a combination of critical and creative work similar to that of the early drafts of The Pargiters, which she began shortly after finishing The Waves, and which was later published as two separate works, Three Guineas and The Years. The Waves offers a similarly double focus: Woolf criticizes the elegy as an instrument of Bernard's narrative and social control, but then, with Jinny and Rhoda, sets forth alternative strategies for elegiac work. Even as it frames the writing of elegy as an extension of the male characters' experience of order and authority, Woolf's novel plays with the terms of that order. The more experimental elements of The Waves, like replacing a narrator with six speaking characters, help Woolf to disrupt the conventional character hierarchies of the novel form.
The characters of The Waves divide neatly along gender lines: three boys, three girls. While they are children, the six share games and fears, speaking in voices that weave seamlessly together. Woolf excludes the characters' families and other friends, as well as much of their cultural milieu, and in this regard it is an insular book. Woolf's characters are left to lay claim to their own roles, each manifesting a different system of organization and hierarchy based on different educational backgrounds. In a novel with so little contextual information, the differences in the children's education loom large, a fact that has not garnered sufficient critical attention. Woolf's method draws attention to the way order and control, first in the educational institutions and then in the characters' adult perspectives, emerge as a stifling component of contemporary mourning. Halfway through the novel Percival dies, an event that gives shape to the seemingly endless succession of character monologues and underscores the elegist's role as an organizing agent, carving narrative out of the mess of ordinary life. But Woolf's attention to elegy starts further back, in the educational differences that prompt male elegists to see the world in terms of the form and content of classical texts. By showing early signs of how educational differences generate identifications with different systems of order, Woolf charts not only her characters' lives from childhood to death, but also a sea change in the culture at large, as the Edwardian public school commitment to order and social function comes up against the chaotic disruptions of postwar life.
Through their education, the male characters are given the means with which to order the world, seeing it in terms of the books on which they were raised. Even if Neville's desire for order contrasts with Bernards "Byronic untidiness," the worldview of both is grounded in the texts of their public school and university days (W64). When the "ceremony" of leaving his family for school is over, Neville notes that "a noble Roman air hangs over these austere quadrangles," and Louis observes, "I like the orderly progress" (20, 21,23). All three regard their education as a means of coming into their cultural inheritance, and it is clear that they will take that legacy with them when they leave school. As Louis intones, "Life will divide us. But we have formed certain ties. Our boyish, our irresponsible years are over. But we have forged certain links. Above all, we have inherited traditions" (41). The female characters, by contrast, have no such institutional framework on which to map their world, and their monologues thus sound a counterpoint to those of the male characters. Although Rhoda, Jinny, and Susan do attend a school for girls, they cannot identify with its structures: Rhoda says, "Here I am nobody. I have no face. This great company, all dressed in brown serge, has robbed me of my identity" (22); Susan tears the days off the calendar as they pass, hating that "they have made all the days of June ... shiny and orderly, with gongs, with lessons, with orders to wash, to change, to eat" (28); and even Jinny protests the ugly frocks, anticipating the day when she "shall leave school and wear long skirts" (38). For each of them, school is to be merely endured, and when they move on it leaves little impression.
As the speaker who begins seven of the nine sections of The Waves, Bernard's prominence in the text is difficult to ignore. His preoccupation with design keeps readers' attention focused on the relationship between language and order in the novel:
I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found that story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories? ... why impose my arbitrary design? Why stress this and shape that and twist up little figures like the toys men sell in trays in the street? Why select this, out of all that,--one detail? (W136-37)
In his prominence and perpetual focus on storytelling, Bernard is a complex authorial vessel, infusing the novel with a particular sensitivity to issues of narrative control. It is the other male characters who tie their identity directly to their education. When Neville feels that his worth is challenged, he turns to books: "I am merely 'Neville' to you, who see the narrow limits of my life and the line it cannot pass. But to myself I am immeasurable. ... I detect, I perceive. Beneath my eyes opens--a book; I see to the bottom; the heart--I see to the depths" (157). And yet these sentiments form a sharp contrast to Neville's concerns just prior to this section, as he nervously feels for "my credentials--what I carry to prove my superiority." Neville's sense of identity wavers between the piece of paper that he carries and his faith in his acuity. Neither stands up to Susan's fierce stare, leaving Neville to ask, "What then remains, when I cannot pull out my papers and make you believe by reading aloud my credentials that I have passed?" (155).
As the male characters venture into life beyond the quadrangle, they still see through the lens of their education even when it no longer seems apt. Confronted with the bustle and clatter of customers and waitresses in an eating house, Louis is moved to some of the most poetic speech he utters anywhere in the novel, yet he is unable to sustain a connection to this riotous scene, and he brandishes his classicist credentials:
I will reduce you to order.... What the dead poet said, you have forgotten. And I cannot translate it to you so that its binding power ropes you in, and makes it clear to you that you are aimless; and the rhythm is cheap and worthless.... I will not submit to this aimless passing of billycock hats and Homburg hats and all the plumed and variegated head-dresses of women.... I will reduce you to order. (W67-68)
Although Louis initially characterizes the scene as one of "perpetual disorder" that he will "reduce" to order, later he acknowledges, "I feel, too, the rhythm of the eating house. It is like a waltz tune, eddying in and out, round and round" (67). The shifting terms of Louis's assessment reflect his need not only to find order everywhere but also to find one in which he plays a central role. Because he feels "I am not included" in the eating house waltz, he positions himself as "the companion of Plato, of Virgil," determined to reshape the system to fit his needs (68). To locate himself in the world he must reduce what he sees according to the terms he learned in school.
One of the most significant challenges for modern elegists, Ramazani argues, is "the impossibility of preserving a pristine space apart, of grieving for the dead amid the speed and pressure of modern life" (1994, 14). In Woolf's novel, the flat repetition of Louis's insistence that he "will reduce you to order" contrasts unfavorably with the eating-house crowds that "dive and plunge like guillemots whose feathers are slippery with oil" (67). In this contrast, the writer who elsewhere calls for a room of one's own challenges the need for "a pristine space apart" for the modern writer. Insisting on books and order, Louis struggles, instituting an order that places him at the center, rather than allowing himself to be a player in the fluid scene.
Flattering illusion and the central figure of The Waves
Without the guidance of a narrator or even what Molly Hite (2010) calls "tonal cues," Woolf's readers have few resources with which to gauge the narrative's relationship to the male characters' systems of order. Her approach here is decidedly un-Victorian. In Middlemarch, when George Eliot describes a character's system of order, the interpretive cue is clear:
An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass of extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a center of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent--of Miss Vincy, for example. (1998, 248)
Eliot's description of egoism calls to mind Louis's experience in the eating house in The Waves, as he strives to replace the chaotic hustle and bustle with a scene of instruction that would place him at the center, as translator and sage. But where Eliot's narrator steps between the philosopher and her reader to critique her character, Woolf's character himself reveals criticism of his own perspective. Louis gives voice to his own feelings of inadequacy and exclusion, undermining his central role even as he attempts to lay claim to it. His is a fantasy of class-based hierarchies and schoolboy schemes of order that appears entirely inadequate to the world of modern urban life.
Not all systems of order that place an individual at the center are suspect, however. Susan's depiction of Jinny's entering a restaurant echoes Eliot's pier-glass description, but without the moralizing at the end: '"There is Jinny,' said Susan. 'She stands in the door. Everything seems stayed. The waiter stops. The diners at the table by the door look. She seems to center everything; round her tables, lines of doors, windows, ceilings, ray themselves, like rays round the star in the middle of a smashed window-pane. She brings things to a point, to order'" (W 87). Jinny's body is an instrument, the center for a system that relies not on imposition but on attraction. As she recalls the scene later: "When I came in just now everything stood still in a pattern.... I can imagine nothing beyond the circle cast by my body. My body goes before me, like a lantern down a dark lane, bringing one thing after another out of darkness into a ring of light. I dazzle you; I make you believe that this is all" (93). In neither Susan's description nor Jinny's own narration do we see in Jinny the self-doubt that plagues Louis in the eating house, and yet she maintains a measure of distance from the scene that would stave off accusations of egoism like those of Eliot's period. She seems to see herself from the outside, handing off agency to "my body" and what it achieves as it "goes before" her. Like Susan, she remains an observer in the scene, in striking contrast to the central role that the male characters desire to play: author, translator, professor, agent of empire.
If in Jinny, Woolf offers a tantalizing figure for order, the image is nonetheless one of violence: Jinny is at the center of the smashed windowpane, the point of impact. As such, the order she provides remains temporary: "Beauty must be broken daily to remain beautiful," she observes (W126). When she reappears later in the novel, a glass once again brings everything to a halt for her, if in a less pleasing way. Standing in the Tube station, she catches a surprising sight of herself in a looking glass: "How solitary, how shrunk, how aged!" She regains her confidence by thinking of "the superb omnibuses, red and yellow, stopping and starting, punctually in order. "When her own power to create order fails, that is, she turns to the order of modern city life: the omnibuses, cars, and men and women form a "triumphant procession; this is the army of victory with banners and brass eagles and heads crowned with laurel-leaves won in battle" (141). Woolf here deftly links fashion, urban life, and military victory in indicating what can be achieved--and lost--by valuing control above all else. To occupy the scene at the center of the restaurant only Jinny's own powers are required, but here she leans on signs of British order and progress to maintain a sense of control, making use of the very systems that inspired in Louis both a sense of exclusion and a desire for mastery. She is not, then, a figure for an order that endures, but that is precisely the point. Jinny presents an ephemeral order, counter to the order of the schoolyard founded on enduring traditions.
Such ephemeral order is more fully figured by Percival himself Though he does not speak, his presence is felt by each of the narrators: "He flicks his hand to the back of his neck.... Dalton, Jones, Edgar and Bateman flick their hands to the backs of their necks likewise. But they do not succeed" (W 24). And this presence imposes an order and calm upon those around him. Although the six speaking characters regularly vie with one another to distinguish themselves, Percival's presence imposes a calm upon their otherwise mercurial relations. As Bernard wittily observes: "The little boys trooped after him across the playing-fields. They blew their noses as he blew his nose, but unsuccessfully, for he is Percival.... We who yelped like jackals biting at each other's heels now assume the sober and confident air of soldiers in the presence of their captain" (89). Bernard likens them to "eager birds" that now "love each other and believe in our own endurance." Percival's presence thus offers a security and a stability of identity for those around him that surpasses anything they can create on their own.
But Percival's position is itself unstable. He slides easily into the novel and then out again, leaving a yearning for his presence, but no certainty about what qualities, precisely, one yearns for. Since Percival does not speak, the others are free to interpret him as they choose: "His blue, and oddly inexpressive eyes, are fixed with pagan indifference upon the pillar opposite. He would make an admirable churchwarden. He should have a birch and beat little boys for misdemeanours. He is allied with the Latin phrases on the memorial brasses. He sees nothing; he hears nothing. He is remote from us all in a pagan universe" (W 24). For Neville, Percival bridges the gap between the modern world, in which he feels so insecure, and the world of his books: history and literature, Greek and Latin. Aligned with the Latin phrases on memorial brasses, he can breathe new life into the schoolboy language Neville and Louis have abandoned in favor of contracts and credentials. Such uses of Percival deny what R. Clifton Spargo identifies as one of elegy's chief ethical possibilities. Acknowledging the "unrealistic" aspects of mourning (nothing the mourner does can aid the person who is dead), Spargo also asks: "Might not the mourner's wishful revisioning of the past, through which she unrealistically sustains relationship, also signify profoundly an ethical openness to the other? Or more specifically, to put this idea in mourning's own terms, how does a vulnerability to the other, an imaginative proximity to her suffering and death, also define what it means to be ethical?" (2004, 9). Indeed, Spargo explores a range of ethical implications in the process of mourning, including the tendency to idealize the dead to counteract the elegist's own "sense of vulnerability, which results from being in relation to that which is absolutely other and therefore impossible to desire" (130). In Woolf's novel, however, the other characters' idealizations of Percival veer into self-interested exploitation. As with Desmond MacCarthy's celebration of that "dim, romantic" figure J. K. Stephen, Percival remains a blank canvas on which, according to the other characters' needs, might be painted Percival the churchwarden, or the pagan, or anything at all.
In shaping Percival's presence in the novel, Bernard's words are predominant. Repeatedly, he figures Percival's narrative role in spatial terms: "He sat there in the centre. Now I go to that spot no longer. The place is empty" (W110). Doing so makes it easier for Bernard to maintain Percival's place in the narrative schema well after Percival dies from a fall while in India. In his final speech, audaciously beginning "now to sum up," Bernard asks us to enter into the "illusion ... that something adheres for a moment, has roundness, weight, depth, is completed" (176). This illusion is the order that Percival created while still alive, and that Bernard now revives for his own purposes. Throughout his elegy, Bernard maintains Percival's place at the center of attention, positioning himself as one of the many mourners who surround the absent Percival, a positioning that informs the ambiguities about identity that proliferate in Bernard's final speech: "When I meet an unknown person, and try to break off, here at this table, what I call 'my life,' it is no one life that I look back upon; I am not one person; I am many people; I do not altogether know who I am---Jinny, Susan, Neville, Rhoda, or Louis: or how to distinguish my life from theirs" (205). A few pages later he repeats the ambiguity in gendered terms: "For this is not one life; nor do I always know if I am man or woman, Bernard or Neville, Louis, Susan, Jinny or Rhoda--so strange is the contact of one with another" (208). As Percival's elegist, Bernard speaks not only for
the dead but also for the other figures who surround Percival, calling on elegiac convention to unify the otherwise divided set of voices as he claims a position as the chief mourner.
Describing a long-standing tradition of uniting mourning and competition, Peter Sacks writes: "The connection between mourning and inheritance has remained a close one throughout history. Most interesting for any reader of the elegy is the fact that in Greece the right to mourn was from earliest times legally connected to the right to inherit ... the heir apparent must demonstrate a greater strength or proximity to the dead than any rival may claim, but he must also wrest his inheritance from the dead" (1985, 37). In claiming the role of Percival's chief mourner, Bernard gains the opportunity to speak for both his former rival and for the novel's five other mourning characters. But though Bernard claims their narrative space in the novel, he does not use his expanded role to give voice to their mourning. Instead, his monologue returns again and again to his own interests. Bernard's concluding elegy, that is, unifies the novel at the cost of the other mourners' voices, silencing the heteroglossic mourning that filled the earlier pages of the The Waves. Where the ethical question inherent in literary mourning, as a single speaker seizes the opportunity to speak for a community of mourners, remains outside the consideration of traditional elegy and critical discussions of it, it emerges as important in Woolf's novel. By shifting the elegizing voice from a lyric "I" to a cast of characters of whom Bernard is merely the most prominent, Woolf casts the elegy as a literary form that is far from a universal cry of mourning.
Studies of the elegy offer insight into the negotiations involving material and poetic legacy at play in the act of mourning, but they do little to address the jockeying among peers that takes place before a winner can claim a place in the poetic tradition. Much of the conversation in elegy and elegiac study concerns relations among generations of poets, a continuous line through history, rather than a group of peers, as in Woolf's novel. In placing her elegy within the context of a novel, she draws on that form's heteroglossic tradition even as, in her essays and diaries, she envisions a prose that would appropriate the lyricism of poetry. In the essay "Poetry, Fiction, and the Future" (1927), better known as "The Narrow Bridge of Art," she writes:
We may guess that we are going in the direction of prose and that in ten or fifteen years' time prose will be used for purposes for which prose has never been used before. That cannibal, the novel, which has devoured so many forms of art will by then have devoured even more.... And it is possible that there will be among the so-called novels one which we shall scarcely know how to christen. It will be written in prose, but in prose which has many of the characteristics of poetry. It will have something of the exaltation of poetry, but much of the ordinariness of prose. It will be dramatic, and yet not a play.... What is important is that this book which we see on the horizon may serve to express some of those feelings which seem at the moment to be balked by poetry pure and simple and to find the drama equally inhospitable to them. (1986-2012, 4:434-35)
Woolfs literary prognostication here doubles as a catalog of genres more hospitable to the writing she is already producing. (6) Indeed, one year later she calls The Waves her "playpoem" (1977-84, 3:203).
If Woolf sees poetry as "balked" before the modern world, it might seem that elegy, as part of the poetic world, has been left behind by modern writing. But in the same essay Woolf makes clear that she has not fully abandoned it: "But can prose ... chant the elegy?.... I think not. This is the penalty it pays for having dispensed with the incantation and the mystery, with rhyme and metre.... one has always a feeling of discomfort in the presence of the purple patch of the prose poem. The objection to the purple patch, however, is not that it is purple but that it is a patch" (1986-2012, 4:436-37). The catch at the end, the objection to the patch rather than to the purple, indicates Woolf s way forward: The Waves is her attempt to indulge mystery and incantation on a grand scale. Although Woolf's wondering, in her 1925 diary entry, whether or not to call her work "elegy" appears to be casual speculation, by 1931, with the publication of The Waves, she has made elegy the backbone of her work. But the form of her elegy draws heavily on the novel tradition. Indeed, a consideration of theories of the novel makes visible the extent of her critique of the elegy and the shape of her proposed alternative--especially as she dramatizes the silencing of the five voices as Bernard takes advantage of the traditional elegist's monopoly on mourning.
Alex Woloch's recent theory of character concerns the realist novel of the nineteenth century, but his approach seems germane also to Woolf. Woloch makes the case that: "narrative meaning takes shape in the dynamic flux of attention and neglect toward the various characters who are locked within the same story but have radically different positions within the narrative ... with so many narratives, this arrangement of characters is structured around the relationship between one central individual who dominates the story and a host of subordinate figures who jostle for, and within, the limited space that remains" (2003, 2) Woloch's title, The One vs. the Many, captures the tension between the novel's narrative focus on a single protagonist and the attention allotted to a host of minor characters. He explores what he calls "character-space," the "intersection of an implied human personality ... with the definitely circumscribed form of a narrative," and "character-system," the arrangement of character-spaces into a unified narrative (13,14). Woloch's system illuminates the competition of speakers in The Waves--as each maneuvers for narrative space within the novel's limits--and it clarifies the relationship between each character's significance in the novel and the amount of space he or she is given to speak. Bernard fancies himself the lead mourner, and in speaking first in so many section of The Waves, eventually taking over the entire final section, his sense of his own importance is to some degree validated.
Woloch analyzes a number of narratives in which the temporary, disorienting absence of the protagonist triggers surprising fluctuations in narrative attention. In the Iliad, Woloch connects Achilles's temporary departure to the sudden emergence of a "disruptive" minor character, a sweeping vision of soldiers and ships en masse, and a carefully defined group of elite soldiers who preserve the narrative space during Achilles's absence. These vacillations in narrative scope and attention are, Woloch argues, a creative burst that can occur only in Achilles's absence. In the absence of a central focus, in other words, the narrative eye wanders. In Bernard, Woolf creates a character who seizes on such opportunity. Indeed, although Woloch explores a range of scenarios in classical and nineteenth-century literature, in none of them does a character so methodically, or so comprehensively, eliminate competitors for discursive space as does Bernard in The Waves. Woolf's exploration of heteroglossic mourning, then, arrives not in bold assertion but rather in dramatizing its absence in the elegiac tradition. In moving toward a heteroglossic elegy she refuses the narrative of heroic victory and succession that marks so many traditional elegies, not to mention public accounts of the First World War. Instead, the significance of the other mourners' voices emerges through their absence at the end of her novel, and in the hollowness of Bernard's ventriloquism as he claims to speak for them.
"Because people s eyes are on us"
But why, one wonders, is Bernard's control over the narrative figured as so elaborately relying on Percival's shadow to create order? Why would Bernard not strike out with a more aggressive approach, one that would place him unquestionably at the center of the novel? He does, after all, seem invigorated by attention: "I need eyes on me to draw out these frills and furbelows. To be myself (I note) I need the illumination of other people's eyes, and therefore cannot be entirely sure what is my self" (W 83). It appears, then, that there must be something in the central position that drives him toward a peripheral one, where he is shielded from observation. Although Woolf allows Bernard's elegy to subsume those of the other characters, she makes it clear that even he, a public school product, glib and opportunistic, reflects the changes brought on by the war.
Most of Woolf's characters share a preference for shadow. Although he is intelligent, Louis hides his knowledge of Latin from the others: "I do not wish to come to the top and live in the light of this great clock" (W 12). Even Jinny, elsewhere so radiant in others' attention, desires a place "out of this sun, into this shadow" (6). In the novel's opening scene, the characters, as children, play hide-and-seek, and each is dismayed when found. As he hides from the others, Louis says: "But they cannot see me.... Oh, Lord, let them pass ... let me be unseen.... Now something pink passes the eyehole. Now an eyebeam is slid through the chink. Its beam strikes me. I am a boy in a grey flannel suit. She has found me.... All is shattered" (6-7). Woolf's characters continue to play a version of hide-and-seek well into adulthood. If seen, they must position something between themselves and the rest of the world. Jinny insists on placing her body between herself and the public; she merely follows it. Bernard cries, "I must make phrases and phrases and so interpose something hard between myself and the stare of housemaids, the stare of clocks, staring faces, indifferent faces" (20).
When Jinny "brings things to a point," like "the star in the middle of a smashed window-pane," and Louis is found and "all is shattered," ones hears echoes of Woolf's description of the modern age as one of "smashing and crashing," "the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction" as old literary forms are thrown out (FL87; 1986-2012, 3:433-34). The obvious source for this violent imagery is the war. In his 1915 essay "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death," Sigmund Freud writes of "disappointment" in the wartime abandonment of civilization but then notes that there is a sense of betrayal only because one has invested in structures that have been exposed as illusions: "We must not complain, then, if now and again they come into collision with some portion of reality, and are shattered against it" (1963, 280). Woolf echoes this image in her critique of postwar novels that treat only prewar society. As Hermione Lee notes, Woolf felt that such works were "reflecting a world which 'the war had done nothing to change'; but those mirrors had been 'smashed to pieces'" (1997, 372).
The smashing and crashing of the modern age, with its echoes of the war, is also a figure for the new ways in which character will take shape in the modern novel. Toni Morrison, whose 1955 masters thesis on Woolf and Faulkner suggests a long-standing familiarity with Woolf's work, later describes character creation in terms of fragmented pieces: "That's not much, I know: half-closed eyes, an absence of hostility, skin powdered in lilac dust. But it was more than enough to evoke a character--in fact, any more detail would have prevented (for me) the emergence of a fictional character at all" (1996, 214). Playing on "remember" and "re-member," Morrison writes of turning "pieces" of memory into "parts": "I then tried to distinguish between a piece and a part--in the sense that a piece of a human body is different from a part of a human body" (216). But she never fully reconstitutes the body that forms the center of her narrative; only in being shattered or dismembered can the character prove useful in holding together the narrative. Similarly, in The Waves, Bernard announces, "It is the shattering and piecing together--this is the daily battle, defeat or victory, the absorbing pursuit" (200). Anticipating Morrison, the speakers of Woolf's novel select particular traits of Percival's in making him the center of their story, fragmenting him for their own purposes. In dramatizing the act of memorializing, then, Woolf makes evident how much of storytelling relies on the splintering of an individual. The fragment is extracted, mused over, remembered and relived, and the integrity of the individual is sacrificed for the birth of the story.
To the standard images of modernist fracture, Woolf adds the hide-and-seek of those in the war's aftermath. Bernard's desire for a peripheral role speaks to the contemporary associations of a central position with the violence of the war. His elegy thus complicates the novelistic tradition that Woloch outlines, as for Bernard the central role is useful as a point of access to the other characters and their voices, rather than in defining him as the sole protagonist. A figure on the margins, he would yet speak for the rest, and it is in this turn outward, an egoism most evident when he purports to be most altruistic, that a more complex, but equally terrifying, vision of order emerges for postwar society.
For Woolf, a character is interesting only when it shows itself out of the limelight. In a 1937 letter, she observed, "I think action generally unreal. Its the thing we do in the dark that is more real; the thing we do because people's eyes are on us seems to me histrionic, small boyish" (1975-80, 6:122). Yet her characters' desire to avoid the fragmentation of the central position competes with a desire for attention, an acknowledgment of the pull of those prewar ideals. Woolf does not, that is, simply dismiss the nostalgic allure of the public schools, of poetry, and all of the other institutions of prewar life; rather, she leaves room for such things, engaging them critically through the characters' competing dialogues. Where the war poets often abruptly and brutally reject elegy, Woolf allows its elements to retain their centrality, even as she inscribes in her text the costs of such ideals and points to alternative perspectives. The reinvented elegiac novel thus depends not on the traditional hero or protagonist but on the storyteller on the periphery of the central character's influence. As Bernard's desire for attention is mitigated by his need to preserve Percival's central position, Woolf reflects the changes wrought by the war. The hole left by Percival goes unfilled. In refusing to identify a successor for Percival, Woolf marks a rift in the tradition of elegiac succession, one that profoundly alters the structure of elegy and of novel form.
Woolf had fought rigidly defined character in Jacob's Room, nine years earlier, but in The Waves--tied less explicitly to the First World War--she more thoroughly explores its effects on literature of mourning. It is not only fear that keeps Bernard from claiming the central position, for the position of the chief mourner had grown in significance. In turning attention from the hero to the one who speaks for the dead, Woolf casts a critical eye on that newly powerful voice. If the elegist might be criticized for skewing toward the conventional military hero for his choice of subject, so, too, he might come under fire for his own immersion in the conventionality of institutional education. For conventionality, as in military training, is a trait prized by public schools: "In some ways the [war] training was a hideous parody of a public-school upbringing, in which the individual became subservient to and subsumed by the institution.... They were stripped of their possessions, separated from their families and forced into a communal existence from which privacy was totally eliminated" (Parker 1987, 37). Such restrictions parallel those that Woolf herself imposes on her characters in The Waves, though of course, unlike the public school and military model, her experiment includes women.
Woolf's little language
"Mourning has been women's work since at least classical antiquity," as Zeiger notes, yet Ramazani observes that for women participation in the elegiac tradition has been particularly fraught: "For them, the genre was doubly problematic in gender terms--'masculine' as an elite literary form yet 'feminine' as a popular cultural form and simulation of mourning" (1997, 12; 1994, 21). The highly allusive elegiac tradition, learned in school, enabled men to articulate their grief in writing; women traditionally manifested mourning in their person (dress, posture, emotional expression) and in writing that was frequently dismissed as sentimental. A woman wanting to write an elegy, then, had to resist mere sentimentalism.
Although the majority of The Waves is constituted by Bernard's elegy, Woolf also offers the beginnings of an alternative elegy, using the novel's scope to suggest abler subjects and speakers of elegiac lament. Her attempt to show life beyond the public school of Percival and the male narrators of The Waves reflects what Woloch describes as the effect of changing social norms on literary structure: "As the logic of social inclusiveness becomes increasingly central to the novel's form ... the novel gets infused with an awareness of its potential to shift the narrative focus away from an established center, toward minor characters" (2003, 19). This shift, as he argues, makes readers aware of the narrative's construction, the "generative tension between story and discourse" (40). Because Rhoda's narrative position in The Waves is so circumscribed, she is of particular interest as an elegiac figure, both speaker and subject. This illuminates why, while feminist scholarship has criticized women's exclusion from traditional elegy, Woolf's contribution to the field, as both critic and writer, largely reproduces the marginalization of which the feminist critics complain. (7) Woolf works with and through the elegiac tradition, even as she suggests ways a female elegist could offer elegy without the emphasis on order that has become suspect in the years following the war.
Just as Bernard's elegy is an inadequate substitute for the five other characters' voices in the novel's final section, so, too, Percival's ill fit as an elegiac subject sends the reader looking for a better one. Unlike many traditional figures of elegy, Percival is not a burgeoning poet. Bernard describes him as "conventional; he is a hero" (W 88). It is Rhoda, so steeped in Shelley, who is associated with poetry, but she dies with little fanfare. If, as Rhoda suggests, Percival expands their world by bringing India into view, she herself "looks far away over our heads, beyond India" (100). As Bernard's elegiac attention is absorbed not by Rhoda's death but by Percival's, Woolf contextualizes elegiac form in relation to issues of gender and to changing evaluations of the nature of youths who need elegizing. Although it may seem more natural to compare Percival to his fellow schoolmates, the male characters in The Waves, his role in the novel emerges more sharply in the subtle comparisons Woolf draws between Percival and Rhoda, who also dies but is not elegized, and Jinny, who exudes a similar charisma but whose power fades with her beauty. After all, that great elegiac trope, the sun, is present in the interludes of The Waves, but only in the figure of a woman.
Unlike Neville and Bernard, who identify themselves as writers, Rhoda never claims to be a poet, but if Shelley is the most-quoted writer in The Waves (Hite 2006, xli), Rhoda is especially associated with his work and is the only female character who uses allusions with anything like the frequency of her male counterparts. Classical references do litter The Waves, but that the Romantics appear most frequently suggests that one should look for a poet, rather than a hero, for elegizing. Rhoda's literary education, however, appears to come largely from her own reading rather than, as with the men, from formal education, and from library books, rather than her own. (8) Although Woolf reconsidered her early plans to make Rhoda a writer of fiction (Two Holograph Drafts), her revision was not a retrenchment. Rhoda's writerly role in the published version of The Waves is more amorphous, but no less significant, than in the early drafts. In an early section of the published novel, just after Bernard weaves his first story, Rhoda sits with a basin full of white petals and water, a prophetic image with which her character is allied for the remainder of the novel:
I will drop a stone in and see bubbles rise from the depths of the sea.... I have a short time alone, while Miss Hudson spreads our copy-books on the schoolroom table. I have a short space of freedom.... And I will now rock the brown basin from side to side so that my ships may ride the waves. Some will founder. Some will dash themselves against the cliffs. One sails alone. That is my ship. It sails into icy caverns where the sea-bear barks and stalactites swing green chains. The waves rise; their crests curl; look at the lights on the mastheads. They have scattered, they have foundered, all except my ship which mounts the wave and sweeps before the gale and reaches the islands where the parrots chatters and the creepers ... (W 11; last ellipsis in original)
Over the course of the novel Rhoda builds on this early image. When Percival dies, she characterizes him as "like a stone fallen into a pond round which minnows swarm. Like minnows, we who had been shooting this way, that way, all shot round him when he came. Like minnows, conscious of the presence of a great stone, we undulate and eddy contentedly" (99). Here and elsewhere the image of a wave offsets the novel's recurrent web imagery--from the lines on Louis's trade maps to Neville's net of scholarly discernment (127,157)--especially the elegiac web with which Bernard attempts to "sum up" all that came before (176).
Bernard's closing soliloquy, ending with his calling on the heroic Percival to defend him against death, is followed by "The waves broke on the shore" an italicized line tied to the nine italicized interludes prefacing each section of the novel, but also recalling Rhoda's basin and the ships she rocks to and fro (W 220). Perhaps the marginalization of her death, relative to Percival's, is reflected not only in the limitations of Bernard's imagination but also in Rhoda's. Percival serves, like a dropped stone, as a locus of attention for a moment, leaving Rhoda to sail off alone while the others founder in the wake of his loss. The image of her play with the basin of white petals, appearing so early in the novel, is easily overshadowed by Bernard's energetic story-weaving, but it suggests that she holds the world in which the others move, and perhaps that her solitude is a sign of her victory, even if it is only for "a short time," within "a short space of freedom" (11). That victory stands in marked contrast to the rest of her experience: "Alone, I rock my basins; I am mistress of my fleet of ships. But here, twisting the tassels of this brocaded curtain in my hostess's window, I am broken into separate pieces; I am no longer one" (76). Rhoda's feeling fragmented when she is out in society recalls the novel's other images of fracture, indicating her awareness of the risks of remaining a player in such a world. And it ties her too, both to Jinny, that figure of the point of impact, and to Louis's game of hide-and-seek.
Rhoda's character is particularly intriguing because, despite the allusions to Shelley, she does not at any point seem to write poetry, or even to speak in the recognizable cadences of a poet. Instead, she looks beyond familiar poetic language, expressing what Woolf calls the "feelings which seem at the moment to be balked by poetry," perhaps in response to the speaker of Shelley's Epipsychidion, who acknowledges that the "winged words" with which he elevates his subject beyond worldly concerns are also "chains of lead around its flight of fire" (2003, 528). Speaking to the rending she experiences in public, however, Rhoda does refashion descriptions of the body in artistic terms. In describing herself as a girl with "no face," she conjures Vanessa Bell's paintings of faceless subjects, exploring the boundaries between one artistic medium and another (W 22, 88). (9) Similarly, finding herself "broken into separate pieces" at a social function, she regains composure by reimagining the room full of "tongues that cut me like knives" and "faces rid of features, robed in beauty" (77).
Declining Bernard's and Neville's monumentalizing impulses, in elegizing Percival Rhoda gives herself over to the clarity of sight that such moments provide, in what might be seen as a rewriting of Clarissa Dalloway's similar moment at the end of Mrs. Dalloway. As her mourning leads her to describe orchestra members as taking a "square" and placing it "upon the oblong," Rhoda makes the music visual, just as she made the individual abstract by insisting on facelessness. She strives beyond the known words to do justice to the "gift" of the shock of Percival's death, even as the faded violets she carries indicate she knows the futility of such a gesture (W 118). This struggle with the limitations of language, set against Bernard's desire for phrase-making, highlights Rhoda's potential as a modernist poet. Her alternative elegy looks beyond order and control, revealing an imaginative freedom that contrasts pointedly with Bernard's self-conscious efforts. If, as Spargo suggests, a key ethical aspect of elegy involves "our desire to spare ourselves the perceived lack of control over what happens" to the dead, it is Rhoda, not Bernard, who grapples with elegy's ethical challenge (2004, 3).
Rhodas claim to only momentary narrative authority is a political as well as an aesthetic one, since it challenges the educational paradigms that break along gendered lines. She emerges as a figure of education, but not of dominance; she lays claim to books, but only borrowed ones. Like Jinny, she is hard to place in relation to the social institutions that shape the poetic elegy. Even Louis, hypersensitive to class divisions, cannot readily classify either of them: "Susan's father is a clergyman. Rhoda has no father. Bernard and Neville are the sons of gentlemen. Jinny lives with her grandmother in London" (W 12). He equates fathers and social position, but Jinny and Rhoda are unmarked by the social legacy of their fathers, which, given the elegy's ties to issues of inheritance, makes them intriguing candidates for alternative elegiac voices. Both female characters thus suggest an alternative to the traditions of male education that dominate The Waves, one that values flexibility and the embrace of new forms over established ones. When, in Three Guineas, Woolf imagines an ideal university for women, she instructs, "It must be built not of carved stone and stained glass, but of some cheap, easily combustible material which does not hoard dust and perpetuate traditions" (1966, 143). Even the architecture must speak to the university's commitment to the needs of the moment.
Zeiger tellingly observes that women elegists do not, "in critiquing a monumental tradition, produce a monumental countertradition. Cumulatively, instead, they make a difference to the way the tropes of the mainstream elegiac tradition are amplified, redeployed, and read" (1997, 82). Indeed, Woolf's alternative elegists lean more heavily on the elegiac tradition than do conventional elegists. Bernard and other traditional elegists seek to supplant their predecessors' work with a new fixed order, while Rhoda and others seek only to supplement it. The desire for a central role is superseded by a loftier ambition, that of elegy created from an entire community of mourners who offer fragmented, even fleeting, elegiac contributions. Entering the restaurant, Jinny offers a shining figure for order but then the control dissolves, immobility giving way to ripples of movement that Jinny transfers to those around her. Similarly, for Rhoda, there is no through line: "I cannot make one moment merge in the next. To me they are all violent, all separate; and if I fall under the shock of the leap of the moment you will be on me, tearing me to pieces. I have no end in view. I do not know how to run minute to minute and hour to hour, solving them by some natural force until they make the whole and indivisible mass that you call life" (W 94). Rhoda's experience of each moment as an individual shock stands in contrast to Bernard's historian impulse. In this, it exemplifies what Ramazani sees as "the modern elegy at its best": it is "not a timeless sanctuary, immune to historical change; rather, its rough and ravaged contours indicate the social realities it must withstand" (1994, 14).
Although Bernard claims "to long for some little language such as lovers use, broken words, inarticulate words," the design that he eventually weaves is one that is much grander in both drama and duration, part of his plan for "some final statement" (W 176, 138). Where Jinny and Rhoda create and observe "events," Bernards elegy relies on a single major event--that of Percival's death--and a narrative of mourning that unfolds from that point onward (138). Woolf's critique of Bernard extends to a more general modern fixation on the single event to explain all else. Critiquing Bernard's elegy, Woolf also suggests a reframing of history, subtly detaching it from the event, particularly the First World War, and allowing a greater variety of voices to add to the history. At a time when many of her contemporaries were rejecting the elegy and its cultural baggage, Woolf seems interested in reclaiming the form, shifting the aesthetic ground of elegy to resist the ideological uses of order. Her novel keeps the characters' voices at play with one another, demonstrating that, as Woloch reminds us, novels are not simply filled with hierarchies of characters whose roles precisely match their social position and narrative exposure, but rather the relationships among characters' narrative space, plot function, and social position are continually renegotiated as a novel unfolds. Woloch formulates his important notion in relation to narrative space in the nineteenth-century novel, and to the history of the novel more generally, but it also helps us compare the differences in narrative distribution between genres, a comparison that brings to the foreground the ethical as well as the aesthetic resonance of Woolf's negotiations between the elegy and the novel.
Perhaps most important, Woloch illuminates how fiction can enlarge the role of socially marginalized figures by granting them greater narrative space. The children's hide-and-seek at the beginning of The Waves offers a new model for characterizations of the modernist novel, pointing beyond the smashing and fracturing called to mind by events of the historical period, to a critical exploration of the dynamics at play among the survivors. Woolf's hide-and-seek thus speaks to the kinds of negotiations at the center of Woloch's study of character: with no central figure, her new novelistic elegy challenges the traditional appropriation of the dead to memorialize public institutions or solidify existing social roles. And her elegy makes room for new mourners who, declining to shoulder the full burden of representing the dead, instead offer a fleeting contribution to the chorus of mourners whose varied stories and styles better reflect the multiplicity of ways in which the dead are remembered.
Through the elegy, Bernard preserves what Jinny calls "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" (W105). But where Jinny asks only to hold that globe for "a moment," Bernard wants to fix that moment, to suspend what he calls "the swelling and splendid moment created by us from Percival.... We have proved ... that we can add to the treasury of moments.... We are creators. We too have made something that will join the innumerable congregations of past time. We too ... stride not into chaos, but into a world that our own force can subjugate and make part of the illumined and everlasting road" (106). In Bernards hands, it is the artifice of the elegy, rather than the grief it articulates, that emerges as the genre's most prominent feature. In Woolf's critical rendering of the traditional elegy, the losses she conveys are surprising ones: the disappearance of the individual, rewritten into a suitable elegiac subject; the sudden silencing of the other mourners when the elegist seizes his chance; and the neglected opportunities for recognizing marginal characters whose elegiac qualities suggest great potential. Even as Bernard gallops toward the conclusion, Woolf's careful orchestration leaves the reader wondering after the Jinnys and Rhodas whom tradition left behind.
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Clewell, Tammy. 2004. "Consolation Refused: Virginia Woolf, the Great War, and Modernist Mourning." Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 1:197-223.
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Freud, Sigmund. 1963. "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14, translated by James Strachey, 273-300. London: Hogarth.
Froula, Christine. 2002. "Mrs. Dalloway's Post-war Elegy:Women, War, and the Art of Mourning." Modernism/Modernity 9, no. 1: 125-63.
Hite, Molly. 2006. Introduction to The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, xxxv--lxvii. Orlando: Harcourt.
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Schenck, Celeste. 1986. "Feminism and Deconstruction: Re-constructing the Elegy." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 5, no. 1:13-27.
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(1.) The growing body of work on Woolf and elegy includes Alex Zwerdling's Jacob's Room: Woolf's Satiric Elegy" (1981), which earned a response from Karen Smythe, "Virginia Woolf's Elegiac Enterprise" (1992). See also Low 2003; Froula 2002; Clewell 2004; and Bradshaw 2002.
(2.) In attempting this, in Quentin Bell's account, "she addressed herself to Lytton Strachey who, after a year, had to confess that he found the task too difficult. Clive refused it also and she talked to Saxon Sydney-Turner, who applied to Leonard Woolf in Ceylon, but he too was unable to help" (1972, 117).
(3.) Upon writing the last words of the novel on February 7, 1931, Woolf considers dedicating the book to her deceased brother, but then refrains: "I must record, heaven be praised, the end of The Waves.... I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears, thinking of Thoby & if I could write Stephen 1881-1906 on the first page. I suppose not" (1977-84, 4:10). It was, however, something she had allowed herself upon finishing Jacob's Room, nine years earlier.
(4.) Though Thoby Stephen was not an Apostle, his and Virginia's uncle was: James Fitzjames Stephen, father of J. K. Stephen (Bell 1972, 8). Leonard Woolf also noticed the strong Apostle presence in the Bloomsbury Group: "Of the ten men of Old Bloomsbury only Clive, Adrian and Duncan were not Apostles" (1964, 24).
(5.) In "Britannia Rules the Waves," Jane Marcus argues that J. K. Stephen may be as much in the background of The Waves as Thoby Stephen, given the former's early death after a fall from a horse, the same fate that Percival encounters in Woolf's novel (1992,137). Marcus focuses on Stephen as a man of violence elegized as a hero, which perpetuates the imperial myths of England (142).
(6.) In Woolf's description of the novel as a "cannibal," one hears a precursor to Mikhail Bakhtins Epic and Novel (1941): the novel "sparks the renovation of all other genres, it infects them with its spirit of process and inconclusiveness. It draws them ineluctably into its orbit precisely because this orbit coincides with the basic direction of the development of literature as a whole" (1981, 7). It may also be useful to tie Woolf's description of the cannibalistic novel to Ramazani's characterization of modern elegy's appetite, as it seeks loss indiscriminately.
(7.) See in particular Celeste Schenck's essay "Feminism and Deconstruction" (1986), which opens with an allusion to The Waves. "The female elegist would be likely to agree with Bernard ... that 'nothing that has been said meets our case,'" claims Schenck, finding that "women poets from the first refuse or rework the central symbolisms and procedures of elegy mainly ... because the genre itself excludes the feminine from its perimeter except as muse principle or attendant nymph" (1986, 13). Although one could argue whether what Woolf does in The Waves constitutes an embrace or a reworking of traditional elegiac tropes, it should be clear from the earlier sections of the present essay that drawing on Bernard's language to characterize the female elegist's plight has its dangers.
(8.) Early feminist scholars of elegy claimed that women's elegies were set against those of male elegists, derived of different motivations and drawing on different sources, but recent feminist scholars, including Zeiger, have argued that some female elegists are very much in conversation with the male elegiac tradition (Zeiger 1997, 63).
(9.) Molly Hite observes that among Bell's paintings of faceless subjects is a famous one of Virginia Woolf. She also notes that the abstracted human figures of Rhoda's fantasies bear some resemblance to paintings by Vanessa Bell" (2006, 245).
Erin Kay Penner is assistant professor of American literature at Asbury University. She received her doctorate in English from Cornell University, where she began what is now a book manuscript titled "Woolf, Faulkner, and the Character of Mourning. " She has published on elegy, Faulkner, Woolf, and the pedagogy of difficult literature, and she collaborates on the DigitalYoknapatawpha project at the University of Virginia. Before joining the faculty at Asbury, she undertook a Postdoctoral Visiting Research Fellowship at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, where she began a new book project on African American literature of mourning ranging from W. E. B. DuBois to Toni Morrison.
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|Title Annotation:||Virginia Woolf|
|Author:||Penner, Erin Kay|
|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2015|
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