The Waves Background

The Waves Background

The Waves is the seventh novel published by Virginia Woolf. By 1931 when the book hit stores, it had undergone a rather significant change from its manuscript form. Woolf started writing this novel with the intention of the title being “The Moths.” She arrived at that title after reading a letter from her sister mentioning the unusually large moths that were starting to show up every evening. Woolf’s intention for novel number seven was something even more abstract and experimental than what she was already known for and those images of the moths stirred something deep in her unconscious mind that drove her to consider them in tandem with her new project upstairs in her conscious mind. When moths had shown up in her work, they carried twin symbolic connotations of creative inspiration and death.

As often happens during the process of writing, the conscious mind either decided to jettison the moths as the central symbol or Woolf was guided by her unconscious drive to see in the image of waves crashing on shore a more intuitive connection to the structure of her attempt to do in literature what had been successfully accomplished in art: non-representational aesthetics. Plot, storylines, character development and most of the elements of writing commonly associated with fiction is purposely absent from The Waves. What is left are nine “interludes” presented in italicized text that present a description of the sun passing across the sky that each introduce one of nine coincident interior monologues by six different characters.

The Waves is widely considered to be Woolf’s masterpiece of Modernism, although it has remained one of the author’s least commercially successful novels since her death. Nevertheless, The Waves was chosen as the 16th greatest British novel of all time in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2015.

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