The Challenge of Description in Woolf's 'The Waves' and Joyce's 'Ulysses'. College

The great aim is accurate, precise and definite description. The first thing is to recognise how extraordinarily difficult this is.’ (T.E. Hulme).

In the works The Waves (1931) and Ulysses (first published in 1922), Woolf and Joyce both use the freedom of form in the Modernist movement to attempt ‘accurate, precise and definite description’ of their characters’ thought processes. The differences between the authors, however, shape how they approach the struggle of empathetically capturing their character’s processes of thought, and how their characters themselves regard the possibility of truly understanding each other’s perspectives. Woolf famously rejected Ulysses from the Hogarth Press and called it ‘underbred’, but she also acknowledged that it was ‘an attempt to get thinking into literature’, which she admired; so in her more experimental novels like The Waves and Mrs Dalloway she engaged with the process of capturing thought but structured them with consistent third-person narration to bridge the gap of easy comprehension for the reader. So in The Waves, Woolf alternates between six perspectives through their entire lifetimes but maintains her lyrical observational writing style throughout and makes it clear for the...

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