Monday, April 15, 2013

How I Came to Enter The Waves

When I started reading The Waves, after two or three pages I stopped, looked up then back down at the pages, and then I began to flip forward, seeking out the break in this stylistic intensity, a break in the dialogue form which was not to be found. So this is the "masterpiece," I thought to myself. Thirty pages in I am beginning to understand the beauty of this book, withholding judgement I had previously not felt like witholding. I have found the first gem of the genius of The Waves. Woolf has succeeded in recreating what I thought had become inaccessible; she has recreated the enormity of which a child thinks, and feels, everything. I would imagine it is different for every reader, but I found it in Rhoda, in a section of her dialogue which inspired me to write "autism?" in the margins beside this moment:

"That is my face," said Rhoda, "in the looking-glass behind Susan's shoulder--that face is my face. But I will duck behind her to hide it, for I am not here. I have no face. Other people ave faces; Susan and Jinny have faces; they are here. Their world is the real world. The things they lift are heavy. They say Yes, they say No; whereas I shift and change and am seen through in a second. If they meet a housemaid she looks at them without laughing. But she laughs at me. They know what to say if spoken to. They laugh really; they get angry really; while I have to look first and do what other people do when they have done it" (29).

I won't copy the whole rest of the texts, but here are the lines that struck me from the proceeding chunk of dialogue:

"They have things to say privately in corners. But I attach myself only to names and faces; and hoard them like amulets against disaster" (30).

And..."Therefore I hate looking-glasses which show me my real face. Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness, I have to bang my hand against some hard door to call myself back to the body" (30).

Rhoda's section of dialogue here was extremely, darkly reminiscent for me. And then I realized this was a familiar feeling, not just Rhoda's, but the feeling I have reached at this moment in The Waves. It is precisely the feeling, the moment of connection I reached while reading James Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As you may or may not know, Joyce writes from early childhood, into the culmination of his journey to become an artist. At first, I had difficulty connecting with the text, largely because not only does the journey start so young, but Joyce writes from the voice of the age about which he is writing. Although my first instinct was to say that Woolf was giving a much more sophisticated voice than the age of the children at the beginning of this book, but now I realize, although she uses metaphors and beautiful imagery to create the dialogue of young children, the pattern (or lack their of) of scattered, frantic, emotional yet inaccessible is what evokes their age, and not the words themselves. The dialogue, the voices, therefore became relatable when the pattern of Rhoda's thoughts (in this case) were familiar to me, although she is still much younger, she is no longer as young a child as she was in the first section.

I believe this is a triumph, and the fact that Woolf could write, as a mature women, as earnest voices of children, is masterful, penetrating, and at times quite scary. My prediction is that I will relate more to these characters, as their emotions and thoughts mature and she continues to represent and capture the emotions of a young person as they grow so incredibly aptly.

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