Places: The Waves

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1931

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1920’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Waves, TheWoolf was the child of a prominent family living in a London great house, and for her the city was at the center of civilization, albeit a civilization to which she brought profound questions and challenges. Landmarks such as Lords Cricket Ground, the National Gallery, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and others are iconic places for the establishment that effectively ran the British Empire. These are not discussed in detail, however, because merely mentioning them suffices to evoke associations that contain epochs of historical meaning. Beyond these references, Woolf presents a portrait of a London which is enchanting. Although Mrs. Dalloway (1925) is regarded by many critics as Woolf’s “London novel, the tableaus that recur throughout The Waves offer a rich depiction of a city pulsing with energy.

The flow of life in London’s streets is at the heart of Woolf’s method for developing the moods of the city, which in turn stand for the moods of the English people. There is a blending of judgmental distance and participatory enthusiasm in her descriptions.


*Midlands. Central region of England. Whereas London provides a concrete ground for the narrative, the setting where the characters have reached maturity as adults, the countryside surrounding the city is the region of their origins and often operates as a metaphor for particular emotional states of being. In italicized prefaces to individual sections of the novel, the title motif stands for the passage of time. “Trees wave,” “hay waves,” “the brisk waves” and the like are typical phrases suggesting transition and alteration, while the concept of the garden as a controlled vision of awesome natural forces offers a contrast to the mechanized life of the city.


Elvedon. Semimystical place that Bernard claims he and Susan found in childhood, a magical land of fantasy and possibility glimpsed as a hazy apparition.

BibliographyCaughie, Pamela. Virginia Woolf and Postmodernism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Discusses the artist figure in The Waves, using sources from other recent Woolf criticism to discuss her novel.Hafley, James. The Glass Roof: Virginia Woolf as Novelist. New York: Russell & Russell, 1963. Discusses the “creative modulation of perspective” in The Waves and argues that the novel is a demonstration of the futility of intellectual analysis and the validity of intuitional perception.Kaivola, Karen. All Contraries Confounded: The Lyrical Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, and Marguerite Duras. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. A discussion that focuses on Rhoda’s relations to language and culture in The Waves. Rhoda’s exclusion from language suggests the restricted ways women can participate in culture. She has no place, no identity, nothing is fixed for her. She is equally alienated from her body.Lee, Hermione. The Novels of Virginia Woolf. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1977. Includes a thirty-page chapter analyzing The Waves and comparing its stream-of-consciousness technique with those employed by Marcel Proust and James Joyce. Lee contrasts the lack of social realism in this novel with Woolf’s other novels.Love, Jean O. Worlds in Consciousness: Mythopoetic Thought in the Novels of Virginia Woolf. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Contains a long and detailed analysis of The Waves as a movement from diffusion to differentiation and back. Progressive differentiation of the novel’s symbolism effectively expresses the growth and development of the characters.
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