Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Woolf 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.