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The Waves Summary

The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, is a novel published in 1931. This novel is divided into nine different sections, which correspond to various parts of the lives of the six main characters: Bernard, Neville, Louis, Jinny, Susan, and Rhoda. The first section of the novel is about the characters' childhoods and time at school. The second section of the novel is about their adolescence. The third section of the novel is about the characters' times as young adults. The fourth section of the novel takes place at a dinner party. The fifth section of the novel discusses the death of a friend of all of the characters. The sixth section of the novel describes the characters as adults. The seventh section of the novel presents the characters as middle-aged. In the eighth section of the novel, the characters meet again as adults. In the final section of the novel, Bernard ponders the lessons that he and his friends have learned in their lives.

All of these characters meet as very young children in a nursery. Each character has his or her own personality, and the reader learns more about how the characters interact with one another through this first section of the novel. When the children go to boarding school, the boys attend one school and the girls another. The boys meet a new character named Percival, who becomes friends with all of the six main characters. Neville especially likes Percival.

As an adult, Susan gets married and has children. Louis, Rhoda, Neville, and Jinny all move to London. Louis is employed at a shipping company. Neville becomes a professor. Jinny becomes a socialite. Bernard moves to Waterloo, but his exact profession is unknown. Percival tells his friends that he is moving to India, and Bernard declares that he is getting married.

Readers learn that the mutual friend who dies is Percival, who falls from his horse while in India. Right around the time Percival dies, Bernard has a son.

The novel ends with Bernard reflecting on his life and the relationships he has made along the way. He tries to decipher his own philosophy of life and comes to the conclusion that his life has had ups and downs but that he will always continue trying.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

After the relaxation of a satiric romp through English literary history in the novel Orlando: A Biography (1928), Woolf began the composition of the most intricate and complex of all her fictional constructions, The Waves. It could be called an “abstract novel” for, like many modern paintings, it is virtually nonrepresentational. Its mirror does not reflect easily recognizable objects or provide familiar images. Dispensing with conventional story line and fully drawn characters, the novel distills human reality and experience. Its six characters are essences without form. The reader has no idea what they look like, how they dress or move or smile. All that is known are their consciousnesses as they contemplate their passage through various stages of life from youth to old age, experiencing various changes as they grow older.

The six characters, who are about the same age and are given no surnames, have grown up together and have continued to keep track of one another as their lives took them in very different directions. Jinny and Susan balance each other as opposites, for Jinny is an urban woman, proud of her body, sensual and passionate with men, while Susan is from the country, where she eventually returns to marry a farmer and rear a family. Neville and Louis also balance as opposites, for Neville is intellectual, homosexual, and assured in the academic world, while Louis, ashamed of his Australian origin, counteracts feelings of inferiority by forcing his way to success in the business world. Rhoda is always a misfit; feeling ugly and alone, she never belongs anywhere and alienation finally drives her to commit suicide. The others continue to exhibit the basic personality traits they acquired as young children and never change internally in any significant way. The child of six remains...

(The entire section is 2,272 words.)