Virginia Woolf's writing has had a lengthy relationship with water, or what could be labelled as ocean imagery. This post will examine the significance of water in relation to Woolf's work.
The title of this piece is taken from a 'Florence and The Machine' song of the same name, written by Florence Welch. Welch has surveyed the significance of water to Woolf. She cites Woolf's work as one of the main influences for this song.
What the Water Gave Me- Performed by Florence and The Machine.
"The ocean seems to me to be natures great overwhelmer. ...... "It's about water in all forms and all bodies. It's about a lot of things; Virginia Woolf creeps into it, and of course Frida Kahlo, whose painfully beautiful painting gave me the title." ( Florence Welch, Digital Spy)
The water can be analysed as a powerhouse for influence. Perhaps what the water gave to Woolf was an outlet for a new form of the novel. Many of Woolf's allusions to water or to the beach profess a change or a loss within the realm of the novel. She can be argued as adapting the novel to Modernism, in the way that water adapts to its surroundings.
Woolf clearly toys with this idea in her final novel Between the Acts. She mocks the 'traditional' novel form, which she suggests provides outdated and unimaginative representations of society. This is visible in William Dodge's observation of Isa and Giles' relationship, which was "as people say in novels 'strained' "(Between the Acts, 973).
The water of Woolf's work is all encompassing. It seems to engulf the majority of her writing, whether the setting is London, as in Mrs Dalloway, or the beach in Cornwall from Jacob's childhood in Jacob's Room. "The waves" in the water of Jacob's Room "showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive, expecting the whip" (Jacob's Room, 13). One could argue that this uneasiness centers around both the character and the form employed in the novel.
"It,(Jacob's Room), was Immediately hailed as a radically innovative text that broke with tradition and established the groundwork for a new kind of fiction: in its nonlinear modernity it was likened to a portfolio rather than a novel" (Francesca Kazan, 701).
Obviously this post cannot examine all of the references to water in Woolf's substantial collection of writing. However, from what has been discussed thus far, the water can be viewed as the creative process, which changes with the mood of her work, much like water does in reality, when it is disturbed or there is a change in the weather. It acts as a signifier for Woolf's uneasiness with what she was creating, yet at other times it provides a joyous sense of achievement with the unification of her ideal for a new type of fiction.
Therefore, 'what the water gave' Virginia Woolf was a podium upon which to calculate a distinct form of writing.The water of Virginia Woolf's writing offers an analogy for the struggle to create something new. When the "wave has broken", Woolf worries that something new may not be allowed to form. This is seen in Between the Acts, her last work.
"Dispersed are we, Isabella followed her humming. All is over. The wave has broken. Left us stranded, high and dry"(Between the Acts, 968-9).
Conceivably, the water was Woolf's attempt to open her work up to criticism, about the changing shape of its writing. There is a fearful voice inherent in the water imagery of whether Woolf has succeeded in changing the mould of fiction, or whether her work is drowning in its own failure.
Frida Kahlo: 'What the Water Gave Me'
As I progress in my MA in Digital Humanities, I am beginning to realise that if I am to achieve something from this degree it has to come from the marriage of my own interests with this movement. As I struggle to create an idea for my thesis, I have increasingly turned to my old favourites, such as Woolf and Djuna Barnes, to garner some inspiration. They created new landscapes of literature in the Modernist period which I am attempting to undertake in Digital Humanities. Ultimately, I want my thesis to be a representation of the creation of a new embodiment of writing, in quite the same way that these authors did in their own time.
Corner, Lewis. "Florence and the Machine debut new track: What the Water Gave me." Digital Spy. Hachette fillipaci Media. 31 Jan. 2012. http://www.digitalspy.ie/music/news/a336706/florence--the-machine-debut-new-track-what-the-water-gave-me-video.html. Web.
Kazan,Francesca. "Description and the Pictorial in Jacob's Room." ELH, 55:3 (1988). 701-719. http://0-www.jstor.org.library.ucc.ie/stable/2873190. Web.
Woolf, Virginia. The Selected Works of Virginia Woolf. London: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2007. Print.