The story which he never stops telling himself

'The story which he never stops telling himself': Autobiography, Narrative Community, and the Deconstruction of Selfhood in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

Melodie Roschman (Faculty: Beverly Matiko, English/Journalism)

This paper examines the relationship between narrative, biography, and selfhood as explored in pioneering British author Virginia Woolf's experimental novel The Waves (1931). The novel, which Woolf dubbed a "play-poem" because of its sensual, poetic style and interwoven stream-of-consciousness dramatic monologues, follows the lives of six friends - Bernard, Louis, Neville, Susan, Jinny, and Rhoda - from early childhood till old age and death. I trace the development of aspiring writer Bernard from his childhood habit of telling stories about his companions to his eventual failure to narrate his own autobiography, arguing that he fails not because he is incompetent, but because he does not have a self to narrate. Drawing on Jacques Derrida's theory articulated in Of Grammatology (1974) of the deconstructed self identifiable only in conversation, I argue that Bernard destroys his identity by silencing his friends' voices and becoming the sole speaker in the last section of the text. By articulating a theory of biography that establishes the self as only existent in community, Woolf prefigures major tenets of postmodern philosophy by more than 40 years and creates a self-deconstructing text that declares its own impossibility.