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  • Heteroglossia, Monologism, and Fascism:Bernard Reads The Waves
  • Gabrielle McIntire (bio)

These are different voices singing variously on a single theme. This is indeed 'multivoicedness,' exposing the diversity of life and the great complexity of human experience. 'Everything in life is counterpoint, that is, opposition,' said one of Dostoevsky's favorite composers, Mikhail Glinka, in his Notes.

Leonid Grossman, c. 1925, qtd. in Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, 42.

Let us try to drag up into consciousness the subconscious Hitlerism that holds us down. It is the desire for aggression; the desire to dominate and enslave.

Virginia Woolf, "Thoughts of Peace in an Air Raid," 1940.

You know that sudden rush of wings, that exclamation, carol and confusion; the riot and babble of voices; and all the drops are sparkling, trembling, as if the garden were a splintered mosaic, vanishing, twinkling; not yet formed into one whole; and a bird sings close to the window. I heard those songs. I followed those phantoms.

Bernard in Virginia Woolf's The Waves, 1931, 247.

When the six characters of Virginia Woolf's 1931 novel, The Waves, meet for the last time, Neville suddenly says, "'I am beginning to be convinced, as we walk, that the fate of Europe is of immense importance'" (195). We have heard very little directly about the "fate of Europe" so far in this text, even though Woolf alludes frequently [End Page 29] to armies, processions, and instruments of war, and her own pacifist and anti-fascist political commitments were becoming increasingly clear in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In A Room of One's Own (1929), we find her lambasting Mussolini for his misogyny, and drawing a pointed and complicated connection between imperial desires, the oppression of women, and fascist rule. A Room of One's Own immediately precedes the publication of The Waves, and Woolf was engrossed in composing the novel while she was drafting her polemical treatise. The Waves indeed finds itself at a significant historical juncture: in 1931, when The Waves was published, England and Europe were retrospectively at what historians like A.J.P. Taylor have called a "watershed" mark between the two World Wars (Lee ix). Mussolini had gained power in Italy in 1922, by the late 1920s fascist societies were springing up in England as well, and in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor in Germany. To counter this sway to the right, Woolf herself joined an anti-fascist league in the early 1930s, she made frequent epistolary references critical of Hitler, and she was worried enough by fascist politics that in February 1935 she declared she was "plagued by the sudden wish to write an Anti fascist Pamphlet" (Diary, 1931-35 282). That "pamphlet" may have been realized three years later as the 150-page anti-war, feminist polemic Three Guineas (1938), but her desire to announce and expose the dangers of fascism also found its way into her earlier fiction.1

We might read The Waves as paradigmatic of Woolf's later polemical writing, although Woolf accomplishes her critique here at subtler levels of metaphor and analogy. While Woolf never actually names fascism in the novel, the ways in which she represents the group's ambivalent awe for a quasi-mystical confraternity, the characters' alternating fascination and abhorrence for order and authority, the group's hero-worship of Percival, and what I will examine as the quasi-monologic arrest of Bernard's closing soliloquy, all point to a sustained meditation on the nearness of fascist rhetoric and sentiment to the politics and rhetoric of everyday English life. Indeed, part of Woolf's determination to counter fascism involved diagnosing its nearness to home, and its nefarious presence not simply on the outside of British politics, but within the fabric, territory, and linguistic dispositions of the crumbling British Empire. Invoking a Hegelian master-slave dialectic in which the slave is as implicated as the master in repeated scenes of contested power, she insists in "Thoughts of Peace in an Air Raid" that "Hitlers are bred by slaves" (174). Furthermore, calling upon democratic tropes of "freedom," she argues that until the English themselves are "free" from aggressive desires over...


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