Supplanting Shakespeare’s Rising Sons: A Perverse Reading through Woolf’s The Waves

Robin Hackett, Vassar College
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1999), 263-280.

This article offers a perverse reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet VII as an early twentieth-century British feminist and pacifist like Virginia Woolf might read it.  The essay argues that Woolf’s The Waves (1931) encourages its readers to reread the sonnet as a story of imperialism. The essay demonstrates exhaustively why such a reading is warranted by the evidence surrounding and within The Waves. The argument thus returns to the problem of nationhood and shows how Woolf’s novel does the work of pressing readers to evaluate the imperialist and patriarchal force of Shakespeare’s use of a son-sun metaphor. Against Shakespeare’s promise of perpetual eminence for his heroically beautiful addressee, Woolf pursues an antithetical theme of cyclic individuation and reincorporation.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]