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Monstrous Rot: Fearing Food in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’

2 October 2020

Guy Webster, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge

A morning meal appears in the opening pages of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931). Mrs. Constable, we hear, is scraping ‘the fish-scales with a jagged knife on to a chopping board’ for breakfast. All the while, the novel’s key characters are playing outside. Louis, Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda are exploring the English countryside beneath the scent of sizzling fish in ‘ripples above the chimney’.[1]It is not long after this that Susan, having seen Jinny kiss Louis, prepares a meal of her own. ‘I shall eat grass’, she says, ‘and die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted’.[2]A few pages later and Neville overhears the cook speak of a man ‘found with his throat cut’; ‘death among the apple trees’, Neville calls it. Suddenly, the knife wielded by Mrs. Constable at the beginning of the novel is imbued with a macabre relevance. As it were, Neville tells us that the dead man’s ‘jowl was white as a dead codfish’, perhaps not too dissimilar to the fish Mrs. Constable is scraping scales off in those opening pages?[3] Continue reading “Monstrous Rot: Fearing Food in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’”

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