“The apple tree leaves became fixed in the sky; the moon glared; I was unable to lift my foot up the stair. He was found in the gutter. His jowl was white as a dead codfish. I shall call this stricture, this rigidity, ‘death among the apple trees’ for ever.”
- Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931)
One of the most influential literary figures of the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf is known for her breathtaking prose, her innovative narrative techniques, and her achievement in publishing some of the greatest and most controversial works of her time. A master of the stream-of-consciousness mode, Woolf was concerned not only with the emotional lives of her characters but also their psychological motives. Her novels tend to examine the common and uneventful; she frequently interjects a character’s perception of ordinary sounds or objects into strings of unedited thoughts and memories. Woolf was a prolific writer, but with each new work she sought to develop or challenge the last.
The Waves, with its unconventional structure and plot, has been described as a novel, a prose-poem, or, as Woolf called it, a “playpoem.” The narrative follows the thoughts and perceptions of six characters, charting their experiences from childhood through adulthood. No one point of view is privileged; instead, an array of perspectives is set against a backdrop of the sea. The novel examines the notion of individual consciousness alongside the ways in which multiple consciousnesses weave together: a seventh character, the flawed hero of the six, dies midway through the novel on an imperialist mission in colonial India, but we are never given this figure’s perspective, instead learning about him through details provided by the others. The structure of the novel also challenges the concept of uniform time: the story of the six characters’ entire lives (in roman print) is told in a single day, signaled by the rising and setting of the sun (described to the reader in italic print).
As the reader experiences the characters’ perceptions, external and familiar clues are meant to provide context. The images, usually common objects that suddenly appear strange to the perceiver – like the apple tree in the passage above – tend to recur throughout Woolf’s oeuvre (the collective body of work by an author). In a short autobiographical piece written late in her career, Woolf describes hearing of a suicide as a child by using the same apple-tree imagery she invokes in The Waves: “The next thing I remember is being in the garden at night and walking on the path by the apple tree. It seemed to me that the apple tree was connected with the horror of Mr. Valpy’s suicide. I could not pass it… My body seemed paralyzed.”
Pamela J. Transue argues that the apple tree, with its silvered, dead-looking bark, serves as the objective correlative (an object that evokes emotion) for the horror of death. In both Woolf’s autobiography and in The Waves, the speaker is paralyzed and momentarily unable to pass the tree. The tree symbolizes death and mortality but the image also preserves the memory: Woolf, like Neville, the character who encounters the tree in The Waves, will use the image to recall the scene in order to come to terms with it. These “moments of being,” specific moments that are preserved and become a focal point for future memories, demonstrate the imagination’s power to create associations between the outside world and our inner consciousness.
Woolf’s novels can be difficult to work through, but, as I’ve often had to tell my students, with great challenge comes great reward.
There are three main types of tart crust: pâte brisée (“broken”), pâte sucrée (“sweet”), and pâte sablée (“sandy”). The crusts are differentiated by the method of incorporating the butter and the type of liquid used in the dough. This French apple tart uses a pâte sucrée dough, which is pressed into the tart pan and then “blind baked” (i.e. baked without the filling). To make the tart, an applesauce mixture is spread into the crust and slivers of apples – I used Braeburn – are layered on top in concentric circles to create the “rose” effect. Once the tart is baked, powdered sugar is sprinkled on the apples; the tart is then placed under the broiler in order to brown the edges of the apple-petals. When taken from the oven, an apricot (or in my case, peach rum) glaze is brushed over the apples to make the tart “shine.” The recipe I used can be found here, adapted from this.
I’m not going to lie: this tart is time consuming, and the rose-pattern requires patience and precision. But, as I’ve often had to tell myself, with great challenge comes great reward.