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Charles, M. (2004). The Waves: Tensions between Creativity and Containment in the Life and Writings of Virginia Woolf. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(1):71-97.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(1):71-97

The Waves: Tensions between Creativity and Containment in the Life and Writings of Virginia Woolf

Marilyn Charles, Ph.D.

The line between genius and that edge too far can be a fine one (Charles, 2003). Many creative individuals have struggled to bring their individuality to bear without completely losing touch with their grounding in reality. Some, like Icarus, have flown too close to the flame, whereas others have greatly enriched our lives with treasures mined in travels through their own less conscious regions. Virginia Woolf is one artist who straddled that line, leaving behind a rich legacy through which we can watch an artist struggling both implicitly and explicitly to bring forth her genius without losing hold of her sanity.

For Woolf, the roots of her creativity seem to be inextricably entwined with the roots of her madness. In her diaries (1953), we see her struggling to contain the threats posed by the unconscious without losing touch with the bounty offered there, explicitly depicting the unconscious as the container of important patterns she is trying to understand. In her fiction, these same themes often play as a background melody. They emerge more explicitly as we see her playing out, through her characters, tensions between insanity and creativity and between freedom, containment, and constraint (Charles, in press a). These tensions are perhaps most apparent as we look through the successive revisionings of Woolfs (1931) novel The Waves.

The Waves may be viewed as an attempt to descend into and explore the unconscious and to bring forth its riches into the light through the use of metaphor.

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