In her article, “Rhoda Submerged: Lesbian Suicide in The Waves,” Annette Oxindine examines Virginia Woolf’s female character Rhoda in terms of silences, invisibility, patriarchy, and lesbianism, and also connects Rhoda back to Judith Shakespeare, who figures in A Room of One’s Own, Woolf’s primary feminist manifesto, and who also commits suicide.
Oxindine begins by explaining that her ideas are drawn from an intense study of The Waves’s various forms: holograph drafts and the published version. In this, Oxindine notes that there are far more allusions (both overt and not) to lesbianism in the holograph drafts than in the published novel. Interestingly, Oxindine recalls Radclyffe Hall’s obscenity trial as well as her own experiences with her friends in the Bloomsbury group that may have caused Woolf to blot out the majority of lesbian inclusions in The Waves. This information is tied closely to Jane Marcus’s “Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own.” As with Marcus’s work, Oxindine discusses the far-reaching effects of patriarchy. Both Marcus and Oxindine find that male homosexuality has been tolerated more so than lesbianism since male homosexuality, in Oxindine’s words, “cemented rather than weakened patriarchy” (218). (This idea is very similar to the argument put forth by Marcus in her article.) Thus, Neville’s homosexual tendencies are much more overt than Rhoda’s in the final, published version of The Waves.
Oxindine examines Rhoda’s textual presence as well as her absence (“white spaces”) in the holographs and the published version of the novel. In this way, Oxindine offers a fairly solid and in-depth look into the strange character of Rhoda. Rhoda’s invisibility, Oxindine argues at one point, can be seen as Rhoda understanding that due to her same-sex desires, she lies outside the periphery of the heterosexual normative, and therefore, outside the “real world,” which is majorly characterized by the homogeneity of heterosexual relationships and desires. This is interesting because the way Oxindine presents this makes it seem as if Rhoda writes herself out of Woolf’s text. This gives Rhoda a power that far exceeds the power of her suicide and the other characters who conform to patriarchal regulations and traditions. This is also intriguing because of the sexual revolutions posited by the Bloomsbury group, which seem to want to explode the heternormative, but in fact, still very much adhere to patriarchal conventions.
Rhoda’s “wild” nature, according to Oxindine, repositions her as a witch, “women, who like Rhoda, do not contribute to, and thereby threaten, the patriarchal economies of production and desire” (219). This, too, is associated with Judith Shakespeare as she is presented in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf, through Judith Shakespeare, shows that sixteenth century women possessing artistic talent suffered from the same issues as twentieth century women, as seen in Rhoda: patriarchy overpowered any woman whose desires lay outside of its parameters and whose artistry was equal or greater than its corruptive burdens.
Oxindine, Annett. “Rhoda Submerged: Lesbian Suicide in The Waves.” Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings. Ed. Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer. NYUP, 1997. 203-221. Print.