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Louis’s deepest sense of himself is that he does not fit in. Embarrassed
as a child by his Australian accent and by his poorer background, Louis becomes
an ambitious striver, eager to make his mark and to shed his status as an
outsider. He becomes keenly aware of social distinctions and is drawn to Rhoda
from the beginning, seeing her as a fellow misfit. At school, Louis discovers
poetry and sees the tradition of literature as a kind of society open to those
with enough genius and drive to gain admittance. From that point, his ambitions
include becoming a great poet. But Louis does not go to college along with
Neville and Bernard. Instead, he takes a job with a shipping firm in London, and
from that time on, he leads a sort of double life. As he sits in a greasy-spoon
diner, Louis’s attention is split between the book of poems he reads and the
gossiping crowd around him. Later, he rises in the company and become a
distinguished businessman, while still retaining his poetic ambition and his
attraction to the seamy side of life.
Louis wants to unify the ideal realm of poetry with the hurly-burly of
daily life—his idea of a poetic image is a mangy cat rubbing its side against a
chimney. What Louis hopes to do by writing poems about such things is to reveal
the permanent existence beneath the random flow of ordinary events. Louis’s
project is somewhere between Jinny’s (submerging the self in life’s flow,
without imposing concepts on it) and Neville’s (living a life of artistic
isolation from everyday life). Woolf seems to be sympathetic to this plan, which
has a certain resemblance to her own, but it remains unclear how well Louis is
able to realize it. He seems compromised by his materialistic desire for success
in business and his attraction to the tawdry. Louis and Rhoda become lovers for
a time, but Louis is unable to forge a lasting connection there as
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Waves!