Characters Louis

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 well.