In Nags Head, N.C., Christopher Hoogstraten ’17 sat bundled in the sand just past six in the morning this March. With other Haverford and Bryn Mawr ultimate players, he watched the luminous east coast sunrise on the final day of a spring break training trip. It was then, after months of grappling with Virginia Woolf’s difficult book The Waves, that he had his “eureka” moment.
“I was struck by the overfullness of the sunrise over the ocean—there was something intense and excessive, downright startling even, about its forceful presence,” said the English major and philosophy minor. “Throughout the long process of honing my drafts, whenever I lost my way amidst all the revisions, jargon, and proper syntax, I urged my mind back to that wonderful flirtation with ecstasy.”
In his thesis, “Life Actually and the Human Undone: Sensation, Ecstasy, and Madness in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves,” Hoogstraten drew from the criticism of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as he closely read the story’s “interludes” that describe vivid seashore landscapes. His analysis led him time and time again to his own oceanic observations. “I find it particularly fitting that my reading of The Waves ultimately flowed from a rapt hour of staring out over the ocean,” he said.
Hoogstraten, who graduated summa cum laude, is grateful for advising from Visiting Assistant Professor of English Benjamin Parris. After teaching English in Chiang Rai, Thailand with the Princeton in Asia fellowship program this upcoming year, he hopes to pursue graduate education in English literature.
What did you learn working on your thesis?
Perhaps most of all, I learned about the difficulties and rewards of pursuing a long-term writing project. Ordinarily, I start off already knowing what I want to say in a paper, whereas with [my] thesis I grew into my argument as I wandered. That meant taking the long road, investing months delving deeper into a thinker that fascinated me and a text that seemed bottomless. It was extremely rewarding to feel my argument grow in stages—leaps, backtracks, and the occasional quagmire. I truly lived with this paper for much of senior year.
What are the implications for your thesis research?
The Waves is woven out of two alternating series. The impersonal “interludes” sections present certain hours of the day within a marvelously alive seashore landscape. Alternating with the interludes, the “monologues” are composed of six voices that soliloquize upon their momentary thoughts and sensations with a strange, self-reflective detachment. Many critics of The Waves tend to overlook the interlude scenes to focus on the monologues and their dramas of human consciousness. I hope my thesis can show that these interludes deserve more attention as an essential rethinking of the complex interrelation between nature, sensation, and consciousness.
—Michael Weber ’19
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.