Friday, November 8, 2013

Optics in Virginia Woolf's "The Waves": Tyndall Scattering?

Virginia Woolf: A Biography
Virginia Woolf: A Biography
QUESTION

Dear professor Sugon, My name is Pavle P., I am a Phd student from the Philological faculty of Belgrade, Currently, I am working on a paper that deals with the image of water in the novel written by Virginia Woolf. As there are some points fairly out of my field expertise(surprisingly enough, it touched upon the topics of optics and ) I would ask you a couple of questions (if you don’t mind, of course)..These are some points that give me some period of hard time:
The sun rose. Bars of yellow and green fell on the shore, gilding the ribs of the eaten-out boat and making the sea-holly and its mailed leaves gleam blue as steel. Light almost pierced the thin swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach. The girl who had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks of fire in them, dance, now bared her brows and with wide-opened eyes drove a straight pathway over the waves. Their quivering mackerel sparkling was darkened; they massed themselves; their green hollows deepened and darkened and might be traversed by shoals of wandering fish. As they splashed and drew back they left a black rim of twigs and cork on the shore and straws and sticks of wood, as if some light shallop had foundered and burst its sides and the sailor had swum to land and bounded up the cliff and left his frail cargo to be washed ashore.
To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse
What I am most interested about is the image embedded in the quoted description:
Light almost pierced the thin swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach. 
What is hidden behind the word "pierced"? Of course, I am well aware this might be best taken as poetic licence, but, this being quite similar to a minute and precise description, I would like to what are physical , optical implication of this phenomena?ray vectors + wave vectors so that in such setting the metaphor "pierced" is highly description tending to be rather precise. However, intuition is suggesting to me that the third element "the eye of the observer" should well be taken into consideration. The thing I have no clue for such setting - only that seems to be near the truth is that in another position the wave motion might seem to flow in parallel with the light rays. In the metaphor "pierced" they seem to be vertical or slantidicular on the wave movements.

I would be very glad if you could give me any sort of suggestion.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf
The Waves
RESPONSE

Dear Pavle,

Your question intrigued me.  When I passed by a book sale at my university on the same day you asked the question, I saw a book by Virginia Woolf: "To the Lighthouse".  I bought the book and browsed through it.  Sadly, I could not find the quote.  I guess it is in another book.  I typed the key phrases of your query in Google and found another book by Virginia Woolf in Project Gutenberg: The Waves (1931).

In order to understand the physics of the phrase "light almost pierced the thin swift waves," I checked out all the possible occurrences of "pierce" in Woolf's book.  Here they are:

  • I imagine these nameless, these immaculate people, watching me from behind bushes. I leap high to excite their admiration. At night, in bed, I excite their complete wonder.I often die pierced with arrows to win their tears. 
  • The sun rose. Bars of yellow and green fell on the shore, gilding the ribs of the eaten-out boat and making the sea-holly and its mailed leaves gleam blue as steel. Light almost pierced the thin swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach. The girl who had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks of fire in them, dance, now bared her brows and with wide-opened eyes drove a straight pathway over the waves. 
  • But I am fixed here to listen. An immense pressure is on me. I cannot move without dislodging the weight of centuries. A million arrows pierce me. Scorn and ridicule pierce me. 
  • Now I hear crash and rending of boughs and the crack of antlers as if the beasts of the forest were all hunting, all rearing high and plunging down among the thorns. One has pierced me. One is driven deep within me.
  • 'Percival was flowering with green leaves and was laid in the earth with all his branches still sighing in the summer wind. Rhoda, with whom I shared silence when the others spoke, she who hung back and turned aside when the herd assembled and galloped with orderly, sleek backs over the rich pastures, has gone now like the desert heat. When the sun blisters the roofs of the city I think of her; when the dry leaves patter to the ground; when the old men come with pointed sticks and pierce little bits of paper as we pierced her--
  • Beach and Sunset - 24"W x 15"H - Peel and Stick Wall Decal by Wallmonkeys
    Beach and Sunset - 24"W x 15"H - Peel and Stick Wall Decal by Wallmonkeys

    The sun was sinking. The hard stone of the day was cracked and light poured through its splinters. Red and gold shot through the waves, in rapid running arrows, feathered with darkness. Erratically rays of light flashed and wandered, like signals from sunken islands, or darts shot through laurel groves by shameless, laughing boys. But the waves, as they neared the shore, were robbed of light, and fell in one long concussion, like a wall falling, a wall of grey stone, unpierced by any chink of light.
  • 'In the beginning, there was the nursery, with windows opening on to a garden, and beyond that the sea. I saw something brighten--no doubt the brass handle of a cupboard. Then Mrs Constable raised the sponge above her head, squeezed it, and out shot, right, left, all down the spine, arrows of sensation. And so, as long as we draw breath, for the rest of time, if we knock against a chair, a table, or a woman, we are pierced with arrows of sensation--if we walk in a garden, if we drink this wine.
  • "But I no longer rise at dawn," she said. Then Jinny--entertaining, no doubt, some new young man. They reached the crisis of the usual conversation. The room would be darkened; chairs arranged. For she still sought the moment. Without illusions, hard and clear as crystal, she rode at the day with her breast bared. She let its spikes pierce her. When the lock whitened on her forehead she twisted it fearlessly among the rest. So when they come to bury her nothing will be out of order.
(13x19) Sodoma (St. Sebastian and Madonna with Saints) Art Poster Print
(13x19) Sodoma (St. Sebastian and Madonna with Saints) Art Poster Print

In all these quotes, it appears that the image Woolf has in mind is St. Sebastian:
Saint Sebastian (died c. 288) was an early Christian saint and martyr. It is said that he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he criticized Diocletian in person and as a result was clubbed to death.[1] He is venerated in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. (Wikipedia)
We may filter out only those quotes that pertain to optics of light-water interaction, so that we are only left with two quotes:
  • The sun rose. Bars of yellow and green fell on the shore, gilding the ribs of the eaten-out boat and making the sea-holly and its mailed leaves gleam blue as steel. Light almost pierced the thin swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach. The girl who had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks of fire in them, dance, now bared her brows and with wide-opened eyes drove a straight pathway over the waves.
  • The sun was sinking. The hard stone of the day was cracked and light poured through its splinters. Red and gold shot through the waves, in rapid running arrows, feathered with darkness. Erratically rays of light flashed and wandered, like signals from sunken islands, or darts shot through laurel groves by shameless, laughing boys. But the waves, as they neared the shore, were robbed of light, and fell in one long concussion, like a wall falling, a wall of grey stone, unpierced by any chink of light.
The Tyndall effect in opalescent glass: It appears blue from the side, but orange light shines through. (Wikipedia)
I think when Woolf is wrote "light almost pierced the thin swrift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach," he is referring to Tyndall Scattering:
The Tyndall effect, also known as Tyndall scattering, is light scattering by particles in a colloid or particles in a fine suspension. It is named after the 19th century physicist John Tyndall. It is similar to Rayleigh scattering, in that the intensity of the scattered light depends on the fourth power of the frequency, so blue light is scattered much more strongly than red light.... Under the Tyndall effect, the longer-wavelength light is more transmitted while the shorter-wavelength light is more reflected via scattering....The Tyndall effect is seen when light-scattering particulate-matter is dispersed in an otherwise light-transmitting medium, when the cross-section of an individual particulate is the range of roughly between 40 and 900 nanometers, i.e., somewhat below or near the wavelength of visible light (400–750 nanometers).  It is particularly applicable to colloidal mixtures and suspensions; for example, the Tyndall effect is used commercially to determine the size and density of particles in aerosols and other colloidal matter. (Wikipedia: Tyndall Effect)
Had the light pierced through the thin waves, it would appear yellow or orange just like the light that passed through the opal in the picture above.