This article describes Virginia Woolf's preoccupation with acoustics and its relationship both to her writing process and to the development of sensibility that she narrativizes in The Waves. It situates Woolf's theoretical and fictional models of listening with respect to the rising science of architectural acoustics and to the social imperative to control sound in urban spaces. It argues that Woolf responds to the psychological and social exigencies of modern sound by integrating textual and architectural listening modes in an acoustic hermeneutic: a listening practice common to the objects of architecture and text, one that accommodates both scientific and aesthetic ends. The acoustic hermeneutic marks the convergence of oft-estranged listening practices—one that apprehends the silent materiality of the text as if it were an audible room and, conversely, one that apprehends architecture with the auditory imagination traditionally exerted toward literature. While the article explores Woolf's particular invocations of auditory science in her formal innovation, it also aims toward a widely applicable critical approach to the inaudibilities of the novel.

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