On one of Woolf’s earliest short stories
Written in 1917 around the same time she wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’, ‘Kew Gardens’ is one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known short stories. Yet what the story means is far less well-known – if there is one ‘meaning’ that is ultimately knowable. A short summary and closer analysis of ‘Kew Gardens’ should help to provide a little clarity on what is a rather elusive and delicately symbolic story.
In summary, ‘Kew Gardens’ focuses on the titular gardens in London, on a hot July day. As so often with modernist literature, the focus here is on a moment or a series of moments, rather than a grand, unified narrative or plot. A husband and wife walk past the flower bed with their children, all of them lost in their own thoughts: the husband, Simon, thinks about a woman he’d asked to marry him fifteen years earlier (but whom he never did marry). He asks his wife, Eleanor, if she thinks of the past, and she tells him she remembers being kissed by an old lady with a wart on her nose, twenty years ago while she and a group of other girls were painting at the side of a lake. Read the rest of this entry
Previously, we’ve picked the best of Virginia Woolf’s novels and non-fiction works, but she was also a fine writer of very short stories. Although Woolf didn’t write a great amount of short fiction, a number of her short stories are classic examples of early twentieth-century modernism. All five stories are included in The Mark on the Wall and Other Short Fiction (Oxford World’s Classics), which is a treasure-trove of very short modernist fiction by one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers.
‘The Mark on the Wall’. In this short story, the narrator tells us about a mark she noticed on the wall; what follows is, essentially, is eight pages of stream of consciousness as we follow the narrator’s thoughts, memories, and daydreams. The mark on the wall is jumping-off-point, but the ‘life’ of the story resides in what goes on in the narrator’s mind: Woolf is telling us that the material world is not everything, since there is an almost spiritual delight in the life of the mind which conventional fiction seldom takes into account. The rock group Modest Mouse took their band name from a phrase in this story. Read the rest of this entry