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
In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle dusts off the half-forgotten science-fiction stories of John Wyndham
A good many of the books that feature in this weekly Friday column are found in charity shops while I’m looking for something else. So it was with this week’s featured book, or rather pile of books, by John Wyndham, who has been called the most successful British science-fiction writer after H. G. Wells. In his lifetime, Wyndham was a bestselling novelist. How many people read his novels and short stories now, I wonder?
Like many people, I knew the titles before I picked up the books: The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids. A number of Wyndham’s novels have been successfully adapted for film, with The Midwich Cuckoos being made into a feature film titled Village of the Damned on not one but two occasions. ‘Triffid’ has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as follows: Read the rest of this entry
Of the 15 short stories that make up James Joyce’s 1914 collection Dubliners, ‘Clay’ is one of the most enigmatic – which is saying something, since none of the stories offers up its meaning easily, or is limited to one interpretation or analysis of its meaning. You can read ‘Clay’ here.
In summary, ‘Clay’ focuses on Maria, an unmarried middle-aged Catholic woman living and working in Dublin. Maria works as a kitchen maid for a laundry run by Protestants and devoted to helping fallen women; the laundry is overseen by a woman known simply as ‘matron’. Maria secured the job after recommendations from Joe and Alphy Donnelly, two brothers whose family she worked for years ago. Read the rest of this entry