"Kew Gardens" by Virginia Woolf

08Jan05

This story is so richly and beautifully descriptive. Woolf seems to observe with the eyes of someone who has never experienced the mundane realities of life. She writes:

The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, their red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour.

While the narrator seems to be a completely impersonal someone, the story seems to be told from the perspective of a snail. Because of this fact, Woolf describes everything in almost microscopic detail.

Her choice of using the snail is an interesting one. While that perspective is highly inventive, I’m not certain that it builds quite enough trust with the reader. Personally, I am less likely the accept observations made on the human condition if said observations were made by a snail. And because Woolf is so interested in humanity I don’t think the snail serves her as well as a more human narrator would. The fluidity of Woolf’s shifting her focus from the snail to the different couples who pass through Kew Gardens reminded me of the shifting perspective in To the Lighthouse.

Woolf also explores the efficacy of language. The young couple converses “words with short wings for their heavy body of meaning, inadequate to carry them far.” And the two older women “piec[e] together their very complicated dialogue.” Words ultimately seem to fail Woolf: “Nell, Bert, Lot, Cess, Phil, Pa, he says, I says, she says, I says, I says—”

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