|Surrey, Kew Gardens Museum in the 1890's|
Just as I got to the end of “Kew Gardens,” my mind flashed images of a Claude Monet painting. I know; that’s easy to say after learning that it’s already been said of the short story in lecture and Neverow’s introduction to Jacob’s Room. The line that really brought this idea fully formed was from page 167 in The Virginia Woolf Reader,
“Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with read and blue.”
That one line created an image in my mind that made me think of Monet’s painting technique.
Each group of people that interrupted the snail’s concentration on meeting his goal interacted with the oval garden or nature in different ways. For the first couple, it brought back memories; both were of a romantic nature and steeped in imagery. The husband describes a dragonfly circling a red flower, while the wife describes painting a red water lily. Is there any irony to be found in the fact that the husband was remembering Lily the woman he proposed to and that his wife was painting a lily? It seems a bit ironic to me.
For the second pair that disrupts the snail’s adventure, nature is used as a distraction. The older of the pair of men appears to either be senile or bonkers. I’ve seen senile or Alzheimer’s, and I lean more towards bonkers. Anyway, the man is about to run off after a woman in black, but the younger man distracts him by calling his attention to a flower. One would think it should be red, but red is for passion. From this pair, I see another theme that seems to penetrate Woolf’s stories, unstable mental health.
The next group is a pair of women who at first study the odd manner of the older man; they were trying to decide if he was “merely eccentric or genuinely mad.” For some reason, I appreciated this pair more than the others mainly because one of the women actually appeared to get lost in nature. Her friend’s words cease to penetrate her mind; they wash over her as she starts swaying back and forth as she looks at the flowers. Most of the verbs in this section pertain to sight. Does this make us think that they are the first to really see the garden, or the first to come to the garden simply for the pleasure of viewing it?
As the snail settles down to enjoying the brown light under a leaf, he is yet disturbed again by a young couple. They discuss the worth of “it.” I believe the “it” is enjoyment of the garden, the getting away from the hustle and bustle of the streets. Of course, you can enjoy the beauty of the garden, but the sound of the streets will still follow one into the garden.
The last we read of the snail is the interruption of this last couple, the little guy who is constant throughout the story. Woolf personifies him by giving him discerning thought. He has doubts, he has a goal, but he has no conclusion. Each group represents a corner of a square around the oval garden of which the snail is the center. And for some reason, just as I’m finishing this, the song “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles popped into my head.