Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf, 1919
The magic trick:
Starting and ending with descriptions of the setting
There are a lot of humans in this story, but make no mistake, Kew Gardens is the main character. The story opens and closes with snails. We get luxurious (indulgent?) descriptions of nature and the park setting. Even when the narration switches to the human characters’ points of view, descriptions of the neutral world aren’t far behind. Honestly, I’m not totally sure what the takeaway is here. Satire? Humans are so silly?
The connections are too tenuous, the attitude is too snobby in some sense, for my tastes. But it’s clear the story wants the reader to consider the humans within the framework of the garden setting. And that’s quite a trick on Woolf’s part.
The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the 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. The light fell either upon the smooth, grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown, circular veins, or falling into a raindrop, it expanded with such intensity of red, blue and yellow the thin walls of water that one expected them to burst and disappear. Instead, the drop was left in a second silver grey once more, and the light now settled upon the flesh of a leaf, revealing the branching thread of fibre beneath the surface, and again it moved on and spread its illumination in the vast green spaces beneath the dome of the heart-shaped and tongue-shaped leaves. Then the breeze stirred rather more briskly overhead and the colour was flashed into the air above, into the eyes of the men and women who walk in Kew Gardens in July.
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