Sunday, January 18, 2009

Okay, okay--so this may or may not be absurdly long. Apologies.

I cannot quite get a handle on this strange little story. I’m intrigued, for sure… although I’m not entirely sure why, or about what. What I’m absolutely certain of, however, is that I do not fully understand what it’s about. That said—I’m going to give this whole thing a shot.

What struck me most in reading this was Woolf’s depiction of age throughout the three or so pages in which the story takes place. Particularly towards the end (on page 88 specifically—in her description of the couple “in that season which precedes the prime of youth”) I get the overwhelming sense that she’s trying to (no no… I’m sorry: Virginia Woolf doesn’t TRY to do anything. She DOES things. Sort of like Chuck Norris) make a point about the various stages of maturity and development that people go though while traveling throughout the world—much like our narrator is (literally) doing in the story, itself. While the story is, strictly speaking, told from a single person’s perspective, the exposition of people in various periods of life – the children of the narrator, the quasi-prime -of –youth- power- couple and the trashy old ladies who sound vaguely like my Nana on a week long Whiskey bender, among others—all in the same geographical location makes me wonder about… well, a lot of things.

I find it interesting that on a very basic level, this piece is somewhat retrospective—at least initially. Our hero Simon, who is reminded of an erstwhile, youthful love interest seems to marvel at the extent to which fate (ostensibly) or just good old fashioned luck played a significant role in the way his life turned out—inasmuch as it did not dictate the outcome, completely: “I’ve been thinking of Lily, the woman I might have married,” he frankly admits to the woman he actually did marry (presumptively years later). More than anything, I believe, Wolf is emphasizing the complete arbitrariness of this outcome as represented by Simon’s belief that his life’s most significant events lay contingent to the volition of…um, a dragonfly.

So, okay— how does this relate to my “age-claim?” Perhaps it doesn’t, save for in my own head. BUT. I guess what I’m maintaining is that Woolf is pointing out a) the speed with which our lives pass us by—making reference to children, the elderly, and everyone in between in such a small space (both in the geographical confines and decided “smallness” of the story) and b) the fact that as we grow older, things seem to…lose significance? At least smaller, more mundane (more benign?) things. I don’t really know how else to put it. It seems to me, though, that as the characters in this story progress in age, they become less concerned with the importance and meaning of individual moments.

For example—the young couple moseying about with a parasol is preoccupied with the subtle underlying meanings of individual words such that they take on more significance than they may have in actuality, and are arguably hyper-focused on the minutia of their language. Simon recalls his fixation on Lucy’s shoes, and as stated before on the significance of the actions of the dragonfly swarming around his head. Conversely, the older people that we see (both the two old women speaking gibberish and the old man speaking with a seeming disregard for the meaning or significance of his words) are not at all concerned with the meaning of individual moments, or individual words.

All things considered, what I got most out of this story was the idea that it’s somewhat foolish to ruminate on small things to a great extent… because doing so, as demonstrated by this story (for the reasons outlined above) seems to be an exercise in futility.

And now I'm officially rambling. So I'm going to quit while I'm ahead (inasmuch as I was, ever). Sorry for the length though--brevity and I are not friends.


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's having trouble wrapping her brain around this story. = )
    But I think your post is really good, I wouldn't have even thought of Woolf's depiction of age, so thanks for the new perspective.

  2. I agree with Adelle, your post did give me a new perspective on the story. I'd noticed when I was reading, the differences of the couples--husband and wife with children, two old men, two old women, a young couple, but I hadn't really thought about the differences in their treatment of words as dependent on age.

    "It seems to me, though, that as the characters in this story progress in age, they become less concerned with the importance and meaning of individual moments."

    I think that maybe, if "Kew Gardens" reveals any sort of huge truth about humanity (as we're taught all good writing does), this must be it. Do you think, though, that Woolf is cautioning against forgetting individual moments, saying that we should give them greater meaning and try to hang on to them. Or, rather, should we just not even worry about it and instead focus on the big picture?