Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reading "Kew Gardens" made me think of Leopold Bloom, as this story resembles a "stream of life."  Woolf cleverly sets the reader among the "hundred stalks" in the flower bed, giving a fixed vantage point that allows only glimpses of humanity as the various characters pass through the garden (84).  It is the story's first passerby, Simon, that I found most congruent to Bloom, as his mind wanders back to his life fifteen years prior.  Simon's train of thought evolves into him speaking to his wife, Eleanor, but the transition is strangely punctuated.  Thinking back to his old flame, Lily, makes Simon realize that if he had married her, he wouldn't be in the garden with his family.  This leads him to ask Eleanor, "d'you ever think of the past?" (85).  But in the text, Woolf does not distinguish where his thinking ends and where his speech begins, other than with a dash: "I shouldn't be walking here with Eleanor and the children -- Tell me, Eleanor..." (85).  

Now, it may seem as though I'm making too much of this, a small piece of punctuation missing from a passage.  But the manner in which this utterance to his wife leaps forth from his train of thought betrays a strange moment of omniscience on the part of the narrator.  I decided to reread "Kew Gardens" twice more to make sure that, in fact, Simon's account is the only specifically omniscient moment for the narrator, by which I mean to say that the character's literal thoughts are given to the reader verbatim.  For the rest of the story, the narrator acts in a much more spectatorial role, picking apart the other characters' thoughts and dispositions mostly from their facial expressions: "The younger of the two men wore an expression of perhaps unnatural calm; he raised his eyes and fixed them very steadily in front of him while his companion spoke" (86).  

Because of this backgrounding on Simon's previous visit to the garden with Lily, I felt a closeness with him that was lost with the other characters; I understood his plight more than, say, the two "elderly women" who "piece together their very complicated dialogue" (87).  Other than my own feeling toward Simon, I certainly can't draw any conclusions about Woolf's work on the whole, so I'm going to hope that pointing out this anomaly may lead to someone else picking up the baton.  

1 comment:

  1. I wondered about the punctuations but then to me Woolf’s punctuations just seem a bit odd. I had to reread that particular part to see if I missed something. My thought is that she intruded ( I keep using this word) on his remembrances. It seems as if she is a block or an imposing figure that stands in the way of further reminiscing and pushes his thoughts onward to thoughts involving her.

    Yet, Woolf leaves me with no definite answer.