While the setting of Virginia’s, “Kew Gardens” is that of lush beauty, her narrator- who lives within the minds of every character we meet, every passing stranger, woman, man , or even snail- reveals the dissatisfaction that settles quietly, or in some cases, noisily in the thoughts of each mind. I found, while reading, the theme of the past, the struggling with the present, the desire to relive the past, as the present has become dull, monotonous, and they have become like robots.
Some of these robots, like the first man and women, whose conversation we overhear, are stuck on repeat, and I found desperation in their voices. Virginia also keeps a kind of ambiguity or mystery about these two characters, as their relationship isn’t explained. We’re left wondering, “Why is this man telling his wife of his old love, of his Lilly?” If in fact she is his wife, this introduction to the essay is an especially striking and compelling one, the most obvious portrayal of the dissatisfaction of the characters. Both characters seem a bit crazy, a bit mad, as they frantically talk of their past loves. When I read the woman’s response to her possible husband’s ranting of Lilly, I wasn’t surprised at her odd, panicky response. Of course, she is a bit insane if her husband continuously speaks of Lilly. His walking ahead of her also suggests that she is not something he is too proud of, as if he would rather run from her, run to the past, if I may. She, on the other hand, lazily, yet responsibly looks back to the children.
I found many quotes of the characters, as well as of the narrator, to poignantly describe what the piece is about, including the woman’s asking, “…Doesn’t one always think of the past, in a garden with men and women lying under the trees? Aren’t they one’s past, all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the trees… one’s happiness, one’s reality?”
Soon we meet the elderly man who, “talked almost incessantly; he smiled to himself and again began to talk, as if the smile had been an answer. He was talking about spirits- the spirits of the dead…” This again carries the theme of the past, and while deeming these spirits, “the spirits of the dead,” Virginia implies a deep regret, a sadness.
Parallel with this regret of the characters is a sense of exhaustion with life, of the mundane routine that they’ve settled into. The two elderly women find amusement in the elderly man’s signs of eccentricity or madness. “Then she suggested that they should find a seat and have their tea.” Virginia’s language is so simple at times, but also so revealing, so telling. Here, I found this feeling of boredom, of tiredness. Later, a conversation between a young couple is, “in toneless and monotonous voices,” and it seems in this relationship, the woman wants to be excited about something, wants her companion to be excited, passionate perhaps.
Soon after, another quote resonated in me as it seemed to summarize the story. The young woman’s hopeless desires are described as, “wishing to go down there and then down there, remembering orchids and cranes among wild flowers, a Chinese pagoda and a crimson-crested bird; but he bore her on.”
In this story, Virginia brilliantly and beautifully reveals the common loss of excitement, of luster in one’s life, in one’s relationships, and the failing solution of looking back towards the past, going through the present almost completely numbly.