Cue the Garden

In Virginia Woolf’s, “Kew Gardens,” the narrator immediately drops the reader onto a stage of oval-shaped flowerbeds, only to realize he or she will be leaving the flowerbed shortly, perhaps blithely unaware he or she will return. The reader never leaves the scene that Woolf has written; still, he or she is in constant movement from that flowerbed forward.

In order to do this, Woolf plays upon the transfer of energy: between characters, in the flow of the short story itself, or in a single descriptive word. She uses concise sentences to remind the reader that the energy is just palpitating, waiting to disperse. The narrator notes, “All the time I spoke I saw her shoe and when it moved impatiently I knew […] the whole of her seemed to be in her shoe [italics mine]”.

She uses the transfer of energy to change perspective throughout the piece; a flick of the umbrella or a passing dragonfly are used as guiding suggestions, telling the reader, let’s look down here right now:

“Pressed the end of her parasol deep down in the soft earth.” (And the mind goes down with the umbrella.)

Or we leave the grounded, earthly perspective of the soft brown earth for the life outside the flowerbed, though by using light, Woolf writes them as connected. The reader receives a signal that something interesting may be circulating in the mind of that gentleman up there; let’s leave the snail for a bit. Moreover, because of this transfer of energy, the landscape is taken in through multiple gazes, not just the one passerby, the snail, or the narrator. The transfer of energy also allows for the displacement of emotion, which is marked by the gentleman whose focus changes from person to object and object to person. Although there is something jolting about this zoom in and out effect, it is written in a way that there is nothing jarring about it.

Woolf brings us to a natural place, but reminders of the urban environment make their way into the piece, especially toward the end. These reminders manage to disrupt a peaceful world that caters to unpeaceful thoughts, something that readily occurs in city life:

“And in the drone of the aeroplane the voice of the summer sky murmured its fierce soul.”