1. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    "Kew Garden": Why does it work?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Andrae Smith, Sep 7, 2013.

    Hello Everyone! So in one of my English classes we read Virginia Woolf's short story, "Kew Gardens", and I noticed it doesn't necessarily have a plot. It's a story, per se, but it is mostly a highly, HIGHLY, detailed description of events passing through a garden. It kinda leaves a person saying, "So what?" towards the end because none the characters, besides a snail, really stick around.

    I would compare it to setting up a tripod and leaving it running for a few hours, and then using extraordinarily vivid language to describe what the camera caught. We do jump into a few characters heads, but it's more like catching a portion of someone's conversation as they walk by.

    In class, we discussed how both she and Vladimir Nabokov really challenge the standard convention that all fiction needs to follow a basic format or have some esoteric point to it. Nabokov, in an interview, says his work is just his art, and that's how he judges all fiction: as art. He then wrote Pale Fire which defies all logical convention regarding the order of a novel. But it's a masterful piece of art.Woolf wrote an essay questioning why all fiction must have a defined plot and read beginning to end. And she shows that a story can be good without there being the elements we think of as story.

    I'm just wondering, for those who have read it, why the story is so successful. The language is very descriptive, and not much really happens. It goes against everything we're taught about fiction now--partly due to how language and culture change over time. But what elements make this story stand out as something great? What draws readers to it. I know most people today wouldn't read it, but when I do I see a nice work of art.

    Here is the introductory paragraph as an example of her style:
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't read the story, but I plan on reading it tonight because the way you describe it makes it seem really interesting.

    To perhaps get you thinking more about the story, is there anything that connects the events in the garden? Are the characters somehow connected?
     
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  3. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    First I must apologize for the Typo in the name. It's called "Kew Gardens"-- with an 's'.

    And to answer your question: not really, no. The story is interesting to me because it really reflects how life is just a bunch of fragments coming together to form a whole. So the only really connection is that they all pass through the garden. You really get a good idea of what the garden is like. It's like she painted a picture of the garden for us, really.

    Here is a link to one place you can read it online: http://www.online-literature.com/virginia_woolf/862/

    Also, keep an eye on the punctuation. It is a little bit of a chore to read because there are a fair number of run-ons (and just plain long sentences) that leave you wondering "what the heck, brah???"
     
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  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I only read the first paragraph you quoted, but it looks to me like she treated it as an exercise in description. I'd be interested to know whether or not she was a well-established author when this was published.

    There isn't enough in that first paragraph to keep me reading, though. Maybe I have a short attention span.
     
  5. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well, She started writing professionally in 1900. By the time she wrote and published this she was well into her career. It's considered to be really good, and After thinking about it I see more and more themes, in addition to straying from traditional method of writing, such as: the constant motion of nature, the vibrant colorful life of nature as compared to the droll and anxious worries of people, the way life happens in fragments, moments, and scenes...

    I'll admit it is a bit a dry read, and it forms a painting of this park that leaves you saying "so what, that's nice." But after thinking about it, you realize how many ideas are explored. And yet reading it for the writing, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense sometimes. So whether you have a short attention span or not, I don't blame you if it wouldn't hold your attention.

    Here is the rest of that section, if you're interested in seeing where it goes. It's is the immediately following paragraph. This is just the first encounter, then we see the snail, and then more people, who leave the scene for more people... Kinda like people walking past a camera...

     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    OK, so I just finished reading it. The way I see it is that she's showing the difference between people and nature. You'll notice that the snail never leaves the garden, whereas the people come and go. The people in this story are connected in that they don't concern themselves with nature at all. Their thoughts and discussions about love, memories, etc. are not something nature preoccupies itself with.

    The last paragraph is describing what I think is WWI. She's driving home the point that man and nature are opposites (the former preoccupied with man-made problems and the latter existing in a state of bliss). She talks of loud noises, planes, and motionless bodies when she talks about people. The phrase "the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air" in the last sentence suggests that the garden is being destroyed (the flowers are literally being uprooted and thrown into the air) by man (probably because of the war).

    It's a good story in my opinion, though it's a bit different from traditional stories in that there's no strong central character. Nature (or the snail) is the main character here, though it may not be obvious. And I believe the human characters should be looked at as one character rather than a bunch of individual characters because each character represents one aspect of humanity (remember that she's comparing humanity as a whole with nature).

    This is certainly a story that requires more work than your average story because there are so many nontraditional aspects to it. Still, I really liked it and appreciate what she has done here.

    By the way, I think the run-on sentences are just typos made by whoever typed the story and put it on the website.
     
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  7. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    With regards to the run-ons, I think its more of how the language was structured and used in England at the time. I didn't read it online initially. But once you get passed them, it's still a wonderful story.

    It definitely requires more work to read and appreciate. It really reminds me a lot of The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. Not much happens in that one either. instead we get excruciating detail--in much simpler style--of the African Congo, the people, and Marlowe's (The MC) thoughts. Nothing really happens, but it has a lot to it. I hated it at first, but I came to appreciate it. Although it is not as artsy as this!

    As for your interpretation of the characters, I never would have thought of it that way! I think you're right to look at nature and the snail as one character, and all the humans together as another. That really helps to visualize the separation of man and nature. I didn't see her saying so much that they were opposite as she was pointing out the constant lively motion of nature in the gardens, while people seem so stagnant, held back by their worries, and kind of petty thoughts. Yet she juxtaposes this with the idea that people are so caught up in their fantasies and doings, they seem to pass by nature as it it were stagnant. For me it depicts how we don't appreciate the color and life of nature or art in general because we are so engrossed by our conventions and habits and worries.

    I also like your interpretation of the last paragraph. When I see it, I think she is painting the scene of people strolling through the gardens on a hot summers day. If this were a movie, the last paragraph would be the camera panning out, high above the gardens. The first one would be the camera panning in. It's simply an artistic depiction. But you could definitely make the argument of a WWI symbolism.
     
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