The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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September 9, 2015

'Kew Gardens'

Not everyone would choose to spend most of their lunch hour on a sunny September day in the underground stacks of the college library, but if you're here I'd like to think that you might, or whatever the bookish equivalent is for you  ... especially if what you could carry out with you is as lovely as this.

I found this by chance when I was looking for something else... it's a reproduction (I learned all this later), published in 1999, of a 1927 Hogarth Press edition of a short story by Virginia Woolf, with 'decorations' (each page is like this one!) by her sister Vanessa, 

The story unfolds in London's Kew Gardens, on a July afternoon, when it is hot {though not as hot as it was here, today, I would guess}.  There is an oval-shaped flower bed, filled with 

perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked  with spots of color raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at  the end.

The colors of the flowers are reflected onto the ground below, and 'flashed into the air above, into the eyes of the men and women who walk in Kew Gardens in July.'  And then we begin to meet these men and women:  a married couple with two children, who remember lost loves and first kisses from long-ago visits to the Gardens; a young man 'of perhaps unnatural calm' who accompanies, and distracts, an older man whose gestures, as he talks incessantly, are 'irresolute and pointless'; two elderly women from 'the lower middle class' who are 'frankly fascinated by any sign of eccentricity betokening a disordered brain, especially in the well-to-do'; and then a young couple who stand transfixed by the flowers, until they go off in search of their tea; and in between, a resolute snail, a snail with a goal,who carefully considers whether to climb over a leaf or crawl under it. Then, at the end, there's a moment of darkness, and a mention of war {the story was originally published in 1919}, and then voices breaking the silence and the murmur of the city around them. 

All of this told so beautifully with images, and tiny snatches of conversation, in so few words. I have read so much {though not recently} about Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, and so very little by her -- I find her so intimidating, but what I have read I've loved, and I'm more and more determined to read more of her work ... and to read this lovely one a few more times before the book goes back to the stacks.

{these images, and more about this edition, here}  


Terra said...

That short story sounds ideal, it has many intriguing elements.

Lisa said...

I really miss working in university archives, where I could roam the library stacks at lunch and after work - and check out huge numbers of books.

JoAnn said...

What a wonderful find! I've read very little Woolf (and none of her stories), yet seem to collect her books. Will look for this one.

Thank you for visiting!

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