by Virginia Woolf
Camille Pissaro, Kew Greens, 1892
FROM THE OVAL-SHAPED flower-bed there rose 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 colour 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 petals
were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when
they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the
other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of
the most intricate colour. The light fell either upon the smooth,
grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown,
circular veins, or falling into a raindrop, it expanded with such
intensity of red, blue and yellow the thin walls of water that one
expected them to burst and disappear. Instead, the drop was left in
a second silver grey once more, and the light now settled upon the
flesh of a leaf, revealing the branching thread of fibre beneath
the surface, and again it moved on and spread its illumination in
the vast green spaces beneath the dome of the heart-shaped and
tongue-shaped leaves. Then the breeze stirred rather more briskly
overhead and the colour was flashed into the air above, into the
eyes of the men and women who walk in Kew Gardens in July.
The figures of these men and women straggled past the
flower-bed with a curiously irregular movement not unlike that of
the white and blue butterflies who crossed the turf in zig-zag
flights from bed to bed. The man was about six inches in front of
the woman, strolling carelessly, while she bore on with greater
purpose, only turning her head now and then to see that the
children were not too far behind. The man kept this distance in
front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously, for he
wished to go on with his thoughts.
"Fifteen years ago I came here with Lily," he thought. "We
sat somewhere over there by a lake and I begged her to marry me all
through the hot afternoon. How the dragonfly kept circling round
us: how clearly I see the dragonfly and her shoe with the square
silver buckle at the toe. All the time I spoke I saw her shoe and
when it moved impatiently I knew without looking up what she was
going to say: the whole of her seemed to be in her shoe. And my
love, my desire, were in the dragonfly; for some reason I thought
that if it settled there, on that leaf, the broad one with the red
flower in the middle of it, if the dragonfly settled on the leaf
she would say 'Yes' at once. But the dragonfly went round and
round: it never settled anywhereof course not, happily not, or I
shouldn't be walking here with Eleanor and the childrenTell me,
Eleanor. D'you ever think of the past?"
"Why do you ask, Simon?"
"Because I've been thinking of the past. I've been thinking
of Lily, the woman I might have married.... Well, why are you
silent? Do you mind my thinking of the past?"
"Why should I mind, Simon? 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?"
"For me, a square silver shoe buckle and a dragonfly"
"For me, a kiss. Imagine six little girls sitting before
their easels twenty years ago, down by the side of a lake, painting
the water-lilies, the first red water-lilies I'd ever seen. And
suddenly a kiss, there on the back of my neck. And my hand shook
all the afternoon so that I couldn't paint. I took out my watch and
marked the hour when I would allow myself to think of the kiss for
five minutes onlyit was so preciousthe kiss of an old grey-haired
woman with a wart on her nose, the mother of all my kisses all my
life. Come, Caroline, come, Hubert."
They walked on the past the flower-bed, now walking four
abreast, and soon diminished in size among the trees and looked
half transparent as the sunlight and shade swam over their backs in
large trembling irregular patches.
In the oval flower bed the snail, whose shell had been
stained red, blue, and yellow for the space of two minutes or so,
now appeared to be moving very slightly in its shell, and next
began to labour over the crumbs of loose earth which broke away and
rolled down as it passed over them. It appeared to have a definite
goal in front of it, differing in this respect from the singular
high stepping angular green insect who attempted to cross in front
of it, and waited for a second with its antenn trembling as if in
deliberation, and then stepped off as rapidly and strangely in the
opposite direction. Brown cliffs with deep green lakes in the
hollows, flat, blade-like trees that waved from root to tip, round
boulders of grey stone, vast crumpled surfaces of a thin crackling
textureall these objects lay across the snail's progress between
one stalk and another to his goal. Before he had decided whether to
circumvent the arched tent of a dead leaf or to breast it there
came past the bed the feet of other human beings.
This time they were both men. The younger of the two wore
an expression of perhaps unnatural calm; he raised his eyes and
fixed them very steadily in front of him while his companion spoke,
and directly his companion had done speaking he looked on the
ground again and sometimes opened his lips only after a long pause
and sometimes did not open them at all. The elder man had a
curiously uneven and shaky method of walking, jerking his hand
forward and throwing up his head abruptly, rather in the manner of
an impatient carriage horse tired of waiting outside a house; but
in the man these gestures were irresolute and pointless. He talked
almost incessantly; he smiled to himself and again began to talk,
as if the smile had been an answer. He was talking about spiritsthe
spirits of the dead, who, according to him, were even now telling
him all sorts of odd things about their experiences in Heaven.
"Heaven was known to the ancients as Thessaly, William, and
now, with this war, the spirit matter is rolling between the hills
like thunder." He paused, seemed to listen, smiled, jerked his head
"You have a small electric battery and a piece of rubber to
insulate the wireisolate?insulate?well, we'll skip the details, no
good going into details that wouldn't be understoodand in short the
little machine stands in any convenient position by the head of the
bed, we will say, on a neat mahogany stand. All arrangements being
properly fixed by workmen under my direction, the widow applies her
ear and summons the spirit by sign as agreed. Women! Widows! Women
Here he seemed to have caught sight of a woman's dress in
the distance, which in the shade looked a purple black. He took off
his hat, placed his hand upon his heart, and hurried towards her
muttering and gesticulating feverishly. But William caught him by
the sleeve and touched a flower with the tip of his walking-stick
in order to divert the old man's attention. After looking at it for
a moment in some confusion the old man bent his ear to it and
seemed to answer a voice speaking from it, for he began talking
about the forests of Uruguay which he had visited hundreds of years
ago in company with the most beautiful young woman in Europe. He
could be heard murmuring about forests of Uruguay blanketed with
the wax petals of tropical roses, nightingales, sea beaches,
mermaids, and women drowned at sea, as he suffered himself to be
moved on by William, upon whose face the look of stoical patience
grew slowly deeper and deeper.
Following his steps so closely as to be slightly puzzled by
his gestures came two elderly women of the lower middle class, one
stout and ponderous, the other rosy cheeked and nimble. Like most
people of their station they were frankly fascinated by any signs
of eccentricity betokening a disordered brain, especially in the
well-to-do; but they were too far off to be certain whether the
gestures were merely eccentric or genuinely mad. After they had
scrutinised the old man's back in silence for a moment and given
each other a queer, sly look, they went on energetically piecing
together their very complicated dialogue:
"Nell, Bert, Lot, Cess, Phil, Pa, he says, I says, she
says, I says, I says, I says"
"My Bert, Sis, Bill, Grandad, the old man, sugar,
Sugar, flour, kippers, greens, Sugar, sugar, sugar." The
ponderous woman looked through the pattern of falling words at the
flowers standing cool, firm, and upright in the earth, with a
curious expression. She saw them as a sleeper waking from a heavy
sleep sees a brass candlestick reflecting the light in an
unfamiliar way, and closes his eyes and opens them, and seeing the
brass candlestick again, finally starts broad awake and stares at
the candlestick with all his powers. So the heavy woman came to a
standstill opposite the oval-shaped flower bed, and ceased even to
pretend to listen to what the other woman was saying. She stood
there letting the words fall over her, swaying the top part of her
body slowly backwards and forwards, looking at the flowers. Then
she suggested that they should find a seat and have their tea. The
snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal
without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it. Let alone
the effort needed for climbing a leaf, he was doubtful whether the
thin texture which vibrated with such an alarming crackle when
touched even by the tip of his horns would bear his weight; and
this determined him finally to creep beneath it, for there was a
point where the leaf curved high enough from the ground to admit
him. He had just inserted his head in the opening and was taking
stock of the high brown roof and was getting used to the cool brown
light when two other people came past outside on the turf. This
time they were both young, a young man and a young woman. They were
both in the prime of youth, or even in that season which precedes
the prime of youth, the season before the smooth pink folds of the
flower have burst their gummy case, when the wings of the
butterfly, though fully grown, are motionless in the sun.
"Lucky it isn't Friday," he observed.
"Why? D'you believe in luck?"
"They make you pay sixpence on Friday."
"What's sixpence anyway? Isn't it worth sixpence?"
"What's 'it'what do you mean by 'it'?"
"O, anythingI meanyou know what I mean."
Long pauses came between each of these remarks; they were
uttered in toneless and monotonous voices. The couple stood still
on the edge of the flower bed, and together pressed the end of her
parasol deep down into the soft earth. The action and the fact that
his hand rested on the top of hers expressed their feelings in a
strange way, as these short insignificant words also expressed
something, words with short wings for their heavy body of meaning,
inadequate to carry them far and thus alighting awkwardly upon the
very common objects that surrounded them, and were to their
inexperienced touch so massive; but who knows (so they thought as
they pressed the parasol into the earth) what precipices aren't
concealed in them, or what slopes of ice don't shine in the sun on
the other side? Who knows? Who has ever seen this before? Even when
she wondered what sort of tea they gave you at Kew, he felt that
something loomed up behind her words, and stood vast and solid
behind them; and the mist very slowly rose and uncovered. O,
Heavens, what were those shapes? Little white tables, and
waitresses who looked first at her and then at him; and there was a
bill that he would pay with a real two shilling piece, and it was
real, all real, he assured himself, fingering the coin in his
pocket, real to everyone except to him and to her; even to him it
began to seem real; and then but it was too exciting to stand and
think any longer, and he pulled the parasol out of the earth with a
jerk and was impatient to find the place where one had tea with
other people, like other people.
"Come along, Trissie; it's time we had our tea."
"Wherever does one have one's tea?" she asked with the
oddest thrill of excitement in her voice, looking vaguely round and
letting herself be drawn on down the grass path, trailing her
parasol, turning her head this way and that way, forgetting her
tea, 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.
Thus one couple after another with much the same irregular
and aimless movement passed the flower-bed and were enveloped in
layer after layer of green blue vapour, in which at first their
bodies had substance and a dash of colour, but later both substance
and colour dissolved in the green-blue atmosphere. How hot it was!
So hot that even the thrush chose to hop, like a mechanical bird,
in the shadow of the flowers, with long pauses between one movement
and the next; instead of rambling vaguely the white butterflies
danced one above another, making with their white shifting flakes
the outline of a shattered marble column above the tallest flowers;
the glass roofs of the palm house shone as if a whole market full
of shiny green umbrellas had opened in the sun; and in the drone of
the aeroplane the voice of the summer sky murmured its fierce soul.
Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours,
men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the
horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the
grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving
like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it
faintly with red and blue. It seemed as if all gross and heavy
bodies had sunk down in the heat motionless and lay huddled upon
the ground, but their voices went wavering from them as if they
were flames lolling from the thick waxen bodies of candles. Voices.
Yes, voices. Wordless voices, breaking the silence suddenly with
such depth of contentment, such passion of desire, or, in the
voices of children, such freshness of surprise; breaking the
silence? But there was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses
were turning their wheels and changing their gear; like a vast nest
of Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one
within another the city murmured; on the top of which the voices
cried aloud and the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their
colours into the air.
End of story
About the author
Virginia Woolf Adeline Virginia Stephen was born in the Kensington
district of London in 1882. She is better known to the world as
Virginia Woolf, considered one of the great modernist English
authors of the twentieth century. Her best-regarded novels, not yet
available in the public domain, include
Mrs. Dalloway (1925),
To the Lighthouse (1927),
Orlando(1928), and her extended essay,
A Room of One's Own (1929). We offer her works in the public domain, including
the short story collection,
Monday or Tuesday(1921), which includes:
A Haunted House,
Monday or Tuesday,
The String Quartet,
An Unwritten Novel,
Blue & Green,
Kew Gardens, and
The Mark on the Wall.
Woolf was a member of
Bloomsbury Group, influential English literary artists who
expressed modern attitudes toward pacifism, sexuality and feminism
during the first half of the 20th century. Other members included
John Maynard Keynes,
Lytton Strachey. Her provocative essay,
A Room of One's Own is widely regarded as among the top ten most Influential
Feminist Books. Woolf advised modernist writers to write what they
feel, rather than concern themselves with the expectations of
publishers or society. Widely known as suffering from mental
illness throughout her life, Woolf most likely had bi-polar
disorder, but the illness was not well understood or treatable at
the time. She committed suicide at age 59.
A Lady's Story
by Anton Chekhov
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor,
and I were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the
letters from the station.
The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard a
peal of thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which was
coming straight towards us. The storm-cloud was approaching us and
we were approaching it.
Against the background of it our house and church looked
white and the tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent of
rain and mown hay. My companion was in high spirits. He kept
laughing and talking all sorts of nonsense. He said it would be
nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval castle with turreted
towers, with moss on it and owls, in which we could take shelter
from the rain and in the end be killed by a thunderbolt. . . .
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of
oats, there was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round
in the air. Pyotr Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried, "it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought
that in a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might be
struck by lightning.
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with
the wind, and feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one's heart
in a flutter. By the time we rode into our courtyard the wind had
gone down, and big drops of rain were pattering on the grass and on
the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the
horses to their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to
finish, and watching the slanting streaks of rain; the sweetish,
exciting scent of hay was even stronger here than in the fields;
the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost twilight.
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me
after a very loud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though
the sky were split in two. "What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless
from his rapid ride, looked at me. I could see that he was admiring
"Natalya Vladimirovna," he said, "I would give anything
only to stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his
face was pale. On his beard and mustache were glittering raindrops,
and they, too, seemed to be looking at me with love.
"I love you," he said. "I love you, and I am happy at
seeing you. I know you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I ask
nothing; only know that I love you. Be silent, do not answer me,
take no notice of it, but only know that you are dear to me and let
me look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic
face, listened to his voice which mingled with the patter of the
rain, and stood as though spellbound, unable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and
"You say nothing, and that is splendid," said Pyotr
Sergeyitch. "Go on being silent."
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the
drenching rain to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as he
went, ran after me.
Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs
like children, we dashed into the room. My father and brother, who
were not used to seeing me laughing and light-hearted, looked at me
in surprise and began laughing too.
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had
ceased, but the raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's
beard. The whole evening till supper-time he was singing,
whistling, playing noisily with the dog and racing about the room
after it, so that he nearly upset the servant with the samovar. And
at supper he ate a great deal, talked nonsense, and maintained that
when one eats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the fragrance of
spring in one's mouth.