Virginia Woolf Short Stories
Kemp: Kemp’s introduction to the Woolf short stories shows that she has put a lot of thought, time and research into this project. Though she doesn’t emphasize how these works show the tendencies of Modernism, her emphasis on the pattern of the stories to go “against the traditional grain” of fiction indicates the connection. (61) The stories are, in Woolf’s words, “ ‘completely opposed to the tradition of fiction…’” (61) Kemp writes that these stories allow Woolf more freedom than her novels; the stories are “free from conventional stylistic ties and constraints” and “introduce perceptions that didn’t obviously lead anywhere.” (62) Kemp makes another connection to Modernism when she points out that many of the stories have urban settings and that Woolf, like Eliot, preferred “the horror and reality of the everyday world” as settings. (63) Kemp notes that the stories lack a neatness, (65) and she connects the stories to art. (66) I really enjoyed how she used so many of Woolf’s letters. I felt that this gave really good insight into what Woolf herself was actually thinking and to what she intended. Kemp notes that the stories are, based on Woolf’s letters, connected to her life. In other words, many of the incidents shown in the stories were probably inspired by things that she saw or heard or experienced in her real life. Kemp also discusses that there are non-human narrators in the stories. (73) In all, I really liked the Kemp introduction. The use of letters was excellent, and her enthusiasm about the works generated excitement about them.
“Haunted House:” The narrator here describes the actions of previous tenants (a couple) of a house, now visiting as ghosts. They are remembering their time at the house, looking for their possessions, and observing the new tenants. The last sentence, which begins with the word “waking,” makes me wonder if it wasn’t a dream of the narrator. The ghosts don’t seem scary to me as the reader, and they don’t seem to scare or bother the narrator. They are just there, as presences, maybe as an accepted part of the house.
“Blue and Green:” There is nothing like a point in this story and nothing like a plot. Green seems more pleasant than blue and seems to represent day. Blue seems to be night and seems to have more unpleasant images associated with it. The descriptions are very vivid and create images in your mind immediately. To me, when you read something and it immediately pops into your head as an image, that is a sign of a great writer.
“Monday or Tuesday:” This story had a really promising beginning with the heron image. (This could be just to me personally. There are a couple of herons where I go running, and so I associate them with peace and happiness.) I don’t even know if I would classify this as a story though. It seemed more like a collection of images. I thought that this lack of plot would bother me, but it didn’t. Could it be just her thoughts and experiences from a random day? So random that she doesn’t even remember what day it was? I don’t know; that may be just Kemp’s observation of the stories relating to her life influencing me.
“The Unwritten Novel:” I was excited to read this story because of how Kemp introduced it. Her introduction included a quote from Woolf that came from a letter that she (Woolf) wrote describing writing this story: “ ‘The Unwritten Novel was the great discovery, however…How I trembled with excitement; and then Leonard came in, and I drank my milk, and concealed my excitement….’” (63) This is pure joy! I felt so excited for her, almost as if I was there. This story seemed to have lots of connections to Modernism. It references WWI and occurs on a train. It seems to start with a connection between two people based on shared experiences (the spot on the window that can’t be scrubbed off, the itch in the middle of the back, etc.). I wondered as I was reading if Woolf didn’t have a whole story in her mind but was only writing down parts of it. That is the feeling that it gave; as if there was a complete story, or maybe a novel, but that we had only gotten certain pages of it. Is the narrator just making up all these characters and stories after seeing a woman on the train and having a brief interaction with her? The form here screams Modernism; as Kemp noted, there is not effort to stay with convention.
“The Mark on the Wall:” The narrator sees a small mark on the wall and contemplates what it is and how it got there, its use, etc. I think this story is a vehicle for exploring how the mind works; in a train of thought, one thought just triggers another, then another. In the end, the mark is a snail. Snails, along with flowers and parakeets, seem to be repeated images. There is also another war reference. The war must have weighed heavily on Woolf’s mind.
“Kew Gardens:” I just read a book where Kew Gardens was an important setting, so this was another story that I was excited to read. This story shows how Woolf tried to imitate the art of Modernism, as we discussed last week. The story repeats groups of primary colors many times (red, blue, yellow). I wonder if this story came from a day that Woolf spent at Kew. I can imagine her walking around, imagining conversations, making notes (at least mentally). Is the snail the one observing the conversations? I liked all the nature in this story; I think it was my favorite.