Virginia Woolf: Early Short Stories
In "The Mark on the Wall" Woolf pays a great deal of attention to color. Several times I was reminded of our class discussion last week where we discussed Modernist arts period of affinity for bright primary colors. She often mentions very distinct colors by name, in both "The Mark on the Wall" and "Kew Gardens." "Kew Gardens" begins with an explosion of color and the return of the "stalks" which Virginia mentions in "The Mark on the Wall." Virginia almost seems to paint a picture in words in the final paragraph of "Kew Gardens" as she describes the "Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women and children, were spotted for a second upon the horizon" (95). This description is as much of a modernist painting as any we discussed in class last week! Again Woolf paints a picture of her scene as she describes the layer of green-blue vapor, in which at first their bodies had substance and a dash of color, but later both substance and colour dissolved in the green-blue atmosphere" (95). Finally in reference to modern art and our discussion of color last week, I noticed Woolf's aptly named short story "Blue & Green" among the readings. This describes perfectly what Dr. Sparks referred to as Virginia Woolf's blue and green period. Never have I read a passage where a color was personified and depicted in such vivid detail. In these short passages the colors were suddenly more real to me than the blue wallpaper in my office or the green plant in the corner of my room.
HISTORY, FUTURE, and DEATH:
Woolf has a very distinct since of history and future in her writing as evident in "The Mark on the Wall." As she muses over what portrait might have been hung on the possible nail hole in the wall Woolf mentions a "Miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations" (83). This description is strongly reminiscent of the old powder wigs of the 1700's. In addition to giving this scene an unrealistic sense of history (as it is highly unlikely that a portrait that old would have been hung on a nail in Virginia's house) the description of the miniature also brings to mind the Momento Mori, or the popular pictures of dead family members taken with daguerreotype photography. I imagine the face of the "Miniature lady" white as death, cold from the crypt, lips caked with red lip-stick in an attempt to make her look more natural for her close up. Again the ghost imagery emerges in "Kew Gardens" as Eleanor describes for Simon her view of the past as "those men and women, those ghosts lying under the treesone’s happiness, one's reality" (91)? Again this theme of death is discussed in Woolf's "A Haunted House" in a much more direct way as she describes the "ghostly couple" (122) gliding hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure" (122). It seems that even these ghosts have a sense of history as they wander around the house and remember the "kisses without number" and the "Silver between the trees" (123). Although Virginia's ghosts live on in one sense or another, they seem incapable of doing anything but drifting through foggy memories.
Shortly after Woolf mentions the mythical, miniature portrait in "The Mark on the Wall," she begins to discuss life in terms of "being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour - landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one's hair (84)! It seems strange that Woolf would juxtapose the sense of history she presents early in the story with this breezy description of a lifetime in a whirlwind moment. Even more confusing is her return to history once again on the same page as she describes Troy and its remaining dusty, fragmented pots.
In "The Mark on the Wall" Woolf gives a very clear definition of Modernism in her predictions that "novelists in the future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number; those are the depths they will explore...leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories" (85-86). This description of the future of literature goes nicely with her descriptions of the past. Over all, Modernism was a shift towards the "new" in every way. After reading selections of Woolf's writing I really begin to see how modern art and modernist writing go hand in hand. Woolf's modernist writings are themselves a work of art, in it's intricate attention to detail and it's vivid shades of color, which paint a picture with the minds eye to accompany her words. This is surely what Modernism is in every sense of the word.
I am unsure what to make of the reappearing snail in both "The Mark on the Wall" and "Kew Gardens." What on earth does this snail mean?