Study Guide

Eleanor in Kew Gardens

By Virginia Woolf

Eleanor

Eleanor, the wife of "the married man," walks slightly behind her husband through the garden and turns every now and then to check on her children, Hubert and Caroline. Everything we know about her is based on her conversation with her husband about the past. She comments:

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? (6)

She clearly sympathizes with her husband's preoccupations with the past and understands the tendency the garden setting has to provoke powerful memories. In fact, she goes on to share her own special and weird memory of the garden with him:

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 only—it was so precious—the kiss of an old grey-haired women with a wart on her nose, the mother of all my kisses all my life. (8)

We know what you're probably thinking: "Um…what?" We admit, if an old lady with a wart on her nose came up and kissed us on the back of the neck (shudder), we'd probably think it was really freaking creepy—definitely not "precious"—but hey, who are we to judge? Maybe Eleanor never had a grandma, or wasn't given much affection as a kid. Like her husband, Eleanor is preoccupied with private recollections, but there's still some communication between these characters, despite their isolation. 

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