Study Guide

Senile, Old Man in Kew Gardens

By Virginia Woolf

Senile, Old Man

Yay for crazy old people. This guy is one of our favorite characters. Unlike William, the old man talks "incessantly" about everything from the spirits of the dead to the forests of Uruguay, and even about a hot babe he once knew. His comments are irrational and incoherent, leading us to wonder if he might be a bit senile. Or is he just re-living memories of his youth, like the married couple? One thing is for sure: he's obsessed with the afterlife and communicating with the dead:

You have a small electric battery and a piece of rubber to insulate the wire—isolate?—insulate?—well, we'll skip the details, no good going into details that wouldn't be understood—and 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 in black (13).

This ranting is difficult to follow and it does seem mostly incoherent, but it also hints at his own concerns with death. Perhaps he sees his own end around the corner. His senility is confirmed shortly after this when he bends down to listen and speak to a flower. At this point, he begins murmuring about forests of Uruguay, which he had apparently visited "hundreds of years ago." See why William is so stoically patient?

Is the old man truly crazy, or does he just express the thoughts and memories that most people keep silent within their minds? His erratic gestures and strange comments catch the attention of two women who are particularly interested in eccentricity among the "well-to-do." So, in addition to being crazy, he's also apparently a rich old bugger. Maybe that's why he's able to get away with so much.