Study Guide

Kew Gardens Isolation

By Virginia Woolf

Isolation

The man kept this distance in front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously, for he wished to go on with his thoughts. (2)

The married man's wife and children accompany him in the garden, yet even as he is in their presence, he seems to seek isolation. Hey, we all need some alone time, right? He may appear to be with them from the outside, but is he really "with" them, or off somewhere on his own? How does his isolation affect his relationship with his wife? 

</em>He smiled to himself and again began to talk, as if the smile had been an answer. He was talking about spirits—the spirits of the dead, who, according to him, were even now telling him all sort of odd things about their experiences in Heaven. (11)

Well, the old man isn't <em>completely</em> isolated here, is he? The spirits of the dead must be excellent company…maybe…but that's just the problem—he's talking to <em>dead spirits </em>and not his living, breathing companion, William. The old man seems to be obsessed with human connection—he even talks about a contraption that will allow him to connect with the spirits—but he misses a chance at connection with the very person at his side.

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 my William, upon whose face the look of stoical patience grew slowly deeper and deeper. (14)

Is the old man talking to William here, or simply rehearsing his memories aloud? Is there even a difference? Either way, there's definitely not much conversation going on. The old man might as well be talking (or thinking) to himself; it's all kind of one big monologue. The further he recedes into memories of the past, the further he seems to grow from William. 

</em>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. (18)

We all have that one friend—you know, the kind who is fun to hang out with, but they talk <em>way</em> too much and at one point, you just have to start tuning them out. It seems like this is the case with the two working-class women. They appear to have a friendly relationship—they exchange glances and discuss the old man's eccentricity—but they are also enclosed in their own worlds. Here, again, we encounter two figures that are isolated even in their companionship. The stout woman straight up stops listening to what the other woman is saying to look at a flower. What do you think Woolf is trying to communicate here about relationships? How are the flowers relevant to their isolation? 

</em>Long pauses came between each of these remarks; they were uttered in toneless and monotonous voices. (26)

The long pauses in the young couple's dialogue suggests their awkwardness and uncertainty, but also their distance from each other. They want to connect but can't quite do it. Know the feeling? The irony here is that they both seem to really <em>want </em>to connect—they're trying so hard, unlike other characters in the story, but still alienation and isolation seems to be the rule. 

</em>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. (26)

Dude, she's just asking for tea. The young man is so distanced from Trissie and so uncertain about what she thinks and feels that he gives even her most basic questions enormous significance. Instead of just talking freely with her, he tries to read into whatever might be "looming" behind her words. Sounds like a lot of complex guesswork and interpretation. It's no wonder the characters have trouble connecting

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