Study Guide

Kew Gardens Memory and the Past

By Virginia Woolf

Memory and the Past

"Fifteen years ago I came here with Lily," he thought. "We sat somewhere over there by a lake and I beggared her to marry me all through the hot afternoon." (3)

Being back in the same place where he once was with Lily dredges up all these memories for the married man. Why do you think his preoccupation with the past is the primary feature Woolf gives us of the married man? Why is the past so important to him in this scene and how does it intersect with the preoccupations of other characters? 

</em>"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)

Eleanor suggests that there's a distinct relationship between the garden setting and the force of memory. Is she right? Why do you think a stroll in the garden causes so many of the characters to reminisce on the past? 

"Imagine six little girls sitting before their easels twenty years ago, down by the side of a lake, painting the water-lillies, 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)

This memory is all we really know of Eleanor's interior life. It's an interesting memory to attach such significance to, don't you think? What does it tell us about her? And how does Eleanor's interest in the past differ from her husband's? 

</em>He bent his ear to it [a flower] and seemed to answer a voice speaking from it, for he began talking about the forests of Uruguay which he had visited hundreds of years ago in company with the most beautiful young woman in Europe. (14)

The old man seems to be telling the flower about his memories of the past. It could be said that we are meant to think that nature—i.e. the flower—elicits these reflections from him. What do you make of the old man's "conversation" with the flower? And (again) what kind of relationship is being drawn here between nature and the force of memory? 

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