Study Guide

Kew Gardens Versions of Reality

By Virginia Woolf

Versions of Reality

"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 seems to suggest that ghosts of the past are sometimes all one knows of their current reality—our past shapes our life in the present. This certainly seems to be the case for some of the story's characters. What kind conflicting notions of "reality" does the story draw out? Are their multiple different "realities" at play here? 

</em>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)

The old man talking to spirits clearly occupies a very different reality from the other characters. Yet, he also shares the external reality of the garden with them. Which reality is "real"? If we can't verify the presence of the spirits, does that make the old man's "reality" less authentic? What determines the validity of any given version of reality? 

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)

The woman looks almost as crazy as the old man sounds. She's just chilling in her own world here, her own particular reality in which the other woman's words cease to matter. Is there a difference, then, between a character's "version of reality" and their "interior world"? Are these things fundamentally the same? 

</em>The snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it. (19)

The snail's saga throughout the story is a striking example of a creature that inhabits a completely different reality from everyone else. He's not senile like the old man; he's not even in a meditative trance like the woman. In fact, he occupies the exact same physical environment as the other characters and yet, his world looks completely different from theirs. What does this tell us about different "versions of reality"? 

</em>O, Heavens, what were those shapes?—little white tables, and waitresses who looked first at her and then at him; and there was a bill that he would pay with a real two shilling piece, and it was real, all real, he assured himself, fingering the coin in his pocket, real to everyone except to him and to her. (26)

Why do you think the young man has to reassure himself, repeatedly, that it's all real? Why does he think things seem real to everyone except himself and Trissie? He obviously isn't keen on what's going on with the old man and his spirit-flower friends. Pay attention to how the word, "real," is being used here. How does it inform the concept of reality? 

</em>Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere. (29)

The narrator's descriptions of scene often have an impressionistic quality. People become drops and splotches of color; they dissolve and waver, almost as though they inhabit a painting rather than the concrete world. Is this just a pretty way of describing things, or do you think the narrative's depiction of the world itself becomes a certain version of its own reality, especially in these descriptions? If the narrator herself only sees one version of reality, what does this mean for the objectivity or subjectivity with which scenes are presented to us? 

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