Study Guide

Kew Gardens Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

The man was about six inches in front of the woman, strolling carelessly, while she bore on with greater purpose, only turning her head now and then to see that the children were not too far behind. (2)

We are introduced to some very gendered representations here, right off the bat: the man strolls carelessly ahead, the woman more "purposefully." What do you think this distinction suggests? Why is she characterized as more purposeful? While the husband is lost in thought, she turns very maternally to check on the children. What do these details tell us about gender roles in Kew Gardens? We won't go so far as to call the man a deadbeat dad, but it sounds like he could stand to get his head in the game and share responsibilities with his wife, if you ask us. 

"Fifteen years ago I came here with Lily," he thought. (3)

Come on man, fifteen <em>years</em> ago…Get over it! Is it significant that the man's memories focus on a woman—and not just any woman, but a woman who refused his proposal? How do the married man's contemplations about "the woman I might have married" affect the dynamic between him and his wife, Eleanor? 

</em>Imagine six little girls sitting before their easels twenty years ago…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 woman with a wart on her nose, the mother of all my kisses all my life. (8)

What do you make of the fact that Eleanor's most memorable kiss is not from her husband, or even from another man, but from an old woman? Since the kiss is from an old woman, it seems more maternal than romantic—at least, we would certainly hope so. What does this memory tell us, then, about Eleanor and her relationship to men and women? 

</em>After looking at it for a moment in some confusion the old man bent his ear to it 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)

Interesting that the old man and the married man are both obsessed with women from their pasts…Why do Woolf's older men tend to center their memories around women from their youth? What's the connection here between women and memory? Or between women and youth? The women that these men remember seem to represent not just objects of desire for them, but also something central to the men's own identities—or at least, their former, youthful identities. 

</em>"Wherever <em>does </em>one have one's tea?" she asked with the oddest trill of excitement in her voice, looking vaguely round and letting herself be drawn on down the garden path, trailing her parasol, turning her head this way and that way, forgetting her tea, wishing to go down there and then down there, remembering orchids and cranes among wild flowers, a Chinese pagoda and a crimson crested bird; but he bore her on. (28)

Trissie wants to venture through the garden, to explore—but the young man directs her movement and draws her down a particular path that he desires. Even in the openness of the garden, she is caught in a very constrained gender role and her movements are dictated by a controlling male figure. Then again, she doesn't really resist the young man. What kind of statement is being made here about gender relations? Does this dynamic between the two characters qualify as a minor conflict of sorts? 

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