Study Guide

Kew Gardens Youth

By Virginia Woolf

Youth

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

Ok, this quote is getting old. We apologize. It's making a reappearance, though, because it shows that the married man is preoccupied with memories of youth and especially of young love. Why is youth a fixation for so many of the characters? Try to draw out its relationship to the garden itself—a setting in which nature is in its prime. 

</em>"Imagine six little girls sitting before their easels twenty years ago, down by the side of a lake, painting the water-lilies, the first red water-lilies I'd ever seen. And suddenly a kiss, there on the back of my neck." (8)

Again, what is it about the garden that makes these characters reminisce about their youth? Interestingly, though, Eleanor focuses on an even earlier period of her youth than her husband does. Why do you think she turns back specifically to her childhood? What kind of contrast does this draw between Eleanor and her husband, between female and male characters? 

"Come, Caroline, come, Hubert." (8)

This is Eleanor's call to her children. Just as she was once a child in this garden, they are children in the garden right now. Crazy how history repeats itself. Their presence in the story, however minimal, reminds us that while some characters are immersed in memories of their youth, others are living their youth right now. Perhaps an older Caroline and Hubert will one day reminisce about strolling through Kew Gardens in their youth. 

</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)

You're probably getting sick of this quote too. The old man reminisces about his youth "hundreds of years ago." You get the idea… Like the married man, he's obsessed with his prime years—which he also associates with a beautiful young woman. 

</em>They were both in the prime of youth, or even that season which precedes the prime of youth, the season before the smooth pink folds of the flower have burst their gummy case, when the wings of the butterfly, though fully grown, are motionless in the sun. (19)

Unlike the story's older people who are busy reminiscing about their youth, the young couple is in the prime of their youth <em>right now</em>. Their preoccupations are more about navigating their future. In this regard, they are foils (of sorts) to the older characters that obsess mostly about the past. Why do you think Woolf includes these young characters side-by-side with the older ones? What does this diversity of representation add to the story? 

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