Study Guide

Kew Gardens Story Summary

By Virginia Woolf

Story Summary

  • A flowerbed is described in detail, with special attention paid to the shapes and colors of the leaves and petals, and how they interact with the sunlight and the breeze. Sounds lovely, right?
  • A snail with a shell of "brown, circular veins" (1) lies quietly in the flowerbed. (This little guy may seem unimportant, but take note: he is a recurring character!)
  • Men and women wander past the flowerbed in irregular movements, "not unlike that of the white and blue butterflies who crossed the turf in zig-zag flights from bed to bed" (2).
  • A man and woman wander down path with their children straggling behind them.
  • The man remembers that it was in this garden many years ago that he proposed to a woman named Lily, and that she rejected him. Poor guy.
  • He recalls his strong desire for her to say yes, the silver buckle of her shoe as he proposed, and a dragonfly that fluttered impatiently around the couple. Kind of random, huh?
  • The man turns to his wife, Eleanor, and asks if she ever thinks of the past. Of course she does—who doesn't?
  • Eleanor shares her own memory of the garden with him—of a kiss she received from an old lady while painting water-lilies in the company of other little girls. With that, she calls to her children and the family proceeds down the path.
  • In the flowerbed, the snail begins to move in its shell and labor across the dirt.
  • Various obstacles lay in his path—blades of grass, pebbles that seem like boulders to him, vast leaves—and he pauses, deciding which route to take.
  • Two men wander past the snail in the flowerbed—a young fellow named William who wears "an expression of perhaps unnatural calm" (11) and an older, senile man (possibly his father).
  • The old man makes some strange comments about spirits, to which William does not reply.
  • In the midst of his comments, the man is distracted by a woman's dress in the distance and hurries towards her, but William catches him by the sleeve and diverts his attention to a flower.
  • The old man bends his ear to the flower and begins speaking to it about his visit to the forests of Uruguay years before. Um…okay. William stoically moves him along.
  • Two working-class women—one stout and one nimble—wander behind the men and are fascinated by the signs of eccentricity in the elderly gentleman. Who can blame them?
  • Exchanging looks, they energetically attempt to piece together the man's strange comments.
  • The stout woman eventually stops listening to the other woman and gazes at the flowers before suggesting that they have their tea. Tea in a summer garden—how very English.
  • The snail makes a grand reappearance. He has finally determined to creep beneath a leaf. Good decision, Mr. Snail.
  • Just as the snail acclimates himself to the "high brown roof" (19) of the leaf, two other figures approach.
  • This time, the figures are an unnamed young man and a young woman named Trissie.
  • They exchange brief words that suggest the awkwardness and novelty of their romance (aww…), they press Trissie's parasol into the earth, and then they wander off to have their tea.
  • The narrative takes in the whole of the garden scene, describing the bodies, colors, movements, noises, and heat of the summer afternoon. 

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