• You may want to start out by reading Woolf’s manifesto for the new
form of writing she is trying to invent: “Modern Fiction.” Slightly
revised from an essay called “Modern Novels” published in 1919 -- around
the time she was writing “Mark on the Wall” (1917) and “Kew Gardens”
(1919) -- this is Woolf’s best known and most often-quoted essay. You
want to look for what she is attacking in the previous generation of
writers and what she wants to see in the new writing. (make lists)
• Then think about how “Mark” and “Kew” embody these ideas.
• Jane Goldman has a brief section on “Modern Fiction” in her book
(103-6), and Mark Hussey has a page-long entry on it in his A to Z (on
THE SHORT STORIES
• As you read the short stories, be thinking about “A Sketch of the
Past.” What structures/ ways of writing do these works have in common?
Can you begin to articulate a sense of Woolf’s characteristic style? How
does she think? And how is that revealed in the way she organizes or
structures her stories? Also be alert for common themes and images.
Twenty+ years separate these short stories from her memoir. Are there
issues which she seems to be concerned with across that arc of time?
• There are several overviews about the short stories available:
o Goldman, Cambridge Intro, pp. 87-92 (R) REQUIRED
o Sandra Kemp’s Introduction to the selected short stories for Penguin (BB)
o Baldwin, Dean. “Bold Experiments” 13-26 in Virginia Woolf: A Study of the Short Fiction (1989) (BB)
o I personally favor A. Fleishman’s “Forms of the Woolfian Short Story”
(1980) which posits 2 different forms for the stories: linear and
circular (though we can argue quite a bit over which stories are which).
o Dick, Susan."Chasms in the Continuity of Our Way: Jacob's
Room."Chapter Two of Virginia Woolf. London & New York: Edward
Arnold, 1989. (R) Connects the early short stories up to the method and
themes of Jacob’s Room.
“A MARK ON THE WALL”
• On first reading, this story appears to be quite random and chaotic.
Just read it a couple of times, letting the images sink in. Then I would
advise going through and trying to make your own outline of what each
paragraph is about.
• Can you see any turning points in the story? Can you clump any paragraphs into groups?
• What seem to be the repeated images and concerns? ( Repetition is the key to meaning)
• What is the story “about”?
• Use the same reading process with “Kew.” Notice the various characters
in the story and how the narration/ point of view shifts among them. Is
there any pattern here?