Virginia Woolf
Blog, Digital Academics

An Open Letter to Virginia Woolf

Dear Mrs. Woolf,

I know that this letter will never manage to find a way into your hands but I hope in some way that it finds its way into the spirit of you that has been created through the beautiful words that you shared with the world during your brief fifty nine years.

For the last ten weeks, I have been meditating over a short story of yours, Kew Gardens, and I have to admit that I started having little conversations with you as I went over and over the lines of text. I don’t often find myself feeling like I am speaking with an author when I read their work. I normally see the author as being outside of the room, maybe next door, but never right there in my office with me. After two and a half months with Kew Gardens, I started to feel like I was getting to know a part of you that you set aside just for me.

I know, I know, you died forty years before I was born, and yes, it is a bit of magical thinking on my part to believe that something could have been written by a long dead woman who lived so far away in space and time just for me, but I still feel like a connection was left there in Kew Gardens that was meant for me to find and wrestle with, try and make sense of, and then share with the world.

The first time I read Kew Gardens, I decided that it was about people, not that snail, not how humanity relates with that snail, but how people interact with time. I wrote a short paper that touched on the subject but did not explore it fully, just hinted at the notion. I turned the paper in and only thought of it briefly over the next two years. Then I was asked to write a longer paper and I was told that I could expand on an existing, older, piece that I had written in a previous class. Only one paper ever entered my mind as a possibility to write about, my short paper on Kew Gardens that never managed to explore those hidden themes that I knew existed in the story.

Well the paper is finished. I turned it in and I dread the grade I will receive on it. I turned it in knowing that I would like to spend another ten weeks on it without the distractions of multiple classes, graduation, the stress of hunting for graduate programs, thinking about studying for my graduate exams. The paper has been given to my professor and in it I did my best to explain how you seemed to be exploring character, as you do in a lot of your works, but rather than exploring a single character, you were exploring the character of humanity and you did this by briefly exploring a cast of eight people all walking by a snail in a small flower bed in Kew Gardens. I tried to explain that humanity was not the only theme explored in the work, that you also revealed how a person’s engagement with society as a whole changes as they age and even pointed out that there is a bit of commentary on the difference of experience between men and women in your society. All in all, I attempted to show that this work is one of the better explorations of character that you ever undertook and I feel like I have a better understanding of the shifting perspective on life that we have as we age and move through the machine that is society.

I would give anything to have you here in the room with me now, Mrs. Woolf, alive and well, able to talk with me about my ideas regarding Kew Gardens. I want to know if I am wildly off the mark, that everyone else has it right, the story is about the snail and how it represents the connection between man and nature. I would give anything for you to be here so we could talk about your notions of character development, about how interiority is the key to really making a character come alive, dance on the page, and invite us to truly engage. I would love to have you here and ask you about the impact war had on the culture of your time and whether it is similar to the impact that is felt now when our great nations fight with others. I would be delighted to sit knee to knee at the small table in my dining room and read my prose to you, hear what you think, talk with you about the characters that I chase through the pages of my stories and pick your mind on how better to make them feel as though they are breathing on the page.

Lastly, Mrs. Woolf, I want to thank you for the words that you shared with the world. Thank you for the conversations I have already had with them and thank you for the conversations I will have with them in the future.

Your humble servant,
Jake Carlsen