The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf by Virginia WoolfVirginia Woolf writes with an extreme level of precision; she is the absolute master of capturing the intensity of a single image.
As such, I think she is a far more talented short story writer than a novelist. A perfect short story, one with a precise form, expressive language and a meaningful allegory, is closer to poetry than it is to a novel. The language needs to be weighed carefully because just one sentence (or perhaps even just one word) can change the entire meaning of the piece: it has to be exact.
Woolf’s stories are perfectly on point.
I don’t think she writes plots very well (or, at least, I don’t seem to be able to engage with them.) She plays with words and images and in the short story form this is fantastic though when combined with a complex yet understated plot in a novel, it is very easy to become lost in the mirage of words she throws at her readers; her writing is heavily descriptive and sometimes this detracts from her longer pieces.
Here though it is wonderful, simply because the plots are so irrelevant. Kew Gardens is perhaps one of the finest short stories I have ever read: the story is one image, a glimpse into the mundane nature of a city garden. It is full of life and colour and people. As I read Woolf’s words I could see the flowers in all their hues. I could smell the petals and I could hear the voices of the citizens. I was there. The effect was a remarkable feat of writing.
From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with sports of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end.
So consider me impressed. I will read the rest of her novels (eventually) and it will be interesting to see if my opinion remains the same.
"The Haunted House"
The Complete Short Stories of Virginia Woolf
The rock group Modest Mouse took their band name from a phrase in this story. In this story, the female narrator is travelling on the train from London to the south coast. She is a people-watcher, and takes an interest in her fellow passengers, all of whom are trying to avoid making eye contact with the other people in the carriage. All, that is, except one: a woman sitting across from the narrator, who stares straight ahead, and who, the narrator surmises, harbours some secret. The narrator proceeds to invent a whole life for this unknown woman, riding high on the life of the imagination and letting her creative spirit off the leash. In less than two pages of prose, Woolf explores, summons, and subverts the conventions of the ghost story , offering a modernist take on the genre.
Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard'. Virginia Woolf tested the boundaries of fiction in these short stories, developing a new language of sensation, feeling and thought, and recreating in words the 'swarm and confusion of life'.
She wrote many of these stories as experimental sketches or exercises in which she developed new techniques for prose fiction and the art of story-telling. The majority of the stories were written between and the early s — a period which also saw the creation of her most famous modernist novels. The series is an on-going compilation and is shown here in alphabetical order. Dates given are for first publication. Mont Blanc pen — the Virginia Woolf special edition.