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Introduction

A dwelling space is a lived-in place where one meditates, discovers oneself, and is "constantly being created and remade by human activities."1 It is a place to which one belongs, with which one identifies; it is a place that reveals to man "the external bonds of his existence and at the same time the depths of his freedom and reality."2
       Although inner space is frequently identified with women or a woman in literary works by both genders,3 Kelsey quotes Woolf, who inveighs specifically against the present state of sex-consciousness, thinking it “one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think specially or separately of sex.”4 Although Woolf writes of allegedly feminine qualities such as beauty, perceptivity, emotion, profusion, and an infinite capacity for suffering, these feminine qualities are the spiritual side of every human being, for the ideal state of man5 is an androgynous (woman-manly or man-womanly) one:

Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation ... He meant that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment, that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.6


        Through the observation of the dwelling space as a separate entity from himself, man7 perceives it as a protective shell, his corner of the universe, his source of self-nurturing.8 By approaching it, watching it, entering it, he acknowledges the need for protection of individual human values and thoughts and solitude. By standing in the road outside his dwelling space, he sees where he has come from, what he is doing, where he is vulnerable, where he is strong. The passing of years and the subsequent nostalgia for these lost dwelling spaces enable man to realize that these dwelling places are compendia of memories—of ways and habits once cherished, people and lifestyles once loved and taken for granted. Dwelling places are spaces encompassing life's archetypal stages.
       "Good writing is pleasure first," says Donald Hall, "bodily pleasure, for the body is poetry's door; the sound of words—throbbing in legs and arms; rich in the mouth—let us into the house."9
       The selected short prose pieces referred to in this article are indeed pleasures first. Words and punctuation, line length, text shape, and assonance make Woolf’s language a malleable, living material. "The arrangement of her words is beautiful ... because it is a symbol, half concrete and half emotional, for the most abstract and intellectual problems of life: the problems of the relationships of man to the world outside him.”10
       Woolf’s words describing intimate places, dwelling spaces, seem to swell in the mouth and satisfy as the ordinariness of everyday life is deepened through the use of concrete images. "So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece" depicts poetically the act of reading in "Mark”. "She kept on looking into the glass, dipping into that dreadfully showing-up blue pool," relates the dismay nearly everyone encounters in a room when looking at himself in a mirror… the dismay over the discrepancy between the reality of the self in the mirror which will be criticized by society and the symbolism of the "mirror as a frame revealing one's imperceptible inner riches or depths,"11 ("The New Dress"). Such images are rosetta stones that comfort the reader, permit him to identify with others, ask him to leave momentarily his own reading of the piece even and think of similarities in his own past.
       Virginia Woolf writes of three types of dwelling spaces—rooms, books, and gardens—in "A Haunted House," "Monday or Tuesday," "Kew Gardens," "The Mark on the Wall," "The New Dress," "The Lady in the Looking-Glass,” “The Legacy," "Hours in a Library” and A Room of One's Own.

Rooms

Woolf’s rooms are "inhabited places which transcend geometrical spaces"12 and where thinking may take risks. Her rooms are the original shell, or geometric site, furnished with paintings and books, and "then there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coal scuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ”13 ("Mark"). Within that shell, one can suffer from "psychological inhibitions internalized from social stereotypes”14 or one can sublimate anger and plunge into forbidden territory and "discover an unfettered identity."15
       Rooms are spaces sometimes independent of people and sometimes reflecting them, for like Vanessa Bell (painter), Woolf sees “spaces within spaces: individuals live in rooms; rooms exist in houses; houses exist within city or landscapes.”16 They are "part of a framework of circulation—they are parts of larger areas and are focuses in a system of localisation;"17 and although these spaces or rooms are often found in patriarchal houses, they are "alternative or private spaces free from domestic, social, and financial management duties."18 "Concentrated and central; they are vertical and so rise from the ground and lift into our dreams, imagination,"19 and fresh thinking. Redolent of Woolf's own bifurcated room of adolescence (with "its mundane sleeping half and its living reading half"20 ), rooms are the center of solitude and of boredom or the birthplace of thinking. Cradled within Woolf's rooms, thinking and daydreaming are sheltered, and the imagination can build walls of safety to protect fresh thought. Rooms allow for the freedom of (imagination) movement within the confines of the familiar. "From room to room they went," says the narrator in "A Haunted House"; from thought to thought, from extravagance to extravagance, from treasure (love) to treasure (life) went the couple—invisibly—in the privacy of their shell, of "their repository.”21 And only a roomful of space is required for concentrated, uninterrupted hours during which a woman, like a man, can write a story, says Woolf in A Room of One's Own.
       Woolf’s rooms reflect her language and become a redemptive power sometimes seeking to replace suffering with understanding: "He could hear the cheap clock ticking on her mantelpiece; then a long drawn sigh... he had received his legacy ... she had told him the truth," in "The Legacy". Her rooms are a place where chance lives “shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, (the narrator watches) the heron pass(es) … the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains" in "Monday or Tuesday"; where choice fluctuates and "the doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart" in "A Haunted House." Her rooms are an autobiographic, nostalgic locale for word lovers,

Thus to stand in a great bookshop crammed with books so new that their pages almost stick together, and the gilt on their backs is still fresh, has an excitement no less delightful than the old excitement of the secondhand bookstall. ("Hours in a Library")

        Woolf's rooms are states of illumination. Characters' pasts are opened up and presented as layers of richness through the imagery of their furnishings. "The quiet old country room with its rugs and stone chimney pieces, its sunken bookcases and red and gold lacquer cabinets ... " in "The Lady in the Looking-Glass" paints Isabella's depth of personality, personal history, and varied interests. "Her eyes rested on the writing table behind him," indicate Sissy Miller's knowledge of her employer's habits of being in "The Legacy." Both rooms' furnishings reflect their mistresses' souls: Isabella's rugs, besides warming her room, symbolically cover the secrets in her cabinets where there "were many little drawers, and each almost certainly held letters," for "drawers (in chests and wardrobes and cabinets) bury treasures and bury the true self.”22 In the drawers, the letters turn from experience to memory and imagination. In drawers, shrouds for objects, Isabella hides herself; in her rooms, hidden from view, Isabella may change, open her grave, for "a secret is a grave",23 and take risks with her thinking. Angela's desk is the place where she changed, the place where she made decisions in her journal to love another man, to commit suicide for that man; it is her grave, which is recognized only as a writing table, where she takes letters for her politician husband. No one outside will notice unless she wishes them to (no one does until the diaries are read). In "The Mark on the Wall," the narrator's guilt of voyaging within is revealed, for after dreaming, "one hastily worships the chest of drawers". Drawers are also knowledge and concepts classified;24 there is no haziness with a chest of drawers, and momentarily the narrator is reassured by reality, the opposite of imagination, the opposite of her personal world.
       Our dwelling places are always inhabited with loss and longing. They are never bare25 in our minds and memories and readings. Woolf’s pensive and lyrical tones arrest attention with their sense of loss,

there will be nothing but spaces of light and dark, intersected by thick stalks, and rather higher up perhaps, rose-shaped blots of an indistinct color—dim pinks and blues - which will, as time goes on, become more definite, become—I don't know what... ("Mark"),

and of absence, "What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?" (House). Dwelling places are permeated by the need to belong to memory, to generations past, to enable to feel again rooms we have known through story or experience. Mabel's childhood rooms "with the linoleum worn on the stair edges" are revisited in Mrs. Dalloway's party rooms along with other "delicious moments" "reading the other night in bed”, "opening a letter—coming into a room—divine moments" in "The New Dress". They suggest rooms we would like to know through imagination, "like a vast nest of Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within another"(Kew). Such symbolism articulates a longing for a city of nests, of rooms with voices crying aloud, articulates a longing for the "infinite openings promised by a complex of boxes within boxes,"26 voices "the need to transcend the protected apertures of the bounded space of house.”27
       The sense of loss and of need is gnawing and organic; if one walks the rooms of others or the rooms of his present or past, whether in real life or in dreams and memories, absences are filled with small satisfactions. "I have enjoyed myself," Mabel said to Mrs. Dalloway as she left the party. Mrs. Dalloway does not know that Mabel has enjoyed the inner immensities opened up to her through speculation and musing during the boredom of the party held in her rooms. Likewise, in "Looking-Glass", the narrator seems to think Isabella will enjoy the inner immensities opened up to her by the letters arranged on her marble-topped table. After reading, Isabella would then hide her secrets, "tie the letters together, lock the cabinet drawer ... conceal what she did not wish to be known." For Isabella's life, unlike her room, is empty28 and passes society's scrutiny.

Doorways

Not all the pieces in this selection center on rooms; rather, some treat only slightly of rooms and so are doorways and windows (penetrations of light or the slender thresholds between “inner” and “outer” worlds) to books and gardens, and sometimes, other types of rooms. Each reader has the choice of going through that doorway to the room, books, garden within, or of just passing by. “But here I was actually at the door which leads into the library itself. I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown…”29 Light and weather penetrate interiors ... "Next day the light of the October morning was falling in dusty shafts through the uncurtained windows, and the hum of traffic rose from the street" (Room); lighted windows cast their glows upon exterior landscape ... "I found my way back to my house by the river. Lamps were being lit and an indescribable change had come over London since the morning hour" (Room); but, more important, people look at views outside.

So we talked standing at the window and looking, as so many thousands look every night, down on the domes and towers of the famous city beneath us. It was very beautiful, very mysterious in the autumn moonlight. The old stone looked very white and venerable. (Room)

        A palimpsest is a manuscript in which earlier erased drafts sometimes can be glimpsed. Such glimpses deepen meaning and intent. Some of the passages in this selection of short pieces can be compared to palimpsests: narrators visit former dwelling places to confront memories and are interrupted, sometimes jarred, by the lingering traces of even earlier memories.

Doesn't one always think of the past, in a garden with men and women lying under the trees? Aren't they one's past, all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the trees ... one's happiness, one's reality? ("Kew Gardens")

        But these earlier common memories can offer a sense of immensity in one's own individual memories: "For me, a square silver shoe buckle and a dragonfly," (recollection of a love affair) says Simon. "For me, a kiss," (recollection of a childhood painting lesson) says Eleanor.
       Some of Woolf’s passages are filled with light and thus imbue the prose with the qualities of still lifes and suggest rich inner immensities in the characters' lives. "[Woolf] recreates the ecstatic moments during which the external world and the self unite in a stasis that is like a still-life painting.”30 In "A Haunted House," the light fades. "Out in the garden then? ... the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun," … "the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window ... the candle burns stiff and tall" ... the eyes of the house are vigilant and watch "wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall," and thus the imagery of light leads to the buried treasure, "the light in the heart” or the treasure of freedom, the inner vastness inherent to every man. In "Monday or Tuesday," the firelight darts and reddens the room, while from the depths of ivory pages black words rise, "blossom and penetrate". In "Kew Gardens," light falls on pebbles, on the snail (a shell, a primeval room of solitude and boredom where thinking begins), on a leaf. The garden is filled with irregular patches of sunlight and shade suggesting chances in life, and these chances are enhanced by the characters who walk through. These patches later symbolize the patterns of words in the text used by the speakers, the flower beds themselves, the psychic rooms within. In "Looking-Glass," the empty house was "full of such shy creatures, lights and shadows," and the sense of seasons' lights passing is felt through the mention of the drawers holding lavender or rose leaves. Isabella stands "naked in that pitiless light," an acid-like light that leaves only the truth of her misery in her pretentious public life.

Books

Books in Woolf's writings are rooms within rooms. A book is a room. It is a place one may enter to encounter others in their rooms, to discover

what living men and women feel, what are their houses like and what clothes do they wear, what money have they and what food do they eat, what do they love and hate, what do they see of the surrounding world, and what is the dream that fills the spaces of their active lives? ("Hours In a Library")

        Through books, a reader creates an emotional landscape, and eventually, the poem or the book becomes part of the "furniture of our minds."31
       A book is a space where one may begin a psychic voyage, for reading takes readers into other spaces and states of mind.32 Like lamps, books keep vigil, wait, light the way, suggest unvoiced desire through the angles in which they are found. "Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy" (Room); "I like reading--reading books in the bulk” (Room); "I had come at last, in the course of this rambling, to the shelves which hold books by the living; by women and by men…” (Room); "The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands" (Room).
       In the warm and worn nests of books, it is safe to take apart and reconstruct old beliefs and notions. Emotion or the lack of it is the business only of the occupant of the nest, for the nest implies simplicity33 and is absent of society's inquisitions. The occupant is suspended beyond judgment, for the book, like a dwelling space, gives permission to explore, voyage, redefine. “Fallen the book ... now voyaging" in "Monday or Tuesday" defines a book as a nest ever-spreading, incorporating sound and smell, collecting details, accumulating thoughts and reactions, and finally deepening. The book frees its reader to leave the reading space and voyage. In "Kew Gardens," again, a sense of voyage, through text, from the dwelling space of the garden is demonstrated by "words with short wings for their heavy body of meaning." Mabel, in "The New Dress," thinks of reading Borrow or Scott when she feels stunted and filled with the tumult of memory in Mrs. Dalloway's rooms. After reliving memories, due to the suffocation of the party and of those rooms, Mabel resolves she will go to the "London Library tomorrow ... find some wonderful, astonishing book, quite by chance, ... by an American no one had heard of." Isabella's letters in "Looking-Glass" may be likened to books, and in "The Legacy," Angela's fifteen diary volumes are indeed accounts of physical voyages away from complacency and housewifery; they are rooms of intimacy.
       Another inhabitant of intimate space, the reader, is a traveler, as suggested by Woolf in "Hours in a Library":

Ignorant of the daily news, though versed in the catalogues of the secondhand booksellers, in whose dark premises he spends the hours of sunlight ... the true reader is essentially young ... he is open minded and communicative, to whom reading is more of the nature of brisk exercise in the open air than of sheltered study; he trudges the high road.

He demolishes society's imposed boundaries between imagined and lived lives; he walks from his mind into the world, for minds, in Woolf’s fiction, are "lighted rooms with furniture, dim rooms animated by ambiguous shapes as well as landscapes with mountains, valleys, sliding rivers, deep pools, and cloudy skies.”34

Gardens

Woolf’s gardens are a place between inner immensities and outer immensities. They are restricted and restricting spaces, a compromise between reality and imagination. Yet they are a space to wonder about other spaces, to encounter the vastness of roads and cities and universe, to comprehend the vastness or immensity within.

Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of motionless man.35

A garden is created for beauty, repose, and for cultivating flowers, food, and feelings of contentment and anticipation. It has a boundary (wall, fence, hedge), and it has a focus (trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables). It may have lawn, vines, and rocks. It is a landscape reflecting the interior or the mind of man. By standing inside the concrete and relative safety of a garden space, one views the vastness of the city and the universe; in the same moment, one is made aware of the psychological immensity within.36 A garden is a transition from the solitude of the room to the social and political existences in the world. It is a passageway in which people temporarily, but perhaps comfortably, gather.
       A garden is often the antithesis of the geometry of the city. The hierarchical order of man in the city is usually erased in the garden and replaced with a complete informality of nature. The garden is not designed to give a visitor a number of privileged views.37 Seeing is an aesthetic and intellectual activity that puts a distance between the object and the observer; therefore, the ideal garden is designed to involve, to encompass the visitor who, as he walks along a winding trail, is exposed to a controlled number of shifting scenes. The ideal garden is in "the shape of a square, is created on flat ground, and has sections for fragrant herbs as well as flowers. A fountain is placed in the middle," Tuan quotes Crescentius.38 Crescentius did not distinguish between gardens suitable for humble people and those appropriate for noblemen and kings.
       Yet some gardens seem to be for the privileged with their showy views of distant horizons marked by paths, other trees, and ponds. When a garden seeks to glorify man and his expertise (ornate fountains, avenues of trees), it loses its immediacy as a source of contemplation in a natural landscape and as a "background for commonplace human activities"39 with a "controlled number of aesthetic experiences."40
       Woolf’s gardens are mostly an extension of her rooms and books. Afloat in the immensity of themselves, her characters are nevertheless attracted to the universe beyond. "All strongly terrestrial beings are subject to the attractions of an aereal world.”41 Woolf’s flowers, rarely seen in isolation, are used to complement her characters' dimensions. Woolf’s flowers are "metaphors and similes for people and for their moments of intense perception ... they are indices of their natural cycles or states of mind.”42 In "Kew Gardens," flowers are presented through their shapes and colors, and thus appeal to man through his earliest symbols and are redolent of his primeval and natural state. The initial flower bed is oval-shaped (womb-shaped), and its erotic stalk imagery ("stalks rise with tongue-shaped leaves") suggests the garden is a place of fertility. The flowers are red, blue, and yellow. The colors, red and yellow advance, reach out, stimulate the nervous system and suggest warmth. Red signifies life, blood, energy, and joy. Red also signifies calamity, warfare, interment shrouds. Red is blood and spilled blood: life and death. Blue recedes and suggests coolness. Blue is lighter and suggests purity and timelessness. The heaviness of red and the lightness of blue suggest appearance and disappearance, or the fragility and evanescence of life.43 Somewhat ironically, against this primeval backdrop, different levels of modern society and their prevailing rules of decorum are encountered and "fused into an organic whole,"44 and cause the image of garden in this story to turn and become most room-like. Passersby are dressed and self-contained and well-mannered as though the garden has walls surrounding it; people converse (although they may not always listen attentively); they take tea at cloth-covered tables. In this outside dwelling space, inhabitants follow society's forms proscribed for interiors. The snail brings the garden image, its messages of retreat and reflection, and its senses of achievement and purpose and "link to human interludes”45 indoors in "Mark." Thus "Mark" is the reverse of "Kew Gardens"; it is an interior tale which has an exterior (garden and beyond) quality to it due to its musings on politics, history, and botany, and "the slow, delicious ooze of sap; the song of birds ... the cold feet of insects".
       In "A Haunted House," the garden is reflected in the house's windowpanes: "the window panes reflected apples, reflected roses, all the leaves were green in the glass." By using garden motif, by reflecting apples (which may be interpreted as a "symbolic representation of the Fall and man's redemption”46 ), roses (indicative of "divine love”47 ), leaves green in the glass (green meaning rebirth and growth48 ), the house's haunting qualities49 are established as those of wisdom, purity, timelessness. For a time, one of the house's inhabitants had left the other, had gone beyond the garden, had seen "the stars turned in the Southern sky." But as a limb of his dwelling space, he had returned. In "Monday or Tuesday", the world is whirled through: streets, mountains, noise are seen and heard by the narrator (through the use of the image of a heron) from her dwelling space; yet "lazy and indifferent the heron returns." Compared with seeing, hearing is unfocused; therefore, Woolf’s color imagery is emphasized. Beneath the distant whiteness, is a mountain, "the sun gold on its slopes.” This passage is reminiscent of sacred gardens that were planned so visitors would face the east "and the doctrine of the resurrected Christ."50 At midday, the dome is red, and the room is red. In sacred gardens, red flowers were abundant and symbolized life, joy, blood, spilled blood, and interment. In "Looking-Glass," the garden path is reflected in the mirror along with the hall itself and so leads Isabella away from the secrets of herself tied up in her cabinets. Isabella picks flowers in her garden, she snips sprays of traveler's-joy, and rehearses dinner party conversation. But she does not leave the garden; rather she picks more flowers and returns to the house and her letters (although these prove to be bills) and her secrets and memories of emotionally richer, and perhaps happier, times. "She came so gradually that she did not seem to derange the pattern in the glass, but only to bring some new element which gently moved and altered the other objects as if asking them, courteously, to make room for her. And the letters ... and the flowers ... and the garden path opened out so she might be received." She is dressed in gray-green and thus symbolizes wisdom, death, and rebirth as well as fertility, potential, and timelessness.51 Isabella has looked into the most secret regions of her own being from the garden. A concordance of world immensity with intimate depth of being,52 has been realized by Isabella.

Summary  

“Good writing is the unsayable said,” says Donald Hall.53
        In these selected prose pieces of Virginia Woolf, the unsayable is said. A sense of loss, a sense of immensity confronts, perhaps disturbs, but ultimately reassures. Through the use of dwelling space as a metaphor, Woolf captures the static physical setting, the activities and the meanings of place.54 Through people in rooms—or variations of rooms—voicing their longings, restlessnesses, and memories, Woolf turns a page of inert text into a living presence, an inner immensity.


Bibliography

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AllegraWong has a BA in English Literature from Wheaton College (Norton), and has done extensive graduate work in English and American literature and language at Harvard University. Her poetry and prose have been published in numerous journals including The Montserrat Review, 3rd Bed, Modern Haiku, Brevity, The Paumanok Review, Writer Online, and Oyster Boy Review. She teaches at Writers on The Net, is creative writing moderator at SayStuff.com, lives in Boston, and has one son.
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