… she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell

I went and sat in a garden today for the first time this year, as spring has finally come. I leaned against a tree reading and sprawled on smooth green grass, enjoying the blue flowers, writing in a journal.

It made me think of Mrs. Dalloway, which, although I read it on a plane and a Florida beach, is really more suited to garden reading. So in honor of spring, here are a few of my favourite passages.

There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes — so she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym who owned her help, and thought her kind, for kind she had been years ago; very kind, but she looked older, this year, turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale — as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower — roses, carnations, irises, lilac — glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey-white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!

And as she began to go with Miss Pym from jar to jar, choosing, nonsense, nonsense, she said to herself, more and more gently, as if this beauty, this scent, this colour, and Miss Pym liking her, trusting her, were a wave which she let flow over her…

I might read it again this summer. I loved To the Lighthouse years ago in university and only got around to finishing Mrs. Dalloway this year, although I’ve read about half of Night and Day and a bit of the opening of The Waves — the first being probably her most conventional novel and possibly a bit too long, as I was distracted away from it, and the second being hard to read in the experimental line. What about something that just has lovely writing?

Also, I’ve just signed up to join in on the Classics Circuit tour of Imperialist Russia to read Ivan Turgenev’s First Love. The Russians will be coming your way in late June and early July.

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9 thoughts on “… she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell

  1. Amanda says:

    I try to read one Virginia Woolf novel a year. I’ve already read one of her plays (perhaps her only play?) this year, but that’s not quite the same thing. I’d like to read Orlando, I think.

    • Carolyn (afewofmyfavouritebooks) says:

      I didn’t know she had written a play! Wikipedia tells me it’s called Freshwater and is her only one. How was it? Which of her novels have you read? Reading one a year is a good way to do it, although now I’m so into early 20th century women writers, I may keep going with her and Elizabeth Bowen for a while…

  2. Allie says:

    Oh, I do love Woolf. I have a few more of her works to read soon (Night and Day, Room of One’s Own, To the Lighthouse, and The Voyage Out). If you’re interested, we can read one together!

    I also signed up for the new classics circuit. I have two titles in mind, so I think I am just going to do both of them (Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy).

    • Carolyn (afewofmyfavouritebooks) says:

      Reading one (or all of them) together would be fun, I’m starting to think of trying to read more of her books now.

      Those are both pretty short, Fathers & Sons was the first Russian novel I ever read, which is partly why I’m wanting to go back to Turgenev again (and because it’s short!) I tried to read War & Peace, but it’s a bit too moralistic for me, at least Fathers & Sons has nihilists.

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