Plot Summary of "The
Mark on the Wall" by Virginia Woolf
Grad Seminar, Engl 814, Spring 2000/ 2002
E.K. Sparks, Clemson U
#1: january, first notices mark
(black on white) Interrupts automatic fancy
abt fire. . Describes room "Rather to my relief the sight of the
mark interrupted the fancy," why is she relieved to be interrupted?
She wants to get out of conventional fairy tale..wants her imagination
to get onto something new.. She is imaging the red and black of war--
flag flying; knights riding..
#2: Wonders where mark came from/
why. 1st speculation: Not from a picture, perhaps a miniature:
ofà picture of 18thC lady -> (red carnation is a link to red
coals..gender switch). Speculates on previous residents who wanted a different
style of life— just as she wants to think about something differnt than
old fantasy of knights; he felt art should have ideas…(just as Roger and
Clive feel that art is not just pretty pictures but an attempt to discover
the form behind things. Interesting to think this story is also art
wtih ideas) her mind rushes past the memory of home owners as if she was
on a train watching old Woman and young man.
Train images shows us how life rushes past us so fast, and we only see
glimpses of it, which doesn't mean that there isn't more... Train is typically
an image of modern life for her-- of the speed of life.
Both the old and the new are rushing by so fast it is hard to make sense
HYPOTHESIS #1 -- it's a nail hole
#3: not a nail hole . Too big
for that-- almost as if she falls into the hole. (like Alice down
the rabbithole) Nobody knows how it got there -> life mystery, the ignorance
of man -> tangent about things lost--cats, rats, birdcages and steel skates
-> images of falling,
being shot through tube,
being naked before God; fleeing time and wasted life. – LOSING STUFF—CHAOS
OF LIFE (another war image? Being shot out of the gun??)
#4 Meditation on death and rebirth--
Flower stalk, bending over – switch perspectives so person is miniaturized
– is she reborn as some kind of small insect? (Forecast snail) Very
Kew Gardens here.
HYPOTHESIS 2-- it's a bigger hole than that
#5 3rd hypothesis:
a spot left from a rose leaf -> dust covering Troy, pots surviving in fragments.
Rose leaf connected with red carnation; but also with Troy (Helen vs war)
#6 Tree on window pane. "to slip
easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle.
I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard
separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that
passes" --- the method she is trying to pursue in this story. Wants
to go deeper -> Shakespeare. Shakespeare is typically representative
of the perfect artist whose mind was never impeded by obstacles of thought,
personality.Dissatisfied with that train of thought
... SHe wants a train that will reflect well on her (exactly the egotism
that Shakespeare avoids)
#7 Invented conversation about
botany that ends up with Charles the 1st. Admires self in a
mirror. Whole paragraph is about reflections. Also battling
with herself about the artist being conscious or self-conscious... How
to write personally, subjectiviely without being ego-centric. Images
broken image; reflects on reflections, mentions how that is important to
novelist. New novel will be about reflection of the depths consciousness,
not about description Generalizations-> general (Are all generalizations
fascist??) -> idea of how we follow conventions as a child -> Sunday lunches
and rules for tablecloths. Ends on idea that masculine point of view has
created all these hierarchies which are now somewhat dissolving…Will we
be free in the future. Whole section about rose leaf is dealing with
the past, and with getting rid of the past (like getting rid og the idea
of the knights)
#8: Now she thinks that the mark
may be projecting from the wall. Reminds her of a tomb -> antiquaries:
the Colonel who wants the site to be a camp (for the military) vs, speaker
who wants it to be a tomb.
#9 4th hypothesis—it’s
a nail. Now investigates from nail’s point of view. Knowledge through the
ages—but so much superstition. Back to the garden image—under water. Everything
would be peaceful if only there weren’t so many rules and hierarchies.
(World of nature where things flow and change vs. hierarchies and boundaries
#10 I should get up and look (should
contact reality) Like Prtufrock, she sits in the chair and imagines
tings, really prefers imaginng them to knowing what reality is.
#11: nature wants her to get up
so she won’t waste energy on thinking about male power.
#12: nature associated with not
thinking; contempt for men of action
#13: Mark as something real which
will rescue her mind from traps of imagination -> digression on trees,
bucolic life of the country. Tree becomes wood, made into a ship. Interruption—new
#14: says it’s going to get a
newspaper, curse the war. Defines mark as snail..