“The Mark on the Wall” is a short story written by Virginia Woolf. This short story employs the stream of consciousness, the same mode of narrative that Lodge’s Thinks . . . did. The story is told through the stream of consciousness of a female narrator who notices this strange mark on the wall and begins to question what it could have been caused by. We don’t find out what it actually is until the end of the story when the narrator’s stream of consciousness is interrupted by another person’s voice. Within a span of a couple years she watched her mom, half-sister, dad, and brother die. According to many scholars her work is often a reflection of her  depressed state. Woolf committed suicide at the age of 59. “The Mark on the Wall” is a short story written by Virginia Woolf. This short story employs the stream of consciousness, the same mode of narrative that Lodge’s Thinks . . . did. The story is told through the stream of consciousness of a female narrator who notices this strange mark on the wall and begins to question what it could have been caused by. We don’t find out what it actually is until the end of the story when the narrator’s stream of consciousness is interrupted by another person’s voice.

The genre of elegy is most known as a “poem about mourning and consolation” (Sacks 2). Peter Sacks outlines the conventions of the genre in his work, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre: From Spenser to Yeats as the following:

Pastoral Contextualization
Use of repetition and refrain
Reiterated questions
Procession of mourners
Traditional images of resurrection
Movement from grief to consolation
Elegists’s need to draw attention to, consolingly, to his own surviving powers

One of the most widely known elegies is Milton’s Lycidas. Karen Smythe’s Virginia Woolf’s Elegiac Enterprise explores how various works of Woolf, including “The Mark on the Wall” challenge the elegiac genre. Smythe coins the term “fiction-elegy” to describe Woolf’s choice to use the “novel form in [her] exploration and alteration of elegiac conventions (such as incantation) that originated in in poetic technique” (64). While Woolf does challenge the expected conventions, she also embraces the aspect of reflection that elegies strive for. As the speaker begins to reflect back on everything that changes in life, she reflects on the house and how it has changed as the owners change. She believes that the hole might have been caused by pictures that were hung by the previous owners and mentions that “one will never see them again, never know what happened next.” There is this idea of a fleeting moment that leaves and can never be returned again. However,Smythe fails to comment on how Woolf’s use of  “steam of consciousness” adds to the reflective element of the elegy. The form allows her to have multiple reflections and thought without interruption.

Woolf also uses pastoral setting widely in her writing. There are many references to various flowers and meadows, and a particular allusion to Greek mythology.

“Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour-landing at the other end without a single hair pin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows. . .Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard. . .”

The world “asphodel” refers to an immortal flower. This immortal flower and the term “asphodel meadows” is a reference to Homer and the place”where the spirits of the dead dwell” (Reece 1). According to Steve Reece, a renowned professor and writer, the asphodel meadow has recognized “throughout Western literary” as a “pleasant and desirable place” (1). However, this pastoral setting does not provide comfort to the speaker. On the contrary, it makes the speaker uneasy about life. There are instances where the speaker comments that Nature is supposed to counsel and “comfort you” and that “if you can’t be comforted, if you must shatter this hour of peace, think of the mark on the wall”. The speaker can’t be comforted by nature because she keeps thinking about the mark on the wall herself. Her thoughts always go to the mark on the wall. The constant repetition of “the mark on the wall” and the rhetorical questions about what the mark can be that is widely used in elegies. However, Woolf challenges the convention by not finding consolation with the pain, instead she seems to be acquiring more. The repetition of “the mark on the wall” reminds the speaker and reader about the absence of what once was but no longer is and the trouble one has with letting the past go. Therefore, this becomes an elegy to mourn time and moments in life that are gone and vanish.

However, according to Smythe the image of the snail is “a living thing, but it figuratively ‘writes’; it is a mark that ‘marks’ and leads the speaker and reader toward consolation through meditations and questionings” (69). While it is true that the speaker finds consolation in knowing what the object was, the speaker and reader is not consoled because they are left with more profound questions than simply wondering what the mark on the wall is. Spoiler alert! The mark on the wall, as we learn from the voice that interrupts the speaker, is left from a snail. Ironically, the snail represents life and the speaker mourns how fast life passes by and the moments it takes with it. Just a couple of lines before the speaker insisted that “everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.” The speaker isn’t consoled by knowing that the mark is a snail because mourning the snail, she was mourning the rapidity of life, what once was and no longer is. Woolf’s short story transforms and embraces the form of the elegy.