Short story: “Solid Objects”

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“Solid Objects,” by Virginia Woolf

According to Wikipedia, appeared in some magazine or other between 1922 and 1941; collected in A Haunted House and Other Short Stories in 1944; online here; in various ebook formats here; audio version on YouTube here

2,408 words

I love this story for being so weird. It captures exactly the pointlessness of obsession, of beauty, and of art, a pointlessness that is perhaps their defining quality. Unlike (for example) published fiction, John’s collection doesn’t even offer the dubious advantage of communication or communion with other people. Its pleasure is partly aesthetic and partly a sense of accomplishment. The story explicitly uses the word “ambition” twice, so we cannot consider John’s new career a reaction against ambition or an escape from it.

The title seems to emphasize the sense of security that the objects of John’s obsession, and the obsession itself, might be seen to offer him. Obsession is a form of security, in that it admits no questions and needs no justifications. For someone adrift in the world of politics, it must be a tempting way out.

Are we supposed to admire John’s way out? The story never shows us the value of the world he’s leaving behind, not even when using Charles’ point of view, but it also seems ambivalent about his new life. “In the Reign of Harad IV” does something similar, though more explicitly, since its main character suffers guilt and an acute sense of his isolation. “Solid Objects” is more committed to its ambivalence: John never realizes he may have made a mistake.