|Clematis at Monk's House (not C.Vitalba)|
Clematis are associated with another embowered woman in Woolf’s earlier novel, Night and Day (1919), where Katherine, fascinated by mathematics and astronomy, leaves a family party in the country to go out and look at the night sky. Standing in a pergola, she finds her view blocked by tangled vines:“Thus a spray of clematis would completely obscure Cassiopeia, or blot out with its black pattern myriads of miles of the Milky Way” (ND 193). So she strolls down the gravel path to a bench that offers a clearer view of the stars.According to Greenaway, the meaning of clematis in the language of flowers is “Mental beauty” (12), particularly appropriate for Katherine who is always seeking the clarity of solitude. Since Katherine’s star-gazing takes place during the Christmas season (ND 196), long past the bloom time of any flowering vine, the, “spray of clematis” must be fairly dense and tangled to “completely obscure” Cassiopeia. A likely candidate is C. vitalba, the only clematis native to Britain, a woody shrub, growing to twenty meters with dozens of small white spiky flower clusters, so prolific it can be found on many internet lists of invasive species and so destructive is completely banned in New Zealand. Its common names include “Virgin’s Bower” as well as “Traveller’s Joy” and “Old Man’s Beard” (Ward 85). The first two names refer to its habit of blanketing, even smothering bushes and hedgerows; “Old Man’s Beard” is applied to any clematis whose autumn seedpods produce a tangle of soft white hairs dense enough to resemble a beard.
|C vitalba, Old Man's Beard|
Woolf’s last references to clematis occur in her final novel, Between the Acts, where it appears under the sobriquet of “Old Man’s Beard,” a mere slip plucked from the hedge by Isa, woman whose relationship with her husband is strained by mutual jealousies, aversions, and adulterous attractions. In a move to publically ignore her attractive but irritatingly “muscular, hirsute, virile” spouse (73), she invites the much less manly William Dodge to explore the greenhouse. Along the path she picks “a leaf here and there from the hedge,” but, reciting fragments of poetry about plucking a “bitter herb by the ruined wall” and pressing “its sour, long grey leaf. . . twixt thumb and finger,” she throws the “shred” of Old Man’s Beard away (77). Later, after the play is over, she searches for the man she has been fantasizing about and, realizing she is never going to connect with him, she strips the “the bitter leaf that grew. . .outside the nursery window. Old Man’s Beard” (BTA 141).