The Mark on the Wall

The Mark on the Wall Study Guide

“The Mark on the Wall” is Virginia Woolf’s first short story and an example of her pioneering, modernist style with stream-of-consciousness and introspection. Of the story, she wrote, “I shall never forget the day I wrote 'The Mark on the Wall'—all in a flash, as if flying, after being kept stone breaking for months.” She also wrote to David Garnett after he admired the story, “I’m very glad you liked the story. In a way it's easier to do a short thing, all in one flight, than a novel.”

“The Mark on the Wall” references two of Woolf’s childhood memories. She did not like the fire burning in the nursery at Hyde Park Gate because “it frightened me if it burnt after we went to bed. I dreaded that little flickering flame on the walls.” The second memory alluded to in the story is of her mother’s dress, with its red and purple flowers on a black background.

The story was first published in 1917 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press; it appeared in pamphlet form. It was later issued in a collection of Woolf’s short stories entitled Monday or Tuesday (1921). She considered it to be “dancing in unity” with two other short stories—“Kew Gardens” and “The Unwritten Novel”—included in the volume.

Early critics had mixed reactions to the story, though contemporary reactions are much more favorable. Commentators in the early-mid 19th century called the story “exasperating,” “cruelly disappointing,” and “insignificant.” Writer Katherine Mansfield, however, wrote to Woolf, “reread 'The Mark on the Wall' yesterday and liked it tre-mendously.” It is now widely discussed and considered a vital part of Woolf’s oeuvre, especially as a precursor to Jacob’s Room (1922).