By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘Monday or Tuesday’ appeared in Virginia Woolf’s 1921 collection of short stories, a collection which took its name, Monday or Tuesday, from this story. But can we really call a short sketch (just a page long in the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Woolf’s short fiction) without any discernible plot a ‘short story’? Before we address such questions, it’s worth considering what actually happens in Woolf’s story, which can be read here.
To summarise what happens in ‘Monday or Tuesday’, then (if words like ‘happens’ are even appropriate here): the story begins with a describing of a heron flying over a church, in a lazy and carefree fashion. The sky is white and distant: the clouds keep moving, concealing things from view and then revealing them.
The second paragraph appears to shift the focus to the writer’s own attempt to capture things in words – wanting to be truthful in what she writes. A number of distractions keep breaking in on her as she tries to write what is true – distractions which appear in brackets, and which include cries in the street outside and the noise of traffic; the clock striking midday.
Everything looks strange: the leaves on the trees look like coins, and the dome (perhaps St Paul’s Cathedral) looks red in the sunlight. Smoke pours out of the chimneys of London’s houses and an ironmonger shouts out that he has ‘Iron for sale’. But all this appears to take the narrator – whoever they are – no closer to truth.
The narrator then shifts again to a consideration of the feet she can hear on the pavement outside. She hears snatches of conversation from around her as Miss Thingummy (an Everywoman – perhaps a secretary) drinks her tea without sugar. It’s presumably a cold winter month as the fire in the room is lit, the firelight making the room red. There follows a series of verbs, describing the actions being performed upon something (the heron? the narrator, whoever she may be?).
In the evening, by the fireside, the narrator appears to be sitting and recollecting the events and impressions of the day. Words begin to form: the tools of the writer. The book she is reading falls, and her imagination appears to soar to far-off, exotic places; but she is left questioning whether she has attained ‘truth’ or has merely got a little closer to it. The story ends where it began, with the heron returning, and the sky concealing and then baring things – this time, the stars. Night has arrived.
You can read out analysis of ‘Monday or Tuesday’ here.
Thank you for the summary and the link – I will print it out so I can “really” read it. Whose painting of Woolf?
I’m glad you found it useful! Thanks :) it’s Roger Fry’s portrait of Woolf :)