Literature

‘Blue and Green’: A Summary of the Virginia Woolf Short Story

‘Blue and Green’ is a pair of short sketches – each only one paragraph in length – which appeared in Virginia Woolf’s 1921 collection, Monday or Tuesday. These two sketches are less ‘stories’ in the traditional sense than impressionistic prose-poems; nevertheless, below we reproduce both ‘Green’ and ‘Blue’, and attempt a short ‘summary’ of each.

Green

The ported fingers of glass hang downwards. The light slides down the glass, and drops a pool of green. All day long the ten fingers of the lustre drop green upon the marble. The feathers of parakeets—their harsh cries—sharp blades of palm trees—green, too; green needles glittering in the sun. But the hard glass drips on to the marble; the pools hover above the desert sand; the camels lurch through them; the pools settle on the marble; rushes edge them; weeds clog them; here and there a white blossom; the frog flops over; at night the stars are set there unbroken. Evening comes, and the shadow sweeps the green over the mantelpiece; the ruffled surface of ocean. No ships come; the aimless waves sway beneath the empty sky. It’s night; the needles drip blots of blue. The green’s out.

‘Fingers of glass’ hanging downstairs suggests a chandelier, with the light from the candles in the chandelier sliding down each of these glass ‘fingers’ and making a circular ‘pool’ of green light on the floor below. The glass pieces of the chandelier and the green light they create put the ‘narrator’ of this short sketch in mind of other green things: the feathers of parakeets, the fronds of palm trees. Glass is hard and solid, but everything appears to melt and become liquid in this light. The green light looks like ‘pools’ or oases in the desert, and the narrator fancies she sees camels crossing over the pools. In her mind, she sketches in other details. When the evening comes, a shadow throws the green light to the side of the room so it becomes like the waves of the ocean (as the tide ebbs, presumably, given the shifting of the green light from the centre of the room). But the narrator can imagine no ships on top of this green ocean-like surface, and when night comes the glass chandelier drops blue light from the moon. The green light has vanished.

Blue

The snub-nosed monster rises to the surface and spouts through his blunt nostrils two columns of water, which, fiery-white in the centre, spray off into a fringe of blue beads. Strokes of blue line the black tarpaulin of his hide. Slushing the water through mouth and nostrils he sings, heavy with water, and the blue closes over him dowsing the polished pebbles of his eyes. Thrown upon the beach he lies, blunt, obtuse, shedding dry blue scales. Their metallic blue stains the rusty iron on the beach. Blue are the ribs of the wrecked rowing boat. A wave rolls beneath the blue bells. But the cathedral’s different, cold, incense laden, faint blue with the veils of madonnas.

This ‘story’ or sketch appears to focus on a fish, coming up to the surface of the water and expelling two jets of water through its nostrils, jets which break out into small droplets or ‘beads’. The fish’s skin is black and like tarpaulin: shiny, wet. But it has a blue pattern on it. The fish ‘sings’ (or at least makes a noise which might poetically be described as singing) as ‘the blue closes over him’ (perhaps because he has been caught?). He’s thrown upon the shore, shedding his blue scales as he dries out – a literal fish out of water, he won’t survive for long. The scales are ‘metallic blue’ as they’re shed upon the beach. A rowing boat then comes into view: belonging to the fisherman who has caught the fish, we deduce. The tide appears to be coming in, and a wave rolls beneath the bluebells on the shore. Then, suddenly, we have a cathedral mentioned, which is described as cold and full of incense (strong-smelling), and full of madonnas (depictions of the Virgin Mary, usually depicted wearing blue) with their blue veils.

As this brief summary of ‘Blue and Green’ makes clear, summarising a Virginia Woolf story is one thing: but it hardly tells us everything we need to know about the story’s meaning. You can read our analysis of Woolf’s story here.

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