Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf - Reflections

Today I want to share my reflections on an unusal short story, Monday or Tuesday, written by my favorite writer: Virginia Woolf (the text is available on line). The short story has been published in 1921 and reflects Woolf's initial experiments with a completely new writing style, best known as stream of consciousness.

Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf is a very brief short story, just one page, that she published in 1921 when she was experimenting the Post Impressionist theories of her friend Roger Fry. It is the story of one heron “lazy and indifferent … (that) passes over the church” (Woolf 36). The next scenes present “a lake,” “a mountain” and then “wheels,” omnibuses,” men’s feet and women’s feet,” Miss Thingummy,” and “home or not home” before concluding with the same image of the heron returning from his flight. The challenge for the reader is to make sense of all these apparently scattered images by flying together with the heron. “The logic is deliberatively evasive, the stream of images associational,” and “the vivid images generated by the text blend with the physical image of the text itself” (Harvey 96). Also, “by emphasizing observed scenes, Woolf incorporates Fry’s theory of a double life separated into the actual and the imaginative, … and his vision of wholeness and aesthetic unity” (Johnston 285). Following the expectations of Post Impressionist theories, Woolf presents a very ordinary, unconventional, and unnoticeable moment in the life of everyday to really “turn to artistic vision” (Quick 560).
The title, Monday or Tuesday, is common and ordinary and does not say anything else other than what Quick defines “vulgar ordinariness” (560), but this ordinariness connects Woolf’s writing to a Post-Impressionist expectation and begins to challenge the reader’s mind to think and image what the everydayness might be or has been. Every reader has his own everydayness thus making the plot even more mutable and captivating.
            The ordinariness continues with the choice of a common heron, which flies lazily and indifferently “knowing his way … over the church beneath the sky” because everything is the same as the day before. It continues throughout the story with a myriad of moments, “seemingly random separate impressions” that seem so disconnected and confusing but that, as Barzilai states, are like “atoms [that] fall into shape themselves” (202). It is the “church … white and distant … a lake … a mountain …wheels …men’s feet and women’s feet … Indian seas” (Woolf 36). These images are what the heron sees in his everyday flight. They are moments like dots or colors on a canvas and they are not developed with further details or descriptions but captured through the heron’s eyes. The images are random and apparently disconnected but they reflect the Post-Impressionist idea to create images that are primitive in order to elicit the imagination of the reader. At the same time, each image is “objective … realist”, with “an independent existence” that is unified through the heron that opens the story and ends it when he returns lazily and indifferently (Barzilai 202). Nothing has changed since the day before and becomes immortalized on the page as on a canvas.
            The images of the real life that the heron sees in his flight reflect Fry’s expectation to reduce and dissolve the representational image in order to draw “the viewer immediately into contemplation of a pure design of colored volumes” (Quick 561). The viewer contemplates each word Woolf writes starting from the white heron with his majestic fly over the world to the sun “gold on slopes” (Woolf 36). The beauty and perfections are palpable. The reader can see and appreciate the “mountain” and wonder whether to be surprised or to admire the power it conveys. The contemplation Woolf creates in this story “leads toward abstraction … as Virginia Woolf continued to test the possibility of applying techniques of painting to the writing of Monday or Tuesday” (Quick 561). Jonathan Quick acknowledges Woolf’s desire to write like a painter but also thinks that “the results were at times awkward, self-conscious, and slight, but never lacking her sense of adventure into the freedom from the standards” of writing (561). Woolf, in fact, creates a series of sketches united by “a deliberate compositional design … alternating perspectives and layering of images … a rhythm developed by a progressive concentration of focus proceeding from the image of the heron flying across the landscape” (561). Each image is like a stroke of paint on a canvas. It does not say a lot more but “it serves to express complex emotions which they have separately, then jointly, aroused” (561). This process of writing entices the “entwining of past and present, of memory … is governed by an aesthetic” that “most stimulates a reader’s fantasies” (Johnston 288). It also responds to the idea of that words and colors or forms on a canvas entice because they elicit what Fry calls spiritualism, the unique reader’s emotional reaction.

Works Cited
Barzilai, Shuli. “Virginia Woolf’s Pursuit of Truth: Monday or Tuesday, Moments of Being and The Lady in the Looking-Glass” Journal of Narrative Technique. 18.3 (1988): pages. JSTOR. Web. 5 October 2017.
Harvey, Benjamin. “Lightness Visible: An Appreciation of Bloomsbury’s Books and Blocks.” A Room of Their Own. Ed. Nancy E. Green and Christopher Reed. New York: Cornell U, 2008. Print.
Johnston, Georgia. “Virginia Woolf Revising Roger Fry Into the Frames of A Sketch of the Past” Biography 20.3 (1997): pages. JSTOR. Web. 5 October 2017.
Quick, Jonathan R. “Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry and Post Impressionism.” The Massachusetts Review 26.4 (1985): pages. JSTOR. Web. 5 October 2017.
Woolf, Virginia. Monday or Tuesday. Richmond: Hogarth P, 1921. Print.

Marialuisa Sapienza

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