Description

This is the first edition of Monday or Tuesday, the only collection of short stories published in Virginia Woolf’s lifetime. Published in 1921 by the Hogarth Press, the eight short stories and sketches include ‘A Haunted House’, ‘A Society’, ‘Monday or Tuesday’, ‘An Unwritten Novel’ (first published in 1920), ‘The String Quartet’, ‘Blue & Green’, ‘Kew Gardens’ (first published in 1919) and ‘The Mark on the Wall’ (first published in 1917).

Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister, created the cover design and four graphic, monochrome woodcut illustrations.

What are the short stories about?

A radical departure from her two earlier realist novels, Monday or Tuesday is the puzzle piece that reveals how Woolf developed the modern novel in the 1920s. Woolf, both at the time of writing Monday and Tuesday and later in 1930, recognised the significance of the collection:

The [sic] Unwritten Novel was the great discovery, however. That – again in one second – showed me how I could embody all of my deposit of experience in a shape that fitted it – not that I have ever reached that end; but anyhow I saw, branching out of the tunnel I made, when I discovered that method of approach, Jacobs Room, Mrs Dalloway etc – How I trembled with excitement.[1]

Written while working on Night and Day (1919), Woolf took up the short story form and ran wild with it – experimenting with style, narrative technique and subject matter. In ‘An Unwritten Novel’ the narrator encounters a woman on a train and attempts to pierce her mind, imagining all the details and circumstances of her life. We are effectively watching a trial-run of Woolf’s ‘stream-of-consciousness’ technique. Unlike later novels such as Mrs Dalloway, the first-person narrator remains vocal, self-doubting and highly self-conscious (‘Have I read you right?’, ‘Well, but I'm confounded...’).

The title story, just two pages long, presents a village or town and its inhabitants. The reader scans the everyday scene through a succession of fleeting images and sounds, as if watching a panning film; multiple voices jostle against each other in a way that anticipates T S Eliot’s Waste Land; the narrator repeatedly questions ‘truth’. ‘A Society’, written as a more traditional narrative, is a feminist examination of knowledge and intellect that links to later works, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.

Elsewhere, the collection sees Woolf develop her interest in fusing literature with techniques borrowed from other art forms. Evoking a painting or an artist’s eye, ‘Blue and Green’ uses colour to conjure a chain of images and associations.

Where does the title come from?

The collection includes a short story titled ‘Monday or Tuesday’, but the phrase crops up earlier in 1919 in Woolf’s essay ‘Modern Fiction’:

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it.

[1] See Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (London: Vintage, 1997), p. 376, citing a letter from Virginia Woolf to Ethel Smyth, 16 Oct 1930.

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