In a recent podcast with Brian Shea of Johns Hopkins University Press, the scholar of everyday life, Bryony Randall, a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Glasgow, talks of the one-day novel, taking place within the temporal frame of a single day. In the podcast, Randall draws on her essay earlier published in the autumn issue of New Literary History.
In the article, “A Day’s Time: The One-Day Novel and the Temporality of the Everyday”, published in New Literary History (Volume 47, Number 4, Autumn 2016, pp. 591-610), Bryony Randall accounts for the “one-day-ness of the one-day novel”, the effects of the temporal frame in literary form, the relationship between the single day and everyday life. Despite consistent focus on the “every” of “everyday”, Randall contends that the “day” hasn’t received much attention, except in Michael Sheringham’s book, Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present, in which he reflects on ways that “the figure of the day can provide access to the totality which is the everyday.”
While the modernist period has produced two of the most celebrated circadian, single-day novels – James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) – which have received overwhelming critical attention (but not much their temporal frame), similar temporal frames are found in some of the prominent twenty-first century novelists: John Lanchester’s Mr Phillips (2000), Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002), Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005), and Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park (2006).
If the everyday is marked by repetition, routinization, and habit (as pointed out by Rita Felski in her critique of Lefebvre’s theory of everyday life), such traits become less visible in the temporal frame of a single day because the everyday extends beyond a single day. The one-day novel reinforces the importance of minute details in human experience, whose scale is, indeed, very small. However, the heightened experience within the small scale of the single day also makes possible for a reflection of comparison of the single day with other days. “It is in so doing that the novel of the single day, regardless of its content, invariably also becomes a novel of the everyday,” writes Randall.
Further, talking of agency in one-day novels, Randall claims that this particular sub-genre tends to resist the valorization of paid, employed work, the hallmark of capitalism. Consequently, it is much harder to articulate the work done by the stay-at-home mother, for example. By focusing on repetitive, insignificant, habitual activities, the one-day novel provides narrative space to actions that become the “loci of identity”, instead of dramatic, disruptive events. In a one-day novel, the possibility of an “event” is left open and not activated within the few hours of its narrative scope.
Randall’s essay is an important intervention in the burgeoning field of everyday studies because of its particular focus on the temporal frame of a single day that reveals the limitations of theorizing the everyday by focusing on the single day and yet unearths how the single day paradoxically anticipates larger events and the repetitive nature of the everyday. “That is, insofar as the day ends without ending us, and is thus a place from which we can and often do look back, it also prompts consideration of what may lie ahead.”
Write-up by: @aberration007