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Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
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Between the Acts (original 1941; edition 1974)

by Virginia Woolf

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1,341145,776 (3.63)68
Member:tomcatMurr
Title:Between the Acts
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:The Folio Society (1974), Hardcover, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Lit Fic

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Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf (1941)

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Between the Acts was Virginia Woolf’s final novel – published posthumously – it is a novel which remains as she left it when she took her own life in 1941. We will never know what revisions and alterations she might have made.

Taking place on one English summer day in 1939, Between the Acts perfectly re-creates a long June day before the war changes everything for the comfortable upper classes. The war looms large throughout the novel, Virginia Woolf of course writing the book after hostilities had begun – it is clear she was very affected by it. Throughout the novel there are illusions to the coming war. We are reminded of flight by the swallows in the skies above the characters who muse about what may be ahead – the legions of aircraft which will soon take to the skies. Vague references made to the unsettled continent lying a few miles across the channel.

It is the day of the annual village pageant at Pointz Hall – which has become quite a local tradition. In typical British fashion on such occasions there is some discussion about the weather – and will the barn need to be used. The day starts well, the weather looks like being fine. The pageant; attended by all sections of the community, the grand and not so grand – is a grand celebration of English history, a play within a play.

The Oliver family; Isa, Giles and their young children, are staying with Giles’ father Bartholomew Oliver and his sister Lucy Swithin at Pointz Hall. Around the Olivers gather a disparate group of characters through whom we witness the comings and goings of the day, as Woolf weaves together their various musings and concerns.

“Miss La Trobe was pacing to and fro between the leaning birch trees. One hand was deep stuck in her jacket pocket; the other held a foolscap sheet. She was reading what was written there. She had the look of a commander pacing his deck. The leaning graceful trees with black bracelets circling the silver bark were distant about a ship’s length.”

Miss La Trobe organises and directs the players in the pageant to raise money for the local church. Miss La Trobe feels herself to be an artist – an unappreciated one, though she still dreams of the success which has eluded her. Miss La Trobe, so often smirked at behind her back, is continually frustrated in her vision of what she wants to present to the audience – with speakers lines getting lost, nothing quite living up to her idea of it, she seems unable to present her vision to her audience as she wished to. It is suggested that Miss La Trobe has a past; was herself an actress, sharing a bed with another actress.

Isa has noticed Haines a local, gentleman farmer, a man she convinces herself she has feelings for, though they do no more than exchange glances. Isa has lost interest in her husband – she attempts to find affection for him by remembering he is the father of her two children. Yet later when Mrs Manresa and her friend William Dodge arrive – Isa is irritated by her husband’s apparent interest in this vibrant, unconventional free spirit.

“She tapped on the window with her embossed hairbrush. They were too far off to hear. The drone of the trees was in their ears; the chirp of birds; other incidents of garden life, inaudible, invisible to her in the bedroom, absorbed them. Isolated on a green island, hedged about with snowdrops, laid with a counterpane of puckered silk, the innocent island floated under her window. Only George lagged behind.”

Between the acts of the pageant the audience – the Olivers among them – continue with their own preoccupations. Isa wanders through the grounds looking for her gentleman farmer, Giles who generally seems ill at ease – even angry spends much of the time with Mrs Manresa. It is Giles who seems particularly aware of the gathering storm from the continent. William Dodge; meanwhile finds some understanding in Isa – although her husband is quick to show his dislike for the man who it is suggested is homosexual.

“Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people – what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes.”

The pageant presents the audience with a wonderful vision of England; Shakespearean scenes give way to restoration comedy a Victorian scene based around a policeman directing traffic. The final scene called ‘Ourselves’ the audience get an unexpected surprise as Miss La Trobe rather turns the tables and shows them themselves.

Virginia Woolf’s writing is as evocative in Between the Acts as I have come to expect – the scene is one so typically English – it beautifully highlights how for so many people that summer of 1939 was a time of innocence before great change came to Europe.

Reading Between the Acts – one can’t help but wonder what else Virginia Woolf might have produced had not her life ended when it did – but perhaps it there is no point thinking like that. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | May 8, 2016 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2571096.html

I thought this was really excellent - a short novel written and set just before the second world war, published shortly after the author's death by her own hand; on the surface, it's a story of manners about a village pageant for Empire Day, but in fact there are deep currents of violence, both sexual and colonial, running through it and colouring everything that happens for the attentive reader. A really disturbing book in some ways. I'm becoming a bit of a fan. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Dec 31, 2015 |
This, Woolf's last novel (published posthumously after her death), seemed much more complex than To the Lighthouse, with a lot more layers and perspectives to think about, but still it was an amazing reading experience.

The novel unfolds over a single day in June, just weeks before the outbreak of WWII. A local village pageant is taking place in the grounds of a country house, and the narrative of the play itself is interplayed with the narrative of the audience and the players themselves.

There are so many themes at play that it's impossible to do them justice without reading the book. Most interestingly, the amateurish play - which gallops through key periods in English history - forces the villagers to look starkly at themselves as they are that day and asks what they represent - do they stand together as a community or are they more caught up in the business of idle gossip and ill will towards each other'? Most of the audience don't understand the play, or if they do indignantly choose to turn the spotlight away from themselves and back onto the failures of the play itself.

Intertwined in this are the different streams of consciousness of many interesting characters, heavily interspersed with references to other great works of literature, including Shakespeare, Keats and Wordsworth. They watch the play as one, but inside their minds are battling lonely, personal demons.

Having read the introductory notes after I finished the book, I don't for a minute think I'll ever be able to fully understand and appreciate the myriad of layers and influences Woolf weaved into her writing. But again, like with To the Lighthouse, she conveyed so sharply both the physical and psychological mood of that day it was like stepping into the garden and becoming part of the audience.

This is definitely not a plot-driven book, but the very rare talent of Virginia Woolf and her brilliant mind shines bright once again.

I'm dropping half a star as parts of the narrative of the play itself were a little dull, but still a sterling 4.5 stars for me. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Mar 29, 2015 |
I really, really don't like Virginia Woolf's fiction. There's a nice flow to the writing, a nice lyrical feeling, but the way she chooses to write about things seems to me pretentious and boring, and sort of... scatterbrained. I'd like to love Woolf's writing, as my favourite writer Ursula Le Guin does, but I just can't seem to connect with or get anything out of her writing. I didn't see the "point" in it, I suppose. There were bits I liked about it -- the play, for example, at the part where they hold the mirrors up to show the audience themselves, and the concept of 'between the acts', which can be taken to mean so many things.

I'm hoping studying this novel and hearing lectures on it will make it a bit less impenetrable. If it does, I swear I'll give To The Lighthouse another chance, too. I just feel like you shouldn't require one hundred and thirty-one footnotes to understand a one-hundred and thirty page long story published in the nineteen forties... ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Virginia Woolfprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, VanessaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cuddy-Keane, MelbaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was a summer's night and they were talking, in the big room with the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 015611870X, Paperback)

In Woolf’s last novel, the action takes place on one summer’s day at a country house in the heart of England, where the villagers are presenting their annual pageant. A lyrical, moving valedictory.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:17 -0400)

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A lyrical, moving valedicotry that takes place at a country house in England, where the villagers are presenting their annual pageant.

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