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Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts (original 1941; edition 1974)

by Virginia Woolf

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1,235116,433 (3.62)51
Title:Between the Acts
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:The Folio Society (1974), Hardcover, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Lit Fic

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Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf (1941)



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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 |
This book had both good and some not so good qualities to it, but as always, I found myself reading on due to Woolf's writing style and writing style alone.

I loved the writing in the book - although with Virginia Woolf, how can you not love her writing. I always find I can lose myself in her style and narrative no matter what book of hers I pick up, and this one was no exception. This particular story was both good and bad. I like the main idea behind the story, the characters were well done, especially when examining their inner thoughts and emotions. Woolf managed to create a very eclectic cast of characters and managed to get a close look at some of their inner turmoil, emotions, and thought process all while coming together to the pageant - and managed to tie these characters and their development and their personal journeys, into the side story of the pageant.

Where the author lost me was the pageant. While I didn't mind reading how they created and planned for the pageant, I thought the parts about the mini little acts of the pageant to be boring. There were many times I found myself zoning out and having to go back and read those passages over again, just to find out what was happening in the story. Perhaps it's because I don't know a lot about English history and all the background information on it and how it would have affected the character, hence why they decided to re-create it as entertainment, but I just found it impossible to read through it all at times. The between the acts part of the book was well done, which's where the book gets its name. The characterization and examination of them was excellent, but the focus of that felt chopped up due to the pageant.

Overall it was a enjoyable read, but there were a lot of parts throughout the book, that made it hard to read through.

Also found on my book review blog My Review ( )
  bookwormjules | Feb 9, 2013 |
"Between the Acts" covers one day in the lives of a group of people living in a small English countryside town. The setting is just before World War II, and they are preparing to put together their annual play.

I was expecting this book to be another "Mrs. Dalloway," and though there are similarities, this book falls flat in its simplicity, vague plot, and string of characters, while "Mrs. Dalloway" builds off of these same points. This book should not be looked at as a novel, but rather a spare description of a day's events.

The characters were slightly interesting, but I kept asking myself what the point of this book was. Perhaps to allow us a glimpse of a commoner's view on the history of England? The play was a brief exploration of the townspeople's native land through the ages, and Woolf allows us to "watch" the play while still hearing what all of the characters in the audience are commenting (often not complimentary).

However, if this is indeed what Woolf wanted the book to be about, it didn't work out all that well. I hardly remembered the subject of the plays until I flipped back through it while writing this review. The connection with English history wasn't a striking one. I think that she wanted to focus on the characters more, and yet, I never felt anything for any of them.
Isa was the only one who interested me mildly. She is a middle aged woman who is married with children, and finds herself wanting more out of life. She refers to her husband as "the father of my children," seemingly in an effort to remind herself of her duty and attachment to him. She has a crush on another man, but they never even speak to each other.

I felt that none of the characters were ever explored deeply enough to qualify this little volume as a true, character driven story.

As a result, this is a nothing-driven story, and it is only Woolf's beautiful prose that saves it. I love Virginia Woolf's writing style, and that is what kept me reading. However, even that was not up to its usual standard here.

I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Woolf herself, but most likely not to anyone else. ( )
1 vote joririchardson | Nov 8, 2010 |
I really like Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and To the Lighthouse number among my favorite novels. Her letters and diaries also provide wonderful insights into this troubled but brilliant author. Michael Cunningham’s gripping novel, The Hours, weaves together Woolf’s writing of Mrs. Dalloway, and a housewife reading the novel in the 50s, and a 90s woman planning a party for a friend who has won a poetry prize. Between the Acts – along with Dalloway and Lighthouse -- also found their way into Edward Mendelson’s interesting work, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life. (See my review elsewhere). So, I have a strong connection with Woolf. Acts is the only one of her novels I have never read.

That was a long introduction to get to what I wanted to say -- I was somewhat disappointed in this story. I found the plot confusing, which only exacerbated the difficulty of keeping the characters straight. Some characters were referred to by name, but I had to guess who was whom when unnamed characters appeared.

The novel relates the events of a single day in the life of the Oliver family who host a village pageant at their country estate. Beneath the surface, the villagers suffer from sorrow, boredom, angst, and confusion about the pageant, which tells the story of a number of episodes from English history. The play reveals the inner conflicts and dissatisfactions they all share.

Woolf’s wonderful prose flowed over every page, but the interruptions to clear up confusions diluted my enjoyment. True, I did have a lot on my mind last week, so I will try this one again later. Also, this was her last novel before she walked into the River Ouse, so perhaps it needed much more work, she knew it, and was exhausted to the point of giving up. (3-1/2 Stars)

--Jim, 10/23/10 ( )
  rmckeown | Nov 1, 2010 |
This was probably my favorite Woolf novel (so far), a little bit ahead of The Waves. It depicts a day in the life of a country village performing a pageant, and its contained-yet-unconstrained quality is a fantastic match for Woolf's style. And for once, I know what's going on precisely, so I can just read for the characters without worry. Moreso than any other Woolf novel, this one feels rooted; unlike the disconnected Jacob's Room or To the Lighthouse, this is very much set in a specific place with a specific history, and those place and history matter. Between the Acts is very striking in how it depicts the present as a culmination of over a millennium of history-- yet, on the eve of World War II, a break with the future.

added May 2014:
Is is possible for a group of undergraduates to like Virginia Woolf? I sure didn't, but I'd take Between the Acts over Mrs. Dalloway at least. They were frustrated:
  • "Between the Acts was a first draft."
  • "I didn't like virginia woolf a book.."
  • "Arthur & George and Between the Acts were my least favorites as the 'density' of the text and slow pace made it really hard to get through." 
  • "I did not enjoy Between the Acts."
  • "The Virginia Woolf was certainly hardest to get through."
  • "Between the acts needs to go.."
  • "If you had to drop one book, I would recommend dropping Between the Acts and perhaps replacing it with a more popular Virginia Woolf novel. That way, students who enjoy reading 'the classics' would read it with a more open mind, even if it is a challenge."
  • "Between the Acts should be dropped."
  • "In my very biased opinion 'Between The Acts' was somewhat painful due to its lack of plot [...]"
  • "Teach Between the Acts again! Virginia Woolf is an amazing author and despite the fact that nothing much happens in the plot the book is extremely thought provoking and is probably the best example of modernism I have read."
  • "Drop Between the Acts because it was a first draft [...]"
  • "Definitely keep Virginia Woolf in there."
  • "dont teach between the acts (didnt like it)"
  • "I'm all for dropping Between the Acts in favor for excerpts from Virginia Woolf's work, it just feels out of place within the course."
  Stevil2001 | May 5, 2010 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:32 -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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