Virginia Woolf

Between The Acts

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Between The Acts Summary

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Between the Acts is the final novel written by English author Virginia Woolf. It was first published in 1941, shortly after her death. Set on a June afternoon in 1939, as the Second World War ramps up on the European mainland, it takes place at a country estate called Pointz Hall and focuses on the production of an annual pageant and play that local villagers hold at the estate. Exploring themes of fantasy, distraction, and triviality amid crisis, Between the Acts is not one of Woolf’s better-known works but is praised for her trademark strength with dialogue and characters, as well as for its examination of the tropes and styles of British theater.

Between the Acts begins just before the outbreak of WWII, against the backdrop of an annual pageant celebrating British. The central point of the festival is the ancestral Pointz Hall manor belonging to the Oliver family, and in 1939 the festival is as important to the village as ever. The Oliver family is led by widower Bartholomew, a veteran of the English wars that attempted to put down revolts in colonial India. His sister Lucy, the widow of Mr. Swithin, is an eccentric whose odd manner brings some levity to the proceedings. Bartholomew’s son Giles is still recovering from losing his job in the city, and is tense and frustrated as the festival ramps up. He has a difficult relationship with his wife Isa, who is sharing the house with him and their two children, but has made clear she’s not in love with Giles anymore and is openly flirting with a local farmer named Haines.

As preparations for the pageant continue, other villagers file into the Oliver mansion to take part. They include the overbearing author of the pageant, Miss La Trobe, who insists on supervising each year; the eccentric bohemian Mrs. Manresa, her Jewish husband, and her dandy-like friend William Dodge. Shopkeeper Eliza Clark, normally a humble woman, is very much looking forward to her annual turn as Queen Elizabeth. Lucy, meanwhile, is obsessively checking that the decorations and food are to her specifications. At one point, Bartholomew startles his grandson by suddenly revealing his face from behind a newspaper, and when the boy unexpectedly begins crying, Bartholomew insults him by calling him a coward. Mrs. Manresa flirts relentlessly with almost every man at the village, but especially father and son Bartholomew and Giles. Finally, all the preparations are finished, and it is time for the crowds to settle in and enjoy the show.

Miss La Trobe’s recounting of British history takes the form of a series of short scenes that feature of a lot of artistic interpretation, and connect modern-day England back to the Elizabethan era. For instance, the opening scene pays tribute to Shakespeare by reenacting a scene with romantic dialogue. The Restoration era becomes a satire of Restoration stage comedy, while the Victorian era’s complex series of social mores are depicted as a police officer directing traffic. The story is bookended by a prologue read by a young village child, and a finale that turns mirrors on the audience and demands that they examine themselves and their place in the timeline. As the odd and idiosyncratic play comes to a close, the village greets it with confusion and wonders exactly what they just saw. The stream-of-consciousness design is met with disinterest by more viewers.

Convinced that she’s failed to open the villagers’ minds with to her artistic vision, Miss La Trobe abandons the festival to drown her sorrows in a local pub. While there, she realizes that she has the idea for her next creative endeavor, one that she’ll present to the village at the next festival. As for the residents of Pointz Hall, the play ends and life gradually returns to normal, although the specter of war and their personal issues remain. Giles and Isa are left alone, and they begin to sort out their relationship, as the narrator mentions that they’ll have more fights but eventually reconcile.

Virginia Woolf was an English author. She is considered one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century and one of the pioneers of the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. A prolific author, she wrote nine novels during her lifetime, as well as six collections of short stories (four published after her death), three biographies, a comedy for the stage, and a large collection of nonfiction, essays, translations, and biographies. She is regarded as one of the most influential writers in the early feminist tradition, and has influenced many future works – most famously the 1998 novel and 2002 Oscar-winning film adaptation The Hours (focusing on three generations of women influenced by Mrs. Dalloway) and the acclaimed 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?