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Between the Acts Paperback – October 21, 1970

3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Here, in her last book, is Virginia Woolf at her most tenuous, elusive, unreal. The various terms which have been applied to her art seem all to apply - "evocative", "fragile", "unsubstantial", "eclectic". The scene and the compass of this book is a pageant in a small English village, alternating with the actors of the local pageant are the figures in a private pageant of spectators:- Giles, stockbroker, at odds with his wife, Mrs. Manress, hearty, blowsy woman of forty who assumes the role of child of nature; Giles' father, withered, dry, his sister a vague old lady, etc. There is no action, save in the pageant which is reproduced now in poetry, now in prose. The quality of the book lies in its nuance, its shadows, its reflections, its aestheticism. There is an ethereal, haunting, beauty, strangely distant. Sharply limited market. (Kirkus Reviews)

'Together these ten volumes make an attractive and reasonably priced (the volumes vary between L3.99 and L4.99) working edition of Virginia Woolf's best-known writing. One can only hope that their success will prompt World's Classics to add her other essays to the series in due course.' 

(Elisabeth Jay, Westminster College, Oxford)

Book Description

Unlike most previous editions, the Cambridge edition returns to the final version of the novel as Woolf left it. With detailed explanatory notes, a chronology and an informative critical introduction, this volume will allow scholars to develop a fuller understanding of Woolf's last work. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 21, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015611870X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156118705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Between the Acts" was the last novel Virginia Woolf wrote, and it appropriately feels like a swansong; a sorrowful farewell to a country on the eve of a war that very well might have spelled its devastation. While it uses the modernist experimentation that characterized "To the Lighthouse," it is very easy to follow, but still invites several rereadings to explore its depths more fully.
The novel takes place on a single day in June of 1939 at an English country manor called Pointz Hall, owned by the Olivers, a family with such sentimental ties to its ancestry that a watch that stopped a bullet on an ancient battlefield is deemed worthy of preservation and exhibition. Every year about this time, the Olivers allow their gardens to be used by the local villagers to put on a pageant for raising money for the church. This year, the pageant is supposed to be a series of tableaux celebrating England's history from Chaucerian times up to the present.
The Olivers themselves are tableaux of sorts, each a silent representation of some emotion separated from the others by a wall of miscommunication. Old Bartholomew Oliver and his sister, Lucy Swithin, both widowed, are now living together again with much the same hesitant relationship they had as children. Oliver's son Giles is a stockbroker who commutes to London and considers the pageant a nuisance he has no choice but to suffer. Isa, his discontented wife, feels she has to hide her poetry from him and contemplates an extramarital affair with a village farmer.
Attending the pageant is a garrulous woman named Mrs. Manresa, who is either having or pursuing an affair with Giles. She has brought with her a companion named William Dodge, whose effeminate sexual ambiguity is noticed with reprehension by Giles and with curiosity by Isa.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful views of the spectrum of English class and society just before World War II, including the famous mirror scene at the end. Her lyrical writing is much in evidence, and her spectrum is surprisingly broad in such a succinct novel.
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The book is absolutely wonderful, but the scan is terrible. There are typos on almost every page, sometimes several. All they would have had to do is hire someone to read through the scan carefully and correct the most egregious errors, but instead they take $10 from each of us and deliver a defective product. This is really a problem, Amazon, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! You need to clean up your act!
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To me there is never a grand coming together or summation of all the disparate points in this novel. But maybe it's me.

Just to clear up a few errors in the review by Elisabeth Jay, Westminster College, Oxford, Giles is not married to Mrs. Manress. He's married to Ilsa and Mrs. M isn't married to anybody. Also, Bart's sister is Lucy. And I don't see any evidence Mrs. M is a "Child of nature," but maybe that's open to interpretation.

As for the novel, I don't find as much of what makes Virginia Woolf magical here as I do in other works. It feels a little forced, but others feel differently. Certainly the strain of WWII must have made writing this much harder than her other novels, and she found writing them difficult enough.

The lives between the acts are what make the novel interesting: how Bart and his sister Lucy are both widowed and now living together much as they did when they were children--more, I thought, could have been done with this--and how his son is "a modern man" of the times, a stockbroker who commutes to London and finds this whole pageant a bit off-putting and old-fashioned--not in a good way. One of Woolf's most frequent themes is the old bumping up uncomfortably against the new and she does that here per her usual quality. I found Miss La Trobe the most fascinating character--outcast, artist, Woolf herself (?)

The novel is short, but as with most Woolf's work is heavy. Best read in an annotated version; both this and the Harcourt edition are fine.
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Format: Paperback
There is something about Virginia Woolf's writing that lends itself to introspection, meditation, and sometimes confusion. She was prone to drift in various directions and switch character perspective willy nilly. This is often the case in "Between the Acts" her final novel that was published after her suicide without any revisions made by the author. Perhaps there would have been changes, but the central story certainly would have remained the same, a gauzy examination of a married couple experiencing difficulties.

The novel focuses on one household and its guests for the summer pageant, a recap of English history through the ages that serves as counterpoint to the characters. It is often difficult to separate the actors in the play from the acts that the central characters are putting on for one another. The main character is Isa, the wife of a stockbroker. She finds that she loves and hates her husband, and finds herself drawn to another man, but she would never act on those feelings. Her husband, Giles, meanwhile, is willing to act on such feelings, especially when he becomes captivated by a guest at the house, Mrs. Manresa, a supposedly free spirited woman, whose "freeness" feels very much like an act. As these characters watch the pageant unfold, their emotions surface and they are forced to confront this array of feelings that all of this playacting has brought up.

"Between the Acts" is an elusive story, one that is hard to sum up and one that can be even harder to follow. This last work of Woolf's is truly more like elegiac poetry than prose. The beauty is in the rhythm and sounds of the words on the page, floating around like the cabbage white butterflies the author describes.
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