Between the Acts, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Virginia Woolf's last novel, in equal parts a triumphant celebration and witty mockery of 'Englishness', Between the Acts is edited by Stella McNichol, with an introduction and notes by Gillian Beer in Penguin Modern Classics. Outwardly a novel about life in a country house in whose grounds there is to be a pageant, Between the Acts is also a striking evocation of English experience in the months leading up to the Second World War.

Through dialogue, humour and the passionate musings of the characters, Virginia Woolf explores how a community is formed (and scattered) over time.

The tableau, a series of scenes from English history, and the private dramas that go on between the acts are closely interlinked.

Through the figure of Miss La Trobe, author of the pageant, Virginia Woolf questions imperialist assumptions and, at the same time, re-creates the elusive role of the artist. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of 'The Bloomsbury Group'. This informal collective of artists and writers which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture.

Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel The Waves (1931).

She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive Orlando (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) a passionate feminist essay. If you enjoyed Between the Acts, you might like Woolf's The Waves, also available in Penguin Modern Classics. 'A powerful and prophetic statement' Richard Shone, The Times


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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.<br/><br/>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...

Review by

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.

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