Between the Acts

Between the Acts

by Virginia Woolf


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The author's last novel, written during the early years of World War II, was completed just before her death. The action takes place on a single summer's day at a country house, Pointz Hall, in the heart of England. In the garden the villagers are presenting their annual pageant - on this occasion scenes from English history up to and including "ourselves," the audience, in June 1939. During the interludes the inhabitants of Pointz Hall, the Olivers, their guests, and the villagers have tea, stroll, and talk. There is an intense interplay among the unhappy Isa Oliver, her handsome husband, Giles, whom she loves and hates, and a guest, Mrs. Manresa, who is pursuing him. A storm interrupts the final tableau, and the pageant comes to an end. The performers and the audience depart to resume their ordinary lives and Isa and Giles to confront each other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781722907280
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 07/14/2018
Pages: 126
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.27(d)

About the Author

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882–1941) was one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. An admired literary critic, she authored many essays, letters, journals, and short stories in addition to her groundbreaking novels.

Date of Birth:

January 25, 1882

Date of Death:

March 28, 1941

Place of Birth:


Place of Death:

Sussex, England


Home schooling

Read an Excerpt

Between the Acts (Annotated)
By Woolf, Virginia
Harvest Books Copyright © 2008 Woolf, Virginia
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780156034739

IT WAS a summer’s night and they were talking, in the big room with the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool. The county council had promised to bring water to the village, but they hadn’t.

Mrs. Haines, the wife of the gentleman farmer, a goosefaced woman with eyes protruding as if they saw something to gobble in the gutter, said affectedly: "What a subject to talk about on a night like this!"

Then there was silence; and a cow coughed; and that led her to say how odd it was, as a child, she had never feared cows, only horses. But, then, as a small child in a perambulator, a great cart-horse had brushed within an inch of her face. Her family, she told the old man in the arm-chair, had lived near Liskeard for many centuries. There were the graves in the churchyard to prove it.

A bird chuckled outside. "A nightingale?" asked Mrs. Haines. No, nightingales didn’t come so far north. It was a daylight bird, chuckling over the substance and succulence of the day, over worms, snails, grit, even in sleep.

The old man in the arm-chair—Mr. Oliver, of the Indian Civil Service, retired—said that the site they had chosen for the cesspool was, if he had heard aright, on the Roman road. From an aeroplane, he said, you could still see, plainly marked, the scars made by the Britons; by the Romans; by the Elizabethan manor house; and by the plough, when they ploughed the hill to growwheat in the Napoleonic wars.

"But you don’t remember . . ." Mrs. Haines began. No, not that. Still he did remember—— and he was about to tell them what, when there was a sound outside, and Isa, his son’s wife, came in with her hair in pigtails; she was wearing a dressing-gown with faded peacocks on it. She came in like a swan swimming its way; then was checked and stopped; was surprised to find people there; and lights burning. She had been sitting with her little boy who wasn’t well, she apologized. What had they been saying?

"Discussing the cesspool," said Mr. Oliver.

"What a subject to talk about on a night like this!" Mrs. Haines exclaimed again.

What had he said about the cesspool; or indeed about anything? Isa wondered, inclining her head towards the gentleman farmer, Rupert Haines. She had met him at a Bazaar; and at a tennis party. He had handed her a cup and a racquet—that was all. But in his ravaged face she always felt mystery; and in his silence, passion. At the tennis party she had felt this, and at the Bazaar. Now a third time, if anything more strongly, she felt it again.

"I remember," the old man interrupted, "my mother. . . ." Of his mother he remembered that she was very stout; kept her tea-caddy locked; yet had given him in that very room a copy of Byron. It was over sixty years ago, he told them, that his mother had given him the works of Byron in that very room. He paused.

"She walks in beauty like the night," he quoted.

Then again:

"So we’ll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon."

Isa raised her head. The words made two rings, perfect rings, that floated them, herself and Haines, like two swans down stream. But his snow-white breast was circled with a tangle of dirty duckweed; and she too, in her webbed feet was entangled, by her husband, the stockbroker. Sitting on her three-cornered chair she swayed, with her dark pigtails hanging, and her body like a bolster in its faded dressing-gown.

Mrs. Haines was aware of the emotion circling them, excluding her. She waited, as one waits for the strain of an organ to die out before leaving church. In the car going home to the red villa in the cornfields, she would destroy it, as a thrush pecks the wings off a butterfly. Allowing ten seconds to intervene, she rose; paused; and then, as if she had heard the last strain die out, offered Mrs. Giles Oliver her hand.

But Isa, though she should have risen at the same moment that Mrs. Haines rose, sat on. Mrs. Haines glared at her out of goose-like eyes, gobbling, "Please, Mrs. Giles Oliver, do me the kindness to recognize my existence. . . ." which she was forced to do, rising at last from her chair, in her faded dressing-gown, with the pigtails falling over each shoulder.

Pointz Hall was seen in the light of an early summer morning to be a middle-sized house. It did not rank among the houses that are mentioned in guide books. It was too homely. But this whitish house with the grey roof, and the wing thrown out at right angles, lying unfortunately low on the meadow with a fringe of trees on the bank above it so that smoke curled up to the nests of the rooks, was a desirable house to live in. Driving past, people said to each other: "I wonder if that’ll ever come into the market?" and to the chauffeur: "Who lives there?"

The chauffeur didn’t know. The Olivers, who had bought the place something over a century ago, had no connection with the Warings, the Elveys, the Mannerings or the Burnets; the old families who had all intermarried, and lay in their deaths intertwisted, like the ivy roots, beneath the churchyard wall.

Only something over a hundred and twenty years the Olivers had been there. Still, on going up the principal staircase—there was another, a mere ladder at the back for the servants—there was a portrait. A length of yellow brocade was visible half-way up; and, as one reached the top, a small powdered face, a great head-dress slung with pearls, came into view; an ancestress of sorts. Six or seven bedrooms opened out of the corridor. The butler had been a soldier; had married a lady’s maid; and, under a glass case there was a watch that had stopped a bullet on the field of Waterloo.

It was early morning. The dew was on the grass. The church clock struck eight times. Mrs. Swithin drew the curtain in her bedroom—the faded white chintz that so agreeably from the outside tinged the window with its green lining. There with her old hands on the hasp, jerking it open, she stood: old Oliver’s married sister; a widow. She always meant to set up a house of her own; perhaps in Kensington, perhaps at Kew, so that she could have the benefit of the gardens. But she stayed on all through the summer; and when winter wept its damp upon the panes, and choked the gutters with dead leaves, she said: "Why, Bart, did they build the house in the hollow, facing north?" Her brother said, "Obviously to escape from nature. Weren’t four horses needed to drag the family coach through the mud?" Then he told her the famous story of the great eighteenth-century winter; when for a whole month the house had been blocked by snow. And the trees had fallen. So every year, when winter came, Mrs. Swithin retired to Hastings.

But it was summer now. She had been waked by the birds. How they sang! attacking the dawn like so many choir boys attacking an iced cake. Forced to listen, she had stretched for her favourite reading—an Outline of History—and had spent the hours between three and five thinking of rhododendron forests in Piccadilly; when the entire continent, not then, she understood, divided by a channel, was all one; populated, she understood, by elephant-bodied, seal-necked, heaving, surging, slowly writhing, and, she supposed, barking monsters; the iguanodon, the mammoth, and the mastodon; from whom presumably, she thought, jerking the window open, we descend.

It took her five seconds in actual time, in mind time ever so much longer, to separate Grace herself, with blue china on a tray, from the leather-covered grunting monster who was about, as the door opened, to demolish a whole tree in the green steaming undergrowth of the primeval forest. Naturally, she jumped, as Grace put the tray down and said: "Good morning, Ma’am." "Batty," Grace called her, as she felt on her face the divided glance that was half meant for a beast in a swamp, half for a maid in a print frock and white apron.

"How those birds sing!" said Mrs. Swithin, at a venture. The window was open now; the birds certainly were singing. An obliging thrush hopped across the lawn; a coil of pinkish rubber twisted in its beak. Tempted by the sight to continue her imaginative reconstruction of the past, Mrs. Swithin paused; she was given to increasing the bounds of the moment by flights into past or future; or sidelong down corridors and alleys; but she remembered her mother—her mother in that very room rebuking her. "Don’t stand gaping, Lucy, or the wind’ll change . . ." How often her mother had rebuked her in that very room—"but in a very different world," as her brother would remind her. So she sat down to morning tea, like any other old lady with a high nose, thin cheeks, a ring on her finger and the usual trappings of rather shabby but gallant old age, which included in her case a cross gleaming gold on her breast.



Copyright 1941 by Harcourt, Inc., and renewed 1969 by Leonard Woolf

Annotated Edition copyright © 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Preface copyright © 2005 by Mark Hussey

Introduction copyright © 2008 by Melba Cuddy-Keane

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Excerpted from Between the Acts (Annotated) by Woolf, Virginia Copyright © 2008 by Woolf, Virginia. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

General editors' preface; Chronology; Introduction; Chronology of composition; Between the Acts; Explanatory notes; Textual apparatus; Textual notes.

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Between the Acts 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"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.
rmckeown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ambitious, but fragmented. Depending on your perception of this novel and its intentions, I'd feel safe saying that it's either far too short or far too long. For me, it was simply tiresome. While I see the intentions coming through, and find those interesting, in the end I just didn't see this coming close to living up to its potential.
rampaginglibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this for a literary theory class. Love it because it's Virginia, sense of Theatre, between world wars, Rusty Brown, must reread
jentifer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Easily my favorite Virginia Woolf book, this short novel take place on a summer day during which a play is performed by neighborhood children. This is the last novel she wrote, and I think it's a lovely culmination and showcase of the various styles she pioneered. For the record, my second favorite Woolf is Orlando.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago