Places: Between the Acts

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1941

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: June, 1939

Places DiscussedPointz Hall

Pointz Between the ActsHall. Ancestral home of the Olivers in southern England. As the house bears a weight of historical symbolism, it needs to be seen clearly. It is middle-sized, as English manor houses go, whitish, attractive to passersby, but oddly situated, facing north, away from the sun, and standing low in its meadow so that it suffers in winter. In that way, it is atypical, not quite fully English. Its furniture is mid-Victorian, and thus out of date–contrasting with the furnishings and modern bathrooms that the newly rich coming down from London, such as the Manresas, have put into the old houses they have bought.

Pointz Hall has a principal staircase, but the other staircase is not much more than a ladder at the back of the house, intended for the servants and therefore making a statement about the English class system. On the bottom floor of the hall is a main room, looking out to the garden, where guests are entertained. There is also a library containing histories of England and the world, histories of the local world, and volumes of English poetry. However, there are also pulp novels that houseguests have left. Thus, the past and the present (seemingly a decline) are put side by side. Also downstairs are the kitchen and the larder. However, before the Reformation the larder had been a chapel, so that the house connects with the old religion, Roman Catholicism, and once more shows the passage of time. Upstairs are bedrooms and a nursery. Here is Lucy Swithin’s room, where she is reading an outline of history that tells her that England had been, millions of years before, one with Europe. Lucy’s book and the nursery, with its children, are once more contrasts and connections between the past and the present.

Sitting in its hollow, the house faces a terrace that is the stage for the village pageant. However, the terrace is surrounded by trees and shrubs that continually remind one of ties to the land. When the villagers act out their pageant of English history, they continually move in and out among the trees, once again connecting the present with the past and with the sacred.

Barn

Barn. The estate’s barn is immense, possessing a great central room that is lit brilliantly when its doors are opened. Made of the same stone as the village church, it has been likened to a temple by visitors who have been to Greece. The barn is the centerpiece of the farm, the old agricultural and somehow sacred world, but a world gradually being eaten away by the modern.

Village

Village. Unnamed village near Pointz Hall; it is never seen in the novel–apart from its church tower–but is continually referred to, especially in telling what the actors in the village’s historical pageant do in their real lives. The village has elements of modernity–shops anda post office, for instance. However, the villagers’ roots go back for centuries, and their names can be found in the eleventh century Domesday Book of William the Conqueror–in contrast to the newly arrived Manresa family, representatives of the modern. Even the surrounding countryside, with an old Roman road where the county council proposes to build a communal cesspool, rather ironically puts past and present side by side.

Terrace

Terrace. Area directly in front of Pointz Hall on which members of gentry sit to watch the villagers’ history play. However, as the play itself takes place on this terrace, the lower-class actors are directly in contact with their audience. Therefore, the last scene of their play, the “Present,” in which the actors, almost among the audience, carry mirrors that reflect that audience, emphasizes the relationship of audience and actors, gentry and the lower classes, almost satirically. However, the “stage,” through the scenes of the play, is the present and also the past, so that this place becomes time itself.

BibliographyGordon, Lyndall. Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. An analytical biography that integrates events in Woolf’s life with a thematic study of her works.Hanson, Clare. Virginia Woolf. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. A sophisticated study of gender in Woolf’s novels with specific attention to Woolf’s feminism and its consequences for her works. An unusual reading of Between the Acts focuses on gender tensions in the novel.Rose, Phyllis. Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. A critical biography of the writer’s life and works. Includes extended discussions of all her works.Rosenman, Ellen Bayuk. The Invisible Presence. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986. Informed by psychological theory, this study examines the bonds between mothers and daughters in Woolf’s novels and her representations of the female artist. Includes a detailed chapter on Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts.Rosenthal, Michael. Virginia Woolf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Focuses on Woolf’s preoccupation with form. Includes an excellent chapter on Between the Acts.
Categories: Places