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Between the Acts

To the Lighthouse

giles oliver english isa

V. Woolf's last novel, published posthumously in 1941. Unrevised, it is constructed in short scenes of dialogue, dramatic speech, and fragmentary descriptions with recurring motifs. It expresses Woolf's interest at this time in an English history made up of a community of obscure, ordinary lives, in the possibility of anonymity of the author, in the relation between groups and individuals (she was reading Freud), and in the decay of traditional language into ‘orts, scraps and fragments’. The setting is an English manor house, Pointz Hall, on a single summer day in war-time. The Oliver family, who have lived in the house for 120 years, consists of the older generation, Bartholomew Oliver and his sister Lucy Swithin (whose arguments over rational fact versus mystical faith rather resemble those of the Ramsays in To the Lighthouse), Isa and Giles Oliver, and their small son. Theirs is a difficult marriage: Isa writes poetry secretly and fantasizes about a neighbouring farmer; Giles is hostile and aggressive. Two uninvited lunch guests, the crude Mrs Manresa and the awkward homosexual William Dodge, increase the tension. In the afternoon the village pageant is put on by Miss La Trobe, the novel's artist figure, lonely, eccentric, lesbian, who uses every means she has—pastiche, tableaux, music, repetition, a megaphone, silence, nature itself—to attempt to make an unresponsive audience understand English history and see themselves in the broken mirrors she holds up to them. She feels she has failed, though Mrs Swithin seems to understand her. The day ends as Giles and Isa resume, as in a play, the marital pattern of fighting and love.

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