Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Between the Acts was completed without final revision before Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941; in it, she returns to the tightly controlled structure, the classical unities of time and place, used before in Mrs. Dalloway (1925). Between the Acts takes place in a single day, the day of the annual village pageant, and in the house or on the grounds of Pointz Hall.

In the novel, Woolf presents a critique of patriarchy, militarism, and imperialism, themes familiar from her earlier fiction and nonfiction. Woolf’s critique of male socialization becomes clear when George, Isa’s small son, searches the flowerbeds and grasps a flower “complete,” only to have his moment of being with the natural world shattered by the insistent presence of his grandfather Bartholomew, “a terrible peaked eyeless monster.” George must identify with the patriarchal forces embodied in his Grandfather, who waves the same newspaper in which Isa will later read of the rape of a young girl carried out by soldiers.

Isa’s husband, Giles, and Bartholomew are particularly identified with the powers of imperialism and male dominance, especially when Giles stamps on the snake eating a toad in a moment of parody of the militaristic man-of-action. To Woolf, the cult of masculinity contributes to the causes of war. It is against the background of a possible German invasion of England that Woolf sets the central event of the novel: Miss La Trobe’s historical pageant.

Like Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse (1927), Miss La Trobe represents Woolf’s ideal of the androgynous artist, a creator who is “woman-manly.” As a lesbian, however, Miss La Trobe knows a level of personal frustration and artistic anguish over the success of her pageant that is foreign to the more tranquil and asexual Lily Briscoe.

Struggling to impose an artistic unity on the chaos around her and on the tendency of the audience to “split up into scraps and fragments,” Miss La Trobe’s vision of history seeks to show how the past informs and shapes the present. At the pageant’s conclusion, she has her actors flash mirrors before the...

(The entire section is 885 words.)