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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Between The Acts (1941) by Virginia Woolf

Is it possible there has never been a Virginia Woolf biopic?

Book Review
Between The Acts (1941)
by Virginia Woolf

    This is the last Virginia Woolf novel on the 1001 Books list. It was finished just before she committed suicide and published just after, under the supervision of her husband.  There is nothing much to recommend Between The Acts above any of the other Woolf titles in the 1001 Books project, but it is her last completed work of fiction, and Woolf is so central to any kind of canon of modern literature that her last book is worth a moment of reflection.

  Between The Acts comes after Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Orlando (1928), To The Lighthouse (1928), Night and Day (1919), Jacobs Room (1922)  and The Years (1937).  Of those seven novels, I have no trouble recommending Orlando.  The other books are basically variations on the theme of upper-class English elliptically dealing with their personal issues.  I think if you took Orlando out of the mix, you could combine the rest og the titles into one big book, and no one would be the wiser.

  Suffice it to say that if you are reading a Virginia Woolf novel there is some kind of romantic misunderstanding or contempts that spans decades.  There is no ominiscent narrator to tell you what's going on, and most of her material is written from inside the head of several of the characters, without giving signposts to the reader about who is talking or when- that is for you, the reader, to figure out, hopefully with an assist from the internet if you are reading Woolf today.

 Woolf is not really a story teller, she is an explorer of interior emotions.  This comes partially as a result of her dedication to modernist literary technique, and partially as a result of her interest in the then new area of psychology. Her premature, self inflicted death no doubt reflected a struggle with depression.  Even a cursory glance at one of her books reveals an obsession with head space and mental state, and sadness, and regret.  She is an apostle of thoughtful sadness.

  Woolf is an author worthy of in depth study, if only because each of her books requires timely unraveling and contemplation of what, exactly, is happening and, what, exactly it all means, if it means anything at all.  In that sense she is ill suited for the 1001 Books list and perhaps ultimately the question is whether she should put seven titles on the list.  I mean I understand why, it's because she is one of the holy trinity of modernism (Gertrude Stein, James Joyce.)  But presumably the 1001 Books list is not for actual graduate students and professors of literature, and I think those are probably the only people who need to read seven or more Woolf novels.  The lesser among us can surely be content with Orlando and one other, perhaps Mrs. Dalloway or To The Lighthouse.

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