Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
I took a Virginia Woolf seminar as an undergrad ten years ago in the spring, and it proved to be enlightening and a catalyst for my career in twentieth- and twenty-first century fiction. We read 9-10 full-length works, including Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, and The Years. I also read Orlando and Night and Day on my own and liked them both immensely. I’ve been meaning to read Between the Acts for several years, but it’s been hard to track down. The Chancellor, good man that he is, found it and got as a Christmas present for me a few years back. I decided to take it with me as part of my Christmas reading stack, and I am so delighted by the discovery of this new-to-me Woolf.
Just as in Mrs. Dalloway, Between the Acts takes place in a day. This novel focuses on the Oliver family as they prepare to watch a theatrical production take place on their property. Bartholomew, the patriarch, his widowed sister, his son and heir, and his daughter-in-law all reflect on their lives, that production, and their relationships to each other. Isa, the daughter-in-law, receives particular attention, as she wonders about her marriage to her husband Giles, and his relationship to Mrs. Manresa, who is infatuated with him. The play itself also focuses on the history of England throughout the centuries and reflects on the heritage of Britishness.
If you’re already part of the Woolf pack (thanks to my professor for that term!), you will likely enjoy this book. I don’t know that this is the place to start if you’ve never read Woolf, though. If you want to try out Woolf, I would go with To the Lighthouse or Mrs. Dalloway.