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Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf

As we limp towards the end of this rotten year, we’re also getting to the end of HeavenAli’s wonderful #Woolfalong. I’ve dipped in when I can, and I was very keen to get at least one more Woolf title in before December finished. In the end, I chose her third novel “Jacob’s Room”, a book I haven’t read in 35 years, and so in many ways this was like coming to it anew – and what a wonderful experience it was.

jacob

JR is usually cited as the book where Woolf’s writing really took off and it’s not difficult to see why. Her previous novels, though they contained hints of what was to come, had been quite traditional. Here, Woolf threw away the rule book and began to weave stories in her own unique way. In simple terms, the book tells the story of a life, that of Jacob Flanders; we follow him from his childhood in Scarborough, playing on the beach with his widowed mother and siblings; through his school and university years; to his time travelling Europe on a small legacy and visiting Greece, which leads to his final, very understated fate.

But this is no straightforward telling, and Jacob himself, though the focal point of the story, is often a shadowy figure. We see him through the eyes of others – his mother, family friends, potential loves, actual lovers, colleagues – until the multifaceted viewpoint brings up as nuanced a portrait of someone else as we can have. Woolf seems to be saying that we can never really know another person, only some element of him, and that life itself is an unseizable force that a novelist can never capture. Certainly the elusive Jacob presents a different face to everyone around him, depending on his relationship with them, their own individual personalities and quirks; and Woolf uses these viewpoints to build up her portrait of her main character.

Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a railway carriage, They see a whole – they see all sorts of things – they see themselves…

Writing about the plot of “Jacob’s Room” somehow seems irrelevant, because in many ways that doesn’t matter. It’s the story of a life, and a life cut short, and the book reads in places as an elegy for someone who was just passing through. The book was, of course, inspired by the life of Thoby Stephen, Woolf’s brother, who contracted typhoid while travelling through Greece, and died from it; so it’s hard not to read it without being constantly aware of that underlying tragedy.

thoby-stephen

But what remains with me most vividly from revisiting “Jacob’s Room” is the strong sense of place; the locations and settings are painted so evocatively that they seem more real than the characters. London, of course, was a particular love of Woolf’s and she writes about it like no other author; here, she conjures it in all its complexity, from lovely Lambs Conduit Street where Jacob has rooms, to the ABC cafes where a single woman can dine alone respectably. Similarly, the heat and scenery of Greece leaps off the page, and the coasts and seas of England are evoked brilliantly.

Jacob’s room had a round table and two low chairs. There were yellow flags in a jar on the mantelpiece; a photograph of his mother; cards from societies with little raised crescents, coats of arms, and initials; notes and pipes; on the table lay paper ruled with a red margin – an essay, no doubt – ‘Does History consist of the Biographies of Great men?’ There were books enough; very few French books, but then anyone who’s worth anything reads just what he likes, as the mood takes him, with extravagant enthusiasm. …. Listless is the air in an empty room, just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One fibre in the wicker armchair creaks, though no-one sits there.

And of course singing out is Woolf’s wonderful, luminous prose, capturing moments of being, emotions, and fragments of other lives which are contiguous to Jacob’s. The tropes she used so well in “Mrs. Dalloway”, such as ranging over places and people in a wonderful impressionistic sequence, are all here and beautifully executed. I always love the way she pins a character down in just a few sentences, and those running through the life of Jacob are memorable; from his doting mother, to Clara Durrant who loves him hopelessly through his friend Bonamy to Sandra Wentworth Williams, his married paramour, they all spring from the pages. I could go on and on about how wonderful Woolf’s writing is, but really you need to experience it; and interestingly I find myself thinking that this would be a very good book to begin to explore her work, as it’s short, beautiful and very readable.

It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows.

This is not so much a review as a reaction to a book, I realise, but as so much has been written about Woolf I sometimes feel a little intimidated when sitting down to do a post about her. And what I can say is that I am never disappointed when I pick up something by Virginia Woolf; there is a reason she’s regarded as one of the 20th century’s best authors and that’s because she is. If you haven’t yet experienced her writing, do yourself a favour by trying one of her books – and “Jacob’s Room” is an excellent place to start!

December ramblings…

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I can’t believe we’re coming to the end of 2016, but like many I won’t be sorry to see the back of this year – it’s been a difficult one all-round.

pilg-4

Reading-wise, I am behind (of course!) on the few limited challenges I hoped to take part in. Although I’ve reached the last volume of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence, I still have a few titles to go. I’ve decided not to beat myself up about it – if I end up finishing it over Christmas, or it stretches into January, that’s fine. Any deadlines I set my reading are ultimately my own and I’m not going to stress about it.

One title I *do* intend to start very soon, however, is this one for the final part of HeavenAli’s wonderful Woolfalong:

jacob

I haven’t read “Jacob’s Room” for about 35 years, and my poor old copy is developing crumbly pages – so this lovely new edition, picked up recently in London, will be just the thing.

Apart from that, I’m trying not to plan too much for December’s reading. I have a couple of lovely British Library Crime Classics lined up, plus a wonderful sounding collection of funny ghost stories from Jerome K. Jerome – just right for the cold dark nights! 🙂

#Woolfalong Phase 4 – Dazzling flights of fancy

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Orlando by Virginia Woolf

I hadn’t intended to read more than one book for the current phase of the Woolfalong, as there are so many other books and challenges I need to get through this month. But when I reached the end of “Recollections of Virginia Woolf” I couldn’t help myself – I just had to pick up the other book I’d been considering reading, and that’s her love letter in a novel to Vita Sackville West, the faux biography “Orlando”.

orlando panther

Woolf’s love life was always a complex one, and she had had affairs of the heart with women before. Vita was of course very different from Virginia – a successful popular novelist with two sons, she was also a member of the landed gentry with a long heritage. Virginia was fascinated by this history and used Vita and her past as the springboard of her wild, dazzling story.

“Orlando” opens in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1; the titular character is a young man of noble birth living in a huge mansion in a country estate. Dreamy and somewhat clumsy, Orlando has a pivotal encounter in the early pages of the book, espying a small, scruffy man sat at the kitchen table – could this be the great English bard? This vision runs through the book as Orlando struggled continually with his life and art.

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.

Orlando is taken up by queen Elizabeth, who admires the youth’s beauty (and also his shapely legs – another recurring motif!) London in Elizabethan times is a fascinating place, and we watch Orlando experiencing all that lively and ribald world can offer. Love of all sorts comes his way freely until he is smitten with a visiting Russian princess, Sasha. Against the background of the Great Frost the affair is played out and Orlando betrayed, with the flood that follows the thaw sweeping away Sasha along with much else of London at the time.

Vita as Orlando

Vita as Orlando

But Orlando has several strange capabilities. For one thing, he gets to a certain age and then seems to stop ageing. So we follow him through decades and then centuries and as the world changes, and Orlando goes through a number of escapades, he doesn’t change. Well, that isn’t quite right – he in fact changes quite dramatically at one point, suddenly becoming a she! So the lady Orlando continues her life – ambassador in Constantinople, poet, hostess of a literary salon, always a landowner in love with the soil and eternal seeker of the truth about art and life.

In fact, putting aside the sparkling tale and the dazzling portrait of a changing England, the struggle between art and life is the crux of this tale. Orlando cannot help but write, though he/she spends much of the time wondering whether this is the right thing to do and if simply living for the day and the experience is better. Encounters with Pope and Dryden and Addison do not help matters; nor does the poet and critic Nicholas Greene; and it is not until the modern age that Orlando is able to write her great work and see it published and recognised. But even here Woolf is a little ambivalent about whether success is worth it and why one writes.

From the foregoing passage, however, it must not be supposed that genius (but the disease is now stamped out in the British Isles, the late Lord Tennyson, it is said, being the last person to suffer from it) is constantly alight, for then we should see everything plain and perhaps should be scorched to death in the process. Rather it resembles the lighthouse in its working, which sends one ray and then no more for a time; save that genius is much more capricious in its manifestations and may flash six or seven beams in quick succession (as Mr Pope did that night) and then lapse into darkness for a year or for ever. To steer by its beams is therefore impossible, and when the dark spell is on them men of genius are, it is said, much like other people.

It must be 35 years since I read “Orlando”, on my first great chronological read of Woolf’s works, and yet much still seemed familiar. In particular, the sequences on the frozen Thames during the Great Frost are one of the best things I’ve ever read, bringing to life a vivid impression of London at the time. In fact, the portrait of a changing land over several centuries is masterfully painted, bringing a novelist’s sensibilities to a historical tale and making that history stunning. Woolf really captures the effect the changing times had in a way a dull textbook can’t and the book is all the more wonderful because of it. The sheer brilliance of her prose takes your breath away, and her flights of imagination are exhilarating. At one point, where the eighteenth century turns into the nineteenth and heralds the Victorian era, she audaciously characterises that century of darkness and dullness and gloom (so the Bloomsberries thought of it) as being defined by damp! So the ivy creeps, everyone is cold and wears huge layers of clothes and even Orlando becomes feeble in a crinoline.

“Orlando” was a brave book to publish at a time when sapphic relationships were very much frowned upon; and the original edition had pictures of Vita posing as Orlando so there could not be much doubt who the book was about. Add in the fact that Vita was notorious for having run off to the continent with Violet Trefusis and you can see that Virginia was taking a bit of a risk.

However, “Orlando” is much more than just a frivolous love letter to Vita; in fact, I would argue that much of its value comes from the discussions of art and writing. I couldn’t help feeling the Woolf was putting her own thoughts and beliefs on the subject into the book, and I wondered if the conflicts she has Orlando enduring reflected those she felt in her own writing life.

As I’ve said, the vision of an evolving England is a vivid and wonderful one; but there’s also the joy of Woolf’s sparkling and wonderful prose which is unparalleled here. Never has her writing been so humorous and playful, and the book was a joy to read from start to finish. In fact, if you’re new to Woolf, “Orlando” might well be a decent place to start as it’s quite accessible and I think gives a real insight into Woolf herself. Re-reading “Orlando” was a truly wonderful experience, and one that will be a highlight of my reading year. I actually can’t wait for the next phase of the Woolfalong and I think I may well end up reading more than one title…..

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three orlandos

As an aside, my original read of Orlando all those decades ago was in the form of a little Panther edition (as were all of my Woolfs at the time). However, as I later discovered, the illustrations from the original book were left out and so I recently picked up what was billed as the definitive edition for this reread which included the illustrations. However, when I went to get my copies off the shelves for a photo I found that I already had one of these – truly I need to pay more attention to what’s already on the stacks…..

#Woolfalong Phase 4 – an emotional response…

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Recollections of Virginia Woolf – edited by Joan Russell Noble

recollections

I should confess up front that I do tend to get very emotional about Virginia Woolf; in fact, when I visited the National Portrait Gallery Bloomsbury exhibition a couple of years ago, J. and Middle Child had to be standing by with the tissues and sympathy when we got to the end and encountered VW’s original final letter to Leonard. So I can’t promise a rational review of this book because I got very emotional while I was reading it; this will instead be a deeply personal response. Back in the 1980s my first discovery of Woolf’s writing it was a revelation; and I think I’d forgotten what a huge effect she had on me until I read this book and it brought back all my emotions about the woman and her work, and also helped clarify for me some of the reasons why Virginia Woolf means so much to me.

…Virginia was exactly my idea of what one means by a genius. For me, a genius means somebody who sees the world and is able to make other people see it in a different light to anyone else. Geniuses are what I’ve heard somebody else describe as before-and-after writers. Life is not the same after reading them as it has been before. I think she was in the most intense sense a genius. (David Cecil)

But first, about the book, which I picked up as part of Phase 4 of HeavenAli’s admirable Woolfalong. First published in 1972 by the estimable Peter Owen, and in paperback by Penguin in 1975, the book collects together a wide range of reminiscences of Woolf by people who knew her. Edited by Joan Russell Noble (well done, that woman!) and with an introduction by Michael Holroyd which gives a potted biography, it’s worth trying to put ourselves mentally back into the era in which it was published. And yes, I know many of you will be too young to grasp what that means, but I’m old enough to remember the 1970s!

Her life was one long inquiry into the nature of personality and of what one may as well call reality or truth. And surely a nature more given to asking than to dogmatizing is chiefly ‘superior’ in its refusal to take for granted what other people do take for granted. (William Plomer)

In 1972 the Bloomsbury Group were not quite the cultural phenomenon we know nowadays. Several members were still alive or only relatively recently deceased, the younger and later extended members of the group were still about, and there was a faint air of dismissal generally expressed towards their achievements and arts. Certainly, they were viewed as out of keeping with the modern world and cultural realism of the 1950s and 1960s, and Woolf herself was viewed as somewhat anachronistic, snobbish and nasty. Extracts from her diaries had been published in 1953, in the form of “A Writer’s Diary”, but the full publication of her diaries, letters and essays was still to come. So the way Woolf was viewed at the time was very different to how we would view her today.

virginia reading

Into the breach sprang Noble, collecting together a mass of memories of Virginia, and what a service she performed. The pieces come from a wide range of figures, from T.S. Eliot to Rebecca West to Christopher Isherwood to George Rylands to Elizabeth Bowen to Raymond Mortimer to John Lehmann to Vita Sackville West – well, I could go on. Some of the most touching pieces are those by Louie Mayer, cook and general factotum for the Woolves for many years, and from Leonard himself. The stated aim is to replace a negative image of Woolf with something more “human” and the book certainly does that, bringing her to life in a nuanced way which no bare biography could do.

The artist is engaged in a constant effort to create order out of the haphazard, singleness out of multiplicity, to trace a pattern that can be seen in the universal pattern of life, which is too vast and various to comprehend. Virginia’s extraordinary consciousness of the complexity of things and her ability to come to terms with that complexity made her value people who could do likewise, and if there was one thing more than another which her friends had in common, it was their power of being articulate, like herself, in a new way. (William Plomer)

Each contributor has a different angle and a different insight into what Virginia was like, her personality, her foibles and her genius. And reading all these personal reminiscences certainly *does* give you a sense of the real woman, her struggles with her art, her hooting laugh and her love for life. Because it’s clear from these pieces that Woolf was no frail, ethereal invalid; despite the difficulties with her health she enjoyed herself to the full as much as she could (and as much as Leonard would let her!), showing an enduring curiosity and interest in her fellow creatures. Leonard himself emerges from the book as someone who was Virginia’s rock; without his caring for her all those years, his sacrifices and his dragon-like protection of her at times, she most likely would not have lived as long as she did and have produced the wonderful books that she did.

vw
Since “Recollections…” first came out there have of course been myriad books about Woolf, as well as the diaries and letters I mentioned above, all of which have expanded our view of Woolf. However, this is still a valuable book; reading the pure, unadulterated reminiscences of those who knew her in one way or another has an immediacy you don’t get from a more formal biography. Many of the pieces are incredibly moving, particularly that of Louie Mayer, who recalls her life with the Woolves, the day of Virginia’s death and how she looked after Leonard till his later passing in 1969. Leonard’s memories come last, in the form of a transcript from a BBC interview, and this leads me on to the one thing I would do to improve the book.

Several of the pieces are sourced from a 1970 BBC documentary, “A Night’s Darkness, A Day’s Sail”; some are stated as being lectures or extracts from other publications in the acknowledgements at the front of the book. But despite there being a list of contributors at the back there is no information about how Noble gathered her material and whether she approached the interviewees etc. I would have liked a short list of sources at the back – and I suppose it’s possible that a later edition might have this – but that’s a minor quibble.

Her genius was intensely feminine and personal – private, almost. To read one of her books was (if you liked it) to receive a letter from her, addressed specially to you. But this, perhaps, was just the secret of her appeal. (Christopher Isherwood)

So “Recollections of Virginia Woolf” had the effect of sucking me back into my personal obsession with Woolf and Bloomsbury, reminding me what I love about her writing and making me want to just sink myself back into Woolf books and read nothing else (which could be detrimental to the TBR piles….) I make no apologies for the amount of quotes in this post (and I could have pulled out so many more), because really this is a book which brings insight and understanding, and stands as a testament to Virginia Woolf as a person and an author. If you have any interest in, or love of, Virginia Woolf I really can’t recommend the book highly enough, and thanks have to go to Ali for the Woolfalong initiative – I don’t know if I would have otherwise picked the book up at this particular time, and I’m really glad that I did.

(As a side note, all the references to “A Night’s Darkness, A Day’s Sail” sent me off to the Internet and the result is here:

https://youtu.be/fnN_Gik7or4

Prepare to weep…)

#Woolfalong Phase 4 – Biographies and thoughts on “Flush”

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HeavenAli’s wonderful #Woolfalong has reached Phase 4, which is biographies – either those of Woolf herself, or her writings on others.

flush

One of the titles that immediately springs to the top of the list is her work “Flush” – ostensibly a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog of that name, it actually tells you much about the great poet herself. It’s a wonderful book which I re-read fairly recently, so I won’t be reading it again now, but I though I would link to my review. I got a *lot* more out of my re-read – it must be 35 years since my first experience with the book – and I thought it had hidden depths. You can read my full review here.

recollections

As for further reading, I’m still trying to decide which biographical Woolf to take on. The obvious title is “Orlando”, another book which I haven’t revisited since my first read of 35 years or so ago; although I’m tempted by Woolf’s biography of Roger Fry, and also a book of recollections of the author herself. Watch this space… 🙂

#Woolfalong Phase 3 – some short story links!

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virginia-woolf-1935-man-ray

We are comfortably into (i.e. nearing the end…) phase 3 of HeavenAli’s rather wonderful #Woolfalong, and this covers shorter works and short stories. When I went to check out what I had, I realised that I’d read a fair bulk of Woolf’s shorter works quite recently, so I thought I would share links to a few of my reviews here.

woolf stories

Woolf didn’t published a huge amount of short stories during her lifetime, but “Monday or Tuesday” was one of them. In July last year I read the volume “Selected Short Stories” which brought together that volume (together with original woodcuts by Vanessa Bell) with several other pieces. I was bowled over, of course, and wrote about it here.

party

One of Woolf’s recurring characters was Clarissa Dalloway; first making an appearance in “The Voyage Out”, she of course dominated the novel that bore her name, and there are several short stories that concern the party described in that work. Earlier in 2015 I read the small book that collected them, “Mrs. Dalloway’s Party” – my thoughts are here.

woolf

And finally, in Summer 2014 I read the short story “Kew Gardens” in – Kew Gardens! I didn’t say much about the story, but you can read about my day here!

Basically, I tend to think that Woolf was the master of whatever form she adopted, and short stories are no exception. The next phase is auto/biography and I’m hoping very much to read “Orlando” for the first time in decades – thanks to Ali for her wonderful Woolfian initiative! 🙂

All in a summer’s day… (#woolfalong)

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Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

We’ve reached the second part of the schedule for HeavenAli’s #woolfalong (if you haven’t heard about this yet, you can check it out here) and the theme for March and April is Beginnings and Endings. I revisited “The Voyage Out” last year, and I wasn’t particularly feeling drawn to return to “Night and Day”. However, as far as I can remember, I’ve only read “Between the Acts” once – around 35 years ago, on my first Woolf binge – and on a day towards the end of March the need to read the book gripped me – so I did…

My copies of BTA - a fragile old Panther Granada I first read over 35 years ago, and an Ace US paperback I picked up for 20p somewhere along the line...

My copies of BTA – a fragile old Panther Granada I first read over 35 years ago, and an Ace US paperback I picked up for 20p somewhere along the line…

“Between the Acts” is of course Woolf’s final work; published posthumously in 1941, it bears a note from Leonard Woolf stating that although the manuscript had been completed, it would no doubt have been revised for the printer. Nevertheless, we still have a pretty much complete work of art here – and what a wonderful one. BTA takes place over one day in June, 1939; set in the English countryside, about 35 miles away from the sea, the rural house of Pointz Hall is host to a summer pageant. Arranged by Miss La Trobe (apparently Woolf satirising herself a little), the pageant is to raise money for the local church. The occupants of the house, Isa and Giles Oliver and their extended family, open the grounds to the locals (“gentles and simples” alike) in the name of the cause, and the villagers play the parts.

The other trees were magnificently straight. They were not too regular; but regular enough to suggest columns in a church; in a church without a roof; in an open-air cathedral, a place where swallows darting seemed, by the regularity of the trees, to make a pattern, dancing, like the Russians, only not to music, but to the unheard rhythm of their own wild hearts.

The pageant is at the heart of the story, but it’s framed by the lives of the Pointz Hall family. Isa and Giles seem to be at a rocky point in their marriage; with two small children and Giles away in London working, Isa appears isolated, and there are hints at Giles’ infidelity. Added to this there seems to be something of a clash of temperaments between the two; Isa has a poetic bent, dreamily quoting poetry and fantasising about a local landowner, whereas Giles seems more grounded. Much of the time he’s angry, unhappy with the work he’s doing and more drawn to the land (and also to the nearest glamorous woman!). The extended household, in the form of Giles’ father Bartholomew and widowed aunt Lucy, have their own dynamic; thought brother and sister, they are like chalk and cheese, with Lucy having a strong religious faith and Bart being much more pragmatic.

Into the preparations for the pageant stumbles Mrs. Manresa, with a young friend in tow by the name of William Dodge. Mrs. Manresa is all glamour, portraying herself as a wild, free spirit; Dodge, by contrast, is a more complex figure. He instantly develops a kind of bond with Isa, but puts Giles’ hackles up, and not for any reason of jealousy. It’s hinted that Dodge is homosexual and Giles finds this fact intolerable; in fact, it drives him to spend much of the afternoon in the company of Mrs. Manresa.

Then there is Miss La Trobe, playwright and producer of the entertainment. It’s hinted that she has something of a past – she was an actress; she ran a tea room; she shared a house (and a bed) with another actress – but now all her powers are focused on producing her play. And what a play it is! As the afternoon stays fine, and the play moves on, its pageantry presents the visiting audience with a vision of English history which is compelling, despite the limited sets and costumes. Between the acts of the play, Isa wanders with William and looks for her landowner; Giles walks with Mrs. Manresa; and the audience ponder over the meaning of the play. The climax of the pageant is a strange one, leaving the audience confused; and as they wend their way home and the day draws to an end, there is the sense that Giles and Isa will have to reach some kind of resolution.

Virginia Woolf

Of course, a bald summary of plot gives no hint of the wonders of reading Virginia Woolf’s prose, and it’s obvious that she was still at the height of her powers here. What in anyone else’s hands could have been a bland little tale of a village pageant is, from Woolf’s pen, an elegy for a world she saw under threat from WW2, and it’s unbearably poignant.Virginia Woolf was working on BTA when England was at war with Germany; the conflict was still in its early days and the threat was still immense. The setting of the book, slightly pre-war, allows Woolf to reflect on what was to come, and there are plenty of rumblings about the changes which are about to take place in England, hinted at by uncertain phrases dropped into conversations and the presence of a group of planes flying overhead mid-speech. And much of Giles’ anger is generated by the knowledge of events happening over the channel of which those attending the event at his house seem unaware.

The pageant itself is fascinating, given to the watchers (and to us readers) in fragments of English history; a kind of tribute to the past when the country was under threat. The back of my Panther Granada edition states that the pageant is based on Woolf’s novel “Orlando” which may well be true, although it’s many years since I read that book. Nevertheless, the elegiac quality of the narrative can’t be denied, and there is a sense of longevity and continuity in the people and the way of life.

The prose, of course, is just wonderful; vibrant and musical, it brings vividly to life an English summer day, with the stillness of the heat haze and the buzzing of the insects; in fact, the sensation it creates transported me back to the summers of my teens when I would spend hot days in the countryside with friends. I can’t think of anyone who writes English prose as well as Woolf; every observation is nuanced, every phrase loaded with meaning and I always end a reading of her books stunned.

As to whether Woolf is satirising herself, that isn’t something I would have thought of on my first reading; but it seems a remarkably persuasive interpretation this time round. Miss La Trobe, with her search for the perfect play and the perfect audience, certainly could mirror Woolf and her precision and endless search for the perfect sentence. And using mirrors to see our real selves is an apt metaphor here – about which I shall say no more…

There’s always that great fear, when you re-read a book you know you loved in the past, that it will let you down and won’t be as good as you think it was. For me, this is always complicated by the fact that I have such a poor memory now of some of the books I read decades ago; and indeed, revisiting “Between the Acts” was almost like a new read, although I did have echoes of the story still in my mind. But I needn’t have worried – I really am coming to the conclusion that Virginia Woolf is one of the greatest writers the English language has ever produced, and “Between the Acts” is a fine (if, alas, premature) ending to her writings. A work of genius.

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As an aside, I had been considering this re-read for some time and BTA had been sitting on the shelves for a while. For some reason, I felt compelled to pick it up on Easter Monday, 28th March, and tore through it in a day, relishing every word. It was only towards the end of the book that I realised, thanks to a tweet, that the day was the 75th anniversary of Woolf taking her own life. Somehow, it seemed even more apt that I had been drawn to read the book on that day…

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