Imminent World War 2

In Between the Acts Woolf depicts the lost past in the present: ‘The room was empty. Empty, empty, empty, silent, silent, silent. The room was a shell, singing of what was before time was; a vase stood in the heart of the house, alabaster, smooth , cold (like the dead), holding the still, distilled essence of emptiness, silence (of the dead). (p.33-34).

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Woolf alludes to the aftermath of World War 1 and imminent World War 2 with: aeroplanes flying overhead that drown out the pageant cast and the Reverend’s speech. Woolf draws attention to women’s ever-increasing importance in the former patriarchal workforce: the British Women’s Land Army (WLA) is symbolized by ‘Iris had a handkerchief bound round her forehead’ and ‘Jessica’s breeches’ (p.24). Woolf is aware that ‘women’s position is society has changed in the past and will in the future’ (Whitworth, OU Audio). However, as Asbee point out, ‘war and the military are still the domain of men’ (OU Background of War Audio). ‘The Cesspool is an important image establishing ideas about time and continuity’ (Asbee, 2016, p.197). The Roman road could be seen from an aeroplane, merging past and present. Pointz Hall, ‘the ancestral manor house which provides the setting for most of the narrative is connected to the points Woolf uses the hall to make about the importance of playing a role in history’ (Sexton, 2018). The house itself has a mixture of historical contradictions, facing north rather than south as is customary, decorated with Victorian era furniture and the old leather-bound library classics compete with new, cheap and tawdry ‘quick reads’ left behind by visitors. Woolf mocks the Oliver family’s aristocratic pretentions: Two portraits grace the staircase: ‘one of a small-powdered face … an ancestor of sorts’ (p.6-7) and the other bought simply to complement the first. Bartholomew’s representation of his past vigour and glory in the present is rudely interrupted by Isa ‘a young man helmeted … and in his hand a gun. The dream hand clenched; the real hand lay on the chair arm, the veins swollen but only with a brownish fluid now’ (p.16).

Woolf symbolizes the fascist extremities of a patriarchal system with a snake choking on a living toad resembling an inversion of the birth process. Unable to save either, Giles crushes them both beneath his foot, appeasing temporarily his frustration at being trapped in the patriarchal line of seven hundred years of family history and duty, working in London and not fighting for his country. (Sexton, 2018). Giles proudly returned ‘from battle’ with blood-stained shoes (p.89). The blurry Pageant Programme symbolizes ‘… the novel’s thematic concerns about dangers of allowing history to continually repeat itself by taking an active role as it is happening’ (Sexton, 13 October 2018).

Religious symbols and beliefs are strewn in between the Acts: Mrs Sands took fish to the ‘semi-ecclesiastical apartment’. Before the Reformation, Pointz Hall had a chapel that had become a larder, changing, like the cat’s name (from Sung-Yen to Sunny), as religion changed (p.29). Lucy feels her faith has been struck by Bartholomew when he suggests providing umbrellas instead of praying (p.21). When she seeks his patriarchal approval and enlightenment, he muses ‘why, in Lucy’s skull , shaped so much like his own, there existed a prayable being?’ (p.23). However, Woolf suggests Lucy ‘would have been … a very clever woman, had she fixed her gaze’ (p.22).

Isolated historical references testify to the passing of time, i.e. : ‘garlands of red and white papers roses left over from the Coronation ’ (p.24); Croydon (p.14); wheat grown in the Napoleonic war; and Old Mr. Oliver remembered his mother had the ‘tea-caddy locked’ (p.4).

Examples of Woolf’s humorous simile and alliteration: Mrs. Haines, ‘a goosefaced woman with eyes protruding as if they saw something to gobble in the gutter’ (p.3). ‘She (Isa) came in like a swan swimming its way …’ swanning (p.4); and ‘… herself (Isa) and Haines, like two swans downstream, But his snow-white breast was circled with a tangle of dirty duckweed; and she too, in her webbed feet was entangled, by her husband the stockbroker. Sitting on her three-cornered in her chair she swayed’ (p.5).

Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams in the Dominican Republic in 1890. Her father was of Welsh descent and her mother white Creole. She completed her education in England before working as a chorus girl and artist’s model. In 1919 she and her husband Jean Lenglet moved to Paris. They lost a baby boy and financial constraints forced them to have their daughter brought up by Rhys’s father. The couple divorced when Lenglet was in prison and Rhys had an affair with Ford. In 1934 she remarried with Leslie Tilden-Smither (Padley, 2016, p.223). 

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Imminent World War 2. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved May 17, 2022 , from

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