Between the Acts | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Between the Acts | Plot Summary

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Woolf did not divide Between the Acts into chapters or sections. This study guide groups parts of the text by content into a total of 13 sections of summary and analysis.

The Night Before

Between the Acts begins as the Olivers gather together at their home Pointz Hall on the evening before an annual pageant. One of the neighbors is visiting with Mr. Bart Oliver. They sit chatting about the problem the village faces in accessing clean water. Mention of a "cesspool" echoes throughout their discussion indicating the stagnant aspects of their remote village lives. Mr. Oliver's daughter-in-law Isa Oliver interrupts their conversation to begin making plans for the following day. She has a crush on the visiting neighbor's husband. She is carried away by a memory of a tennis party where Rupert Haines handed her a racquet and caused her heart to leap. It isn't long before her hatred for her husband Giles Oliver is made obvious upon his return home the next day.

The Day Begins

The day of the pageant begins with pleasant weather. The director of the play that will be held decides to have the stage and seats set up outside. The villagers have worried about the possibility of rain each year for the past seven years that they have held the annual pageant. The barn is decorated just in case it does rain and the audience has to move indoors. The barn is a "noble" structure that has stood on the grounds of Pointz Hall for seven centuries. It is as old as the church, and it seems to hold the history of the little village within its sturdy architecture.

Preparations are underway when the Oliver family is surprised by a couple of visitors who happened upon Pointz Hall as they were looking for a spot to picnic. They introduce themselves as Mrs. Manresa and her friend William Dodge. Mr. Bart Oliver feels obliged to offer them a spot on the lawn to enjoy their lunch. Mrs. Manresa is a gregarious woman who chats with the Olivers and makes them feel like they have known her for years. They invite her to stay for the pageant. She is delighted and agrees. William Dodge remains quiet. Mrs. Manresa is in charge of making their plans for the day.

The Audience Arrives

The villagers arrive in the afternoon as the director of the play Miss LaTrobe makes the final arrangements for the performance. Giles Oliver returns from London where he works as a stockbroker. He is aggravated by news of violence in England and the threat of war. He politely gets dressed for the pageant even though he feels frustrated by the mundane affairs of village life.

The gramophone sounds and indicates that the play has begun. It will tell the story of England. The villagers take their seats to watch. A few latecomers amble in and this makes Miss LaTrobe upset. It isn't long before her frustration with the audience becomes increasingly apparent. She hides behind the bushes and shouts cues as one of the actresses forgets her lines. Miss LaTrobe's script seems ambitious for a village performance, but she wants to communicate her vision. The audience attempts to make sense of the play, but they can't seem to find meaning in it. They feel frustrated by the long periods of silence and the final section that presents "ourselves" with distorted mirrors onstage. The village's religious leader Reverend Streatfield delivers a speech suggesting the play's theme is that "we act different parts; but are the same."

The director Miss LaTrobe decides that the audience is a "devil" and that she has miscalculated their ability to confront reality. She ends the night feeling like a failure and refuses to answer anyone's questions about the play. The villagers leave in a state of confusion wondering how to make sense of the day's events.

Night Descends

The final scenes of the novel take place back at Pointz Hall just before the Olivers retire for the night. The Olivers don't agree as to whether the play was a success or a failure. Each has a different view of what it might have signified. Mr. Bart Oliver reads the paper and falls asleep in his chair with his dog at his feet. Mrs. Lucy Swithin gets back to reading her book outlining history. Isa and Giles argue and then embrace. An unsettled feeling pervades the Hall as if it is drained of its capacity to offer the comforts associated with a home.

Between the Acts Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Mr. Bart Oliver and Mrs. Haines sit together discussing the news.

Rising Action

2 The preparations for the annual pageant get underway at Pointz Hall.

3 Mrs. Manresa and William Dodge show up unexpectedly.

4 The villagers arrive for the pageant.

5 The villagers chat with one another during the intervals.

6 The villagers grow restless as the play drags on.


7 The villagers struggle to make meaning out of the play.

Falling Action

8 The villagers disperse and make their way home.


9 Night descends upon the village.

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