Between the Acts

When Illusion Suceeds

Ms. La Trobe says it best in Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts: 'This is death, death, death - when illusion fails.' (p. 180) Various characters in the novel create illusions to escape from the reality that grieves them. And those illusions are continually interrupted by other characters who purposely or accidentally clear away the smoke and blow real air into the dreamers' faces. Ms. La Trobe is probably correct: when illusion fails, it probably is death. But she also probably went too far: Between the Acts reveals to us the resiliency of illusion, and the difference between a dream interrupted and a dream destroyed.

The scene in the Pointz Hall library is laden with illusions created and shattered. First we see old Bart dozing in his chair, dreaming of 'himself, a young man helmeted, and in the sand a hoop of ribs, and in the shadow of the rock, savages; and in his hand a gun.' (p. 17) It is a poignant juxtaposition: a wearied old man in his comfortable chair in his sheltered home in England and the same man, many years earlier, undomesticated in his untamed India. Is it this his old gun in his hand, or only the arm of his 'chintz-covered chair?' (p. 17) Isa enters. 'Am I interrupting?'...

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