Between the Acts
Virginia Woolf and Wartime: Distortions of Natural and Pastoral Imagery in 'Mrs. Dalloway' and 'Between the Acts' College
Alexandra Harris claims in Romantic Moderns that to plant flowers in the middle of a war was to assert one’s firm belief in the future. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925 seven years after the first world war, and her final novel Between the Acts, published in 1941 in the midst of the second, are full of flowers. The pastoral and natural imagery in these novels echo with nostalgia, commemorating happier times past and hoping for their recreation. However, even in their abundance of flowers and birdsong, the images of the pastoral in Woolf’s work do not always look towards a brighter future. The images are distorted and corrupted, resonating with the remaining fears from the previous war and the encroaching fear of the war to come.
In Between the Acts, Woolf uses natural imagery as a means to connect the present to the past, reflecting nostalgia as well as the hope that nature provides for continuity. Miss La Trobe flounders at the silence of the stage, but thankfully ‘the cows took up the burden…in the very nick of time she lifted her great moon-eyed head and bellowed.’ The pastoral animals fill the silent void, all in unison with the ‘same yearning bellow’ (p. 87). The cows are gentle and ‘great’, with eyes like...
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