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In Woolf's final novel, villagers present their annual pageant, made up of scenes from the history of England, at a house in the heart of the country as personal dramas simmer and World War II looms. Annotated and with an introduction by Melba Cuddy-KeaneEdition/Copyright: 08
VIRGINIA WOOLF(18821941) was one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. An admired literary critic, she authored many essays, letters, journals, and short stories in addition to her groundbreaking novels. MARK HUSSEY,general editor of Harcourt's annotated Woolf series, is a professor of English and women's and gender studies, and editor of theWoolf Studies Annual,at Pace University. He lives in Upper Nyack, New York.
IT WAS a summer's night and they were talking, in the big room with the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool. The county council had promised to bring water to the village, but they hadn't. Mrs. Haines, the wife of the gentleman farmer, a goosefaced woman with eyes protruding as if they saw something to gobble in the gutter, said affectedly: ''What a subject to talk about on a night like this!'' Then there was silence; and a cow coughed; and that led her to say how odd it was, as a child, she had never feared cows, only horses. But, then, as a small child in a perambulator, a great cart-horse had brushed within an inch of her face. Her family, she told the old man in the arm-chair, had lived near Liskeard for many centuries. There were the graves in the churchyard to prove it. A bird chuckled outside. ''A nightingale?'' asked Mrs. Haines. No, nightingales didn't come so far north. It was a daylight bird, chuckling over the substance and succulence of the day, over worms, snails, grit, even in sleep. The old man in the arm-chairMr. Oliver, of the Indian Civil Service, retiredsaid that the site they had chosen for the cesspool was, if he had heard aright, on the Roman road. From an aeroplane, he said, you could still see, plainly marked, the scars made by the Britons; by the Romans; by the Elizabethan manor house; and by the plough, when they ploughed the hill to grow wheat in the Napoleonic wars. ''But you don't remember . . .'' Mrs. Haines began. No, not that. Still he did remember and he was about to tell them what, when there was a sound outside, and Isa, his son's wife, came in with her hair in pigtails; she was wearing a dressing-gown with faded peacocks on it. She came in like a swan swimming its way; then was checked and stopped; was surprised to find people there; and lights burning. She had been sitting with her little boy who wasn't well, she apologized. What had they been saying? ''Discussing the cesspool,'' said Mr. Oliver. ''What a subject to talk about on a night like this!'' Mrs. Haines exclaimed again. What had he said about the cesspool; or indeed about anything? Isa wondered, inclining her head towards the gentleman farmer, Rupert Haines. She had met him at a Bazaar; and at a tennis party. He had handed her a cup and a racquetthat was all. But in his ravaged face she always felt mystery; and in his silence, passion. At the tennis party she had felt this, and at the Bazaar. Now a third time, if anything more strongly, she felt it again. ''I remember,'' the old man interrupted, ''my mother. . . .'' Of his mother he remembered that she was very stout; kept her tea-caddy locked; yet had given him in that very room a copy of Byron. It was over sixty years ago, he told them, that his mother had given him the works of Byron in that very room. He paused. ''She walks in beauty like the night,'' he quoted. Then again: ''So we'll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon.'' Isa raised her head. The words made two rings, perfect rings, that floated them, herself and Haines, like two swans down stream. 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 chair she swayed, with her dark pigtails hanging, and her body like a bolster in its faded dressing-gown. Mrs. Haines was aware of the emotion circling them, excluding her. She waited, as one waits for the strain of an organ to die out before leaving church. In the car going home to the red villa in the cornfields, she would destroy it, as a thrush pecks the wings off a butterfly. Allowing ten seconds to intervene, she rose; paused; and then, as if she had heard the last strain die out, offered Mrs. Giles Oliver her hand. But Isa,
Preface: Virginia Woolf
Between the Acts
Notes toBetween the Acts
Suggestions for Further Reading
Virginia Woolf Suggestions for Further Reading
Between the Acts
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