The Estrangement of Community in Between the Acts: A Play Embedded in a Novel

By Nicole Tabor.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will address dramatic form in Virginia Woolf’s final novel, Between the Acts, 1941, in order to discuss the tension between community and individual estrangement, joining that discussion to a study of a similar tension between the play and novel forms in the book. My paper’s inquiry into the hybrid novel-play genre considers Woolf’s textual refashioning of individual and communal subjectivity. The key terms, community and estrangement, defined and historicized in the paper’s introduction, will be continually employed here in order to assert that Woolf’s final novel both seriously considers these two terms and burlesques them at different intervals.
Woolf’s novel, written in the increasingly anxiety-ridden late 1930s, reconsiders historical problems by questioning laws of gender and genre. The book’s generic hybridity challenges what Derrida and other critics call the “law of genre,” which posits that literature, like biological taxonomy, can be identified by characteristics and traits in common. “The law of genre” encourages a fear of mixing genres and genders. Between the Acts contains an embedded playscript written by the androgynous Miss La Trobe for a play she directs in parts of the text. Miss La Trobe’s violation of gender law is inseparable from Woolf’s textual hybridity. Her place in the community and the place of other characters in the novel, such as William Dodge and Isa Oliver, exemplify modern estrangement between individual and community. Miss La Trobe’s text and her sexually androgynous body intrude upon patriarchal gender codification, while her historical pageant play underscores commonalities and differences among the historical figures onstage and the lives of the community members who compose the audience. The text questions who and what defines a community, and in a time of impending war, examines the value of inclusion and unity in the midst of crisis.

Keywords: Literature, Literary Studies, Modernism, Drama, Fiction, British Literature, Virginia Woolf, Generic Hybridity, J. Derrida

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 11, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.206MB).

Nicole Tabor

Assistant Professor of English, Dramatic Literature, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, USA

Nicole Tabor, assistant professor of English at Moravian College, received her M.A./Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon in 2009. Her dissertation was entitled “A Shimmering Doubleness: Community and Estrangement in Novelized Dramas and Dramatized Novels.” She has given papers on twentieth-century literature at the Northeast Modern Language Association, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, and others. After graduating from Smith College in 1995, she worked in theatre and film in San Francisco and New York. She was a co-founder and the development director for Unconditional Theatre Company.

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