Endings and Beginnings

Part of the Macmillan Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature book series (STCL)


‘They were all caught and caged; prisoners; watching a spectacle. Nothing happened. The tick of the machine was maddening.’ So Virginia Woolf describes the members of the audience at the pageant presentation in her last novel: Between the Acts. The spectators represent both the stupefied British public on the eve of war watching the drama of history unfold before them, and playgoers awaiting the transformation of reality into art. Written in 1939–40 and published posthumously in 1941, Between the Acts is one of the finest recreations in literature of that transitional period between the 1930s and the 1940s. It captures a particular mixed mood of nostalgia, stasis, terror, and a slim hope for a future — in life or art.


British Poetry Moral Blindness Young Writer Literary Establishment Golden Mountain 
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  1. 1.
    Virginia Woolf, in Leonard Woolf (ed.), A Writers Diary (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1953; originally published London: The Hogarth Press, 1953) p. 305. Also see Anthony Powell’s The Valley of Bones, The Kindly Ones, and At Lady Mollys which are set during wartime.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949 and New York: Knopf, 1949) p. 87.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ‘September Journal,’ first appearing in Horizon, has been reprinted in Stephen Spender’s The Thirties and After: Poetry, Politics, People 1933–1970 (New York: Random House, 1978). See pp. 69–102. Spender has omitted five personal paragraphs in the later publication.Google Scholar
  4. See A. Walton Litz, ‘Revising the Thirties,’ Sewanee Review, 87 (Fall 1979) pp. 660–6.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    A. T. Tolley, The Poetry of the Thirties (London: Victor Gollancz, 1975) p. 376.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Robert Hewison, Under Siege (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977) pp. 101–2.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Last Words’, The Criterion XVIII, no. XXXI (January 1939) pp. 272–5. For a similar despairing tone, see Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), first edn 1938, revised edn 1949.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Stephen Spender, ‘September Journal’, Horizon I, no. 2 (February 1940) p. 102.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Stefen Schimanski, in Stefen Schimanski and Henry Treece (eds), Leaves of the Storm, A Book of Diaries (London: Lindsay Drummond, 1947) p. 42.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters: Volume II, 1940–43 (New York: Harvest Books, 1968) p. 54.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation (London: Bodley Head, 1976) p. 81.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    It is important to remember the awakening interest in Jungian psychology during this period. See, for instance, Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (London: Oxford University Press, 1934; 2nd edn 1948) where she recalls the drowned sailor and Jung’s emphasis on a regressive voyage into the deep as preliminary to renewal of life.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Geoffrey Grigson (ed.), Poetry of the Present, An Anthology of the Thirties and After (London: Phoenix House, 1949) p. 13.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    John Lehmann, I Am My Brother (New York: Reynal and Co., 1960) p. 109.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Alun Lewis, in Ian Hamilton (ed.), Selected Poetry and Prose (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966). Also see, in addition to ‘On Embarkation’, ‘Song’ and ‘Water Music’, other journey poems: ‘A Troopship in the Tropics’, ‘Port of Call: Brazil’, and ‘The Journey’.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Geoffrey Grigson, ‘Twenty-Seven Sonnets’, New Verse New Series I, no. 2 (May 1939) p. 49.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Julian Symons, Notes from Another Country (London: London Magazine Editions, 1972) p. 66.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    Angus Calder, The Peoples War (New York: Random House, 1979) p. 512.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Stephen Spender, Poetry Since1939 (London: Longman for the British Council, 1946) p. 112.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Ian Hamilton, The Little Magazines (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976) p. 9.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Cyril Connolly, The Listener, 5 December 1940, p. 812.Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    Derek Stanford, Inside the Forties (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1977) p. 91.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    John Lehmann, Thrown to the Woolfs (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1978) p. 88.Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    Ibid., pp. 88–9.Google Scholar
  25. 29.
    Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969) p. 98.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Linda M. Shires 1985

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