Between the Acts.
Mark Hussey's Cambridge edition of Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts (1941) does Woolf scholars a tremendous service, not surprisingly, coming from the man who gave us Virginia Woolf A to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life and Work. This edition breaks new ground by giving us a completely new version of Woolf's posthumously published novel. It is based not on the first American edition (as is Melba Cuddy-Keane's Harcourt edition from 2008) nor primarily on the first British edition (as is the Shakespeare Head edition by Susan Dick and Mary S. Millar from 2002) but on the final typescript of the manuscript. In using the typescript as the source text (not the "authoritative text," Hussey says, because Woolf never saw such a text in print), Hussey seeks "to move the work closer to the state in which Woolf left it at her death" (lxiii). What is most "radical" about this edition, Hussey acknowledges, is his decision not to use italics to distinguish the words of the pageant from those of the framing narrative, as per Leonard's instructions to the printer. That momentous decision gives us a new novel, one that brings out its involuted structure and its allusive allure more vividly than any previous edition.
That crucial typographic choice is only one (though the most important) of the many noteworthy features of this beautifully rendered edition, compact and weighty, dense with information. Hussey's introduction provides an overview of Woolf's life and writings, of the composition and publication history of this novel, and of its contemporary reception and recent criticism, and a sustained reflection on theories and practices of textual scholarship that supply a rationale for his own editorial decisions. The explanatory notes number 530, more than twice as many as in the 2008 Harcourt edition, yet are never intrusive. Discretely noted in small type at the bottom of each page, these references are available, if the reader chooses to seek them out, in a section at the end. They cover London streets and landmarks; the flora and fauna in the novel; the names of historical and literary figures, cross-referencing them with Woolf's other writings; geographical, historical, literary and cultural references; and, "every character's name, shop name and every place name in the text" (159). The explanatory notes identify not only major historical events, such as the Napoleonic wars and King George VI's coronation, and key publications, such as The Outline of History that Lucy Swithin reads and the countless literary works whose phrases resound throughout the novel; but also such obscure, even odd references as the class significance of red villas and turtle soup, Mrs. Manresa's red nails and Mrs. E's red lipstick. The volume of notes, however, is not sheer pedantry; these notes tease out the literary and cultural palimpsest that is the novel itself and instance the critical tendency of the new modernist studies, to attend to minor details and the specificity of cultural and intellectual references (xvii).
In addition to the explanatory notes are two sections on editorial work, the textual apparatus that records variants between the typescript and the first British and American editions, and textual notes where Hussey "explain[s] and document[s] each instance of intervention" (lxiii) in keeping with the editorial ethic of the Cambridge editions: namely, transparency. Especially for a work that has no authoritative text--Woolf even stated explicitly that it was not ready for publication--the editor must make his choices explicit, whether he has relied on the author's words or those of other intervening agents, in this case the typescript Leonard prepared for the printer. Leonard's choice to italicize the words of the pageant constituted an interpretive act which has "influenced the reader's response to the text in a specific way" (lxiv). Hussey acknowledges that his choice to ignore Leonard's italics (except where clearly indicated in Woolf's typescript) also relies on a particular reading of the novel. And Hussey's reading is, for this reader at least, far more compelling than Leonard's. Indeed, this edition extends a prominent critical reading of the novel to the bibliographic codes of the text itself.
Unlike Leonard's, Hussey's editing is not intended to make the novel more easily consumable by the reader but to conform to the logic of the text itself. As Hussey notes, critics have long drawn attention to the blurring of boundaries between the pageant and the framing narrative as voices merge with one another, characters finish each other's thoughts, the narrator echoes the pageant's words, so that the reading audience is no more certain whether the play has begun or ended than is LaTrobe's audience. Leonard's use of italics for the pageant "has the effect of separating it from the narrative in a way the text itself undercuts" (lxvii). Hussey's version, on the other hand, makes "the subversive intent of Between the Acts" (xlvi) explicit. For scholars long familiar with this novel, the effect will not be the same as for first-time readers with no sense that the novel and pageant were ever clearly separated. Alas, most first-time readers, namely students, will likely never experience that effect due to the prohibitive cost of the Cambridge editions. (1) That, indeed, is a significant loss. For this version provides a dramatically different reading experience from those based on the first print editions.
For a scholar as meticulous as Mark Hussey, to find an error in an edition as otherwise flawless as this one must be galling, but it must be mentioned that on page 16, line 27, "The girls screamed" should be "The girl screamed."
But "we quit such odious subjects as soon as we can" (O 139) to end on a positive note. This edition of what critics call Woolfs last novel will be the definitive one for years to come. Not only are the notes, textual apparatus, and introduction as thorough as any to date, its typographic form mimes and intensifies the experience of reading that Woolf's experimental text sought to produce.
--Pamela L. Caughie, Loyola University Chicago
(1) Teaching the novel this semester, I have ordered the 2008 Harcourt edition (in a series edited by Mark Hussey) and placed the Cambridge edition on reserve, inviting students to compare the two versions.