Arcadia takes place in both the early 1800s and modern times, at an English country home. The earlier period follows Thomasina and her tutor, Septimus Hodge, as they deal with not only the young girl's studies, but also the drama and affairs of the other residents (including Lord Byron, a guest at the home). The later period primarily follows Hannah and Bernard, a writer and an academic who are investigating the life of a hermit and the life of Lord Byron, respectively. Eventually the stories merge together.
I had no knowledge of Arcadia prior to reading it, but I quickly discovered it has many of my favorite things: family angst; affairs that shouldn't happen; deep discussions about life, philosophy, or whatever else you want to call it; a rather contained setting; and a wonderful dose of humor amidst all the drama.
It also has quite a few quotes that I love.
“It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing.... A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time of being alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”The thing about Arcadia, though, is I didn't love it because I couldn't see what was happening. I thought it was cool that the play takes place essentially around the same table, but I think it'd be cooler to see it in person-- especially near the end, when the characters from different time periods begin to overlap within the same scene rather than taking their actions in separate scenes. Reading the overlap was more confusing than anything, but I'm sure if I saw it on the stage I would be flailing in excitement.
My experience of not loving Arcadia as much as I think I would if I saw it performed reminds me of my experience with Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a play about two couples and the explosive evening they spend together. I saw the movie a couple years ago and loved it (Elizabeth Taylor is my queen), and I saw the current Broadway production a few weeks ago. Both blew me away, mainly due to the absolutely perfect performances. But the performances are rooted in such a fantastic, explosive, twisted, yet funny script that, when my friend offered me a copy of the book to borrow, I read it happily. Reading it after seeing both the movie and play, though, is different because I already knew what to expect; instead of being impressed by the story, I spent more time thinking about how the stage directions were adapted in the versions I've seen. Which is interesting and exciting and makes me appreciate the play even more, but also just proves to me how different the stage is from the script.