Time is set free in Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, scenes come together and dissolve with little unity beyond the absence of the book’s central character, Jacob Flanders. The narrative makes its own time, almost free of plot, but Woolf feels likes she is a writer enjoying herself, a fact she confirms in her diaries, at least during the book’s conception.
Though character is one of Woolf’s central concerns in Jacob’s Room, she also conveys such a strong sense of place; the book is suffused with her memories of summer’s spent on the Cornish coast. With some wit, Woolf also questions our modern fascination with ancient Greece, and continues from the diaries and Mrs. Dalloway the conflation of ancient Greece and the twin themes of love and death which underpin Jacob’s Room.
I very much like Jonathan Gibb’s speculation that Jacob’s Room is ‘an essay’, and also Emily’s intoxication with Woolf’s language. Does it quite hang together as a novel, whatever that is? I’m not sure, and will certainly reread with that question in mind, but the language is wondrous and on that note alone Jacob’s Room shares a space in time with its contemporaries Ulysses and The Waste Land.
I just finished this the other day (and will write a piece on it in a week or so). I think it does hold together as a novel, and a very interesting one. It’s a bildungsroman interruptus.
What I mean by that is we have all the elements of a bildungsroman, save for the lack of a future. It underlines the tragedy of the war. All this stuff that happens, all these important events in his life and relationships and impacts on people and thoughts and discussions, and for what?
More on this later as I’m a bit short of time right now, but I think there is something in the idea that the novel shows a potential writer, or scholar, or statesman, or potential many things and his development and exploration of the world, but again for what? I think in that way it’s actually quite subversive.
It’s also as you say remarkably beautiful, but that’s a different point.
An intriguing lens to apply, Max, especially considering how Jacob Flanders shapes himself within his world, the balance of tension in his relationships with both genders, and the external forces that in turn have shaped what we see of his identity.
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