Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf

I approached Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (1922) with a bit of trepidation, expecting something in the way of stream of consciousness, since this was Woolf's first foray into modernism. Instead, what I found was a series of short snapshots of time depicted through two or three sentences or longer vignettes in which the reader gets a chance to learn about Jacob Flanders.

The most challenging aspect of this book is that it has no plot and is basically a character study of Jacob. Seeing Jacob through the eyes of the other characters keeps him at arm's length. At times, I found this frustrating because I wanted to know how Jacob felt or what he thought at certain times. 

For most of the novel, Jacob's Room takes place in pre-World War I England, following Jacob's time at Cambridge. He travels through Italy and Greece when he is in his twenties as he searches for what he wants to do with his life. 

Most of what the reader learns about Jacob is seen through the women in his life. His mother, widowed Betty Flanders and mother of three boys, is prominent throughout the story. Clara, the sister of his friend Timothy Durrant, is a young woman who has unrequited love for Jacob. Florinda is an art student with whom he has an affair before realizing that he's not the only man she's seeing. When Jacob travels to Italy and Greece, he meets a couple, British travelers Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth Williams, and he falls in love with Mrs. Wentworth Williams, known as Sandra.

Although World War I is not talked about extensively in the novel, the war hovers in the background of the story. The title of the novel refers to the end of the book in which Jacob's mother and his friend, Bonamy, are trying to decide what to do with Jacob's possessions. We learn that Jacob has died in the war.  

Jacob's Room is a quick read at 178 pages. I found that the best way to approach the novel is to enjoy Woolf's prose, and there are so many passages that represent Woolf's wonderful writing. One of the things I love about Woolf's writing that I've found in several of her novels is her depiction of scenes that take place at night, and there are some of those in Jacob's Room. The novel does require a bit of work from the reader, and at times, reading the novel felt a bit like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. 

If you have an interest in Virginia Woolf or modernism, I would recommend this book.

I read Jacob's Room as one of my selections for the Classics Club.


  1. I approach anything by Virginia Woolf with trepidation, but will admit that I'd not even considered this title until now. Also didn't realize it was so short. My classics Club list will "evolve" once more ;-)

  2. How sad to hear Jacob died in the war as the premise for the book.