A portrait of a young man and his times, Jacob’s Room is Virginia Woolf’s first truly experimental novel. E.M. Forster wrote of it, “amazing…a new type of fiction has swum into view.” Impressionistic in style, experimental in approach, the narrative is as inspired now, as it was when it first appeared.
I have read that Jacob was very much inspired by Woolf’s brother, Thoby,who died of typhoid when he was 26, and now I see why- there are a lot of parallels between his and Jacob’s life and fate.
This is a very interesting novel, in that you can see Woolf experimenting with her “voice” as a writer, which she obviously perfected later on. Right now, I think she peaked at Mrs. Dalloway, but I haven’t finished reading everything she’s ever written yet.
Nobody really knows who Jacob is, which makes this book even more interesting. Jacob is kind of like this otherworldly ghost, flitting about the novel, not quite within the grasp of the reader, let alone the other characters. We only see little flashes of his perspective, certainly not enough to “know” him. Everybody is thinking about him, everyone is calling him, but he never comes. He’s too busy going around and doing all the things, being a bit of a prat and boating in the nuddy to notice.
The writing is, as per usual for Woolf, absolutely beautiful. I have marked out several beautiful passages in my copy, which is always nice to do when you’re reading… it always tells me that I’m enjoying it.
It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if this — and much more than this is true — why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us–why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about him.
Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love.
However, this book is quite slow, and not as well executed as her later experimental works, which is totally understandable. Some of the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, while some were totally real… The woman in the train carriage and Fanny Elmer I especially liked, as they felt absolutely tangible, as if I’ve met them before, as if they were some part of me.
Then the ending… it killed me. I knew how it ended, having read so much about it through researching my thesis, but oh man… when it happened, it was a kick in the guts.
I do think this little novel deserves a bit more attention than it gets, though not as much as I wish Between the Acts would get, coz that novel was like being repeatedly slapped and it was a thoroughly good slapping. I don’t know that I would re-read this in the next few years, but perhaps after a while, since the writing is so gut wrenchingly gorgeous.
Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us.