Virginia Woolf: Jacob's Room

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Virginia Woolf: Jacob's Room

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Fev 9, 2009, 9:14pm

I'm currently studying Jacob's Room for my 20th century Brit Lit class. Today the lecturer spent 45 minutes on the title of this novel, and then almost an hour on the first sentence. At this rate it's going to take 25 years to get through this book!

I'll pull out my notes and explain more later . . .

Fev 11, 2009, 8:34pm

Okay, second lecture, and we spent one hour on the second paragraph, and then thirty minutes on the rest of the first three pages. There is no way I will ever be able to repeat everything here. But look at it this way--every name, noun and concept mentioned has several layers of meaning. I can't imagine going through the whole book like this--it would be exhausting!

Fev 13, 2009, 12:33pm

I'm not sure that anyone is planning to read Jacob's Room for this group read, or if anyone even cares about this book, but I'm just going to jot down some thoughts I had from my two lectures. Writing about a topic always helps understanding, even if you're only writing for yourself.

Jacob's Room is high modernism, and so here are some thoughts from my notes on that:

- Understanding comes on the second reading. The first reading is to gather the bits, and the second reading lets you assemble the bits into something coherent (Thank goodness JR is fairly short!).

- the sequence of the "story" is the sequence of conciousness.

- a modernist novel is like a shattered hologram. Every facet will have a complete hologram on it; every fragment of the novel contains the complete novel.

- modernism draws attention to the narrator and to its art.

Some of the themes of JR: how we never really know someone & how the image of a person is made up of the different perspectives of others; the effect all of us have on each other's lives, we are not nothing.

In JR, Woolf throws out stable narrative and a fixed protagonist to give a series of impressions that make up a whole.

Fev 13, 2009, 6:16pm

I have been enjoying your posts about this novel so please don't stop! :)

Fev 15, 2009, 2:08pm

Hi Nickelini,
I also want to encourage you to keep posting. Thank you.
I just finish re-reading A Room of One's Own and getting ready to tackle more VW.

Editado: Fev 19, 2009, 2:52pm

It's nice to know that I'm not talkin' to a wall, although, really, writing these posts is just a way to mull over my lectures and review the material. So even if I was talking to myself, it would still be a useful conversation. (enough babbling, get on with it . . . )

- I'm still trying to figure out the comment my prof made yesterday when he said that there was a "unitary cultural consciousness" central to the text. None of us had a clue what he was talking about, we made some guesses. Finally he had to tell us that it is "Cambridge." I have a big "HUH??" next to that note. I'll have to think about that one some more. For one, I'm not even sure what "unitary cultural consciousness" even means. (If anyone has any thoughts, please do share). Then he went on to say that VW is showing how this cultural consciousness isn't as unitary as once thought. Because of WWI, culture has fragmented and fractured, and VW reflects this in the novel. (Okay, I'm going to have to think about this a bit. Maybe VW is just beyond my limited mental capacities?).

-- The "telescoping" aspect of the novel: the title contains everything, the first sentence contains everything, the first page contains everything, the first section contains everything . . . and so on . . . .every fragment contains the whole, every part is contained in every other part. For example, chapter one is a microcosm of the entire novel.

-- tons of symbolism everywhere . . . insects, toads, crabs = lack of consciousness, will, functioning only by instinct . . . lighthouses, windows, eyes are all related to seeing (lighthouses shine light and also protect) . . .

The first full paragraph has pen, lighthouse, mast, candle . . .all are Freudian phallic symbols . . . water and liquid symbolize maternity and the womb. . . all the rooms symbolize something (can't remember what--something to do with sphere of influence), and empty shoes represent death.

-- Names: Jacob = Jacob from the Bible, is always struggling with God . . . name means "heel presser" (because he had his foot on his twin bro Esau's head at birth) and in the first sentence Betty is pressing her heels into the sand (sand = Egypt). Flanders, of course refers to WWI Flanders Fields (okay, even I got that one). His mother Betty refers to Elizabeth, a Biblical mother, Rebecca refers to the Biblical mother of Jacob, Mrs. Norman refers to the Norman roots of England . . . and so on and so on. Upon hearing this I inwardly respond: "You've GOT to be kidding me! Where do you get this from?" Is this a case of over examining literature? You should see how marked up my copy is--the pages are completely full of notes. I find it all far-fetched, yet it does stand up under closer scrutiny.

Fev 19, 2009, 2:57pm

One more example from the text, from the opening line: "So of course,' wrote Betty Flanders, pressing her hells rather deeper into the sand, 'there was nothing for it but to leave."

According to my prof, the leaving refers to four different things:

1. Jacob must leave (death)
2. We all must die
3. it refers to an incident later in the book that I won't go into here
4. Sons must leave their mothers

And that's just pulling apart the "but to leave" part of the sentence. It takes a long time to read a novel at this level of detail.

Fev 26, 2009, 1:34pm

This is my last post on Jacob's Room, unless there is any further conversation. We've finally finished discussing it in class, and are now on to Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.

Here are some notes from my final class:

The overarching theme: consciousness . . . JR gives readers an entirely new idea of consciousness.

Method: stream of consciousness, impressionism (as in impressionist painting, as described in the opening chapter . . . although personally I think of Woolf as more of a cubist painting).

Structure: fragmentation

Literary symbol: lights

Master impression/controlling idea: the room
also: painting, space & emptiness, space between events (interstice space)

All of this is at the service of the major theme of war. Take the war out of the novel, and the text becomes a literary experiment. But with the war, the novel becomes human.

Good bye, Jacob . . .

Fev 27, 2009, 7:33pm

Heh... that reminds me of when I had to read a Flaubert short story for a class once. I took us two weeks to do the one short story, including two classes on the first few sentences. Those two classes literally changed my entire view of literature because until that point I never stopped to think that an author might actually put that many levels of meaning into their writing.

Glad to have your notes here. Jacob's Room is quite daunting at first. I like the idea of reading it quickly once, then again meticulously.

Abr 9, 2009, 3:36pm

I reread Jacob's Room since I posted here, and I have to say that my prof is right, and its a completely different book the second time through. I'm not sure if I love it now . . . but close.

Maio 9, 2009, 7:54am

Have loved reading your posts here and on your regular thread as well. I think I have finally figured out why I am having so much trouble getting into the "modern classics". They are not at all what I thought they were, which is simply the "classics" as we have always known them to be but "modern". I think this (looking for the layers, etc.) has helped me a lot.
Thank you,

Dez 4, 2011, 12:54pm

I've just had a discussion about Jacob's Room on another thread, and found out this interesting bit of information. Thought I should tack it on to this conversation:

By the way, Jacob does not mean "heel presser" יַעֲקֹב means "heel holder" or grabber and therefore by extension "usurper" or someone who overthrows. So, if there was really an intended metaphor there, unless she was grabbing the sand, Woolf's Hebrew was off track.

Thanks to Arukiyomi for this clarification.

Jun 19, 2019, 1:52pm

Hi Nickelini,

Can you help me understand the telescopic aspect in greater detail? How does the first sentence contain everything? I am really interested in this. Thank you.

Jun 19, 2019, 7:30pm

>13 caspianking:

Probably can't be of much help -- I last wrote on this topic 8 years ago, and haven't thought about it much since. Woolf takes a lot of brain cells. I think it was about Woolf starts at a high level and then looks at everything closer, and then closer again. Like focusing in on a telescope. That's where I think I was hanging out with this one.