Ordinary Times Bookclub: Jacob’s Room

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3 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    I like that analogy–that Woolf is painting rather than writing this novel. Impressionistic painting at that. While reading the first few chapters, I noticed her constant mention of colors, particularly purple, yellow, and grey. I’m sure it must mean something although I haven’t quite figured out what.

    I also noticed a theme from another Woolf theme that I remember from Waves: how little we actually know about other people. From a distance, it’s man in a raincoat or woman in a red dress. From up closer, it’s Bob or Emily. But what we know of most people are the characteristics we assign to them. We’re all alone with our deepest thoughts and our deepest selves.

    And so it makes sense that Jacob is more a cypher than a fleshed-out character, that what we see and know of him are what others tell us and that we get few inklings of who he really is. At least not in the first five chapters.Report

    • DRS in reply to Michelle says:

      Perhaps because we’re getting intimations of who he was. Woolf’s descriptions don’t make a lot of sense if this is a traditional novel that is moving from the present into the future. But JR is a novel of memory where different points of view are looking backwards. It doesn’t matter what Jacob went on to say in his discussions with Bonamy in his university room; what matters is that certain people remember how he used to use the same opening words when he was in a discussion. It’s the fragments of memory piled up one on top of another.Report

  2. J.L. Wall says:

    When I opened my copy again, I discovered that I had added, almost as a subtitle, “A BIOGRAPHY IN ABSENTIA” on the title page, presumably toward the end of my first reading. I don’t remember whether that was my phrase or my professor’s, however.

    A few hours ago, before I’d read this post, I had a very similar thought to Michelle’s, that this feels a lot like Woolf is applying ideas of Modernist/Impressionist painting to her prose. But I wonder whether there isn’t also the trace of the influence of early cinema on it, in the way it will set a scene, then jump to a small moment of “narrative” action/interaction, then cut to an entirely new scene.

    There are some critics who point out that Woolf began work on Jacob’s Room while she was setting the type for the Hogarth Press edition to The Waste Land. The general theory is that this might have influenced, somehow, the choppiness (visual and narrative) of this novel. However, I wonder whether the connection isn’t in the way time is perceived: in each, past, present, and future impinge on one another and won’t stay put, while the narrator (and reader) sit at a kind of remove from that competition able to see all these eras simultaneously. (Is her waste land Flanders Field then?)Report