Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf + #FreeBook

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
Published in the UK by Hogarth Press in October 1922.

J for my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge and a Classics Club Challenge read

I have now completed my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge and not a moment too soon! Here's my full list:
A Sky So Close To Us by Shahla Ujayli
Black Holes by Ochi
Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women by Sarah Bargiela and Sophie Standing
Demian by Hermann Hesse
Escaping Psychiatry: Beginnings by Olga Nunez Miret
Farm Land: Sentience by Gemma Lawrence
Gumshoe Blues by Paul D Brazill
How To Create A Vegan World by Tobias Leenaert
Incident At Diamond Springs by Kendall Hanson
Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
Killer In The Band by Lauren Carr
Love In No Man's Land by Duo Ji Zhuo Ga
Mamachari Matchmaker by S J Pajonas
Now Let's Dance by Karine Lambert
Once Upon A Time In The West ... Country by Tony Hawks
Pocket Poets: Rupert Brooke
Queen Of The Flaming Diamond by Leroy Yerxa
Razia by Abda Khan
Spiral Of Silence by Elvira Sanchez-Blake
The History Of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave
UK2 by Terry Tyler
Vizilsan: Blue Rabbit's Crystal by Marko Markovic
White Walls And Straitjackets by David Owain Hughes
XYZ by Anna Katharine Green
Yekl by Abraham Cahan
Zophiel by Maria Gowen Brooks

How I got this book:
Downloaded the free ebook from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jacob's Room is Virginia Woolf's first truly experimental novel. It is a portrait of a young man, who is both representative and victim of the social values which led Edwardian society into war. Jacob's life is traced from the time he is a small boy playing on the beach, through his years in Cambridge, then in artistic London, and finally making a trip to Greece, but this is no orthodox Bildungsroman. Jacob is presented in glimpses, in fragments, as Woolf breaks down traditional ways of representing character and experience.

The novel's composition coincided with the consolidation of Woolf's interest in feminism, and she criticizes the privileged thoughtless smugness of patriarchy, `the other side', `the men in clubs and Cabinets'. Her stylistic innovations are conscious attempts to realize and develop women's writing and the novel dramatizes her interest in the ways both language and social environments shape differently the lives of men and women.

I knew that Jacob's Room was considered to be 'experimental fiction' before I started reading it so I was prepared for some unusual elements. As it turns out, I didn't find it too experimental at all and thought that Woolf's structure actually felt up to date. I guess the style has been pretty influential over the past century! Jacob's Room is composed of detailed glimpses into the life of the eponymous Jacob from his Scarborough childhood as the middle son of a widowed mother, until ... until the end of the book. I won't describe the ending too closely because I really benefited from not knowing in advance! Prior to that, we see Jacob almost entirely through other people's eyes and words. Woolf switches between incredibly vivid portrayals of scenes such as Cornish sea cliffs or the sun over Athens, and fragments of conversations which presumably happen around Jacob, sometimes with his participation and sometimes without.

Jacob's Room was great reading for me even though I spent most of the book not quite sure what the point of the story would be. I loved Woolf's contradictions. For example, the main character is Jacob yet he is effectively absent much of the time leaving his story to be told by a supporting cast of predominately women (other than his Cambridge days which feel glaringly male). Woolf uses seemingly insignificant female chatter to make frequent - and often snarky - observations about gender roles and polite society in general at this time. Of course she is still snooty towards anyone she considers lower class, but over several novels now, I have got used to this in her writing.

Jacob's Room, I think, will always be more of a niche read than a widely popular classic and I am relieved I didn't have to closely study its issues and themes for school or college. I did enjoy this book though. Perhaps it would have only warranted a 3-4 star rating overall, but the gut-punch perspective shift at the end earns it a solid 5 stars from me.

Etsy Find!
by Literary Emporium in
Frome, England

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Virginia Woolf / Contemporary fiction / Books from England


  1. Congratulations on finishing the challenge! I knew you could do it!

    1. Talk about cutting it fine though! Must be more organised in 2020

  2. You finished just in time! Congrats!!

  3. Great job finishing up this challenge, and without a moment to spare. Happy New Year!

    1. I'm going to try not to leave so many to the last minute this year!