Kristin's Reviews > Jacob's Room

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
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Oct 16, 2011

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bookshelves: classic, gay-lesbian, gender-issues, humor, philosophy

This is the first Woolf book that I find myself thinking was merely alright. The idea is very interesting, but the execution was a bit awkward. This novel is extremely satirical and sociopolitical. Both of these things somewhat impede your enjoyment of Woolf's prose (which is always lyrical, transcendent, concise and yet complex all at once) and the ultimate message of the story. Hung up on parody, the narrative becomes bogged down in attacking more traditional coming-of-age stories and Victorian society in general.

There's plenty of humor to be had, and when it's right it's very funny. Jacob isn't meant to be really known in this story. He's vacuous and awkward and seems generally blase about most things unless it involves debating literature through an academic lens. However, it's interesting to see how Woolf creates a story about a man seen through the eyes of different women and a homosexual.

We're looking at a symbol of patriarchy through the eyes of marginalized people: His mother - a widow unable to really enjoy the remainder of her life because of social mores; Clara, who is repressed for the same reasons; Florinda, a shallow slut whose character is intentionally diminished because sexual experimentation for women relegated such characters in literature at the time to a low and criticized state; Sandra Wentworth - the bored upperclass wife; and Fanny, the girlfriend of an artist whose sole function is to be gazed at. Woolf recognizes these people are stereotypes and also victims of society and makes great use of it, though in this book the ironic narrator intrudes and meanders. True stream of consciousness has yet to be achieved at this point, and I found myself nodding off a bit.

Jacob remains vacuous until the end of the story, and even his death is shown as an expression of emptiness. His life is summed up by an empty room and now-useless possessions. His mother and Bonamy, the man who was in love with Jacob, take an inventory of his life briefly and in a very hollow way. I tend to look at his death at the hands of a stupid and pointless war as an ending befitting an expression of hollow society (personified by him), and yet also tragic, because before he could attempt to rise above the snobbery and laziness of his class and academia, he is killed.
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