Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room - Jacob Flanders, Many Things to Many Readers
Listless is the air in an empty room, just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift.
One fibre in the wicker arm- chair creaks, though no one sits there. - Jacob's Room
The year 1922 marks the beginning of High Modernism with the publications of T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, James Joyce's Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room. Woolf's novel, only her third, is not generally afforded the iconic worship and critical praise so often attached to those works of her most famous male contemporaries. Jacob's Room is seldom suggested as one of Woolf's best fiction; the novel has not generated the same encomia as her recognized masterpieces Mrs. Dalloway, Between the Acts, and The Waves. But Jacob's Room is indeed a revolutionary work in its original technical mastery, its mournful historicity, and its evocative tone. The novel is Woolf's manifesto in fiction of her unique enterprise to create character beyond the one-to-one mimetic method of conventional Victorian and Edwardian realism. Uniquely self-conscious and conscious of self, Woolf was attracted to exploring new modes of characterization, fictional consciousness, and epistemology. She is especially interested in exploring the nature, communication, and limits of fictional knowledge. Woolf's idiosyncratic mode of characterization in Jacob's Room is the epistemological complement in fiction to Eliot's formula for emotional expression in poetry, the objective correlative. While Eliot's description of the ideal artistic technique tries to be concise and formulaic, a direct mimetic correspondence, Woolf's technique is symbolic and metaphoric, collective, indefinite, and infinitely more subtle.
To describe Jacob's Room as revolutionary is no exaggeration. Her style matured immensely between the 1915 publication of The Voyage Out and the 1917 publication of Night and Day and her experimental short stories of the late 1910s and the publication of Jacob's Room. These novels largely followed the precedent of Victorian and Edwardian realistic characterization and narrative consciousness. The story of Rachel Vinrace is conveyed through the traditional omniscient, omnipresent narrative consciousness which occasionally projects its own thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions onto the "reality" of Rachel's world. In Jacob's Room, Woolf extends the omniscience of the narrator exponentially. Consciousness or narrative voice is no longer centered in a singular fictional "being." Instead, the narrative consciousness is dispersed across the whole of the work's universe; the collective voice of the novel includes the traditional impersonal presence as well as Jacob's view, Betty Flander's view, the view of the London crowds, and many others.
When the novel was published on 27 October 1922 by the Hogarth Press and printed by R. & R. Clark of Edinburgh, Woolf was terribly anxious about its critical reception...