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Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room: History and Memory

  • Judith Hattaway
Part of the Insights book series (ISI)

Abstract

Above all, Virginia Woolf saw the War as a writer. Her view was detached and sometimes idiosyncratic, as her play with metaphor suggests. Her opposition to war was complete, but she expressed this most directly in a polemic, Three Guineas (1938), written when World War 2 was clearly in sight. When she represents the First War in fiction, she does so in a way that is contemplative, often domestic. The War does not figure in terms of mud or barbed wire but rather through its points of contact with the ‘ordinary’ life left behind, and in its destruction of a secure past. It is not possible to isolate or define Woolf’s ‘view’ on war,2 only to follow its echoes in her work — but these, in Jacob’s Room and in Mrs Dalloway, give a new dimension to the genre of ’war novel’.

Keywords

Penguin Book Railway Carriage Empty Room Clear Outline Prewar Period 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘Heard on the Downs: the Genesis of Myth’, The Times, 15 August 1916;Google Scholar
  2. reprinted in Andrew McNeillie (ed.), The Essays of Virginia Woolf, vol. II: 1912–1918 (London: Hogarth Press, 1987) p. 40. Hereafter referred to as Essays, vol. II.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    The issue of whether the focus and the structuring principles of Woolf’s work originate from considerations of form or of subject-matter has received much discussion. There is a clear summary of the different positions which recent discussions of Jacob’s Room have taken in E. L. Bishop, ‘The Shaping of Jacob’s Room: Woolf’s Manuscript Revisions’, in Twentieth-Century Literature, vol. 32, no. 1 (Spring 1986) pp. 215–16. Hereafter referred to as Bishop. See also n.36, below.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘The Leaning Tower’ (1940); reprinted in Virginia Woolf: Collected Essays, vol. 2 (London: Hogarth Press, 1960) p. 167.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1979) p. 174. Subsequent references are made to this edition.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘Before Midnight’, The Times Literary Supplement, 1 March 1917; reprinted in Essays, vol. II, p. 87.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘A Cambridge VAD’, The Times Literary Supplement, 10 May 1917; reprinted in Essays, vol. II, p. 112.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (London: Hogarth Press, 1949) pp. 171–2. Subsequent references are made to this edition.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again (London: Hogarth Press, 1964) p. 197.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    J. K. Johnstone, ‘World War I and the Novels of Virginia Woolf’, in G. A. Panichas (ed.), Promise of Greatness (London: Cassell, 1968) p. 531.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    D. J. Enright, ‘The Literature of the First World War’, in Boris Ford (ed.), The Modern Age (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1961) p. 169.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Novels’ (1919); reprinted in Andrew McNeillie (ed.), The Essays of Virginia Woolf, vol. III: 1919–24 (London: Hogarth Press, 1988) p. 33.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero (London: Hogarth Press, 1984) p. 199Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Accounts of the social fracture caused by the War are represented in many different modes of writing. For a contrasting view, see Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1975) who claims that the ‘roster of major innovative talents who were not involved with the war is long and impressive. It includes Yeats, Woolf, Pound, Eliot, Lawrence, and Joyce’ (pp. 313–14). It is true that these writers say little about fighting, but in the wider context they do not ignore the war.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1980) p. 9.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    This contrasts with David Daiches’s conclusion, that Jacob’s Room was written ‘for the sake of the impressions,… one might say for the sake of the style’ (David Daiches, Virginia Woolf (Norfolk: New Directions, 1942) p. 61.Google Scholar
  17. Other readings (for example, Alex Zwerdling, ’Jacob’s Room: Woolf’s Satiric Elegy’, Journal of English Literary History, vol. 48 (1981) p. 912) argue that the work grows out of a particular subject.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Winifred Holtby, Virginia Woolf (London: Wishart, 1932) p. 116.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    See, for example, George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (London: Paladin, 1970) p. 369;Google Scholar
  20. Arthur Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War (London: Macmillan, 1975) p. 30; Aldington, Death of a Hero, p. 219;Google Scholar
  21. Philip Larkin, ‘MCMXIV’, in The Whitsun Weddings (London: Faber & Faber, 1964) p. 28.Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    Maxwell Bodenheim, ‘Underneath the Paint in Jacob’s Room’, in R. Majumdar and A. McLaurin (eds), Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) p. 111.Google Scholar
  23. 33.
    Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1971) pp. 146–7.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    See Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History (London: Macmillan, 1970) pp. 174–6.Google Scholar
  25. 38.
    Michael Holroyd and Paul Levy (eds), The Shorter Strachey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980) p. 5. Lytton Strachey wrote ‘Lancaster Gate’ in 1922.Google Scholar
  26. 40.
    See Gillian Beer, ‘Hume, Stephen, and Elegy in To the Lighthouse’, Essays in Criticism, vol. 34 (1984) pp. 33–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 41.
    Woolf develops the image in different ways: a parallel figure is that of the ‘grey nurse’ in Mrs Dalloway. For an illuminating discussion of the succession of female figures and ancient voices, see Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1988) p. 250.Google Scholar
  28. 42.
    Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (London: Granada Publishing, 1977) p. 147.Google Scholar
  29. 43.
    Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (London: Hogarth Press, 1938) p. 72.Google Scholar
  30. 44.
    Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (London: Hogarth Press, 1947) p. 7.Google Scholar
  31. 45.
    This issue has been raised by many commentators: see, for example, Michelle Barrett, Virginia Woolf, Women and Writing (London: The Women’s Press, 1979) pp. 21–3.Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    Leonard Woolf (ed.), A Writer’s Diary (London: Grafton, 1978) p. 322.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Editorial Board, Lumière (Co-operative) Press Ltd 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judith Hattaway

There are no affiliations available

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