Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization, Modernity

By Christine Froula | Go to book overview

THREE The Death of Jacob Flanders
Greek Illusion and Modern War in Jacob's Room

After Leonard read the manuscript of Jacob's Room (1922), Woolf wrote,

We argued about it. He calls it a work of genius; he thinks
it unlike any other novel; he says that the people are ghosts;
he says it is very strange: I have no philosophy of life he says; my peo-
ple are puppets, moved hither & thither by fate. He doesn't agree that
fate works in this way…. he found it very interesting, &beautiful,
… &quite intelligible…. Neither of us knows what the public will
think. There's no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to
begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice. (D 2:186, 26 July
1922)

Reaching rough waters while composing The Voyage Out, Woolf had worried that her young woman "will not speak, and my ship is like to sink" (L 1:341, 4 August 1908). If The Voyage Out swims or sinks on conversation, in Jacob's Room Woolf's "own voice"—ventriloquized through a newly invented essayist-narrator—carries a radically free fictional form that subordinates plot and character to the social forces that drive modern life and modern war. Seeing but unseen, this essayistnarrator frames a kaleidoscopic array of private and public scenes with a city-dweller's anonymity and freedom. The novel's vitality lies less in what its characters say than in the essayist-narrator's angle of vision, as when "she" (for reasons discussed below) notes that Clara Durrant with her "young woman's language" is "not one to encroach upon Wednesday" in her shilling diary (JR 71). As for Jacob Flanders, he is at once an elusive being no net of words can capture and—delivered by his education to a modern war that overwhelms individual will—a puppet moved hither and thither by fate, one of the war dead, a ghost. As Rachel Vinrace dies in a

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