Sunday, November 4, 2007

Woolf, Jacob's Room

[Posted by Bailey and Kristina]
Woolf’s novel poses a variety of questions and she’s clearly staggered away from the idea of a conventional novel. How does Jacob’s Room immediately differ from what we’ve read thus far? Do you see any similarities?

In the first chapter of this novel, we are thrown into the middle of a scene.
There is no introducing explanation of what is going on, but we
are forced into
the activities and conversations of the characters. What do you think is Woolf’s
purpose for opening the novel in such a way? Do you think it was merely an
indication that the entire novel would be set in a form where there is never any
concrete explanation of what is happening? Or do you think she has a deeper
reason for throwing us into her text?

Often times, the novel seems confusing and difficult to follow. As we said in
class, we are constantly forced to re-read and revert back to previous passages
in order to understand what is happening. How might the idea of time effect
this confusion? Does Woolf use the same technique that Joyce uses; like Joyce,
does she use time to propel her novel forward? Or does her use of time only
confuse the reader more?
Likewise, there are many references to time and clocks in this novel. It is
something that the characters always seem to be concerned with. What do you
think this says about the characters? Why do you think Woolf changes periods
of time so sporadically throughout the novel? What do you think about this
strategy of writing – specifically does this style support

In her essays, Woolf claimed the modern movement was found in the “spirit”.
She criticizes Bennett, because he is not concerned with the “life” of the
characters. Does Woolf seem concerned with the “spirit” of her characters?
Jacob Flanders is presumably her protagonist, but the reader never hears or
directly follows him. Our interpretation of Jacob, along with all of our thoughts
on his character, is relayed to us by other characters. Why does Woolf use
other characters to portray her main character? Is Jacob really the main
character? If he is, is he a strong main character? If he isn’t, who is the main

Because we don’t receive any unbiased opinion of Jacob, we can never really
grasp his true character. For example, in chapter 5 we see Clara writing about
Jacob in her diary. She cannot quite figure out what to truly say about him. This
would seem to imply that we cannot truly know Jacob’s character. However,
Woolf criticizes Arnold Bennett by saying that we never truly know any of
Bennett’s characters. Do you think we ever truly know who Jacob is as a
person? If not, is Woolf being hypocritical by criticizing Bennett?

It’s important to remember whose opinion of Jacob we are receiving. Most
descriptions of Jacob are told to us by women. How might this effect gender
roles in the novel?
Does Woolf apply the traditional feminine and masculine
roles to her characters? Woolf is generally labeled a feminist; do you think this
proves true in Jacob’s Room? How does she, as a female author, differ from
what we’ve read thus far? Do she and Joyce differ in terms of writing styles
because of their sex? Do you see similarities between Woolf and West because
they are both women, or do they contrast in their portrayal of gender?

Finally, what is the basis for Woolf’s novel? In other words, what is her purpose?

Furthermore, why are we concerned with her novel? Some subsidiary questions
to help you answer this might be: Is there a plot? If there is, what is it; if there is
no plot, what is driving her story? What does Woolf seem to focus on? Perhaps
most importantly, is it interesting? Why or why not? Does her novel grab your
attention or do you feel it’s lacking something important?


Bailey said...

I just wanted to mention that this is mine and Kristina's blog. Thanks!

Jared said...

That's right--my oversight. Proper credit has been restored to the original post. Okay...comment away!

Jennifer Zupicich said...

Wow guys, this was a GREAT post. Tomorrow I am "presenting" and this is just really amazing!

While I feel like we never really know Jacob's character, I also feel that Woolf is not being hypocritical by criticizing Bennett. The characters in the book are trying to figure out who Jacob is, trying to figure out where he belongs, or what "category" (Bennett puts people into these categories) he belongs in. Jacob is not simply put into one of these categories without explanation, but he is being "studied" by others who are trying to figure him out. And so, Jacob is indeed the main character, as everything is centralized around him. We also almost know him better than Bennett's characters, as we are getting the points of view from so my characters about this one person.

I also really think that the "purpose" for Woolf's novel is just to express how real life is. Life is crazy- people coming in,going out, not knowing what's going on, trying to figure things out, trying to go back and understand things better; a continuing revolving door. Also, there are several passages where I noticed that Woolf almost seems to "summarize" what has been going on in a "life lesson" of some sort-"the difficulty remains- one has to choose" (53), "such is the conditions of our love" (56). This seems to help makes sense of what Woolf is trying to say to the reader, to understand what her point is.

Megan Putney said...

I don’t agree with all of Woolf’s criticisms of Arnold Bennett, but I think she has a good point when she talks about how we never truly know any of Bennett’s characters. The characters in Jacob’s Room, though they are given confused backgrounds and hazy descriptions, seem more real than any of the characters in Anna of the Five Towns. Woolf made the comment in her essay that in Bennett’s work there is not a “single man or woman whom we know” (Woolf 901) and we see the opposite of this in Jacob’s Room, which is filled with characters who seem like real people who we could actually encounter. I think that Woolf’s characters are relatable where Bennett’s are not because of the confused relationship that we have with them. In Bennett’s work, everything about the characters was neatly laid out for us in explicit descriptions and we never had to guess as to what someone thought or why they acted in a certain way. While this made for an easier read, it created characters that seemed to lack any sort of humanism. Woolf’s characters who are unable to express how they feel and remain a bit mysterious are much more in sync with how people really act. I think that by not really every spelling out for us who Jacob is as a person, Woolf makes the reader to pay closer attention to him in hopes of being able to discover who he is.

CJH said...

In the first chapter, when Woolf throws the reader into the middle of a scene is very representative of the rest of her work in Jacob’s Room. I think its important indication of her style for the rest of the novel, as well as, an indication of her interpretation of a more modernist writing style. By entering the novel in such a way, Woolf immediately engages the reader with action and we are not overloaded with seemingly unnecessary detail, like we were so many times with Bennett.
In regards to Woolf’s creation of character “spirit”, I think she illustrates it in a very unique indirect way. But I feel like we are bogged down by the term “spirit.” I try rather to think of it as a character’s essence and in that sense; I think Woolf really represents this in Jacob. Although we do not hear from him directly, we know his habits, his nuances from the others’ descriptions of him. We know him as we could perhaps in real life, from a distance, from talking with others. Even though Woolf’s writing at times can be confusing I find it very representative of real life and people we could know. Her characters are never fully explained in the neat way Bennett did, but what in life is always so perfectly neat? I identify more with her representation of a sort of chaotic world, filled with mild confusion, scattered with experiences of people we meet.

Bailey said...

Thanks so much Jennifer! I think it's interesting that the posts so far all seem to agree that we know Jacob better than Bennett's characters. Just to pose another it that we know more about Jacob's character or that he's more realistic? In other words, do we relate to Jacob because we really know him, or do we relate to him because he's similar to a real person?

Kevin B said...

The reader is thrown immediately into a scene at the beginning of the novel without any real introduction or summary of events of what is to come. At first glance it might seem like this is just going to be a one time thing, but Woolf continues to write in this non-conformist manner throughout the rest of her book. So in a way it is actually setting up the rest of the book, because we are able to see that the book will have no real formal structure. I agree with cjh because it immediately engages the reader into the story and provokes many different thoughts in the mind of the reader.

andrew w. said...

So much to choose from, I think I'll respond mainly to the comments about Woolf's characterization of Jacob in relation to her description of "spirit". I think the fact that we only know about Jacob from other characters is fascinating. To use an analogy, it reminds me of a black hole: the only way we know it's there (visibly, since I'm not an astronomer) is by seeing the light that gets pulled in around it. These characters offer us insights about Jacob, creating sort of like an aura or halo effect, but we can never tell who's at the center of it.

We see the spirit of Jacob because we see how he affects the "people" (characters) around him. He isn't just taking part in a plot; we aren't just following him. The story of Jacob is ingrained in the story of these people that are also a part of his life. Additionally, it's impossible to get an unbiased view of Jacob, because if we did "hear" from him it nevertheless would be only his point of view (insert cliche, yes, but true, sadly, "everything is subjective" comment here). So from one standpoint it might be disappointing that we're missing that bit of the aura of Jacob, but the novel does conclude with his empty room, so it seems fitting to me that what we'd expect to be full at the center is lacking what we're looking for.

ryan tilley said...

I think Woolf's novel is very different from what we've read thus far, particularly in style. Where as Joyce utilized stream of conciousness at different stages of Portrait to allow us to flow in and out of Stephan's mind and inner thinkings, Woolf takes this free-floating perspective a step further. Not only does she move in and out of the minds of the various characters in the book, she also moves through temporal spaces very fluidly, fast-forwarding to the far future and then quickly reverting to the present. Woolf is thus very different from what we've read thus far, even more experimental than Joyce. I think the first chapter throws us into this narrative in this fashion in order to introduce its ambiguitiy and loose structure (in regards to perspective and time), and that was Woolf's intent.

andy murphy said...

Obviously the major difference between Woolf and what we've read so far is that she uses stream of conciousness as a method to capture the readers' attention and tell a story. Her writing style might not progress the text forward chronologically, but it does show the progression of Jacob's perceptions of his place in society and the people around him. Jumping around through different points in characters' lives allows the reader to pick up on certain details that shape their personalities and beliefs and allows us to see why a character acts a certain way or if they made a mistake in their lives, etc. Use of snippets of information as opposed to constant flow keeps the reader involved and wanting to know more about what's going on in the book. Bennet accuses Woolf of having undefined characters, but it is easy to see that through negative space she gives details abotu their physical and emotional traits that, when we look back and forward and put the pieces together, allows us to create an image of who each charater is and their place in British society. I think that her method of writing and omitting is very clever and a great way to keep the readers' interest while at the same time creating beautiful imagery in her brief but effective descriptions.

Andrew Vives said...

Although Jacob's Room is far from conventional, I think Woolf is able to capture the human "spirit" far better then say a writer like arnold bennet.

i think an interesting way to look at this is to take the example of Clara writeing about jacob in her journal, this little scene gives us not only clara's opinions of jacob but several other characters as well.

but why does Woolf want us to understand jacob through the impresions of other charactes?

i think that in Jacobs Room Woolf is posing the idea, that regardless of how a presono will see themselves it is turly the opinions and observations of others that make a person, that through the relationships, and impresions others have of a character in this case Jacob, we are able to get a much more acurate portrayal of his character.

i also think it is important to remember that at the end of the novel although Jacob is dead, other people, people who had some sort of relationship with Jacob are still affected by him even though he is no longer alive