NEH Grant EX-20049-01


Jacob’s Room



Jacob’s Room was published in 1922, Woolf’s third novel.  Jacob is usually thought to represent Woolf’s brother, Thoby, who died at the age of 25 in 1906.  The story follows Jacob from his childhood in Cornwall through his education at Cambridge, his life in London, a trip to Greece, and finally his death in World War I. Betty Flanders, his mother, is a widow. Jacob’s brother, Archer, will also fight in the war. Other characters are the Reverend Andrew Floyd, who proposes to Betty and is turned down. Captain Barfoot, a man with a disabled wife, is a friend and frequent visitor of Betty’s. At Cambridge, Timothy Durrant is a friend; his sister, Clara, is an ongoing character who is attracted to Jacob, but the relationship never develops. Richard Bonamy is a Cambridge friend who becomes a closer friend in London. Florinda is a loose and sexy interlude. Nick Branham is an artist who introduces Jacob to his model, Fanny Elmer, who falls in love with him. Jacob visits friends in Paris, then goes on to Greece where he falls in love with a married woman, Sandra Wentworth Williams. In the last chapter, Richard and Betty are in Jacob’s room, going through his things; thus we know that Jacob is dead.  Many critics have noted that Jacob seems to move like a ghost through the book, that the emphasis is on the impossibility of knowing anyone. At the last, we may feel that even though we know the sequence and some moment by moment events of Jacob’s life, we never know him --- we see his life as if the moments had already evaporated --- as if he were already dead.

Essay Questions & Paper Topics

1.      Examine the symbolism of the room, as expressed in the descriptions of Jacob’s various rooms.

2.      Relate the characters and events of the story to those in Virginia Woolf’s life.

3.      Explore the scene of the moth hunt; explain the symbolism of the moth.

4.      Study the way Jacob himself is portrayed. What is the effect of keeping so much about his thought and feeling a mystery?

5.      Discuss Woolf’s attitude toward World War I, as expressed in the book. Compare to the poetry of Rupert Brooke, who was a friend of Woolf’s.


Bishop, Edward L. “The subject in ‘Jacob’s Room.’” Modern Fiction Studies Spring 1992 v.38:1

Booth, Allyson. “Figuring the absent corpse: strategies of representation in World War I.” Mosaic (Winnepeg) Winter 1993 v.26:1

Blodgett, Harriet. “From ‘Jacob’s Room’ to ‘A Passage to India’: a note.” ANQ Fall 1999 v.12:4

Flint, Kate. “Revising ‘Jacob’s Room’: Virginia Woolf, women, and language.” Review of English Studies August 1991 v.42:167

Harris, Susan C. “The ethics of indecency: censorship, sexuality, and the voice of the academy in the narration of ‘Jacob’s Room.’” Twentieth Century Literature Winter 1997 v.43:4

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