“The waves showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive, expecting the whip, of waves before a storm.”
– Jacob’s Room
Where does one start when trying to approach the grandeur of one’s favourite author? Some begin from their biography and then shift to their work, but I always prefer focusing on the latter, especially when it comes to someone like Woolf. Virginia Woolf is a true artist of the written word and the delicacy of her modernist oeuvre served as an inspiration for numerous authors. Yet many have been afraid to give her work a chance due to the techniques she used. Still, I can’t see why that is so. The stream of consciousness, which presides in her books is something that is common to all of us. I vehemently disagree that there is any order in our thoughts or feelings. We are not lines to be drawn but every person is a little universe within which chaos resides. Try to find order in anything, and I will show you how wrong you are because there is none. As soon as the reader understands his or her chaotic intrinsic side it will be much easier to approach Woolf’s work and understand it.
“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately; fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to have – positively – a rush of friendship for stones and grasses.”
As soon as you start reading Jacob’s Room you are aware that she is trying to paint a picture. The strokes of her writing brush are mostly smooth, but can be rough at times. People talk, they walk, they listen, they think. Still, where is Jacob? Why does it feel like he is an eerie appearance that moves through the pages of the novel without anyone managing to grasp who he truly is. Other characters just provide the rough edges, but we never manage to learn anything in its entirety. This is why one cannot help but feel appreciation for how real and tangible everything is. It is like that in real life too. People pass through the rooms of our lives and inhabit them, but we can never truly know everything about them. All we know about a person are those small brush strokes portraying moments and voices that have already evaporated.
“It was not that he himself happened to be lonely, but that all people are.”
Woolf approaches many ideas while writing this novel. We can see her being haunted by things which we all see on a daily basis but do not observe. We are always in a rush and are not able to pause to think about anything. We try to separate our consciousness from what happens beneath and what underlies all our actions. Just imagine all those people you just get a glimpse of and see them fleetingly on the street or on a train. It lasts for a moment and then they’re gone and you think you’ll forget them. But is that really so? Don’t our fingertips leave marks on the lives we touch our do they simply fade? How are we to know anything for certain? There is no way out from this vicious circle of questions without an answer. The same thing goes for someone’s personality. You can try to describe it in words but that is not possible. Woolf builds an entire world which surrounds Jacob Flanders and it is that world that ventures to give us a sense of his character. But it is only an attempt because there is no such thing as being able to know someone completely, to crawl into their skin and borrow their bones for a while. All these people, the sounds and sights provide the imagery for a deeper understanding of what takes place in the novel.
“Meanwhile, poor Betty Flanders’s letter, having caught the second post, lay on the hall table – poor Betty Flanders writing her son’s name, Jacob Alan Flanders, Esq. as mothers do, and the ink pale, profuse, suggesting how mothers down at Scarborough scribble over the fire with their feet on the fender, when tea’s cleared away, and can never, never say, whatever it may be – probably this – Don’t go with bad women, do be a good boy; wear your thick shirts; and come back, come back, come back to me.”
Just imagine Woolf sitting in her chair leaning over a piece of paper trying to materialize all that resides within her head. Writing is no easy task and it takes great diligence and patience to create. Yet, from her diaries it is clear that writing was her escape route and the only way she could survive. Like many authors, she wrote in order to conquer transience, yet she managed to reach a land where others feared to tread. She took one of her brushes and painted delicately and meticulously to the point where the border between earth and sky was erased and her waves rose to the stars. While writing to survive she vanquished transience once and for all. The stars are out tonight and she’s there too. Shinning and tossing a light over the city.
“The flamingo hours fluttered softly through the sky. But regularly they dipped their wings in pitch black.”