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Jacob's Room

novel butterflies cambridge mother

an early novel by V. Woolf, published in 1922, and written as an elegy for her brother Thoby, who died young in 1906. The novel tries to extend the fluid narrative method of her early short stories, using interconnected images (butterflies, a sheep's skull) carefully patterned. It is strongly influenced by her reading of Greek literature. The factual ‘biography’ of Jacob moves from his childhood on holiday in Cornwall with his widowed mother Betty Flanders and his two younger brothers. Jacob grows up in Scarborough, learns Latin from Mr Floyd (who also proposes to his mother), collects butterflies, and goes to Cambridge in October 1906, aged 19, where he meets Richard Bonamy and Tim Durrant, whose sister Clara he is attracted to. After Cambridge he lives in elegant eighteenth-century rooms in London, has affairs, goes to parties and operas, writes essays, visits Europe, and is killed in the war—which proves to be the novel's hidden subject—at the age of 26. But these facts are presented indirectly through impressions and conversations. Jacob is an elusive, absent shadow or ghost. Conventional biographical techniques cannot ‘catch’ him. His own youthful, Words-worthian resistance to the hard realities of modern life resemble Woolf's own attempt to change the conventions of fiction.

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