(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The plot of this novel is not nearly as significant as its characterization, and the characters themselves are important for their thoughts, not their actions. Virginia Woolf focuses not on what happens around the characters but rather on what happens within them, most particularly the central character, Jacob Flanders.

When the novel opens, Jacob is a young boy living in the seaside city of Scarborough with his widowed mother and two brothers. These geographical and familial roots provide the youth with his first experiences of complexity, which foreshadow his subsequent struggles to deal with an increasingly complicated world. Though the seaside location is strikingly beautiful, it is not always peaceful and romantic; it is also attacked by powerful storms and hurricanes. Further, though Jacob plays childlike games near the water and finds childlike treasures on the beach, he also discovers unsettling objects, such as a cow’s skull, with its ominous suggestions of change intruding into the changelessness of the sea.

Going to Cambridge in 1906, Jacob begins his pilgrimage forward and backward. He becomes immersed in the twentieth century, experiencing what he cannot identify the modern sense of restlessness and sadness and he attempts to escape into earlier centuries, proclaiming his disdain for what he perceives as the modern civilization and announcing his admiration for previous cultures, particularly that of the Greeks. As both a representative and a victim of the...

(The entire section is 614 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Fleishman, Avrom. Virginia Woolf: A Critical Reading, 1975.

Guiguet, Jean. Virginia Woolf and Her Works, 1965. Translated by Jean Stewart.

Marcus, Jane. Virginia Woolf: A Feminist Slant, 1983.

Naremore, James. The World Without a Self: Virginia Woolf and the Novel, 1973.