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‘You may dissect your frog, but you cannot make it hop’: Jacob’s Room and the Experimental Imagination of Virginia Woolf

‘You may dissect your frog, but you cannot make it hop’: Jacob’s Room et l’imagination expérimentale de Virginia Woolf
Rebecca Welshman


Dans son journal daté d’août 1921, Virginia Woolf notait qu’elle avait perdu deux mois en raison d’insomnies, de spasmes et de sédatifs. Elle sortait, disait-elle, du placard sombre de la maladie qui lui rendait tout travail impossible. Sa métaphore a pu être inspirée par les placards sombres employés à l’époque dans certaines expériences cliniques. Dans « The Anatomy of Fiction »  (1919) Woolf critique l’approche clinique de Materials and Methods of Fiction de Clayton Hamilton : « every work of art can be taken to pieces like the internal organs of a frog and those pieces can be named and numbered [...] Thus [...] according to Mr Hamilton, we learn how to write ». Pour Woolf il s’agit d’une sur simplification du processus d’écriture, qu’elle percevait être une expression organique et imprévisible de la vie elle-même. Penser au « dark cupboard » comme symbole de l’inconscient créateur nous donne de nouvelles perspectives sur les expériences de Woolf à l’égard du langage et de la forme, sa dissection de la conscience et du moment, et l’unique orchestration de ses écrits de fiction. Tout comme l’obscurité était essentielle à la compréhension scientifique de l’anatomie mystérieuse et complexe de la nature, aussi le monde « souterrain » de l’inconscient était-il partie intégrante de la germination spontanée des expériences littéraires de Woolf.

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1In her diary for August 1921, Virginia Woolf recorded two months lost to sleeplessness, fidgets, and sedatives—what she termed a ‘dark cupboard of illness’ that rendered her incapable of working:

What a gap! How it would have astounded me to be told when I wrote the last word here, on June 7th, that within a week I [should] be in bed, and not entirely out of it till the 6th of August—two whole months rubbed out—These, this morning, the first words I have written—to call writing—for 60 days; & those days spent in wearisome headache, jumping pulse, aching back, frets, fidgets, lying awake, sleeping draughts, sedatives, digitalis, going for a little walk, & plunging back into bed again—all the horrors of the dark cupboard of illness once more displayed for my diversion. (Woolf 1980, 125)

2Her note for 10 September that ‘the hidden stream was given exit’, and she was able to write again suggests that this ‘dark underworld’, which she records held ‘fascinations’ as well as ‘terrors’, was an essential part of her creativity (Woolf 1980, 126). This paper explores how this experience stirred Woolf’s literary imagination, and contributed to the conception of Jacob’s Room (1922)—her first truly experimental novel, and one noted by Quentin Bell to ‘mark’ the ‘beginning’ of her ‘maturity and her fame’ (Bell 88). The paper also considers Woolf’s use of imagery associated with experimentation in the novel, with the aim of furthering understanding of her individual and spontaneous creative process.

3A review in the Times Literary Supplement commended Jacob’s Room for its ‘stream of incidents, persons, and their momentary thoughts and feelings’ that Woolf decants ‘into little vials of crystal vividness’ and ‘the delicious humour which infects every page’ (Goldman 2006, 53). Similar parallels between scientific methods and approaches to fiction were also recognised by Woolf herself who in ‘The Anatomy of Fiction’ (1919) criticised Clayton Hamilton for his clinical approach. This scathing review of Hamilton’s Materials and Methods of Fiction accuses Hamilton of over-simplifying the process of authorship:

According to him every work of art can be taken to pieces, and those pieces can be named and numbered, divided and subdivided, and given their order of precedence, like the internal organs of a frog. Thus we learn how to put them together again—that is, according to Mr Hamilton, we learn to write. […] Still, as Mr Hamilton uneasily perceives now and then, you may dissect your frog, but you cannot make it hop; there is, unfortunately, such a thing as life. (Woolf 1919, 331)

4In the review Woolf implicitly suggests that creative writing is an organic, unpredictable expression of life itself; a subtle and complex process that has been misrepresented by the clinical, and perhaps old-fashioned, approach of Hamilton. For Woolf, original writing could not arise from the dissection and piecing together of different elements, but from the spontaneous germination of thoughts and feelings which grew in their own unique and surprising ways.

5Woolf’s breakdown in the summer of 1921 was one of several difficult periods which she encountered during the writing of Jacob’s Room—from spring 1920 to the summer of 1922. In her biography, Hermione Lee (190) associates Woolf’s description of the ‘dark cupboard of illness’ with repression and domestic mismanagement. Lee interprets the cupboard as a place of storage; somewhere to shut away things to be forgotten about; an unkempt and unnatural space, dusty and dirty, with no natural light. This would seem to be appropriate to Woolf’s condition of ill health at the time. Alternative interpretations have also been put forward. Medical historian Michael Robert Blackie, for example, aligns the ‘dark cupboard’ with cocoon imagery in Woolf’s prose, suggesting inherent embryonic potential in the psychological space which it represented (Blackie 216).

6However, books, journals and magazines published during Woolf’s lifetime primarily feature the phrase in connection with germination, microbiology, and dissection experiments.

7In the early days of microbiology a dark cupboard was essential to experiments in order to eliminate all sources of natural light. Writing for Longman’s Magazine in 1895 Grace Frankland, a pioneering microbiologist, announced that:

We have gradually within the last few years been awakening to the novel fact that sunshine, whilst essential to green plant life, is by no means indispensable to the most primitive forms of vegetable existence with which we are acquainted, i.e. bacteria. In fact, we have found out that if we wish to keep our microbial nursery in a healthy, flourishing condition, we must carefully banish all sources of light from our cultivations, and that a dark cupboard is one of the essential requisites of a bacteriological laboratory. (Frankland 532)

8Other types of experiment also incorporated the use of a dark cupboard. For example, a dissection experiment in 1858 involved placing a frog in a cupboard to monitor its colour change:

  • 1 Other examples of the uses of dark cupboards include an experiment to investigate the processes of (...)

After removing the eyes of a pale frog on 13th September, 1858, at one o’clock, Lord Lester laid the animal in a dark cupboard. During the first hour the frog became still paler than it was before the operation, and this condition of pallor increased up to the evening, although the animal was in a dark cupboard. (Manchester Microscopical Society 103)1

9In the following extract from Darwin’s The Power of Movement in Plants, first published in 1880, Darwin and his son Francis used oat seedlings grown in the dark to discover that the stimulus for phototropism—the process by which seedlings bend towards the light—was at the tip of the shoot: ‘they were placed in a dark cupboard. They were looked at twice during the day and thrice in the evening, the last time at 10.30 p.m., and not one had become vertical’ (Darwin and Darwin, 339).

10References to experimentation and associated images occur in Jacob’s Room at poignant moments in the novel, particularly in relation to women and society. A cupboard features only once and in one of the best known passages. When Jacob is in King’s College Chapel:

But this service in King’s College Chapel—why allow women to take part in it? Surely, if the mind wanders […] it is because several hat shops and cupboards upon cupboards of coloured dresses are displayed upon rush-bottomed chairs. Though heads and bodies may be devout enough, one has a sense of individuals—some like blue, others brown; some feathers, others pansies and forget-me-nots. No one would think of bringing a dog into church […] a dog destroys the service completely. So do these women—though separately devout, distinguished, and vouched for by the theology, mathematics, Latin, and Greek of their husbands. Heaven knows why it is. For one thing, thought Jacob, they’re as ugly as sin. (Woolf 1992, 32–33)

  • 2 For uses of the term ‘displayed’ in science see the Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science (24 (...)
  • 3 It is a point of interest that Woolf borrows language from the mid-Victorian male-dominated intelle (...)

11From Jacob’s prejudiced perspective the women are objectified and dissected—they are seen as ‘heads and bodies’ with only a partial presence. Woolf’s use of the word ‘displayed’ alongside ‘cupboard’ not only connects this passage with the earlier diary extract, but also temporarily aligns the novel’s perspective with the world of science.2 Woof comments that ‘one has a sense of individuals’, which may recall mid-to-late-Victorian research on individuality in biology, especially the work of Darwin, and in geology through the work of Charles Lyell.3 As geologist James Dwight Dana wrote in 1863: ‘Such are the individualities in the great kingdoms of nature displayed upon the earth. But the earth also, according to Geology, has been brought to its present condition through a series of changes or progressive formations, and from a state as utterly featureless as a germ’ (Dana 1). Jacob perceives the gradual blossoming of women’s individuality in their colourful choices of clothing and decoration, which have emerged like butterflies from the darkness into the light. The cupboard may thus symbolise a dormant preparatory stage of the women’s changing position in society—here, at Kings College Chapel they are ‘displayed’ like specimens removed from a dark cupboard, and exposed to the judgement and analysis of the male-dominated intellectual world.

12The appearance of a dog in the narrative is unexpected and provides a striking analogy of how inappropriate Jacob perceives the presence of the women to be. Dogs feature elsewhere in Woolf’s works, notably in Flush, her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, published in 1933. As Kate Flint noted in her 1998 introduction to Flush,

one can see that Woolf consciously invokes and then collapses traditional human-animal hierarchies in order to comment on social justice, particularly concerning the position of women. This is applicable both to her own period and to her treatment of the Victorian society which preceded it. (Flint xxv)

13In the passage quoted, the dog is associated with disregard for social convention and destruction. The imagined way in which it would approach a pillar with the intention to mark its territory ‘makes the blood run cold with horror’ and ‘destroys the service completely’. Beyond the superficially humorous connotations of this canine allusion, Woolf’s inclusion of the dog can be understood to symbolise the perceived threat posed to the theological establishment by the presence of women at the service. The sacrilegious connotations of a dog relieving itself it against a church pillar is at once outlandish, and serves to illustrate the men’s condemning perspective of the women who are occupying a territory or outland that is not their own. Furthermore, the imagined marking out of the dog’s territory (the dog being male) can be understood to represent Jacob’s inherent belief that the church service at Kings should be a predominantly male domain.

  • 4 See also the depiction of Kensington Gardens in The Years: ‘The sun dappling the leaves gave everyt (...)

14A dog also appears in Jacob’s Room in the context of Hampstead Garden suburb. In both examples discussed, the dog is associated with gardens.4 In the church scene, the women’s preferences for ‘pansies and forget-me-nots’ is immediately followed by the observation that ‘a dog is all very well on a gravel path, and shows no disrespect to flowers’. In the Hampstead Garden suburb scene, Fanny Ellington, immobilised in a state of ‘agitation’, is aware of a dog barking incessantly:

It was the middle of February. The roofs of Hampstead Garden Suburb lay in a tremulous haze. It was too hot to walk. A dog barked, barked, barked down in the hollow. The liquid shadows went over the plain.
The body after long illness is languid, passive, receptive of sweetness, but too weak to contain it. The tears well and fall as the dog barks in the hollow, the children skim after hoops, the country darkens and brightens. Beyond a veil it seems. Ah, but draw the veil thicker lest I faint with sweetness, Fanny Elmer sighed, as she sat on a bench in Judges Walk looking at Hampstead Garden Suburb. But the dog went on barking. The motor cars hooted on the road. She heard a far-away rush and humming. Agitation was at her heart. Up she got and walked. The grass was freshly green; the sun hot. All round the pond children were stooping to launch little boats; or were drawn back screaming by their nurses. […] The women stand round the pond, beating off great prancing shaggy dogs. (Woolf 1992, 90)

  • 5 See also the depiction of Kensington Gardens in The Years: ‘The sun dappling the leaves gave everyt (...)

15These allusions to dogs in parks are compatible with Woolf’s childhood experiences of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.5 As noted by Lee (38–39) Woolf’s recollections of walks around Kensington Gardens include sailing boats on the Round Pond, and her siblings’ discovery of the skeleton of a dog behind the Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens. Woolf refers to the condition of the body after a prolonged illness as ‘languid’ and ‘weak’—the antithesis to the energetic and persistent barking, the hooting cars, and the freshness of the grass. The dogs and the children—beings who live entirely in the present, with only immediate concerns—provide an effective contrast to the isolated, creative mind that is trapped somewhere ‘beyond a veil’.

16The metaphor of a world hidden behind a veil was used in mid-to-late Victorian science to express the mystery that shrouded biological, chemical, and physical processes. As expressed by James Stuart, in a series of lectures delivered in 1869,

the region of Science is like this shadow-land, and there is a veil of mist which divides you from it. It is for me to raise that veil, if I can, a little here and there, in order that thus you may see somewhat of that which is within, and know whereby to enter hereafter. The veil that hangs about it is the veil of strange nomenclature; it is the veil of your unacquaintance, and partly too it may be of your fear; for what is unknown seems much more difficult often than it ought to seem, and the fields of science are so large you know not where to enter. (Stuart 9)

  • 6 ‘The Lifted Veil’ was first published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1859 and offers a dissection of El (...)

17For Woolf’s recovering over-strained mind, the bright world of the living present—symbolised in Jacob’s Room by the vibrant life of children and dogs in a flowery garden setting—seems set ‘beyond a veil’. Through literary experimentation in the form of Jacob’s Room, Woolf sought to lift the dark ‘veil of mist’ (Stuart 9) caused by illness and rejoin the vibrant world of the present. Perhaps one of the best known literary allusions to the world behind the veil, and the potential for its exploration through scientific experiment, is George Eliot’s short story ‘The Lifted Veil’. It is possible that Woolf had this allusion in mind while writing Jacob’s Room. It is perhaps significant too—considering that Jacob’s Room was an elegy to Woolf’s lost brother Thoby—that Eliot published a companion piece to ‘The Lifted Veil’ under the title ‘Brother Jacob’.6

  • 7 ‘The horrors of the dark cupboard’ may allude to ideas, thoughts and feelings which have been shut (...)

18In light of these connections, we might consider the summer of 1921 as a time of preparation for Jacob’s Room, when although Woolf was not actually writing, her creative mind was active on a much deeper, unconscious, level. A note in Woolf’s diary for 8 April that year records: ‘I ought to be writing Jacob’s Room; and I can’t […] I’m a failure as a writer’ (Woolf 1980, 106). It took time away from the ordinary world, in the dark secretive conditions of illness, for her to conceive and develop a new literary form.7 If we understand the ‘dark cupboard’ as a metaphor for change, we can see evidence of this in the novel itself, which integrates different perspectives within a single narrative, and moves unexpectedly around in time and space. At times it seems that the characters and their environment are part of a larger experiment. In Cornwall, for example, in the scene involving the sheep’s skull without its jaw, the natural world assumes unreal, reactive qualities, which recall descriptions of scientific experiments and observations:

Clean, white, and wind-swept, sand-rubbed, a more unpolluted piece of bone existed nowhere on the coast of Cornwall. The sea holly would grow through the eye-sockets; it would turn to powder, or some golfer, hitting his ball one fine day, would disperse a little dust—No, but not in lodgings, thought Mrs Flanders. It’s a great experiment coming so far with young children. There’s no man to help with the perambulator. And Jacob is such a handful; so obstinate already.
‘Throw it away, dear, do,’ she said, as they got into the road … The waves showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive, expecting the whip, of waves before a storm. The fishing-boats were leaning to the water’s brim. A pale yellow light shot across the purple sea; and shut. The lighthouse was lit. ‘Come along,’ said Betty Flanders. The sun blazed in their faces and gilded the great blackberries trembling out from the hedge which Archer tried to strip as they passed.
‘Don’t lag, boys. You’ve got nothing to change into,’ said Betty, pulling them along, and looking with uneasy emotion at the earth displayed so luridly, with sudden sparks of light from greenhouses in gardens, with a sort of yellow and black mutability, against this blazing sunset, this astonishing agitation and vitality of colour, which stirred Betty Flanders and made her think of responsibility and danger. (Woolf 1992, 11)

  • 8 See also Journal of Analytical and Applied Chemistry (157): ‘Hg.—Gently heated […] very volatile, b (...)

19Under the influence of the natural world the bone has undergone a series of changes—it has been bleached ‘clean’ and ‘white’ by the sun, blown by the wind, and rubbed by the sand. Woolf writes that ‘a more unpolluted piece of bone existed nowhere’—as if the elements have removed all evidence of life and decay and returned it to its former and pure condition within the body. The bone, the sunset, and the coastal landscape create a dynamic backdrop to the hurrying home of Betty Flanders and the boys. There is a sense that the characters are themselves part of an ‘experiment’. Woolf borrows scientific terminology to aid the development of her own literary experiment. The presence of ‘powder’, ‘sparks of light’, a ‘blazing’ sun, and ‘yellow and black’ recall descriptions of experiments in which chemical elements are combined to produce a reaction, and scientific observations of chemical and material behaviour. For example, Dewy writing in 1824 recorded ‘phosphate of lime… variety apatite in yellowish-green crystals and granular masses phosphoresces on hot iron with pale-yellow light; also in mica-slate in roundish masses. Its powder digested in H20 changes vegetable blue to green’ (Emerson 28). Dewy (140) remarked that: ‘These, the sparks of light of the illustration, have formed some idea of the world, the dark room in which the mind is placed, and through these the new experiences are apprehended’.8

20Similarly, the presence of glass in the forms of the greenhouses, and the idea of the lighthouse being ‘lit’ by an unknown and unseen hand—in a manner that might recall the lighting of a Bunsen burner—evokes a sense of the environment being controlled by an invisible mind. Within these unstable surroundings, Woolf presents Betty as the experimenter, exploring an unknown and new world in which she, a mother alone, struggles to survive. It is not simply ‘no one’ to help with the pram, but ‘no man’. Without the reassurance and stability of a male companion Betty looks upon the world with ‘uneasy emotion’—aware of her newfound freedom, and yet, like a scientist experimenting with something new, also acutely aware of ‘responsibility and danger’. Betty’s experiment in living brings a world brimful of the unexpected—always about to burst into sudden life.

21In the closing pages of the novel Woolf inverts the traditional idea of a laboratory environment, in which all variables are controlled, so that Jacob’s room itself becomes an experimental holding ground, characterised by random and indeterminate arrangements:

The omnibuses were locked together at Mudie’s corner. Engines throbbed, and carters, jamming the brakes down, pulled their horses sharp up. A harsh and unhappy voice cried something unintelligible. And then suddenly all the leaves seemed to raise themselves.
‘Jacob! Jacob!’ cried Bonamy, standing by the window. The leaves sank down again.
‘Such confusion everywhere!’ exclaimed Betty Flanders, bursting open the bedroom door.
Bonamy turned away from the window.
‘What am I supposed to do with these, Mr Bonamy?’
She held out a pair of Jacob’s old shoes. (Woolf 1992, 246–247)

22Bonamy comments that ‘nothing [is] arranged’ and observes the jammed traffic outside, where buses are ‘locked’ and unable to move forward. The long chain of vehicles has no sense, order, or chronology—the antithesis to progressive science. In this environment forces do not adhere to scientific principles—‘the leaves seemed to raise themselves’, and the wicker chair creaks even though no one sits in it. Woolf encourages us to consider the significance of the empty room that remains characterised by the life of the person to whom it once belonged. The room is light and airy now that he has gone; a contrast to the ‘dark cupboard’ of the novel’s germination. Amidst this chaos, where remnants of his life are left behind, the meaning of human sentiments is lost. Strewn letters from Sandra offer snippets of casual social occasions as fleeting and indiscriminate as the drift of the wind that swells the curtain and lifts the leaves. The room, as the scene of an experiment in living, symbolises the larger ambition of the novel to diversify the method and craft of fiction writing.

23To consider the ‘dark cupboard’ as a symbol of the creative unconscious affords new insights into Woolf’s own experiments in language and form—her dissection of consciousness and moments in time, and the unique arrangements of her prose fiction. As darkness was essential to scientific understanding of nature’s mysterious and complex anatomy, so the ‘underworld’ of the unconscious was integral to the spontaneous germination of Woolf’s literary experiments. Understanding the creative process as having an organic life of its own—not simply directed by the author, but deeply felt and allowed to grow in its own unique way—can help us to better understand what Woolf terms in Jacob’s Room ‘the magnificent world—the live, sane, vigorous world’.

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Bell, Quentin, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1996.

Blackie, Michael Robert, Rest Cures: The Narrative Life of a Medical Practice, Michigan: ProQuest, 2006.

Dana, James Dwight, Manual of Geology, Treating of the Principles of the Science, New York: T. Bliss, 1863.

Darwin, Charles, and Francis Darwin, The Power of Movement in Plants, New York: D. Appleton, 1881.

Dewey, John, Psychology, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886.

Emerson, Benjamin Kendall, A Mineralogical Lexicon of Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden Counties, Massachusetts, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science 44 (1867).

Frankland, Grace C., ‘Sunshine and Life’, Longman’s Magazine 26.155 (1895): 532–538.

Goldman, Janee,The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf, Cambridge: CUP, 2006.

Hart, Edward, ed., Journal of Analytical and Applied Chemistry, Vol. VII, Easton: Chemical, 1893.

Hall, A. D., Introduction to the Science of the Nutrition of Plants and Animals (1910), New Delhi: Discovery, 1993.

Lee, Hermione, Virginia Woolf, London: Random House, 2010.

Manchester Microscopial Society, Manchester Microscopical Society Report and Transactions Vols. 18–22, Manchester: Manchester Microscopical Society, 1898.

Owen, Richard, ‘Instructions for Collecting and Preserving Vertebrate and Invertebrate Animals’, The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal: Exhibiting a View of the Progressive Discoveries and Improvements in the Sciences and the Arts, eds. R. Jameson and W. Jardine 47(1849): 280–292.

Stephens, John William Watson and Samuel Rickard Christophers, The Practical Study of Malaria and Other Blood Parasites, Liverpool: UP of Liverpool, 1903.

Stuart, James, A Chapter of Science; or, What is a law of nature? Six Lectures to Working Men, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1883

Woolf, Virginia, The Diary of Virginia Woolf Vol. 2 (1920-1924), California: Harcourt Brace, 1980.

———, ‘The Anatomy of Fiction’, Athenaeum 16 May 1919: 331.

———, Jacob’s Room (1922), Oxford: OUP, 1992.

———, Flush, ed. Kate Flint, Oxford: OUP, 1998.

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1 Other examples of the uses of dark cupboards include an experiment to investigate the processes of respiration and assimilation, and a dissection experiment on mosquitoes:
About a hundred barley grains are soaked and placed with a little water in a stoppered bottle holding about a pint, the stopper is left out and the bottle exposed to the light until the barley has shot and made a fair amount of leaf. The stopper is then inserted, and the bottle is put away in a dark cupboard or drawer for two days; on taking it out and testing the air in the bottle by means of a lighted taper, the taper will be extinguished. In the dark only respiration has been going on, and so much carbon dioxide has been produced and so much oxygen used up that the air in the bottle is no longer capable of supporting combustion. (Hall 36)
It is convenient to have a white and a black surface for
dissecting on. Some mosquitoes are caught—by placing over the top of the jar used for feeding another empty jar of the same size—and kept alive in a dark cupboard for two or three days (Stephens and Christophers 103)

2 For uses of the term ‘displayed’ in science see the Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science (240) for 1867 which describes a liver under analysis: ‘The liver, which was exhibited to the society, displayed upon its convex surface and posteriorly a large number of abscesses of various sizes’. Also Owen (282): ‘The paper is to be carefully brought to the surface of the water, the specimen remaining displayed upon it, with the help of a pair of forceps or a porcupine’s quill, or any fine-pointed instrument; and it is then to be gently drawn out of the water, keeping the specimen displayed’. See also the aforementioned quotation from Woolf’s diary: ‘all the horrors of the dark cupboard of illness once more displayed for my diversion’ (Woolf 1980, 125).

3 It is a point of interest that Woolf borrows language from the mid-Victorian male-dominated intellectual world that she found herself both responding to and reacting against.

4 See also the depiction of Kensington Gardens in The Years: ‘The sun dappling the leaves gave everything a curious look of insubstantiality as if it were broken into separate points of light. […] Dogs of all sorts abounded. The air was full of barking and sudden shrill cries. Coveys of nursemaids pushed perambulators along the path’ (cited in Lee 39).

5 See also the depiction of Kensington Gardens in The Years: ‘The sun dappling the leaves gave everything a curious look of insubstantiality as if it were broken into separate points of light. […] Dogs of all sorts abounded. The air was full of barking and sudden shrill cries. Coveys of nursemaids pushed perambulators along the path.’ (cited in Lee 39)

6 ‘The Lifted Veil’ was first published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1859 and offers a dissection of Eliot’s own philosophy. Told from the perspective of a narrator whose powers overshadow his life, the story alludes to scientific interest in the science of the brain and experiments in revivification. ‘Brother Jacob’ pays tribute to Thackeray in the form of a fable, which equates reading with eating. […]

7 ‘The horrors of the dark cupboard’ may allude to ideas, thoughts and feelings which have been shut away and over time have undergone a type of transformation.

8 See also Journal of Analytical and Applied Chemistry (157): ‘Hg.—Gently heated […] very volatile, becomes all scarlet on standing; but if quickly heated, the coat formed is pale yellow and black’.

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Rebecca Welshman, « ‘You may dissect your frog, but you cannot make it hop’: Jacob’s Room and the Experimental Imagination of Virginia Woolf  »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 48 | 2015, mis en ligne le 23 mars 2015, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Rebecca Welshman

Rebecca Welshman is an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS), which is part of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool. She completed her Doctoral thesis in English at the University of Exeter in June 2013.

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