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Virginia Woolf: Becoming Photographic

The Aesthetics of Interruption: Photographic Representation in Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room

Esthétique de l’interruption : la représentation photographique dans Jacob’s Room de Virginia Woolf 
Jessie Alperin


Dans La Chambre de Jacob de Virginia Woolf, les différents types de faillite du langage se littéralisent visuellement pour refléter une faillite plus générale de la représentation. Le visuel interrompt le verbal mettant par là en défaut le représentation langagière, et lorsqu’il dérange la continuité narrative, c’est pour mieux refléter les tentatives collectives de communication dans le monde moderne. Woolf associe divers modes photographiques afin de créer sa propre vision photographique. À travers un mélange paradoxal de qualités pictorialistes et instantanées, elle remet en cause le statut de la représentation. Ce mélange se révèle dans les descriptions photographiques, dans le langage, les silences et les portraits. Tous ont un effet interruptif qui, simultanément, obscurcit et illumine les personnages.

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1In her novel Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf employs a photographic mode in an experimental aesthetic of interruption. Like other modernist authors, Woolf incorporates techniques from multiple forms of art to produce innovative narrative and descriptive structures. Influenced by the aesthetics of domestic, Victorian, and pictorialist photography, Woolf appropriates the poetics of photographic vision into her novel’s visual field. In Jacob’s Room, however, the visual interrupts the verbal. It does so to prove linguistic representation faulty, and when it disturbs the narrative flow it becomes a representation of the communicative struggle, typical of Woolf and her contemporaries. Uniquely here, the novel’s many instances of the failure of language are literalized visually. In many instances the visual replaces the verbal through silent spaces and frames, and language becomes purely descriptive, halting the narrative progression. These interruptions obscure and fragment the novel and its main character, Jacob Flanders. Jacob becomes a specter or shadow-like figure that haunts the visual and textual space of the novel. This is a well-established fact about him, but his spatial absences have photographic qualities. Woolf combines multiple modes of photography to create her own mode of photographic vision, questioning the viability of representation through a paradoxical blending of snapshot and pictorialist photographic qualities, which in turn becomes the optical unconscious of Jacob’s Room.  

  • 1 Maggie Humm writes in her book, Modernist Women and Visual Culture, that Cameron’s photographic wor (...)

2Woolf was exposed to and influenced by many types of photographic practices. She is known for taking and developing her own photographs, collecting images of friends and family members, and keeping albums. Influenced both by the photographic snapshot and by pictorial photography, Woolf blends the two together to create her own literary photographic style. It is well known that Woolf highly valued the photographs of her great aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron. Cameron was known for the spiritual content of her photographs and her soft-focus portrait photography. Her images have a composed pictorial quality and are constructed through photographic techniques related to painting.1 Other pictorialist photographers concentrated on a style that attempted to make photography poetic and expressive through manipulative processes and expression using tonal variation and value. Common manipulative techniques included blurring, the use of shadows, and printing processes such as platinum and gum bichromate printing. Pictorial subject matter ranged from Cameron’s portraits to allegorical scenes, landscapes, and still lifes. Woolf merges pictorial influences with her own domestic photography, merging the emotional, expressive style and the manipulative rendering of pictorialism with diverse elements important to her own photographic practice: the collective process of personal and family albums and the snapshot’s momentary swiftness of vision.

3Previous scholarship has explored the notion of Woolf’s photographic personal history, detailing her private snapshots and family albums. In addition, scholars, particularly Diane F. Gillespie and Maggie Humm, have extended Woolf’s photographic practices to her visual influences that include both the Bloomsbury Group and her sister Vanessa Bell. The relationship between the visual and Woolf also features a subtext of familial connections that have been examined by Humm to illustrate the maternal presence of Julia Stephen. Humm’s psychoanalytic reading of Woolf’s photographic connections extends to her novels, especially To the Lighthouse, where she concentrates on the way that perception is shaped and haunted by memory (Humm 2000, 229). Other scholars have focused on Woolf’s biographies, mainly Orlando, and the way in which the photographs paradoxically fictionalize biography (Wussow 6). In her article, “The Thoughtless Image: Woolf, Rancière on Photography,” Elena Gualtieri utilizes this concept to show how the photographic image transforms the subject of biography into an object of indeterminacy, illuminating Orlando’s sexual identity (310). Furthermore, the indeterminacy produced by the inclusion of the visual, imagistic mode of photography within a written text elucidates a relationship between sound and silence. Similarly others scholars have studied how the usage of interruption functions within Woolf’s texts to disturb fixed identities and societal constructs. By extending the interruptive quality to the photographic, Woolf challenges the nature of perception within the text through employing an optical unconsciousness. This allows for the shifts in perspective to represent both singular and collective perceptions. This article moves to examine the nature of the photographic snapshot and photographic pictorialism within Woolf’s Jacob’s Room to understand the interruptive nature of photography.

4In Jacob’s Room, Woolf employs a blend of snapshot and pictorialist photographic aesthetics and techniques. At first glance, there might seem to be a polarizing difference between these two forms. Pictorial photography is a composed art, but snapshot photography focuses on candid subject matter, attention to the everyday world, and recording for the purpose of remembrance. The snapshot photographer evokes a sense of movement through the quotidian subject matter and through the photograph’s inability to capture a complete segment of reality, but instead a fragmented, incomplete momentary vision. In his essay ‘Virginia Woolf and Photography’, Colin Dickey explains the difference between the photographic snapshot and the portrait to Virginia Woolf. The photographic portrait is known for being complete and unified whereas the snapshot fails to capture the complete subject (Humm 2010, 37). Yet based on Virginia Woolf’s photographic optics in Jacob’s Room, it appears that she not only utilizes the snapshot, but also applies pictorialist photography to her literary, photographic sensibility. Pictorialism is focused on the composed, artistic subject matter that emanates expressive emotion through photographic printing techniques and through the manipulation of style. Movement is captured through expressivity and the often-blurred rendering of figures or backgrounds. The pictorialist photographer captures life through intentional compositional framing, while the snapshot is often arbitrarily cropped—alluding to what is exterior to the photographic frame. In addition, the pictorialist photographer concentrates on the form and elements of the photograph, stressing abstraction as a way to represent emotion. Woolf blends the authentic realism and candid everyday nature of snapshot photography with the artistic embellishments and expressiveness of pictorialism to better capture and represent her literary subject matter.

5Woolf theorizes about this blending of photographic styles elsewhere, particularly in her later autobiographical work, Sketch of the Past. She compares her mental process to the photographic style of both the snapshot and to the artistic techniques of pictorialism. The author’s sensations and thoughts become a photographic process. Woolf writes, ‘Figuratively I could snapshot what I mean by some image; I am a porous vessel afloat on sensation; a sensitive plate exposed to invisible rays’ (Woolf 1939, 133). She invokes the two photographic modes to express her authorial attempt at collecting and expressing the sensations of reality. Her reference to a sensitive plate evokes her aunt’s photographic style and experimentation with the wet collodion process, an early artistic photographic technique. In this statement, Woolf combines this artistic photographic style with a clear reference to snapshot photography. The result is a model for representation that enables Woolf to question representation in language, for it involves an art that is at once aesthetically composed and an objective capturing of daily life.

  • 2 As W.J.T. Mitchell describes it, the "pictorial turn" of modernity has "re-oriented itself around t (...)

6Describing her photographic process, Woolf also expresses the natural limitations of language and the exchange for the image over the word.2 Instead of representing what she means with the verbal, Woolf would rather present her imagination with an image. The imagistic representation is a means of conveying the sensation of the external world and the internal consciousness in a single object. The indexical quality of the photograph captures the everyday reality through an expressive artistic means of capturing the internal reality as well. This intersection forms the core of Woolf’s aesthetic of interruption and her novel Jacob’s Room.

7The historical context of the First World War, which challenged modes of representation, produced a shift in the relationship between language and the world. Karen L. Levenback in her study Virginia Woolf and the Great War, describes the after effects as an ‘ongoing process of reorientation’ (Levenback 7). This process of reorientation calls for new models of representation that paradoxically allow a filling and an exposure of the “chasm” that the war has created (Woolf 1940, 164). Woolf believed that the war created a rift between civilians and combatants in which one could not describe the horrors because any act of description deprives emotional significance. Yet paradoxically, the language of war was also rid of these terrors. When writing of war in her essay, “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid, Woolf turns to the photographic as a means of creation when she states: ‘Directly that fear passes, the mind reaches out and instinctively revives itself by trying to create. Since the room is dark it can create only from memory’ (Woolf 1940, 550). The mind revives itself through the process of photographic recreation through memory. Woolf alludes to a photographic dark room and reorientation of the mind through the printing process of memory. This memory is an unconscious collective memory of past creations as ‘scraps of poetry return’ (Woolf 1940, 550). Here, Woolf subtly unites the visual and the verbal as a process of reorientation for filling in the chasm created by war through a space of photographic and verbal creation.

8Woolf utilizes photography paired with language to express the inarticulation that stems from the deprivement of language after the war. This pairing stems from an optical unconsciousness that haunts the textual space of the novel. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy defines this as a new mode of perception and psychological transformation that comes from the new technologies of photography (Moholy-Nagy 29). The radical shift in vision after the invention of photography not only transforms society technologically, but also transforms the very act of perception. The pairing of photography and language becomes a hybrid form of communicability and incommunicability that is centered on both the conscious act of language production and the optical unconsciousness of photographic perception. The process of interruption occurs when the state of the unconsciousness reorients the relationship between the verbal and the visual, asserting the visual as a literary object and the verbal as a visual description. Additionally, the optical unconsciousness is directly tied to the status of interruption in the novel. As Lucio Ruotolo in his study on Woolf’s novels, The Interrupted Moment, explains, within the novel, personal visions are often interrupted and then expanded to include a ‘conjoining world shared in common with others’ (Ruotolo 1986, 74). Therefore, Woolf’s interruptive technique does not simply work on the level of language, but also in terms of the construction of the narrative through a series of interruptive frames. These frames serve to express the effect of photography and the change in perception that arises from the shifts in modern technology. The text expands from the subjective character to create interruptive stylistics of an optical unconsciousness that function similar to the art of perception through the lens of a camera.

9The photographic vision that is maintained throughout the text of Jacob’s Room can be summarized as a matter of focusing and refocusing observation. Focus works within the novel on both a structural and descriptive level. Woolf crafts the text through a fragmentary style, in which the shifting and interruptive movement expresses the overwhelming stimulus of sensation: voices, images, and figures, within the space of the text. The impairment of focus blends different forms of photography: the soft focus of Pictorialism, the fleeting nature of the snapshot, and the shifting viewpoints within a photo album. The narrator relates the very act of looking in life to a series of pictures in a photo album, in which the viewer skims through attempting to search for a focus on the particular: ‘pictures in a book whose pages we turn over and over as if we should at last find what we look for. Every face, every shop, brown window, public-house, and dark ware is a picture feverishly turned… it is the same with books’ (Woolf 1922, 77). The narrator creates a relation amongst the multiple pictures that create the fabric of reality. Each picture is its own snapshot and composes a larger whole rather than a particular focus. Woolf structurally frames Jacob’s Room phenomenologically as an act of observation and search, for both character and reader, in which focus is constantly interrupted.

10On a descriptive level, the focus in the novel is often hazy, as it moves from one subject to the next without capturing the whole picture. In the very first paragraphs of the novel, Woolf explores the junction between her different photographic techniques and interruption. The novel begins with Betty Flanders, Jacob’s mother, composing a letter. While she is writing, ‘pale blue ink dissolved the full stop; for there her pen stuck; her eyes fixed, and tears slowly filled them. The entire bay quivered; the light-house wobbled’ (Woolf 1922, 3). The opening reflects the problems of expression through language, starting with the writing of Mrs. Flander’s letter and quickly switching to a descriptive passage through the perspective of her vision. This sets up a pictorial optic, which moves in and out of focus, filtered through the emotional eye of Mrs. Flanders. Her viewpoint is a lens that continuously attempts to find a controlled and focused viewpoint, as she is interrupted by the emotional flux that dissolves her writing and sight—her tears. This fluctuating world expresses the failure of representation through language, replacing it with a pictorial image able to capture her feeling. Emotion is displaced to the exterior world and rendered through the photographic optics of her vision. But the shift to description departs from the individual consciousness of Mrs. Flanders to express an optical unconsciousness and the mode of perception in a larger context. The description is mediated by the narrator who focuses through Mrs. Flanders as the photographic lens. The common aspects of experience frame the personal to express the relation between the movement of the textual whole with a specific image. This is echoed in Jean Guiguet’s writing on the novel, in which he asserts that the ‘focus of observation is everywhere and yet nowhere… yet the consciousness which is the center of every paragraph is a cohesive force… bringing together various elements of reality which are normally separated to underlie their relationship’ (Guiguet 221). These interruptions paradoxically lead to a cohesiveness that would be missed if it were not for the interruptive re-focusing viewpoints that create their own fragmented whole.

11Still, voices haunt the novel. They create a montage effect of constant attempts at communication, the absent assertion of voice. These voices drift through description until they are ultimately lost, detached from both the speaker and the narrative. Voices constantly interrupt the narrative, beginning with Jacob’s brother, Archer, searching for him in the first chapter on the beach. Archer calls out, ‘Ja—cob! Ja—cob!’ before his voice is described by the narrator as having ‘an extraordinary sadness. Pure from all body, pure from all passion, going out into the world, solitary unanswered, breaking against the rocks’ (Woolf 1922, 3). His voice therefore signifies an absence, as it exists entirely as interruption. This interruptive voice and dialogue is present throughout the narrative, representing the futile undercurrent of voices.

12Yet these voices are supplemented by recurring montage-like visual descriptions that attempt to render an optical unconsciousness. The passages are focused through an individual perspective, but are expanded to include the surrounding scenery, manipulated by the narrator’s perspective. One specific example begins with the description of Mrs. Flanders, ‘who was growing stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about her’ (Woolf 1922, 11). The reader would expect the perspective to come from Mrs. Flander’s eyes, focusing on what she sees as she looks around. Yet, the narrator applies a mode of expanding vision to the larger picture, as she writes: ‘The entire gamut of the view’s changes should have been known to her; its winter aspect, spring, summer, and autumn… how the moors shuddered and brightened as the clouds went over; she should have noted the red spot where the allotments were cut; and the diamond flash of little glass houses in the sun’ (Woolf 1922, 11). Similar to the opening of the novel, the photographic viewpoint paradoxically captures flux as the narrator focuses on the changing viewpoints. What is captured is the tonal variety of the seasons and the differences in the exposure of light, which was often captured by pictorialist photographers. The narrator interrupts the filtered perspective and manipulates it into a shared viewpoint that focuses on what is not being looked at by the central character’s perspective. Therefore, the snapshot form of framing that alludes to what is exterior and the snapshot capturing of mundane reality pairs with the narrator’s intervention similar to the pictorialist quality of manipulation through technique.

  • 3 “Garden Scene, St. Ives” undated, photograph: gelatin silver print: 9 x 14 centimeters, Monk’s Hous (...)

13In other descriptions, Woolf continues to blend the two styles through concentration on the everyday place and lighting techniques, yet interestingly Woolf brings the snapshot technique of photography into the descriptions through the use of photographic language. The narrator frames the mundane aspects of life through a photographic still life of a domestic space that interrupts the narrative progression with an aesthetic still life. The description begins: ‘the bareness of Mrs. Pearce’s front room at 10 o’clock… when a powerful oil lamp stood on the middle of the table’ (Woolf 1922, 7). The scene is framed by a specific time, rendering it still with a particular tone of light. This light is not natural and radiates from the lamp, transforming the surrounding area into a photographic impression of the scene, for ‘the harsh light fell on the garden; cut straight across the lawn; lit up the child’s bucket and a purple aster and reached the hedge’ (Woolf 1922, 7). The lighting and the subject matter of the garden are reminiscent of Woolf’s own photographs of the garden at her house in St. Ives in her Monk’s House photo album, particularly her “Garden Scene, St. Ives”.3 In “Virginia Woolf’s Photography and Monk’s House Albums,” Maggie Humm compares Woolf’s photographs in her album to her depictions of landscapes in her novels, stressing the attention to textured surfaces, the vertical and the horizontal, and lighting. However, she states that her photographs are ‘never purely formal… [But have] an emotional intensity’ (Humm 2016, 229). The photograph demonstrates Woolf’s understanding of light and its effect on composition. The lighting and its ability to create contrast, abstraction, and tonality is evocative of pictorialist technique but it is combined with the subject matter of a domestic garden and the snapshot camera used to take the picture. Additionally, Woolf combines the domestic snapshot with a more artistic photographic method through description, when she writes, ‘the wind blew straight dashes of rain across the window, which flashed silver as they passed through the light’ (Woolf 1922, 7). The flashing silver and the energy of the wind’s movement adds an expressive quality to the scene, reminiscent of the photographic manipulations of pictorialism and the gelatin silver process used for both artistic and amateur photography. In this descriptive interruption, Woolf transforms her language to that of the photographic, creating an underlying system of photographic vision.

14In later descriptions, particularly in the long passage describing Cambridge, Woolf implements a mode of photographic language that concentrates on silence. Photography is a silent language that speaks from the image rather than through the word. Here, the optical unconsciousness is exposed through the lack of verbal interaction and manifested by the ‘spiritual shape, hard yet ephemeral, as of glass’ (Woolf 1922, 34). This shape takes the place of words and is reminiscent of the photographic glass plate of pictorialist photography, and its ephemeral yet hard nature is similar to the snapshot that captures fleeting, mundane reality. This echoes Woolf’s conception of film. In her essay The Cinema, she writes, ‘for a moment it seemed as if thought could be conveyed by shape more effectively than by words’ (Woolf 1926, 2). An abstract shape has the ability to communicate emotion more than language and Woolf converts this cinematic and photographic method into her writing. The formation of the shape interrupts the description it is placed within and the narration shifts to a meditation on language and silence:

True, the words were inaudible. It was the intimacy, a sort of spiritual suppleness, when mind prints upon mind indelibly… But intimacy — the room was full of it… Without need of movement or speech it rose softly and washed over everything… coating the mind with the luster of pearl, so that that if you talk of a light… it’s not language only. (Woolf 1922, 35)

15Language becomes silent as the shape manifests the feeling of intimacy and fills up the room. The image of a sensitive plate returns as the intimate expression coats over everything and leaves the impression of its being without language or movement, similarly to the process that creates a photographic image. This silence and stillness overcome verbal language through its ability to convey what cannot and does not need to be said. The impression of silence prints itself onto multiple minds, like a photographic sensitive plate, to create a photographic image of the optical unconsciousness that pervades the textual space.

16In Jacob’s Room, interruptive silence or spatial breaks divide the text into sections, disturbing the narrative flow with visual pauses. Because speech is made textual through quotation, listening and the dissolving and suspension of sound must be made visual through the absence of markings. In addition, the absence signifies the presence of the collective inability to communicate and the search for language to represent modern society after World War I. The visual pauses divide the text into sections that both remain separate and connected through framing. The silence takes on a photographic quality, which creates and isolates moments from one another. The space creates a visual border that divides, but also acknowledges the division and alludes to all of the other moments outside of its frame through its very framing. The silence acts as a photographic negative that exposes the futility of language through the negation of it.

  • 4 “Julia Jackson,” 1867, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 27.8 x  22.1 cm, The Getty Museum

17The silence is reflected in the portraits of characters that flit past and interrupt the narrative flow through a moment of descriptive portraiture. Most of the novel’s women are depicted through portraits of their surrounding world or everyday environment and through a soft focus photographic style similar to Cameron’s images. Like the subjects in Cameron’s photograph, Woolf’s soft focus style of narration draws the woman from the shadows they inhabit. However, the characters do not fully emerge and the portraits seem to contain the fleeting nature of the world within their subject matter. The narrator interrupts the text to compose a meditation on shadows, in which she says, ‘In any case life is but a procession of shadows and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows’ (Woolf 1922, 56). One such shadow-like portrait is Jacob’s lover, Florinda, who emerges from the dark on Guy Fawkes Night and is illuminated by the flames: ‘Of the faces which came out fresh and vivid as though painted in yellow and red, the most prominent was a girl’s face by a trick of the firelight she seemed to have no body. The oval of the face and hair hung beside the fire with a dark vacuum of background’ (Woolf 1922, 57). Her face floats, rising from the dark background that hides her body, allowing her to appear ghostly. Like Cameron’s portraits, particularly her image of Julia Jackson4, the movement and the fragmented exposure appears to have a spiritual suppleness. The spiritual nature of the image and the lighting are pictorialist, while the interrupted, frozen image out of the night’s atmosphere is reminiscent of the snapshot. Her transitory spirit of the moment is captured, preserving her shadow in its very passing.

  • 5 Examples of portraits of soldiers include: Portrait of Arthur W. Dwyer, 104th Infantry, Globe Newsp (...)

18In contrast to the portraits of women, the very few portraits of Jacob illuminate his strong masculine presence. Though a specter in his own novel, he is unflinchingly present in his own portraiture. The narrator continues her meditation on shadows, now concerning Jacob, ‘why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us’ (Woolf 1922, 56). The image of the young man appears to be the most real and solid as he emerges from the shadows, and is illuminated by the window, placing him in focus. A portrait of Jacob is similar to this image, as he is described as coming ‘out of from the dark place by the window where he had hovered. The light poured over him, illuminating every cranny of his face as he sat looking out into the garden’ (Woolf 1922, 47). The portrait of Jacob has the ability to arrest the progression of time and transform him into a solid being. The photographic allows Jacob to be preserved and placed outside of the progression of time while the other photographic portraits show the movement of time through their soft focus. The portraits of him appear to be more real through their stasis and complete capturing, yet Jacob still hovers as a ghost, emerging for an instant as solid. Other portraits of him have a similar stability to them and render Jacob static amid the fleeting world. The narrator interrupts a dinner scene to state: ‘and now, the world being stable, lit by candle-light, the dinner jacket alone preserved him’ (Woolf 1922, 43). Here, Jacob is confined to the stability of the world and maintained secure by his jacket. Other portraits of Jacob and opinions of him often compare him to a statue. I believe that this statuesque, masculine, and idyllic portraiture is similar to the historical photographic portraits of World War I soldiers5. These photographs display the men as upright, strong individuals in focus, exposing the details of their face, but not their personalities. Many of them sit looking forward or in profile and are held together by their military or suit jackets. These historical snapshots are often used as a means of memorial for the fallen and are remnants of their figures that are preserved. Paradoxically Jacob is only glimpsed at and reduced to these descriptive portraits that leave no trace of his individual identity, but only the outline of his form and body. He remains preserved, yet invisible and still hovers absently through the textual space of the novel.

19The whole novel is centered on finding Jacob’s room and identity, but keeps being deferred by interruptions. When one finally finds the room, the deferral makes one forget what they were looking for and it becomes interruption itself. The description echoes a domestic photographic still life that details and catalogues the room: ‘Jacob’s room had a round table and two low chairs. There were yellow flags in a jar on the mantelpiece; a photograph of his mother; cards from societies with little raised crescents, coats of arms, and initials’ (Woolf 1922, 35). His room serves as a portrait of Jacob that preserves his belongings and himself through showing his presence. Yet, the air that fills the room, causing the chair to creak illustrates Jacob’s absence and serves as a second portrait that supplements the stable catalogue with fleeting movement. The description ends with wind flowing through the room: ‘Listless is the air in an empty room, just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One fibre in the wicker arm–chair creaks, though no one sits there’ (Woolf 1922, 35). The air, like the visual silence, interrupts the description itself by causing movement, filling the absence of the room. Yet the wind is just an illusion of something there, like a ghost or a presence that is already dead. The air that flows through the room is thus a negative trace of Jacob, marking his presence through the imprint of absence amongst the objects that signify him.

20Virginia Woolf employs photographic techniques in her novel Jacob’s Room to create an aesthetic of interruption. This aesthetic serves to represent the optical unconsciousness of photography through interruptive digressions that expand the narrative’s plane of focus. Woolf accomplishes this by blending two distinct photographic forms: artistic pictorialism and snapshot photography. The optical unconsciousness that flows throughout the novel allows Woolf to express the fragmentary and the lack of focus amongst daily life. This blending is seen through Woolf’s photographic descriptions, language, silence, and portraiture, all of which function as interruptions within the text that simultaneously obscure and illuminate the characters. Through this technique, Woolf achieves the modernist goal of synthesizing multiple modes of representation to express what language alone cannot. The synthesis or space that mingles the visual and the verbal through text and photography is central to Woolf’s phenomenology, relating her literary project to the experience of life.

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1 Maggie Humm writes in her book, Modernist Women and Visual Culture, that Cameron’s photographic works are related to Renaissance painting and the technique of Sfumato, which was used to create a smoky or soft-focused tone. Woolf mirrors this quality in her writing, displacing the smoky quality from painting and pictorialist photography to her descriptive writings.

2 As W.J.T. Mitchell describes it, the "pictorial turn" of modernity has "re-oriented itself around the visual paradigms that seem to threaten and overwhelm any possibility of discursive mastery." Mitchell, 1995, 9.

3 “Garden Scene, St. Ives” undated, photograph: gelatin silver print: 9 x 14 centimeters, Monk’s House Album V, Page 6, Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

4 “Julia Jackson,” 1867, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 27.8 x  22.1 cm, The Getty Museum

5 Examples of portraits of soldiers include: Portrait of Arthur W. Dwyer, 104th Infantry, Globe Newspaper Co., and Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Alexander Kenneth Anderson, 1 Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Killed in 1914 at the age of 21.

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Jessie Alperin, « The Aesthetics of Interruption: Photographic Representation in Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 53 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2017, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jessie Alperin

Jessie Alperin is a student of Comparative Literature and Art History at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, USA. Her work focuses on modernist literature and the relationships between text and image. Her additional research interests include artist books, aesthetics and hermeneutics, narrative theory, and photography.

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