Why Phaedrus? Plato in Virginia Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room

Charles I. Armstrong


Recent criticism has addressed the Platonic and ancient Greek influences on Virginia Woolf’s writings generally, and her novel Jacob’s Room specifically, but there has been no accounting of the motivation for the specific use of Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus in the latter novel. This essay will address how Jacob’s Room engages closely with this dialogue not only with regard to thematic focal points of love and rhetoric, but also in terms of more encompassing structures of space and literary form. In the process, a less ironic approach to Plato and his philosophy than that argued for in much recent criticism comes to light in Woolf’s complex negotiations with the precedent of Victorian Hellenism.

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