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In Jacob’s Room (1922) and Nightwood (1936), Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes use plant life to express a profound ambivalence about the masculine-inflected ordering functions of art and morality. They show that these processes codify lived experience and distance it from the feminine and sexual. To counter this turn towards the urban inauthentic, both novels depict non-urban spaces to upend conventional notions of usefulness. They fixate on evanescent flowers, wild forests, and untillable fields as sites of resistance whose fragility and remoteness are strengths. In Jacob’s Room, I argue that the eponymous protagonist is destroyed by his conventional education and morality, trapped in a room he cannot escape. In Nightwood, the central couple flees a similar ideological room, leaving for a remote farm where genuine feeling is momentarily possible.


This work was originally published in "Critical Plant Studies: Philosophy, Literature, Culture, Volume 1," edited by Randy Laist and published by Rodopi Press



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