A picture of the dust jacket that Vanessa Bell designed and created for Woolf's novel, Jacob's Room. The lettering is simple, there appear to be abstract painted flowers in a limited palette of red and black upon a table.

Vanessa Bell’s Dust Jacket for Jacob’s Room

An image of a note written inside a first edition copy of Jacob's Room. Because this is a subscriber's copy, Virginia Woolf has signed it herself.

A note written inside a first edition subscriber’s copy of Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf.

In 1922, Jacob’s Room was published for the first time by the Hogarth Press (located in the Hogarth House in Richmond, London). It was their first novel to be printed and it is also “their first book to have a dust jacket” (Gordon). Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, and Vanessa Bell all participated in the creation of the dust-jacket; Virginia chose the coloring, Leonard was consulted for the typography, and Vanessa painted the image.


This particular dust-jacket’s design was not popular among booksellers. It was “what in 1923 many people would have called reproachfully post-impressionist” (Gordon) because of its lack of an identifiable human figure and inability to act as a descriptive drawing for the narrative. What the design does include, notably, is flowers. Flowers in particular held complex and often opposing meaning as motifs for human nature in works for both sisters (Gillespie 243). By juxtaposing recognizable forms with more abstract, contrasting lines and shapes in a limited palette, Vanessa creates not only an arguably visually pleasing design, but also invokes the “psychological oppositions” that Woolf writes about (Gillespie 266) in her novels.The dust-jacket acts as a material object that intentionally visualizes the complex and abstract nature of the relationship between the exterior and the interior self that is explored in Jacob’s Room — made manifest by Vanessa’s non-representational still life of flowers by a window.

Hana Leaper succinctly describes the symbiotic nature of the dust-jacket and novel form as such:

“When also viewed as objects, rather than simply as images, it becomes apparent the jackets bind Woolf’s texts offering, in both literal and metaphorical fashions, support and protection to the material within.”

Posted by: Pipit Standen

Works Cited
Gillespie, Diane F. “Still Lifes in Words and Paint.” The Sister’s Arts: The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1988. 224-66. Print.
Gordon, Elizabeth. Woolf’s-head Publishing: The Highlights and New Lights of the Hogarth Press. Edmonton: University of Alberta Libraries, 2009. Mantex Information Design. Web. 2016.
“Jacob’s Room Cover.” Mantex. Ed. Roy Johnson. n.p. 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 2016.
Leaper, Hana. “A Bloomsbury Miscellany From The Charleston Attic.” Virginia Woolf Miscellany 87 (2015): 43. Literature Resource Center. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Images Cited
Woolf, Virginia. Jacob’s Room. Richmond: Hogarth Press, 1922. Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own. “Mortimer Rare Book Collection” Smith College, Northampton, MA> 2011. Web. 2016.
Woolf, Virginia. “Subscriber’s Ticket.” Richmond: Hogarth Press, 1922. Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own. “Mortimer Rare Book Collection” Smith College, Northampton, MA> 2011. Web. 2016.
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