Virginia Woolf – James Joyce – Landau?

By Thomas Gurke


It may seem hard to imagine now that the small town of Landau may have exerted any influence on the culture of Modernity at the beginning of the 20th century. Amongst many things, Modern culture, however, is largely a culture of cities and metropolitan mobility. Landau’s claim to fame in this regard is the famous “Landauer” coach, a four-seater, four-wheeled carriage with two benches arranged vis-à-vis and parallel. The hood could usually be split in the middle and was foldable, making it a so-called “convertible” carriage, i.e. it can be converted from an open to a completely closed carriage. While the convertible top has been documented since at least the 17th century, the “Landauer” became the preferred travelling carriage and status symbol of the wealthy circles in all European countries during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Landau, 1890; in the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, Stony Brook, N.Y.
Carriage Collection, The Museums at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, Long Island, New York, gift of John W. Metter, Jr., 1952.
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With the advent of motorisation so-called “Landaulets” were produced as motorised carriages. Going back to the “Landauer”, their benches were often arranged as inlets (or bays) vis-à-vis. Even the royal family owns a 1902 State Landau which is still being used for State visits, jubilees or other important events.

Subsequently, Landau makes an appearance in the works of paradigmatic Modern authors, such as Virginia Woolf’s short-story “String Quartet”:


“Well, here we are, and if you cast your eye over the room you will see that Tubes and trams and omnibuses, private carriages not a few, even, I venture to believe, landaus with bays in them, have been busy at it, weaving threads from one end of London to the other.”

Virginia Woolf, “String Quartet” (71, emphasis added)


Similar to Woolf’s depiction of the ‘landau’ in London, James Joyce’s Ulysses also mentions the vehicle appearing in Dublin amidst a stream of mobility:


“[C]itizens on tramcars, roadster bicycles equipped with inflated pneumatic tyres, hackney carriages, tandems, private and hired landaus, dogcarts, ponytraps and brakes passing from the city to the Phoenix Park and vice versa.”

James Joyce, Ulysses (1560, emphasis added)


Thus, the next time you walk along Landau’s market square and come to pass the “Alte Kaufhaus” with its depiction of a traditional “Landauer”, you may want to add in your mind the hustle and bustle of the Modern metropolis in which its later version featured so prominently.

Virginia Woolf, “String Quartet” from Monday or Tuesday (1921). New York: Harcourt Brace 1921.
James Joyce, “Ithaka” from Ulysses (1922). London: Bodley Head 1986.

The “landauer” as featured on the building “Altes Kaufhaus”