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The Voyage Out (Collins Classics)

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Later, Louise de Salvo, a Woolf scholar reconstructed the novel from earlier drafts and released it as M elymbrosia(Woolf’s original title) in 1981. E. M. Forster dramatises the double moral standard in Howards End. In the course of this novel, Margaret Wilcox finds herself called upon to forgive her husband for having had a mistress. Mr Wilcox himself, however, is unable to forgive Margaret’s sister for becoming pregnant by a married man. Forster weakens the effect of his novel, though, by inserting passages of didactic commentary in his own voice into the text, which destroy our ‘belief’ in his fictional characters. The way in which women are sexually exploited by men such as Mr Wilcox is far more persuasively illustrated in a novel like Ivan Turgenev’s On the Eve (trans. C. E. Turner (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1871)) or Rosamond Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets (London: Collins, 1936) in which the reader is drawn to identify completely, and therefore to sympathise, with the heroine. For a discussion of didacticism in Howards End see Bayley’s The Uses of Division, pp. 27–35.

If this book were a painting instead of a novel, it would be focused entirely on Helen so intrinsic to everything is her role in Woolf’s composition. Some critics interpret Terence’s description of himself as a great lover as a pretence on his part. See, for example, Louise DeSalvo’s Virginia Woolf’s First Voyage: A Novel in the Making (London: Macmillan, 1980) p. 46, and Mitchell Leaska, The Novels of Virginia Woolf: From Beginning to End (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977) p. 22.The next few months passed away, as many years can pass away, without definite events, and yet, if suddenly disturbed, it would be seen that such months or years had a character unlike others.” Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale (London: Chapman & Hall, 1908) p. 36. (Hereafter all references to this novel appear parenthetically within the text.)

The tone of the novel becomes kinder, warmer, when love arrives, the spinsters and middle aged married women are treated with more tenderness, and the novel improves massively as a result. If the first half was a three star read, the second half is a five star read. In fact Woolf’s next novel, Night and Day (1919) is far more conventional. Another young middle-class woman, Katharine Hilbery, is facing the limited social choices offered to her in life – but the novel is grounded in a family saga and a rather complex love quadrangle.] It is not clear from the structure or the logic of the novel why Rachel has to die. There are no practical or thematic links to what has gone on before in the events of the narrative; nobody else is affected by the ‘fever’; and the conclusion of the novel (‘woman dies suddenly’) is not related to any of the previous events.


Woolf began work on The Voyage Out by 1910 (perhaps as early as 1907) and had finished an early draft by 1912. The novel had a long and difficult gestation; it was not published until 1915, as it was written during a period in which Woolf was especially psychologically vulnerable. [1] She suffered from periods of depression and at one point attempted suicide. [2] The resultant work contained the seeds of all that would blossom in her later work: the innovative narrative style, the focus on feminine consciousness, sexuality and death. [3]

Chapter VIII. Three months pass. Helen reflects on the inadequate education of young women. Helen and Rachel post letters then walk through the town to the hotel where they encounter guests playing cards. They are observed by Hirst and Hewet. Chapter XXIII. Rachel is annoyed by people’s inquisitiveness now that she is engaged. A message from home brings news of the suicide of a housemaid. A ‘prostitute’ is expelled from the hotel. Hirst admits to himself that he is unhappy, but he brings himself to congratulate Hewet and Rachel. Compare Mr Widdowson in Gissing’s The Odd Women who, ‘Like most men of his kind … viewed religion as a precious and powerful instrument for directing the female conscience’ (George Gissing, The Odd Women (London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1893) ii, p. 39). Woolf again may have wished to put distance between the narrator and the intimate thoughts of her characters, invoking instead a space of ambiguity, where words and gestures are to be interpreted by readers rather than analysed in full light by a knowing narrative consciousness.The following version of the book was used to create this study guide: Woolf. Virginia. The Voyage Out. Modern Library, 2000. With hints of Jane Austen, The Voyage Out is a softer and more traditional novel than Virginia Woolf’s later work, even as its poetic style and innovative technique—with detailed portraits of characters’ inner lives and mesmeric shifts between the quotidian and the profound—reflect Woolf’s signature style.

The plot, such as it is, centers on Rachel Vinrace, who voyages to South America on her father’s ship in a quest for self-discovery. Rachel’s shipmates allow Woolf an opportunity to satirize British society in the Edwardian era. We first meet Clarissa Dalloway, who readers will encounter later in Mrs. Dalloway, one of Woolf’s most popular and accessible novels. Woolf had set out to write something different from her contemporaries, and so, for all its formal conventionality, The Voyage Out might be seen as (to borrow Christine Froula’s phrase) ‘a Woolf in sheep’s clothing’, as something other than what it purports to be. It may seem less radically different and experimental than her later novels, but there are still key ways in which it departs from conventional narrative: its emphasis on the everyday, on meaningless conversations, on the difference between what people think and what they say. Where Woolf seems boldest, however, and where we can see signs of the technical mastery that is to come, is in Woolf’s occasional use of free indirect style. Sometimes she uses this technique as a Flaubertian tool of irony, exposing the distance between her characters’ thoughts and her own, as when describing the Emma Bovary-like romantic dreams of Evelyn: “‘D’you think Garibaldi was ever up here?’ she asked Mr. Hirst. Oh, if she had been his bride! If, instead of a picnic party, this was a party of patriots, and she, red-shirted like the rest, had lain among grim men, flat on the turf, aiming her gun at the white turrets beneath them, screening her eyes to pierce through the smoke” (130). More complexly, Woolf sometimes uses free indirect style to render the voice of the community and its standards, what Roland Barthes called the reference code. Here, we see the recently engaged Susan thinking: “Marriage, marriage, that was the right thing, the only thing, the solution required by every one she knew…” (179). This is Woolf’s subtlest melding of different voices within the novel. Woolf writes in the authorial third person, but the words appear to be Susan’s. Perhaps more accurately, the words seem to be those of the community and culture from which Susan comes. We thus have the language of the community filtered through Susan filtered through Woolf. Franco Moretti describes Jane Austen’s use of free indirect style as “the composed, slightly resigned voice of the well-socialized individual,” a language “halfway between social doxa and the individual voice.” [5] Even at this early stage, Woolf was accomplishing this balancing act between the voice of the community and the voice of the character. Her intermingling of voices would only become bolder in her future writing. London, 1905: Twenty-four-year-old Rachel Vinrace is a free spirited but painfully naïve young woman when she embarks on a sea voyage with her family to South America. Arriving in Santa Marina, a town on the South American coast, Rachel and her aunt Helen are introduced to a group of English expatriates, among them the sensitive Terence Hewet, an aspiring writer who is drawn to Rachel’s unusual and dreamy nature. The two fall in love, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead.


Chapter XIII. Next day Rachel takes books by Balzac and Gibbon into the countryside to read, her mind full of impressions from the dance. She feels strangely moved by reading Gibbon, as if on the verge of some exciting discovery, and she thinks a lot about Hirst and Hewet. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf was the first novel by this iconic English author, published in Britain in 1915 and in the U.S. in 1920. Written at a point when Woolf was suffering from an acute period of mental illness during which there was a suicide attempt, the novel proceeded painfully slowly.

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