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The Voyage Out (Twentieth Century Classics)…

The Voyage Out (Twentieth Century Classics) (original 1915; edition 1992)

by Virginia Woolf

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1,737224,076 (3.64)1 / 166
Title:The Voyage Out (Twentieth Century Classics)
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:Penguin Classics (1992), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915)



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Virginia Woolf completed Melymbrosia, her first novel in 1910, but she did not publish it until 1915 after two complete redraftings and retitling it as The Voyage Out. Louise DeSalvo, a Woolf scholar, spent seven years at the Berg Collection piecing together the early manuscripts until she established the text of Melymbrosia, and the New York Public Library published it in 1982 with a description of her methodology. That book, long out of print, was re-released by Cleis Press, with a new introduction by DeSalvo, in 2002.

The basic plot line and characters of the two versions are the same, but the writing in The Voyage Out is more highly refined and somewhat more oblique than in Melymbrosia. The protagonist of the story is Rachel Vinrace, a young woman in her early 20s, daughter of the owner of a fleet of ships that trades in South America. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was raised by her two maiden aunts in Richmond, outside of London. Like most privileged young women of the time, her education was spotty, but she is a talented pianist, who has not really been afforded the training to make her a serious one. She has embarked upon a South American voyage on one of her father's ships along with her maternal uncle and aunt, Ridley and Helen Ambrose. When the ship arrives at the Ambroses' destination, a villa in Santa Rosa, an European tourist spot, Helen convinces Rachel and her father that she should stay with them until her father completes his business further up the Amazon. In the village near where the villa is located is a tourist hotel. The interaction of the denizens of the hotel and the villa and the growing awareness by Rachel of the expectations of English society and her place within it define these rites-of- passage novels.

There is a ship of fools quality to the picture of this microcosm of privileged British society caught in a colonial getaway for a few weeks. Woolf chronicles the male privileging, the female frustration, the sexual hypocrisy and the basic uselessness of most of the members of this society. The two forays made by the adventurous ones in the troupe, up a mountain trail and down the river to a native village, are completely managed by local guides and laborers who are utterly ignored by those they lead. I was reminded of the river voyage into the interior described by Aphra Behn in Oronooko, and some critics have referenced Joseph Conrad.

In both versions, the writing is exquisite, but Melymbrosia is more savagely satiric, funnier, less inhibited in its depictions of characters and their thoughts, and generally more alive than The Voyage Out. It's certainly not necessary, and indeed somewhat repetitive, to read both versions -- either is revealing as a first novel by a great novelist. Personally, I preferred Melymbrosia. ( )
  janeajones | Mar 14, 2016 |
This is my first Virginia Woolf book and if I thought all the rest were like this I would not be reading any more of her works. However, this was her first and I am assured that she got better with time and practise so I will probably try again. I listened to this book read by Nadia May and I give May full marks for making the book as interesting as she could. From the internet I gleaned that Nadia May is a "nom de mike" for Wanda McCaddon who has narrated over 600 books. I'll be looking out for more books narrated by her.

Rachel Vinrace, her father and her aunt and uncle, Helen and Ridley Ambrose, take passage on one of her father's ships to South America. Rachel has lived a very sheltered life with some maiden aunts as her mother is dead and her father travels a great deal. Her aunt Helen proposes to introduce Rachel to modern life. Rachel's father leaves Rachel with her aunt and uncle on an unnamed island near South America where Helen and Ridley are staying in a villa owned by Helen's brother. Near the villa is a hotel where other British people are staying. The hotel is a little bit of British upper class life with proper English breakfasts, afternoon teas, English newspapers and a vicar. Rachel meets Terrance who is one of those Englishmen with no apparent job but an income and the two fall in love in a very short period of time. Other English people are also profiled but they are very one-dimensional. Apparently Woolf meant this book to satirise Edwardian life and the people do seem to be almost caricatures.

The ending was rather a shock. Just when I had gotten used to not much happening there was a sharp change and then the end. Not my cup of tea for the most part although Woolf does show a facility with the English language. ( )
  gypsysmom | Feb 21, 2016 |
I really didn't enjoy reading Virginia Woolf's debut novel, "The Voyage Out." I just found it incredibly boring... I could only read a few pages at a time before I fell asleep. I didn't connect with any of the characters- none felt particularly realistic nor interesting.

The book more or less follows the story of Rachel Vinrace, a young woman who has lived a sheltered life with her aunts. She gets out into the world and starts learning about herself and others. There are a ton of characters who are living in a hotel who populate much of the book.

The novel did help me appreciate Woolf's later more experimental novels a bit more-- if this is where she started, it's amazing where she ended up. Ultimately, Woolf is just not an author I really enjoy reading, despite feeling like I really should like her work. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 13, 2016 |
I love this book ( )
  libsea | Apr 27, 2015 |
“I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up in a little world of one’s own, with pictures and music and everything beautiful”

I have spoken before about my relationship with Virginia Woolf, and my recent determination to read more of her work. I was glad, therefore to be given a chance to read her first novel for Behold the stars read-a-long. It is the one hundred year anniversary of the publication of this novel, something that I am glad is being celebrated. It is always so interesting to see where a great artist started – and Virginia Woolf must surely be that – often reading an author’s work in chronological order can be particularly rewarding.

“one never knows what any one feels. We’re all in the dark. We try to find out, but can you imagine anything more ludicrous than one person’s opinion of another person? One goes along thinking one knows; but one really doesn’t know.”

thevoyageout1The Voyage Out was apparently written by Woolf at a time when she herself was quite psychologically vulnerable – I think I would have guessed that from the novel itself – even if I hadn’t read that somewhere else. The themes of the novel are those of self-discovery, sexual awakening, death and femininity. There are voyages of discovery for Rachel – who at the start of the novel is a perhaps surprisingly naive young woman, even for the times in which she was living – and others whom she meets in the course of the novel. The sea voyage itself taking up only a part of the whole novel. One of the aspects I particularly liked in this novel – was the idea of knowing – or not knowing the people around us, how so often we assume things about people, think we know things while all the time we are terribly wrong, like Clarissa Dalloway – a minor character in this novel – who I don’t belive understands her husband as much as she thinks she does.

“That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living.”

Rachel Vinrace, is a young woman who having been living with her aunts in London, embarks upon a sea voyage, aboard her father’s ship to South America. The ship is primarily a cargo ship, but some special passengers are permitted by arrangement, and it is thus that Rachel finds herself among a slightly mismatched group of fellow travellers. In the company of her beautiful aunt Helen Ambrose and Uncle Ridley, Rachel meets Clarissa and Richard Dalloway – who are both a huge presence on the ship. Clarissa befriends Rachel, while her husband shows himself to be just a little predatory, they eventually leave the ship before its final destination.

The ship finally docks in South America – the exact location seems to be fictional and in a sense it is of no importance where these characters are thrown together – just that they are. In a place very different to home, where the rules aren’t necessarily exactly the same. In a place where those who are still young can contemplate all the future has to offer them now that the Victorian age is behind them, while the older generation can look on, reflecting perhaps on how it was for them. The Ambroses have a Villa for their exclusive use – within sight of a hotel, where a large group of English guests are already in residence. Rachel accompanies her aunt to the hotel, introductions are made, allegiances formed, excited plans for expeditions made. Here romances are inevitably started, – bearing in mind that this is a story written by Virginia Woolf – not Jane Austen, and not all ships make it back to harbour. I am really conscious of not wanting to say too much about this novel, in which in some senses, not much happens, but what does occur, is everything, so I am keeping this review fairly short – maybe Virgina Woolf really just needs to speak for herself, and there are many lovely sections I could quote, simply for the sake of it.

“The morning was hot, and the exercise of reading left her mind contracting and expanding like the main-spring of a clock, and the small noises of midday, which one can ascribe to no definite cause, in a regular rhythm. It was all very real, very big, very impersonal, and after a moment or two she began to raise her first finger and to let it fall on the arm of her chair so as to bring back to herself some consciousness of her own existence. She was next overcome by the unspeakable queerness of the fact that she should be sitting in an arm-chair, in the morning, in the middle of the world. Who were the people moving in the house–moving things from one place to another? And life, what was that? It was only a light passing over the surface and vanishing, as in time she would vanish, though the furniture in the room would remain. Her dissolution became so complete that she could not raise her finger any more, and sat perfectly still, listening and looking always at the same spot. It became stranger and stranger. She was overcome with awe that things should exist at all. . . She forgot that she had any fingers to raise. . . The things that existed were so immense and so desolate. . . She continued to be conscious of these vast masses of substance for a long stretch of time, the clock still ticking in the midst of the universal silence.”

There is both lightness and darkness in this novel – inevitably so, the simple human joy at being young and in love, smiling at one another with nothing needing to be said – Woolf captures that every bit as well as she captures the ageing beauty or the wannabe writer. several of the characters from the hotel – were almost completely faceless for me, I could barely distinguish between Mrs Flushing, Mrs Thornbury and Mrs Elliot – and that fact irritated me a little, though perhaps we aren’t meant to distinguish between them, they are of a type. However Helen, Rachel her young lover Terence, the Dalloways and St John Hirst are beautifully and delicately brought to life in this novel. The Voyage Out is perhaps (I am no expert) Virginia Woolf’s least experimental novel, in structure it is certainly far more conventional than many people perhaps associate with Woolf. I enjoyed it enormously, I was blown away by Orlando quite recently, and so I really think I have found the time in my life when Virginia Woolf is (hopefully) no longer a completely closed book. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Apr 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
So the story maunders on, and the fact that it is crowded with incident, most of it futile, and that the clever talk by every one continues in a confusing cataract in every chapter, does not save it from becoming extremely tedious.
added by Nickelini | editNew York Times (Jun 18, 1920)

» Add other authors (50 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Virginia Woolfprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gadda Conti, GiuseppeForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Previtali, OrianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As the streets that lead from the Strand to the Embankment are very narrow, it is better not to walk down them arm-in-arm.
In the streets of London where beauty goes unregarded, eccentricity must pay the penalty.
She looked forward to seeing them as civilised people generally look forward to the first sight of civilised people, as though they were of the nature of an approaching physical discomfort—a tight shoe or a draughty window.
"I have a weakness for people who can't begin."
Each of the ladies, being after the fashion of their sex, highly trained in promoting men's talk without listening to it, could think—about the education of children, about the use of fog sirens in an opera—without betraying herself.
[...], for if Rachel were ever to think, feel, laugh, or express herself, instead of dropping milk from a height as though to see what kind of drops it made, she might be interesting though never exactly pretty.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156028050, Paperback)

Woolf’s first novel is a haunting book, full of light and shadow. It takes Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose and their niece, Rachel, on a sea voyage from London to a resort on the South american coast. “It is a strange, tragic, inspired book whose scene is a South americanca not found on any map and reached by a boat which would not float on any sea, an americanca whose spiritual boundaries touch Xanadu and Atlantis” (E. M. Forster).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:14 -0400)

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We meet young free-spirited Rachel Vinrace aboard her father's ship, the Euphrosyne, departing London for South America. Surrounded by a clutch of genteel companions -- among them her aunt Helen, who judges Rachel to be "vacillating," "emotional," and "more than normally incompetent for her years" -- Rachel displays a startling maturity when she finds her engagement to the writer Terence Hewet listing toward disaster.… (more)

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