The Voyage Out
Less formally experimental than her later novels, The Voyage Out none-theless clearly lays bare the poetic style and innovative technique--with its multiple figures of consciousness, its detailed portraits of characters' inner lives, and its constant shifting between the quotidian and the profound--that are the signature of Woolf's fiction.
Rachel Vinrace, Woolf's first heroine, is a motherless young woman who, at twenty-four, embarks on a sea voyage with a party of other English folk to South America. Guileless, and with only a smattering of education, Rachel is taken under the wing of her aunt Helen, who desires to teach Rachel "how to live."Arriving in Santa Marina, a village on the South American coast, Rachel and Helen are introduced to a group of English expatriates. Among them is the young, sensitive Terence Hewet, an aspiring writer, with whom Rachel falls in love. But theirs is ultimately a tale of doomed love, set against a chorus of other stories and other points of view, as the narrative shifts focus between its central and peripheral characters. E. M. Forster praised The Voyage Out as "a book which attains unity as surely as Wuthering Heights, though by a different path."
This edition includes a new Introduction by Michael Cunningham, bestselling author of The Hours. Cunningham at once unfolds an engaging short essay of Woolf's early life and career, an insightful exploration of the themes to which Woolf returns again and again in her fiction, and a spirited defense of the relevance and lasting importance of her art. Katherine Anne Porter wrote of Woolf: "The world of arts was her native territory; she ranged freely under her own sky, speaking her mother tongue fearlessly."
READ AN EXCERPT
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. If you persist, lawyers’ clerks will have to make flying leaps into the mud; young lady typists will have to fidget behind you. In the streets of London where beauty goes...
1. Do you consider Rachel Vinrace a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Discuss Michael Cunningham's reading of her as "an engine of perception."
2. Critics have compared The Voyage Out to Jane Austen's novels, since both involve marriage plots. In what ways are they similar? Different?