The Voyage Out

I’ve recently read The Voyage Out written by English writer Virginia Woolf. Clarissa Dalloway makes an appearance in this book. I can’t tell on the timeline if The Voyage Out is supposed to happen prior to or after the Mrs. Dalloway book. I think it’s that it is after, because The Voyage Out mentions that she has gray hair, so I guess that she’s older and this might be why she is not killed off in Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa is also a very different character in this book than in Mrs. Dalloway, she seems much happier, carefree and at peace with herself and her husband Richard in The Voyage Out. A young woman named Rachel who is the boat captain’s daughter, is the main character of this book and it is largely her coming of age story.

This book has several settings. First London with Helen and Ridley Ambrose, then the sea during the boat trip to Santa Marina, a fictional town in South America with an eclectic group of people and then a hotel in Santa Marina, with another set of people. The sea is a common and consistent theme in her books. There is also an expedition, in which her generous descriptions bring the bush and native village encounter alive.

It’s thought-provoking, with a lot of questions like “what is life really supposed to be about?” by key characters as they question what to believe in. And while setting descriptions make me feel like I am there, the dialog sometimes bored me, because some of it seems meaningless. And there is a lot of dialog, internal and external, in this book, and very little prose or plot. Conversations among characters include topics on authors and politics, relationships and gender discrimination. The back of my book says that it is a “perceived impression of the overriding confusion that immediately followed World War I” although WWI was still two years off when the Woolf completed her first draft of the book. The Voyage Out has some of the same themes as her other books which include the ocean setting, death and dying, and thoughts about suicide. Often the book is humorous, more in the first half, and less as the book nears the end. I wish the book was more hopeful than it is. The older characters in this book are more hopeful than the young people. Mr. Flushing, an older gentleman says,

“It’s not cowardly to wish to live, Alice. It’s the very reverse of cowardly. Personally, I’d like to go on for a hundred years… Think of all the things that are bound to happen!”

Mine is one of the Barnes & Noble classics and it includes endnotes at the back and annotations at the bottom of some pages to explain who Woolf is referring to because she quotes or mentions many authors who came before or in her time, sometimes with just a first or last name. The annotations provide a context that I would not have taken the time to research and it also lets you know when the reference is a fictional character.

The book is character-driven. There is very little action this book, but there are some surprises. Of the Virginia Woolf books that I have read to date, I prefer To the Lighthouse, but I like The Voyage Out better than Mrs. Dalloway.

Because this book was published prior to 1923, The Voyage Out is one of Woolf’s books that is officially in the public domain, which means it is free to read or listen to at Gutenberg.org and Librivox.org. If you’re a fan of Virginia Woolf and settings by the sea, then go to your quiet place and read or listen to this one.

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