Woolf’s The Voyage Out

A day’s rest at the midpoint of a Sebald-inspired odyssey gives me the opportunity to combine a view over an energetic line of mountains with the final chapters of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. I refrain from adding an of course, but though this may be minor Woolf (arguable), it is yet a major novel by any writer’s standards. The language is tuned, exquisite, and Woolf succeeds in establishing characters, particularly the women, more conscious and real than the skiing tourists spoiling my view of the mountain-tops sitting exposed under this glorious sun.

Woolf’s more conventional novel introduces readers, as a rather flat minor character, to Mrs Dalloway, next seen in the eponymous novel in which Woolf perfects her tunnelling technique to put readers directly into the mind of her characters to create a richer, less linear sensation.

I’ve many favourite passages in The Voyage Out to which I keep returning, circumventing the natural flow of the narrative. Most of these relate to books and reading. Everyone in this book reads or has a passionate opinion of a particular book or of reading in general. In this passage, the wonderful Rachel Vinrace has gone walking, armed with Gibbon in one hand and Balzac in the other:

Never had any words been so vivid and so beautiful-Arabia Felix-Aethiopia. But those were not more noble than the others, hardy barbarians, forests, and morasses. They seemed to drive roads back to the very beginning of the world, on either side of which the populations of all times and countries stood in avenues, and by passing down them all knowledge would be hers, and the book of the world turned back to the very first page. Such was her excitement at the possibilities of knowledge now opening before her that she ceased to read, and a breeze turning the page, the covers of Gibbon gently ruffled and closed together. She then rose again and walked on.

6 thoughts on “Woolf’s The Voyage Out

  1. I was very surprised when I first read The Voyage Out, somehow I too believed it to be a rather bad text, but I found it to be good, interesting and surprising. And a ‘must’ regarding the understanding of Woolf’s development as a writer.

  2. I’m surprised and delighted to see The Voyage Out here. It’s the one Woolf novel I have not read, but also one of the commitments I’ve made for my reading in 2015. I’m glad to hear that both you and your commenter above think that it comes with less a reputation that it likely deserves.

  3. I picked up a copy of this last year and have since forgotten to read it – sounds like a good break for me from all the comic books I’ve been reading so far this year…! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • My pleasure. It is an odd reading experience; possible to read and forgot you’re reading a Woolf until these ice-cold flashes of insight and exquisite language act as a reminder.

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