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.