Dan Sandman

40: The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Literature on 02/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Voyage Out by Virginia WoolfRachel Vinrace is twenty-four, but she has lived a sheltered existence and has no experience with men. On her father’s ship, she travels out to South America with a group of privileged English people. For Rachel, the voyage out will be a journey of self-discovery, bringing with it a new emotional awakening.

The Voyage Out (1915), Virginia Woolf’s first novel, was first published one hundred years ago. Modernist in its depiction of individual consciousness, it breaks away from the Victorian novel in two ways. Firstly, the focus is on the individual psychology of the heroin. Woolf is writing in a post-Freud world where characters are analysed in terms of their childhood experiences. Secondly, the novel presents a streamlined view of society. Woolf avoids making broad Dickensian statements about the whole of society. Instead, she uses her pen to attack members of her own social class and literary disposition.

This approach has been used against Woolf by her critics. In simple terms, The Voyage Out is just a well-written book about a bunch of posh people, on a very expensive trip abroad. I would argue against this narrow viewpoint, concentrating on the beautifully written prose. Although Woolf’s early prose will be too descriptive for some tastes, her elegant style shines through in every chapter.

There is a flowing sense of movement here, like a river of language.

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