The Voyage Out

Inspired by Caroline’s beautiful review I’ve started reading Virginia Woolf’s first published novel: The Voyage Out (1915).

Throughout The Voyage Out, writes Suzanne Raitt in The Cambridge Companion, Rachel (the heroine of the story) fights, just like Virginia Woolf herself, to develop a voice to which people will listen:

Each of the ladies, being after the fashion of their sex, highly trained in promoting men’s talk without listening to it, could think—about the education of children, about the use of fog sirens in an opera—without betraying herself. Only it struck Helen that Rachel was perhaps too still for a hostess, and that she might have done something with her hands.

“Perhaps—?” she said at length, upon which they rose and left, vaguely to the surprise of the gentlemen, who had either thought them attentive or had forgotten their presence.

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) chp. 1

Its strange, weird actually, but I recognize this situation so very well. I still meet it when I, every now and then, spend time with men that are older than myself. How they can talk and talk and talk without paying any attention to the fact that they are in the company of smart(er) and (more) interesting women – with important stories to tell …

Is it still more difficult for a woman than a man to find her own voice?


10 thoughts on “The Voyage Out

  1. I’m thrilled to know you are reading this now. I have still not finished it, I savour it for its beauty and the insight. It’s amazingly rich and what it contains on the relationship between men and women is so well said. Like the passage you quoted. Some of it is very intense, not easy to read.
    I sadly even know a few young men exactly like those olders ones you mention.

    1. I’ve read the first four chapters & I love it! I love the way she uses humor and irony, how she moves between darker moods and the really bright moments.
      And this passage, at the end of chp 3, really reminded me of “The Waves”:
      She then fell into a sleep, (…) The dreams were not confined to her indeed, but went from one brain to another. They all dreamt of each other that night, as was natural, considering how thin the partitions were between them, and how strangely they had been lifted off the earth to sit next each other in mid-ocean, and see every detail of each other’s faces, and hear whatever they chanced to say.
      This inter-mind experience is just what she will be exploring in “The Waves”

      1. It’s a fantastic passage. I’m astonished the book was not well received and to this day it’s often mentioned as it was minor. It’s different form her later work but not minor. I like the mood and atmosphere, the foreshadowing.
        I like Rachel and Helen very much.

  2. Thank you for showcasing the beauty of the work Virginia and Leonard did at Hogarth, Sigrun. Truly a lost art — every worthy book should be made with such care and devotion. The Voyage Out if one of my favorites — I look forward to reading your thoughts. Enjoy!

  3. Yes, is the answer to your question, Sigrun, although it is so much better than it was for Virginia Woolf, for women in the ’60s and ’70s and maybe even into the ’80s but somewhere it started getting harder again. Frankly, I’m writing to see if I can find out. Clearly, I am older–sixty–so I have some experience but I don’t trust my perspective any longer and am re-reading some of Virginia Woolf to see if I can remember.

    As you know, I am a great admirer of your blog. Please know you give me great hope for the future.

    Karen

    1. Dear Karen, thank you for such sweet compliments!
      I must admit I find it rather shocking that we today, in 2012, still find Woolf’s observation to be relevant and up-to-date.

  4. “Is it still more difficult for a woman than a man to find her own voice?” you ask. Woolf herself asks this question, in many ways, in A Room of One’s Own, one of the greatest essays ever written, I think. It certainly was, she thought, writing in 1928, but she also thought she saw it happening — women beginning to write about what women did and and said when there was no man around, when they were entirely free of even the virtual presence of the opposite sex, which has been the source of their oppression for millennia, and still is. I suppose it’s always difficult for every author to find their own voice, their sex with all that implies being one, sometimes major, sometimes fatal, hurdle to get over.

    1. Thank you replying!
      In “A Room …” Woolf talks about the androgynous writer as an ideal: a person having the experiences and quality of both sexes united in one voice.

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