Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf-Her First Novel

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915, 384 pages)

The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project

I have  had Virginia Woolf (1882 to 1941-UK))  on my must read soon list for a very long time but it seems I kept getting sidetracked from reading her.    When I won a copy of The Waves from a very gracious blogger  (links to all my posts on Virginia Woolf can be found at The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project link above) I decided this was my push to at last read one of her masterworks.   I had just completed Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End and this helped put me in a mind set for reading The Waves.     I really enjoyed  The Waves a lot.     I took the approach  of just letting the prose go over me in waves (lots of water images in the work) and did not stress over achieving what some would call an intellectualized understanding of the book.    I knew then I wanted to read a lot more Woolf.    I decided to first read Hermione Lee's wonderful biography Virginia Woolf  to expand my background knowledge.     By then I knew Woolf has four consensus masterworks,   The Waves, Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse.    I decided to read the other three of these works next.    My thinking was that by doing this if I end up only reading four of her works I will have experienced her best novels and if I do go on to read all of them I could go back and reread the major ones.  I have now read the Woolf "big four".

I also decided to read some short fiction along the way.     In addition to this I read Flush,her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, a really fun book and easy to follow.    I also read Jacob's Room.    I read her very famous A Room of One's Own, a few short stories and some essays.    

I am still pondering how to proceed on with Woolf.    I think for now the best course of action for me is to read her books in the order she wrote them.   That way I can see her develop as a writer.    

Woolf's very first novel, The Voyage Out, is not an experimental ground breaking work.     As the novel opens young Rachael Vinrace is embarking on a voyage to South America on a cruise ship owned by her father.   There is a nice mix of passengers on the ship so we are treated to some satire of the pretenses of the passengers.    On a cruise trip people tend to over  state their station in life and take the attitude that they will probably never see their fellow passengers again so there is little risk in being "found out" in an exaggeration.

The voyage is Rachael's first real taste of freedom.    Like Woolf herself she was raised in an intellectual family with a dominating father.    One can feel Rachael starting to come into her own as person as the cruise advances.  

It is not my plan to do much more than brief posts on Woolf's early works.   I will say that the South America that Rachael arrives at is unlike any part of South America that actually ever existed.    The logical ports of debarkation at the times were in Brazil or Columbia.     I would love to read Woolf's reaction  to Brazil in 1915 but this is not to be here.  

The best parts of The Voyage Out were,  to me, the conversations.    I not  know it for a fact but I think a lot, maybe most, of the readers of The Voyage Out are in a "doing Woolf" mode.    The Voyage Out is, leaving aside its historical interest, an interesting beautifully written book of its period.

   If someone asked me based on my experience so far what their first Woolf should be, I think I would suggest Flush.  From there  I would say dive into which ever of the "big four" that seems most interesting to you.

My next Woolf novel will be Night and Day, a story of the romantic and personal attachments of two women. (1919)

For those who have read The Voyage Out, do you think it would still be read or even in print if Woolf never wrote her four masterworks or never became a cultural icon?

Mel u


Suko said...

You have convinced me that I should read The Voyage Out, her first novel, as well as Flush. Very nice review!

Suzanne Yester said...

Love the Woolf post! I have a copy of To the Lighthouse sitting on the shelf waiting for the right time to "do Virginia Woolf", but your post has inspired me to finally take down the book and begin.

Virginia Woolf is just one of those authors you know you should read, but for some reason seems "intimidating". Thanks for sharing Virginia here!

Rebecca Chapman said...

I have still never read Woolf - I can't believe it. I enjoy reading your Woolf posts so much, when will I get around to it!

I like the idea of reading her works from beginning to end. There are some authors where I think this a great thing to and I will enjoy reading your reviews as you work your way through

ds said...

You raise a very interesting question, Mel. I don't know that i, personally, can answer it. The Voyage Out is definitely not her greatest work (you are so right about her South America; she was criticized for that, and also for her idea of the Hebrides in To the Lighthouse, though by then it wasn't important), but there are characters in it who figure more importantly--and differently--in other works. I am glad that I read The Voyage Out, but it is not one I turn to when I need my Woolf "fix." Thanks for your great review!

Lucy said...

Hey Mel:) Come on over to my blog- you're one of the winners of my French Historicals Oh-La-La Challenge!! You need to email me too!

mohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.