Thursday, 26 March 2015

My first Read-Along: The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

You might be thinking that I have really lost my mind this time for taking on another reading challenge but hold up! It will only be one book that participants have to read and the whole event is pretty casual, no specific time limit in effect. Thanks to O at Behold the Stars for hosting this read-along in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of Virginia Woolf's first published novel. Sorry for sounding like a broken record but I quite admire Woolf as an author, both To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway still maintaining their coveted top positions on my arbitrary all-time favorite novels list. Not having read any of her earlier works, how could I pass up this opportunity? Besides, this is also a great way to connect with other bloggers and to get some interesting discussions going about the text. 

While in the midst of what can accurately be described as a reading frenzy, I started The Voyage Out a few days ago, so my recollections are a little hazy at the moment. I will definitely need to go back and re-read certain chapters or passages to establish my bearings again.

Some general first impressions from Chapters 1-9 (possible spoilers):
  • A more 'traditional' narrative; one can notice brief glimpses of Woolf's stream-of-consciousness peaking through the crevices but it has yet to be fully realized.
  • Autobiographical associations? The young female protagonist could be a stand-in for Virginia herself along with some of the other characters as well. Worth looking into further.
  •  Elaborate descriptions of the physical environment is vintage Woolf. This "poetic" style will become more fully developed in her other works.
  • Emphasis on gender roles and strong feminist overtones.
  • Public life vs. inner life
  • English propriety is a form of social control and only produces a breakdown in communication, especially between the sexes.
  • Woolf often emphasizes the difficulties of human interaction; what is said/unsaid; the void between the self and the objective world. Ex: "It appeared that nobody ever said a thing they meant, or ever talked of a feeling they felt, but that was what music was for. Reality dwelling in what one saw and felt, but did not talk about, one could accept a system in which things went round and round quite satisfactorily to other people, whithout often troubling to think about it, except as something superficially strange." (Loc 477). So true. This idea will be reinforced more profoundly in other works, especially To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. 
  • At age 24 and unmarried, Rachel is on the verge of being an old maid. Social customs were obviously different back then for women, they were expected to be married at a young age and popping out babies at a rapid rate. She is also ignorant of the world, has lived a sheltered life, does not understand what men really want from women as explained by Helen. Perhaps Anne Eliot from Austen's Persuasion is an influence on the character of Rachel? Helen is a guardian figure and personal confidante to Rachel, similar with Lady Russell to Anne. There is also a direct reference to Persuasion, Mrs. Dalloway praises Jane Austen's virtues as a writer because "she does not attempt to write like a man. Every other woman does; on that account, I don't read 'em." (Loc 896). Right on sista! Put that in your pipe and smoke it you patriarchal oppressors!
  • Mrs. Dalloway and her Richard make a special guest appearance! That was unexpected. Rachel forms a bond with the older woman. She wants to ask her lots of questions, is fascinated by the way she carries herself in manner, conversation and decorum.
  • Richard is a politician, his wife represents the arts--she is fond of Percy Shelly's 'Adonais.' A great poem and a mournful paean to his friend John Keats. Possible foreshadowing?
  • Richard makes an interesting argument between the merits of a politician vs. the artist: "We politicians doubtless seem to you a gross commonplace set of people; but we see both sides; we may be clumsy, but we do our best to get a grasp of things. Now your artists find things in a mess, shrug their shoulders, turn aside to their visions--which I grant may be very beautiful--and leave things in a mess. Now that seems to me evading one's responsibilities" (Loc 599.
  • Happiness: Mrs Dalloway is an optimistic soul; she believes that young people make the mistake of not letting themselves be happy (Loc 843).
  • Richard and Rachel have a very deep discussion about life: the mental stimulation derived from nature, childhood, university life, accomplishing one's goals, upholding ideals, philosophical perspectives. Richard believes in Unity but less concerned with personal interests, more to do with the greater good: "Unity of aim, of dominion, of progress. The dispersion of the best ideas of the greatest area." (Loc 940).
  • Richard admits to being a conservative; he represents the dominant hegemonic male, the aristocracy; he does not condemn women or treat them badly per se but believes that they should know their place as social custom dictates: "No woman has what I may call the political instinct. You have very great virtues; I am the first, I hope, to admit that; but I have never met a woman who even saw what is meant by statesmanship" (Loc 975).
  • Richard and Rachel share a passionate kiss in her cabin. She is stunned by his actions and has no idea how to react, finds herself in a daze after leaving him to go on deck to collect her thoughts after the awkward incident. 
  • Rachel's ignorance of the opposite sex produces moments of inadvertent comedy. It dawns on her after talking with Helen about her kiss with Richard: "So that's why I can't walk alone!...Because men are brutes! I hate men!" (Loc 1225). Silly girl. Not all men are interested in rape.
  • Woolf is keen to emphasize the importance of education for women, reinforced by Helen's views on the subject. At the turn of the 20th century, women like Rachel did not often attend school. Their role was in the household, taking care of children. Helen goes on to say: "If they were properly educated I don't see why they shouldn't be much the same as men--as satisfactory I mean; though of course, very different. The question is, how should educate them. The present method seems to me abominable." (Loc 1452). In other words, young women like Rachel are essentially thrown to the wolves without any knowledge of the so-called "real world" and their lives are controlled by men.
  • Chapter 9: Woolf shifts character perspectives from Rachel and others on-board the ship to various guests of the hotel located on the island of Santa Marina. Intriguing...
  • Thomas Hardy poem: life as incomprehensible ("dim profound"), suggests love as fundamental to achieving happiness before Death ("the curtain"). 
  • Homosexual undertones. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet seem awfully close, they don't even mind undressing in front of each-other. Subtle hints and innuendos concerning their relationship brought up in their conversation about women and their private "inner circles." Odd business, indeed. 
Sorry, this write-up turned out to be a lot longer than expected. Anyways, the novel is pretty decent so far. Looking forward to reading more and seeing how others are coming along.


  1. I've started TVO and so far I'm more than a little pleased.

    "Some" general impressions?!! I think I'm going to request a study guide. Fabulous! I've read some of your "notes" and I'm going to wait to read the others until I'm a little more into it.

    I'd love to know if, at the end of the read-along, you feel that getting your thoughts down throughout the read, helped you write a much better review. That's my theory but I'd love confirmation. Or, on the flip side, you could say so much in the in-between that you have nothing left for your review ........... Ha ha! I'm sure that won't be the case. :-P

  2. Glad to hear it. How far are you now with the novel? I find It starts off a little slow but really picks up once the Dalloways arrive.

    Yeah...suppose I got a little carried away here. I planned on only writing a few thoughts but after going through my sticky-notes it was necessary to jot down some of my observations or else I'll end up forgetting.

    I can already tell you that taking notes or highlighting important passages while reading is a good habit and totally worthwhile for writing reviews. The problem is, I tend to be quite lazy and rarely ever do so. I'll be doing it here though and despite the extra work, it will prove beneficial in the long-run. I don't think it will be a problem when it comes time to write the final review because the notes themselves can just be translated. Saves a lot of time struggling to write a review because I have nothing to utilize from the text. Sigh, I should have done this a long time ago instead of grasping at straws lol.

    1. I'm just at the part where the Dalloways arrive and I'm loving it already. Ask me why and I'm not really sure. I hope I figure it out before the end of the book! :-Z