Thursday 5 May 2016

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

It has taken me a while to write this review for The Voyage Out, as I had got myself into a bit of a muddle.

A literary muddle.

After reading such a fine literary classic, full of clever literary devices, I felt duty bound to write a clever, literary review in appreciation.

But, of course, there are already so many of those fine, clever literary discussions out there - what could I possibly add that would be fresh or new or exceptional?

That's when I remembered the raison d'etre for my blog - to document my reading journey and reactions.

Therefore I could talk about rites of passage and the role of civilisation and modern life, or discuss the ideas about internal and external exploration. And we could unpack the feminist issues and Darwinian elements to our hearts content.

But did I enjoy the book?

I attempted To the Lighthouse in my late twenties...and failed miserably. I abandoned the story after the first handful of dense rambling pages that were unable to hook my interest.

I've also dipped into A Room of One's Own a few times over the years with an equal measure of pleasure and rage.

This taught me that I could read Woolf - but perhaps it was only her non-fiction that would suit me?

Therefore when I spotted Ali's #Woolfalong post last year I decided, that if I was going to do Woolf properly with the justice I felt she deserved, I would have to start at the very beginning.

The Voyage Out was Woolf's first novel and one her most highly revised and reworked books.

It is also one of her most accessible works.

Early on, during the actual voyage, I thought it was going to be a Cowardesque country club comedy of class. But Woolf's relationship with her characters was more affectionate than that.

Then I thought it was going to be a clash of cultures novel as the Europeans encountered the natives.

And it was a little bit of that. It was also a little bit of a coming of age story for Rachel, a romance and a Shakespearean tragedy.

But the thing that carried me through and affected me quite deeply, page after page, was Virginia's depression which all her characters wore on their sleeves in one way or another.

From tears and tantrums to thoughts of suicide, despair and hopelessness were experienced by all who inhabited these pages.
Never again would he feel secure; he would never believe in the stability of life, or forget what depths of pain lie beneath small happiness and feelings of content and safety.
They pondered the meaning of life and debated the purpose of human relationships.
The lives of these people," she tried to explain, "the aimlessness, the way they live. One goes from one to another, and it's all the same. One never gets what one wants out of any of them.
Woolf's fragile emotional state clearly shone through but so too did her creative intelligence and her literary knowledge.

As the Introduction in my Oxford World Classic edition says 
the book is full of references to books of all kinds, from Austen and the Brontes to Balzac and Ibsen to Gibbon and Burke to Milton and Shelley, and Sappho and Pindar.
Rachel's story was terribly sad and terribly fascinating at the same time. 

Ali @Heavenali is hosting a year long #Woolfalong.
This post is also part of my Women's Classic Literature Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. A pleasant review!

    I find Woolf challenging, too, but it's like (for lack of better example) an accident that you are tempted to keep looking back at. I've read four of her books, so far, and this one was one of my favorites. I liked how all of the characters lives intertwine.

    Unfortunately, I read this via electronically - which ruined my experience - but I think I would have enjoyed it even more so. I need to get a hard copy.


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