Tag Archives: London

“The Voyage Out” [A Review]

Virginia Woolf Smiling? Surely not…

Miss Virginia Woolf (Image by spratmackrel via Flickr)

If there’s one thing I love it’s a bitter cup of hot Earl Grey tea. And also Virginia Woolf.

My love for Virginia Woolf has grown to the point where I can honestly say that even my least favorite work of hers that I’ve read (Jacob’s Room, in case you were wondering) is on my top 100 Books Ever List. I’ll be the first to admit that this love runs the risk of making me a terrible reviewer of anything Miss Woolf wrote. I will try, however, to give a level-headed and concise reflection on this novel.

First, let me just say: GAAAAHHHH!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING AMAZING!!!!! I WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO IT AND MARRY IT AND GO TO A NURSING HOME WITH IT AND BE THERE FOR IT AS IT DIES AND THEN KILL MYSELF BECAUSE I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!!!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this:

The novel begins with Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose, a nice couple who set sail with a small collection of family and friends from London, but the cast of characters quickly opens up as their boat arrives in a resort town in South America. The closest that this novel comes to having a main character is Rachel, the niece of Mrs. Ambrose. A young woman who has been brought up in the strict society life of her widower father she follows her aunt and uncle to South America. Her journey introduces her to new worlds, particularly the more liberal world of her aunt. This of course runs the risk of being the physical journey that is a perfect symbol for the character’s emotional, a trope that is often quite stale, but Miss Woolf’s deft use of language and her insight into various types of personalities makes this feel fresh and sprightly. Far from feeling like yet another self-discovery story The Voyage Out feels electric, a characteristic that I find common in Miss Woolf’s writing.

I had several highlights in this book. One of which was the use of Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway. I had fallen in love with this couple in Mrs. Dalloway and it was a treat to see them again, particularly to see them through Rachel’s biting eyes. The Voyage Out introduced me to another couple to fall in love with. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are young, intellectual male friends staying with each other in the hotel near the house rented by the Ambroses. As a person who likes to project LGBTQ* diversity into every nook and cranny of his life Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are nearly as great a treat as Holmes and Watson are. While Mr. Hewet does indicate his heterosexuality throughout the book (or, as I like to think of it, his bi- or pansexuality) Mr. Hirst definitely read as homosexual to me (or possibly asexual…) I also took delight in trying to decide how much of herself Miss Woolf put into the character of Mrs. Ambrose (the book’s Wikipedia article does say that Mrs. Ambrose is more likely based on Miss Woolf’s sister but I can’t let that ruin my fun).

In The Voyage Out we are given a unique and engaging coming of age story that has Miss Woolf’s characteristic style while still being accessible to new Woolf readers. It also gives us this wonderful quote from Mrs. Dalloway (Chapter 4):

How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!

5/5 stars.

The Voyage Out. Virginia Woolf. 1915.

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I Suppose Writers Are the World’s Constants

The poet then gave Orlando the full story of his health for the past ten years or so. It had been so bad that one could only marvel that he still lived. He had had the palsy, the gout, the ague, the dropsy, and the three sorts of fever in succession; added to which he had an enlarged heart, a great spleen, and a diseased liver. But, above all, he had , he told Orlando, sensations in his spine which burnt like fire; another about second from the bottom which was cold as ice. Sometimes he woke witha  brain like lead; at others it was as if a thousand wax tapers were alight and people were throwing fireworks inside him. He could feel a rose leaf through his mattress, he said; and knew his way almost about London by the feel of the cobbles. Altogether he was a piece of machinery so finely made and curiously put together (here he raised his hand as if unconsciously, and indeed it was of the finest shape imaginable) that it confounded him to think that he had only sold five hundred copies of his poem, but that of course was largely due to the conspiracy against him. All he could say, he concluded, banging his fist upon the table, was that the art of poetry was dead in England.

How that could be with Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Browne, Donne, all now writing or just having written, Orlando, reeling off the names of his favourite heroes, could not think.

Greene laughed sardonically. Shakespeare, he admitted, had written some scenes that were well enough; but he had taken them chiefly from Marlowe. Marlowe was a likely boy, but what could you say of a lad who died before he was thirty? As for Browne, he was writing poetry in prose, and people soon got tired of such conceits as that. Donne was a mountebank who wrapped up his lack of meaning in hard words. The gulls were taken in; but the style would be out of fashion twelve months hence. As for Ben Jonson- Ben Jonson was a friend of his and he never spoke ill of friends.

No, he concluded, the great age of literature is past; the great age of literature was the Greek; the Elizabethan age was inferior in every respect to the Greek.

–Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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