Synopses & Reviews
Virginia Woolf's classic first novel tells the story of Rachel Vinrace, a motherless twenty-four year-old woman who embarks on a sea voyage to South America, where she falls in love with the young, sensitive Terence Hewet, an aspiring writer. But theirs is ultimately a tale of doomed love, set against a chorus of other stories and other points of view.
Includes bibliographical references.
About the Author
The Modern Library is proud to include Virginia Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out
--together with a new Introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham. Published to acclaim in England in 1915 and in America five years later, The Voyage Out
marks Woolf's beginning as one of the twentieth century's most brilliant and prolific writers.
Less formally experimental than her later novels, The Voyage Out none-theless clearly lays bare the poetic style and innovative technique--with its multiple figures of consciousness, its detailed portraits of characters' inner lives, and its constant shifting between the quotidian and the profound--that are the signature of Woolf's fiction.
Rachel Vinrace, Woolf's first heroine, is a motherless young woman who, at twenty-four, embarks on a sea voyage with a party of other English folk to South America. Guileless, and with only a smattering of education, Rachel is taken under the wing of her aunt Helen, who desires to teach Rachel "how to live."Arriving in Santa Marina, a village on the South American coast, Rachel and Helen are introduced to a group of English expatriates. Among them is the young, sensitive Terence Hewet, an aspiring writer, with whom Rachel falls in love. But theirs is ultimately a tale of doomed love, set against a chorus of other stories and other points of view, as the narrative shifts focus between its central and peripheral characters. E. M. Forster praised The Voyage Out as "a book which attains unity as surely as Wuthering Heights, though by a different path."
This edition includes a new Introduction by Michael Cunningham, bestselling author of The Hours. Cunningham at once unfolds an engaging short essay of Woolf's early life and career, an insightful exploration of the themes to which Woolf returns again and again in her fiction, and a spirited defense of the relevance and lasting importance of her art. Katherine Anne Porter wrote of Woolf: "The world of arts was her native territory; she ranged freely under her own sky, speaking her mother tongue fearlessly."
Reading Group Guide
1. Do you consider Rachel Vinrace a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Discuss Michael Cunningham's reading of her as "an engine of perception."
2. Critics have compared The Voyage Out to Jane Austen's novels, since both involve marriage plots. In what ways are they similar? Different?
3. Both Susan Warrington and Rachel receive marriage proposals in Santa Marina. Compare the attitudes each has toward marriage. How is each woman's social predicament different?
4. In his Introduction, Michael Cunningham writes that it was Woolf's conviction that "what's important in a life, what remains at its end, is less likely to be its supposed climaxes than its unexpected moments of awareness, often arising out of unremarkable experience, so deeply personal they can rarely be explained." Consider this notion in light of Rachel's character. What moments of awareness does Rachel experience? Compare her moments of awareness with those of another character, for instance, Helen Ambrose. What similarities or differences can you draw from the comparison?
5. Discuss the significance of the novel's title. To which "voyage" do you think it refers?
6. In Chapter XVIII, Terence considers the sacrifices women must make in marriage. He then resolves that Rachel, if she will marry him, will be "free, like the wind or the sea." In what ways does his later behavior indicate this may not be the case?
7. Why, ultimately, do you think Rachel dies? What effect does her death have on the novel's structure?
8. In her essay "Modern Fiction," which she published a decade after the publication of The Voyage Out, Woolf writes, "Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." To what extent do you think The Voyage Out adheres to this vision?