I don’t know why I’ve never before read any novels by Virginia Woolf. I had certainly heard of her, and knew people who read her (or at least quoted her). I never studied her at university. I guess I just never got around to reading her. Too many books; too little time. However, when I was reading the Time-Life Magazine, 100 Women Who Changed the World, Woolf was mentioned, and so she is part of my Author Challenge. I already had The Voyage Out (and may also have To the Lighthouse somewhere; must look for it), but somehow it has never reached the top of my “To Read” pile. So this is where I’m beginning for my women authors challenge.
The Voyage Out (1915) is not a “fast read” book. It is a “take it slowly and savour every description, every insight, every literary reference, and even every stereotype questioned” kind of book. Woolf was certainly well-educated, well-read, and in possession of an artist’s eye for detail, and a philosopher’s heart for pursuing the quest for understanding the human heart. It’s the kind of book I call delicious!
Upon taking it off my shelf, I glanced over the blurb on the back cover, then commenced reading. When I was about 2/3 finished, I wanted to remember the quote I had read on the back. However, on returning to it, I saw more than I bargained for. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t. Talk about spoilers!! I WILL NOT share it with you. Suffice it to say that, if you buy this particular edition, DO NOT READ the back cover until afterwards. I had been looking for the E. M. Forester quote, “Here at last is a book which attains unity as surely as Wuthering Heights, though by a different path”. I wanted to see if I thought the same in light of what I had read to that point. It intrigued me. But I can’t say one way or the other, as I also have never read the Brontes, so there is something else to add to my list.
The Voyage Out, is a study of, I guess you could say, the coming of age of the very naïve and sheltered Rachel Vinrace in that enclosed community that, certainly in the early 1900s, the well-to-do English comfortably created wherever they happened to find themselves. In this case, their community is first formed onboard ship, and then, in an imaginary (?) coastal village in tropical South America where their community expands from their villa to include a select group of British tourists at the local resort. Rachel’s aunt, Helen Ambrose, takes her under her wing on board Capt. Vinrace’s vessel, and proposes that Rachel join her and her husband while they winter in her brother’s villa in Santa Marina rather than going up the Amazon with her father. Here we meet a diverse cross-section of British tourists, among whom is a young aspiring novelist, Terence Hewet. He and Rachel are fascinated with each other; he questions everything about their relationship trying to discover who she is and if what he feels is love, while she is completely bewildered by her own feelings, having no concept of what love might be. They are alternately influenced and repulsed by some of the characters surrounding them at the village resort, those who struggle in their attempts at relationships of any kind, and those who brusquely either push people away or try to drag them into a friendship, with mixed results. (This novel is where we are first briefly introduced to Mrs. Dalloway, who later becomes the subject of her own novel, and eventually of a movie called The Hours.)
Woolf was an original feminist writing at a time when women were clamoring for the vote, and trying to establish recognition that they were not merely decorative, simple creatures who relied on their husbands for their identity but actually could be their equals not only in intelligence, but in fomenting important social change. Throughout this novel, Woolf experiments with voice, using stream of consciousness “to create a world overabundant with [the] auditory and visual impressions” (Wikipedia) of her various characters. It is an extremely compelling read. * * * * *
This is my first book for my Ms M’s Author Challenge 2015, and Virginia Woolf is # 6 on the list of 16 women authors who changed the world! To join the challenge, click on the link above and add a comment saying you want to take the challenge. Each time you read an author from the list (it doesn’t have to be the book(s) listed there), add a comment and link your review back to that page. And good luck! My next book for Ms M’s Author Challenge will be by Maya Angelou #11 on the list!