NEH Grant EX-20049-01


The Voyage Out



The Voyage Out is Virginia Woolf’s first novel, published in 1915.  The action of the novel takes place about 1905. The main character is Rachel Vinrace, a young woman whose mother, Theresa, had died when she was 11. Rachel was raised by her aunts in Richmond. The novel opens in London, where Rachel is to begin a voyage with her aunt and uncle, Helen and Ridley Ambrose.  They embark on the “Euphrosyne,” a ship owned by Rachel’s father, Willoughby. They go first to Lisbon, Portugal, where Clarissa and Richard Dalloway, the main characters in Mrs. Dalloway, join them for a while. At one point, Richard kisses Rachel, which both pleases her and gives her nightmares. Finally, they arrive on an island off South America, Santa Marina. Helen, wanting to take Rachel under her wing, persuades Rachel’s father to let her stay on the island. Rachel becomes attracted to Terence Hewitt, an aspiring writer, to whom she becomes engaged during a trip upriver into the jungle. After the trip, Rachel is stricken with a mysterious illness, and dies.

Essay Questions & Paper Topics

1.      Discuss the ambivalence Rachel shows toward her role as a female in British society.

2.      Discuss Rachel’s sexual ambivalence, as represented in her reaction to Richard Dalloway’s advances and her romance with Terence.

3.      How does Virginia Woolf use setting as a metaphor for psychological states, e.g., the hotel and the jungle?

4.      Explore the mystery of the scene in the jungle during which Rachel sees Terence and Helen above her.

5.      How does Rachel’s inner experience during her illness explain her psychology and the meanings of the novel?


Johnson, George M. “’The spirit of the Age’: Virginia Woolf’s response to second wave psychology.” Twentieth Century Literature Summer 1994, v.40:2

Kennard, Jean E. “Power and sexual ambiguity: the Dreadnought hox, ‘The Voyage Out,’ ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and ‘Orlando.’” Journal of Modern Literature Winter 1996 v.20:2

Lambert, Elizabeth G. “And Darwin says they are nearer the cow:: evolutionary discourse in ‘Melymbrosia’ and ‘The Voyage Out.’ Twentieth Century Literature Spring 1991 v37:1

Montgomery, Nick. “Colonial Rhetoric and the maternal voice: deconstruction and disengagement in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Voyage Out.’” Twentieth Century Literature Spring 2000

Wollaeger, Mark. “Woolf, postcards, and the elision of race: colonizing women in ‘The Voyage Out.’” Modernism/Modernity Jan 2001

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