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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 nonetheless 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, Pulitzer-prize winning 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.”