Places Discussed

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*London. Great Britain’s capital city serves as a contrast to Santa Marina, which is represented by its “primitiveness.” The novel opens as Helen and Ridley Ambrose hurry along the Embankment, a walkway along the River Thames, in order to board a ship to Santa Marina. The Thames symbolizes the strength of British commerce, culture, and colonization. Also mentioned in the novel are Richmond, a comfortable suburb south of London, where Rachel lives with her aunts, and Bloomsbury, a London neighborhood characterized by the intellectuals and bohemians who live there.


Euphrosyne (yew-FROH-seen). Ship owned by Willoughby Vinrace on which Rachel and others travel to Santa Marina. On this ship Rachel is expected to function as hostess for her father, signaling the beginning of her feminine education. The characters on the Euphrosyne form a microcosm of English society, which includes the servants, the middle class (Ambroses), the political elite (the Dalloways), and an eccentric scholar (Pepper). These types are also found among the English tourists at the Santa Marina hotel and together they represent an idealization of England as culturally sophisticated. On the ship the travelers discuss cultural and political activities in London. For instance, the sea reminds them of the British Royal Navy, a symbol of patriotism in post-colonial Great Britain. The voyage is also reminiscent of mythologized western sea voyages embarking on discoveries not only of new territories but also of human strengths and foibles; Rachel becomes the focus of this voyage. In this sense, the Euphrosyne sets the stage for Rachel’s self-discovery and self-realization. Euphrosyne, a word which means joy, was one of the three Graces, Greek goddesses who presided over social events, and is thus significant to Rachel’s socialization.

Santa Marina

Santa Marina. Fictional South American town where most of the action takes place. In this exotic setting Rachel might discover herself free from the usual Victorian restrictions for women. However, because the English tourists transport their class and gender expectations to the natural, unpretentious Santa Marina setting, Rachel does not escape the restrictions of Victorian society. The hotel that houses the English tourists and the Villa San Gervasio, where Rachel stays with the Ambroses, symbolize her struggle to find herself. Exoticized and romanticized through its picturesque mountains, dusty villages, and astonishing vistas, the landscape is depicted in an impressionistic manner which implies a freedom of vision, allowing Rachel the opportunity to develop free from the Victorian standards represented by the hotel guests. The tropical heat, cool water, and glorious lighting symbolize a fearful sensuality that directs Rachel toward self-discovery.


River. Several English tourists, including Rachel and her soon-to-be fiancé Terence Hewet, take an excursion upriver to explore remote inland villages. On the trip they pass into an edenic landscape with brilliant flora, eerie lighting, and mysterious animals. In this setting Rachel and Terence lose their inhibitions and fears about each other and about marriage and declare their love for each other. This primordial river setting enhances the contrast between the Santa Marina landscape and the urbane setting of the hotel. As the group makes its way into the heart of the jungle, its members demonstrate their snobbish attitudes about the indigenous people and their culture. Their judgmental opinions serve to criticize British colonialism and suggest shallow humanitarian values at the center of Victorian society. After this surreal voyage on the river, Rachel obtains confirmation of her entrance into society, represented by her marriage proposal. However, she suddenly falls ill and dies at the moment her socialization is complete. Ironically the marriage proposal both literally and figuratively eradicates her identity.


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DeSalvo, Louise.

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DeSalvo, Louise.Virginia Woolf’s First Voyage: A Novel in the Making. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980. Discusses the novel’s inception, drafts, inspirations for characters and events, and themes. Detailed comparisons of drafts offer insight into Woolf’s creative process. An accessible source.

McDowell, Frederick P. W. “‘Surely Order Did Prevail’: Virginia Woolf and The Voyage Out.” In Virginia Woolf: Revaluation and Continuity, edited by Ralph Freedman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Clearly explicates the novel’s psychological complexity, darkness, and questioning of meaning and reality.

Paul, Janis M. The Victorian Heritage of Virginia Woolf: The External World in Her Novels. Norman, Okla.: Pilgrim Books, 1987. Paul’s chapter on The Voyage Out considers the novel within its aesthetic and historical context and pays particular attention to Woolf’s struggle between Victorian and modernist conventions, both in life and literature. Also discusses Woolf’s experimentation with form.

Rose, Phyllis. Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Offers in one chapter on The Voyage Out a compelling discussion that focuses on Woolf’s use of character to explore social and philosophical issues.

Rosenthal, Michael. Virginia Woolf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Includes an excellent chapter devoted to a thorough discussion of the plot and ideas of Woolf’s first novel.


Critical Essays