Last Updated on November 14, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648
The Dilemmas of Parenthood
Fenella’s father, Frank, embodies the challenges and dilemmas that many parents face. “The Voyage” takes place in the wake of the difficult decision Frank has made to send Fenella away to live with his parents. His wife has recently died, and—for reasons that are never made explicit—he has evidently judged that his parents would be better guardians of Fenella for a time.
This decision, having already occurred, is revealed through the details of the story. Frank is described as “nervous,” and he walks quickly through the streets to accompany his mother and daughter to the Picton boat that will carry his daughter away from him. The parting is clearly painful for Frank. When he says goodbye, Fenella grabs at his coat lapels and asks him how long she is going to stay away, but “he wouldn’t look at her. He [shakes] her off gently,” and gives her a shilling. This is a large sum for Fenella, and it helps her to understand that she will be gone for a long time. Frank’s pained, nervous temperament in this passage implies that his decision to send Fenella away was a dilemma that required him to weigh the good outcomes against the bad.
The Pain and Unpredictability of Growing Up
In “The Voyage,” Fenella is in the midst of a difficult transition from the innocence of childhood to the experience of adulthood. The tragedy of her mother’s death looms in the background of the story, animating Fenella’s emotions and thoughts. Though Fenella’s age is never made clear, she is undoubtedly a young child who struggles to understand the enormous changes taking place in her life. Thus her confrontation with the loss of her mother is inevitably framed as a painful process of maturation.
The pain and unpredictability of Fenella’s loss emerge through the story’s details. When Frank says goodbye to his mother at the wharf, their expression of emotion is “so awful that Fenella turn[s] her back on them,” presumably upset by the reminder of her mother’s death and its grave consequences. The unpredictability of her situation is highlighted when she asks her father how long she will be away; Frank does not reply directly, instead offering her a shilling and a farewell.
Fenella’s grandmother acts as a mentor in Fenella’s maturation. Mary has placed Fenella in charge of her swan-necked umbrella, and she continually reminds Fenella to watch out for it and be careful with it. The umbrella takes on a greater meaning, for Mary is testing Fenella’s capacity to be responsible. Thus the umbrella becomes symbolic of adult responsibility, more of what Fenella will have to take on in the ensuing stages of her life.
The Impermanence of Tragedy
The immediate backdrop of “The Voyage” is one of tragedy. Fenella’s mother has recently died, prompting an uncertain move to Picton to live with her grandparents. Despite the sorrow and uncertainty that characterize Fenella’s lot at the beginning of the story, the conclusion suggests that the initial tragedy will not permanently dictate Fenella’s life and that her fortunes may take a felicitous turn.
Fenella’s arrival at the home of her grandparents seems to herald a new, brighter future for the child. There, Fenella sees a path of “round white pebbles” and “sleeping flowers” on either side. The “sweet smell” of the picotees perfumes the morning air. Inside, Fenella finds a tranquil cat with “white, warm fur,” and the cat welcomes her timid stroking as she listens to “grandma’s gentle voice and the rolling tones of grandpa.” Her grandfather is warm and seems to wink at her beneath his white puffy hair and above his long silver beard, and the home seems altogether peaceful and welcoming. This harmonious setting suggests that Fenella’s future here will be a good one.