Mrs Dalloway

Bloomsbury Group houses Gordon Square

Some of the houses the Bloomsbury Group lived in in Gordon Square

“Mr and Mrs Richard Dalloway 23, Browne Street Mayfair…….

The truth was that Mr and Mrs Dalloway had found themselves stranded in Lisbon. They had been travelling on the continent for some weeks, chiefly with the view of broadening Mr Dalloway’s mind. Unable for a season, by one of the accidents of political life, to serve his country in Parliament, Mr Dalloway was doing the best he could to serve it out of Parliament. For that purpose the Latin countries did very well, although the East, of course, would have done better.”

(The Voyage Out, 1913)


We first meet the Dalloways in Virginia Woolf’s novel, The Voyage Out, published in 1913 but begun in 1907. They do not acquit themselves in a good light. They are privately critical and dismissive of the Vinraces and the Ambroses and the others on board the Euphrosyne. Richard Dalloway lustfully steals a kiss from the young and inexperienced in love, Rachel, before they depart the scene, the cad.

In ,The Voyage Out, Richard Dalloway is on his travels purportedly exploring other countries, taking the temperature, trying the waters, finding out the mood, discovering what is going on in the rest of the world. Knowledge which will serve him in his quest to serve his country, supposedly. He is a character on the fringes of power. It appears that he is temporarily side-lined, out of office.

When Virginia Woolf came to write, Mrs Dalloway, first entitled, The Hours, in 1923 and then published in 1925 as Mrs Dalloway, not much has changed in Mr Dalloway’s career. He is still on the edges of power, more the errand boy than the master. His usefulness seems to be  his keenness to serve, but his wife, Clarissa, has become a successful hostess who can gather ,”the right sorts,”together for a dinner party; the rich, the famous and the powerful and in this respect outshines by far her husband. In this novel Richard is a much more shadowy figure than he appears in The Voyage Out while his wife Clarissa is at the forefront, the schemer and manipulator.

Virginia Woolf 2

Virginia’s bust in Tavistock Square.

The arc of the story happens in one day. In the morning we see Clarissa Dalloway organising the servants, fussing about her dinner party to be held that evening, worrying, thinking, arranging.

Virginia Woolf, expands on her experiments in novel writing. Jacobs Room, her previous novel, is fractured in its style, moving from one scene, one character to another, changing perspective, experiencing characters from different viewpoints and time shifts. It is a harsh and angular novel. Mrs Dalloway is much more tightly constructed within a short time span and within settings closely linked to each other and the characters much more obviously connected. The shifts in viewpoint, the changes of character and setting are much more tightly controlled and smoother in execution.

There are some major issues dealt with in Mrs Dalloway which were challenging issues at the time Virginia Woolf was writing and still remain so in many respects today. She deals with insanity, divorce, love, political influence and the class system in society; the aristocracy and those on the verges of the aristocracy. The servants are there in the background doing their job.


Tavistock Square sign. The square Virginia and Leonard live in for a while.

Virginia Woolf , again, in Mrs Dalloway, explores love. Peter Walsh has returned from India. He is an old flame of Clarissa’s. It is evident that he was in love with her in the past and although he won’t admit it and tries to deny it, he still is and the finishing few lines of the novel make this most apparent. Love, to Virginia Woolf is a force of nature. He is back in England to arrange, with his lawyers in Lincolns Inn, the divorce proceedings for the young lady he is betrothed to back in India , the present wife of a major in the Indian Army. We can see the disastrous consequences of his actions. He is obviously on a pathway to ruin, socially and probably economically. Divorce was a taboo action to take at the time Virginia Woolf lived. But heartbreakingly we are all aware of his real love and that is for Clarissa. Virginia Woolf lays all this out for us and we feel and anguish but there is no conclusion or nice rounding up of the loose ends. The novel leaves all these characters still struggling for and not achieving their goals.

Virginia wallked along here to the Ouse

The pathway from Monks House to the Ouse

 Virginia Woolf also explores insanity and madness. Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Rezia, who The Dalloways never meet and are characters living in parallel to the main action, are carefully interwoven into the fabric of this novel. Septimus Smith’s  story creates one of the strongest emotional and thought provoking reactions in the novel. Sir William Bradshaw, who Clarissa does know and who is invited to her party along with his wife Lady Bradshaw, is a Harley Street consultant dealing with people suffering from insanity. Sir William has to treat Septimus Smith. When Sir William arrives late to Mrs Dalloways party because of a certain ,”tragic incident,” involving Septimus Smith we the reader have a feeling of dreadful foreboding. Every character has an emphatic role to play in this tightly knit novel including the Warren Smiths.

The description of Septimus Smith’s emotions, feelings and thoughts, as he mentally disintegrates, are very powerful. As a reader you can feel his emotions and you sense the life within him  being crushed. Sir William Bradshaw’s treatment of Septimus Smith damns the  medical profession. He is intent on  promoting his assumed godlike qualities. Bradshaw believes that there is nothing wrong with Septimus, all he needs to attain is a certain, “proportion,” in his life. He proposes to send him away to one of his mental institutions in the country, to help him achieve this so called, “proportion.” Of course Sir William has ,”proportion,” in his own life giving every patient exactly 40 minutes of his time and charging a fixed extortionate price for his words of wisdom.  Virginia Woolf infers his advice is valueless. The words of a quack.He is concerned about keeping his wife in the jewels and the life of luxury she expects and he does it all in an unruffled distant emotionless way.  A heartless man who has found his niche in a society that values appearance and the social order and doesn’t want to look beneath the surface at reality. Sir Williams measured, calm, logical, advice administered at an emotional distance causes Septimus to eventually leap from the window of his home to impale himself on the spiked railings beneath and so commiting  suicide, horribly. Septimus’s wife Rezia,”does not like that man.” We the reader are left horrified and shocked. Virginia  Woolf’s depth of loathing and hatred for the ineptitude of Bradshaw and what he represents  is clear. Being late for Clarissas party because of this sad incident, Bradshaw quiets his conscience,  by talking to Richard Dalloway about ,”what the government could do.”

In an echo of Rezia, Septimus’s wife, Clarissa  ”does not like that man,” either. She cannot explain why herself, but something about him makes her think  she would not like to put herself in his hands. She would not feel safe.

Clarissas dinner party is a gathering of people who analyse each other, who move around each other with surface civility and subterranean dislike. There are Lord Gayton and Nancy Blow, Elizabeth and Professor Brierly and little Jim Hutton, “who wore red socks because his black were at the laundry.” There is Lady Rossiter, who used to be Sally Seton and so on and so forth. Everything seems cosy and friendly and the character’s names give an intimacy. Words are spoken, thoughts are thought and apparent influence and advice is made, but it is all surface. Some characters are shadowy spectres who we only learn of through others reactions and thoughts; the Prime Minister who arrives at the party is experienced through the thoughts and reactions of others.The regal car in Piccadilly and St James’s Street . Who might be inside, behind its shaded windows. Then there are the characters who are opinionated and you feel sorry for them in their pompous certainties because you know they are wrong. There are small memories of the past at Bourton with Richard and Peter and Sally Seton and their uncomplicated relationships. A time when Clarissa and her friends met and socialised at this idyllic place in an idyllic past. We assume it is a time pre war when the world was a different place.

One apt and prescient aside that Virginia Woolf makes about Richard Dalloway and which in a way refers back to his conduct with Rachel Vinrace in The Voyage Out is her comparison of him to Wickham. A few Jane Austen fans will laugh at that no doubt.


The Sussex Downs.

Mrs Dalloway gives a striking portrait of society and the world at the beginning of the last century after the Great War. We sense its falseness and insincerity. A society needing change.




On Wednesday 26th July 1922 Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary,

“ On Sunday L. read through Jacob’s Room. He thinks it may be my best work. He calls it a work of genius; he thinks it unlike any other novel………(Virginia Woolf continues in an excited and exhilarated tone) …There’s no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin to say something in my own voice; and that interests me so that I feel I can go ahead without praise.”

In her own mind she knows she has found her real voice. She is able to say what she really wants to say and it doesn’t matter what others think now. That must have been a very powerful moment of realisation for her. Her previous novels, The Voyage Out, and, Night and Day, although they explored theories of love, life and the world they were formal in their structure and logical progression. Jacob’s Room was and is, as Leonard Woolf put it, “a strange novel.” It is a biography but certainly not written in the traditional linear, chronological way. It explores reality by looking at it in different ways, the way Braque and Picasso explored reality with cubism. It is layered with different ways of seeing and experience. In Jacob’s room we explore with Virginia Woolf what it means to be known by others through, memory, our absence, our presence, our continually meeting and interacting with new people in an outwardly formal and conventional way but simultaneously with what is going on subconsciously. What effect do we have on people we see fleetingly on a train or walking down the street? They are there one moment and then gone, never to be encountered again. She also explores what resonances a person might have at one moment in time in different places in the world to  different people who know him.

Jacobs room was first published in 1922 by The Hogarth press. The press was named after the house, Hogarth House which Virginia and Leonard bought in Richmond upon Thames.

Virginaia Wolf's house Richmond Hogarth Press begun here._1

Hogarth House ,Richmond upon Thames.

Philosophers who study ontology generally agree that reality is something that has existed, does exist or will exist. Virginia Woolf certainly describes Jacob in these terms when he is in a scene where his actions are being described,when he is talking or being talked to. But he also appears as a memory, a look of recall in someone’s face, a word or phrase he might have used said by somebody else.

At the start of the novel Jacob exists in two worlds. He has separated from his mother on the beach in Cornwall where they are holidaying with his brother Archer. He exists in his mother’s mind and anguished thoughts His mother is becoming more frantic searching for him. She imagines all sorts of dreadful things for him. Archer shouts his name,

“ Ja-cob! Ja-cob!,” Archer shouted.

At that moment Jacob is engrossed in the wonder of exploration. He  has climbed to the top of a black rock which has a small pool of sea water trapped in a hollow at its summit. He is exploring the natural world encompassed within the pool, seaweed, crabs, tiny fish, mussels, jelly fish. He is totally focused and enamoured by this world. And yet his mother is anguished and becoming distraught in her world. Jacob himself becomes aware he is lost and begins to panic too. He observes a very large couple stretched out on the sand sunbathing but he can see they are only  there waiting, merely, because the pubs are shut. A sense of disorientation is created. Eventually he is discovered and all settles back to a sort of peace. Two or more things going on simultaneously which do not at first seem to be connected is the way the novel is written. There is a  randomness in what is an exercise in gathering clues about Jacob.   The heat causes the world to shimmer and melt  like a candle in front of the characters eyes. Each scene is a mixture of random thoughts and observations which all appear to have connections. We have the task of trying to hold all these things together and to try and make sense of it all.

Mrs Flanders is thinking of Scarborough and her home and usual everyday life and the visits of Captain Barfoot. She is, however, in Mrs Pearce’s lodging house in Cornwall. There is an equal importance given to these two existences, the one actual and the one in her memory. Scarborough is much more than a memory , her life there seems to be existing  with as much potency as her actual presence in Cornwall.

In the middle part of the novel Jacob is an undergraduate at, Cambridge. He lodges with three other undergraduates at Mr and Mrs Plummer’s house. There is a wonderful moment full of tension where they all wait for Jacob to arrive for the Sunday lunch of roast mutton. Jacob is late and the Plummer’s are fidgety and uncomfortable at the fact he has not arrived on time. Edwardian etiquette is under strain. He arrives and apologises for getting the time wrong. In his absence we learn things about Jacob’s character, through the effect he has on the emotions and feelings of others. Throughout the novel we probably learn more about Jacob when he is not there than when he is there.

Towards the end of the novel he visits Greece and is staying at a hotel in Athens. The crumbling yet stark and vivid world of Ancient Greece becomes a metaphor for the British Empire which is on the verge of crumbling and disintegration. Jacob meets Sandra Wentworth Williams and her husband. From the first moment her husband knows that Jacob and his wife will have an affair and in his Edwardian thinking of moral duality he is pleased.

Back in London, we see Jacob from a distance again. Timmy Durrant in his small office in the Admiralty looks out of his office window and wonders what a crowd on the corner of the street, have knowledge of. They seem to be murmuring things.Suspicion and the need for knowledge disturb him. Knowledge is power. Timmy Durrant is concerned that the crowd know something he doesn’t. At that very moment Jacob Flanders, unaware of the crowd, their knowledge and what Timmy Durrant is up to,  rises from a chair in Hyde Park. Apparently unconnected occurrences come together and we are left wondering their significance.

Finally, Bonamy, Jacobs good friend, and his mother,Betty Flanders, search through Jacob’s room, letters strewn everywhere, with messages of news and gossip from others telling him things he might want to know and things he might be interested in or just words to merely communicate. Bonamy looks out of the window and sees buses and people, hears engines and voices and at last we know Jacob is dead because Betty Flanders turns to Bonamy and asks,

”What am I to do with these Mr Bonamy?”She held out a pair of Jacob’s old shoes.

Her son has given the ultimate sacrifice of his life in the battlefields of northern France. She  knows of others too,”Morty lost,” and “Seabrook dead.” It’s quite a commonplace thing. Mrs Flanders is just one mother amongst many.

And finally we have discovered as much as we are going to discover about Jacob Flanders and probably as much as anybody can find out about another human being.

This biography, full of people, meetings, absences, thoughts, memories, imaginings, feelings, the subconscious, sounds, sights, worries, joys,, pleasures and observations; the world surrounding a single character , gives us  a sense of Jacob Flanders.

Signature of Virginia Woolf


Publishers have struggled to find a relevant cover for their edition of Jacob’s Room. The copy I have is the Oxford World Classic edition, and it uses a painting by Geoffrey Trimble dated 1938, showing three young men, their heads very close to each other, drinking tea but apparently not communicating and appearing  distant from each other.

The original 1922 edition had an illustration by Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, depicting long, open drapes  at a window. Other covers show, an Ancient Greek bronze head of a young Adonis. Others show various interiors of Edwardian rooms, all with windows looking out, some with a single young man inhabiting them, some without. The most lurid and striking of them all depicts an adaptation of Edvard Munchs, The Scream.

Jacob’s Room was first published in 1922. London would have looked like this.A colour film of London in 1927. 

By Tony


Night and day is Virginia Woolf’s second novel. It was published in 1919 by Duckworth and Company. The company was managed by Gerald Duckworth who was Virginia Woolf’s stepbrother on her mother’s side.

Virginia Woolf bronze

Virginia Woolf’s bronze in Tavistock Square

London is a major setting within the novel. The streets are like the living arteries feeding the life blood of the city and connecting people with people. The main characters flow along these streets experiencing life and carrying their thoughts and deductions, imagined and actual to and from each other, insinuating their living organisms into the surroundings. The novel bursts with human experience and the,”realities,” of feeling, emotion and thought. Virginia Woolf set the scenes and actions of her novel at a historical time in tandem, with the time she and her Bloomsbury friends lived and existed in the same streets. The Strand, Kingsway, Southampton Row, Russell Square, Cheyne Walk, The Embankment, Highgate and Chelsea were also the streets and places Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and Vanessa Bell inhabited too.  Mary Datchet could have walked past Virginia Woolf herself walking through Russell Square to her office. Katheryn Hilberry might have seen T.S. Eliot walking into his office at Faber and Faber on the north west corner of Russel Square just as she entered the building on the west side of  Russel Square  on one of her visits to see  Mary Datchet. Work is a theme alongside love and also perceptions of reality as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the spoken and written word. Virginia Woolf in Night and Day, created a parallel, simultaneous world connected to her own world by time, thought, emotion, human reaction and location. It is imbued with ideas and philosophies including Darwinism and Existentialism.

Vanessa Bell ( nee Stephens)

Vanessa Bell(nee Stephens)

The novel opens in the drawing room of the Hilberrys who live in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, beside the river. Some old friends are meeting and one in particular, Mr Fortescue, an eminent novelist, is talking. Ralph Denham, a young man, enters this tea party. He appears to be there to be shown the artefacts and hear anecdotes about  the famous poet, Alardyce. Mrs Hilbery, the daughter of the famous poet and her daughter Katheryn are the keepers of his memory. Mrs Hilbery is in the process of writing a biography of her father and Katheryn’s sole existence appears to be to aid her mother in her ever increasingly hopeless and ineffectual efforts There are elements of a museum about the place. Virginia Woolf and her brothers and sisters were in that same situation themselves. Their father Leslie Stevens was one of the great and good of his generation too. One of the many strands in the novel is a discussion about how the offspring and subsequent generations are affected by the fame and achievements of a famous family member. Are members of the next generation able to break away from the shadow of their ancestor? I am sure Virginia and Vanessa Stephens felt this stifling power over them and this may have resulted in their need to break conventions and explore new ideas and ways of living themselves. As the novel progresses we learn of Katheryn’s interest in mathematics and astronomy. This is her way of being individualistic and being apart from the overbearing presence of the memory of her grandfather.


Cheyne Walk, a view of the Thames.

Families and the fractures caused  by the next generation within a family is a major theme.  There is Katheryn’s struggle for independence and uniqueness within her family.  Ralph Denham comes from a large raucous family who live in Highgate. They epitomise the striving middle classes who want to achieve, who want to change and desperately embrace education. They are of the middle class that has to work and make their own living through being educated and the application of their talents. His brothers and sisters argue and discuss intelligently, philosophy and new ideas in a rough and tumble energetic sort of way. His sister Hester has ambitions to go St Hildas College Oxford and has the confidence to believe that that is where she is bound. Ralph himself is qualified as a solicitor, working at the offices of Messrs Grately and Hooper in Lincolns Inn Fields. Mary Datchet works as a secretary for a suffragette organisation in Russel Square. She is passionate, committed and finally sacrifices her whole self to the cause. She originates from a Lincolnshire family from a small village where her father is a vicar and her brothers go out shooting and are only interested in country pursuits and seem immured in an ancient rural past. The Otways, who are related to the Hilberry’s through Mrs Hilberry, live in a grand country house in Lincolnshire not far from the Datchets. Mr Otway is a retired Colonial Civil Servant who has retired back to England at a much reduced pension and who was disappointed at his lack of promotion and whose family is in decline. He has spent money on the education of his older children, but the younger members have not been educated as well as his money has run out. The younger members of the families  are emerging into a modern world with different expectations and ideas. Within the novel you can see how there is a fluidity beginning to take place between different parts of a social class and even between classes epitomised the Otways, the Hilberrys, Datchetts and Denhams. The process is painful and there is a sense of the characters reaching into the unknown.

Elizabeth gaskell was born here 1

A Cheyne Walk front door.

Much of the action in the novel is how the characters interact, speak, think, imagine and feel. Their experiences are existentialist in nature. Characters analyse their feelings and emotions and struggle through anxiety towards inconclusive decisions. Often when they have  thought they have reached a conclusion they have not. Ralph Denham, in his rooms after meeting, walking and talking with Katheryn Hilbery in Kew gardens anguishes thus,

“He had a flower which he picked at Kew to teach her botany. Such were his relics. He placed them before him, and set himself to visualise so clearly that no deception or delusion was possible. In a second he could see her with the sun slanting across her dress coming towards him down the green walk at Kew….he heard her voice….he could see her faults…once more he told over conscientiously her faults both of face and character….”

Virginia Woolf, provides examples of existentialism in the form of this novel. This is  an easier way of portraying it than in a purely academic book. A novel can portray life in action. An example can explains things more clearly. Kirkegaard and Niesche were the two great existentialist philosophers of the end of the 19th century and early 20th century .The above example is also akin to romanticism. Wordsworth believed that through memory and imagination you could bring back experiences which can uplift and re-energise you in the present.

Scots pine

Kew Gardens

Ideas about love and marriage permeate this novel. The main characters struggle throughout with seemingly unsolvable problems of relationships and what they actually feel and want. A very amusing example of the anxieties and thinking things out that goes on occurs when William (Henry) Rodney thinks he has fallen in love with Cassandra Otway on a visit to her country home in Lincolnshire. He thinks he is smitten. However when William makes his feelings clear to Cassandra she rebukes him and is scandalised because he is already engaged to her cousin Katheryn. William has anguished and theorised and reasoned his love for Katheryn up to his encounter with Cassandra. Cassandra changes his feelings. But now she has spurned him he thinks his emotions and love were always with Katheryn. He explains all this to Katheryn expressing his undying love for her. Katheryn is swift and precise in her conclusion. No he doesn’t love her, he loves Cassandra and mustn’t give up his quest. He then sees the light once more and agrees. He evidently doesn’t know his own feelings and the result is this almost pantomime farce. This incident does encapsulate though, in rather a humorous way, the anxieties, reasoning and emotions that swirl and storm about this novel.

Rodin's The Thinker

Rodin’s The Thinker

Virginia woolf uses various approaches to attempt a portrayal of reality. I enjoyed the way William becomes Henry and Henry becomes William. They are without doubt the same person but depending on who is talking about him and the circumstances, his name is changed between the two, and sometimes within the same speech by the same person. Perhaps his name is changed to emphasise the meaning? He is sometimes portrayed as a joke.  Another modernistic trick Virginia Woolf uses to write dialogue is to alternate between what the characters say in their heads, with what they say out loud and also between what they say out loud imagining the person there with what they say out loud to the person actually  there. Imagination, and physical presence overlap and combine. There is an underlying theme about what reality might be and how it can be expressed. Cassandra, when she arrives from the Otway country home at the Hilberry’s house in Chelsea see the family dressed for dinner in the evening and is greeted formally. She thinks this must be, “reality.” There is a problem with what is reality throughout the book. Ralph writes in a stream of consciousness way a letter to Katheryn. He does not think about what he is writing. He also draws a picture surrounded by flames, also in this stream of consciousness mode. Both Katheryn and Ralph find words inadequate. Katheryn at one stage, when she is getting close to an understanding of her feelings for Ralph Denham wanders the streets of London looking for him. These are streets she knows well but she is lost in an emotional search for him. She becomes no longer aware of her surroundings and where she is and where she is going. She has begun to tap into her deeper consciousness too. There is so much thinking and analysis throughout the novel but always underlying are emotions and feelings. Ralph and Katheryn, William and Cassandra are  drawn to each other not by reasoning but through an unconscious psychology. Maybe the subconscious is the only reality? Freudian theories emerge.  During the anguished courtship of Katheryn by Henry Rodney when he is feeling particularly insecure and insignificant and mocked by Katheryn he tries to reason all his good points which he thinks are pertinent to why Katheryn should love him and amongst the points he lists are his intelligence, his expertise in music and his skills as a poet. These points obviously miss the point. He makes himself something ridiculous to the reader and to Katheryn. Virginia Woolf portrays her idea of real love as something much deeper within the subconscious. It is almost a chemical reaction making two people into one, beyond reason and understanding. We are left wondering if there is actually anything we can pin the word, “reality,” to.

Omnibuses on the Strand

Omnibuses on The Strand

There is a strong element of Darwinism pervading the novel. The survival of the fittest. As with Darwin’s theory some strands of life will go on to be productive and develop and others will die out. The characters are organisms immersed in an environment and habitat in which they have to find their niche, their place in evolution. They have to swim about in the,”swamp,” beyond reason. Eventually out of the ,”primeval soup,” William and Cassandra find that they are right for each other and after an even longer gestation process Ralph and Katheryn emerge together. Mary Datchet finds happiness as the evolutionary dead end but she has the satisfaction of adding to the social progress of society through her work with suffragette causes and other good causes. She dedicates her life to this course by the end of the novel and is happy doing this. There is an amusing episode where Darwinism is made explicit. Cassandra is given the choice of having a trip to the zoo, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens or Greenwich. Each has its social and historical meaning for humanity but it’s the zoo that she chooses. The connection with varying species, the survival of the fittest and evolution could not be stronger. Here in Regents Park Zoo are examples of animals who fit their environment and have evolved.

Orang utang


Just at the point the reader thinks that the people involved have solved their problems all their efforts  appear to be destroyed, and come to nothing. The prying and snooping Mrs Milvain, one of Mr Hilberrys sisters has been gathering information about the young people. She presents her brother with the shocking evidence that Cassandra appears to be too close to William Rodney and that Katheryn is seeing too much of Ralph Denham so jeopardising all the marriage plans. Mr Hilberry is shocked. All the strictures and rules of his generation seem to have been flouted. Katheryn family believe the  route to marriage follows a strict etiquette. There are duties and procedures to fulfil. Engagements must be taken seriously and solemnly and choosing a partner is as much about social and financial considerations as about being in love. There is a clash between the two generations which almost brings about the total annihilation of the hopes and wishes of Katheryn, Cassandra, Ralph and William.  Mr Hilberry sends Cassandra back to Lincolnshire, Ralph and Henry are banished from the house and Katheryn is sent to her room. However, When Mrs Hilberry returns from her pilgrimage to Shakespeare country and visiting Shakespeare’s tomb, she, who has appeared ineffectual and ephemeral throughout the novel comes into her own a surprisingly assertive and decisive person. She believes in the power of love. She brings the couples back together and all is sorted out. Even her husband bows to her will.  Mrs Hilberry uses Shakespeare like a balm that sooths her husband and brings everything to a satisfactory close. We can almost think of, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Bloomsbury Group houses Gordon Square

Gordon Square

There are connections with Virginia Woolf’s own life. It is not only set within a parallel world to her own in the same locations she herself was existing at the same time as her characters but there are deeper connections. She has used her own sister, Vanessa as a model for Katheryn Hilberry. Vanessa had to deal with life too as the daughter of a great man. She too had to work out relationships and she too used painting, as opposed to an interest in mathematics and astronomy, which enabled her to express her own individuality. Night followed by day followed by night followed by day is the rhythmic backdrop to all our lives. However night and day can be explained as the night being our time of searching and unknowing before we emerge into the light of understanding the daylight  as the characters in Night and Day ultimately emerge.

By Tony


Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on the 25th January 1882. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and her mother was Julia Margaret Cameron. Both had been married previously and had children from their previous marriages. Leslie Stephen had a daughter, Laura, and Julia had three children George, Stella and Gerald Duckworth. They then had four children together, Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian. All eight children lived with them at 22, Hyde Park Gate.


 Hogarth House in Richmond upon Thames where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived.

A review of , “THE VOYAGE OUT,” by Virginia Woolf

 In 1905 Vanessa and her brother, Adrian took a sea trip to Portugal. It was this trip that instigated the idea for the novel, “The Voyage Out,” Virginia’s first novel. She began drafting ideas for it in 1908 but only  settled on the  final  title for  the book ,  The Voyage Out, in 1911.Before then it  had gone through various rewritings and  had originally been called, Melymbrosia, after the name of the ship  Adrian and she had travelled on. The writing took a long time, it was revised repeatedly, and she fell ill at various stages during it’s gestation. Scholars have identified nine versions. The final version was written between 1912 and 1913 and it was delivered to Duckworth and Company in March 1913, however it was not published until March 1915 because once again Virginia became ill. The process of producing this novel can be seen in the light of how madness can affect and inform the writing of a novel. It is a subjective novel in many ways and has an air of tension about it because it was written under a regime of obsessiveness, anxiety but also utter determination.The novel covers many themes that explore Britain, society, history, relationships, women, religion, and ultimately death. There are elements of autobiography in the story. It is easy to see the voice and mind of Virginia Woolf, her loves, passions, beliefs and life within this novel. It explores different viewpoints and settings.

The Voyage Out opens with Helen and Ridley Ambrose, wending their way through the streets of London down to the Thames to meet the lighter that is to take them out to their waiting ship, the Euphrosyne, anchored in the Port of London. The passage is redolent with images of water and the sea. The masses of busy hurrying office clerks and shop workers and the congested traffic milling around them is a like a river of humanity as they ply their way elegantly and determinedly like graceful ships, tall and haughty, their gaze looking straight forward and not wavering from their purpose. Through their eyes and thoughts we are shown their view of the streets of London and it’s people and obversely we are given the people of London’s view of them. It is almost a scene of mirrors with varying reflections which introduces the way the novel is written. It is not until they reach the side of the Thames that Helen shows her emotions about leaving behind their two young children.  It is that moment that reveals their humanity. Exploring the meaning of being human is in a sense what the novel is about.

The Strand, London.

Virginia Woolf creates varying views of England in this novel ; we are close up to the hubbub and turmoil in the London streets, then  when the Euphrosyne leaves England and the land gradually recedes getting smaller and smaller and becoming a memory, a concept, it is almost as though a telescopic view is created in reverse.  The novel portrays the English in concentrated doses during the arc of the novel. The group on board the  Euphrosyne, during the  opening chapters of the novel, are a little England. Willoughby Vinrace, the owner of the ship and the commercial trader, epitomises wealth creation.

 A cargo ship .

 His brother, Ridley is an academic who studies Greek manuscripts. Mr Pepper is a Greek and Persian scholar  too but he has varied expertise which makes him a polymath. Mrs Chailey is the housekeeper for Willoughby and his daughter Rachel and epitomises the serving classes. Mr Grice is the captain and represents the honest, striving lower middle classes trying to better themselves. Later in the journey Clarissa and Richard Dalloway join the ship. Richard Dalloway is a politician and serves the government although he has lost his seat in Parliament for the moment; the vagaries of the democratic system.  He does not seem to have been too much put out. He appears to be acting as a sort of roving ambassador visiting various countries on semi-official business. Two, monstrous evil looking grey battleships from the British Mediterranean fleet pause to stare at them before moving on. Cruise ships, designed expressly for the comfort and entertainment of passengers see them at a distance and think them grubby and workman like.  The Euphrosyne is a cargo ship that takes on board a motley collection of passengers. Could this be England? This sea voyage is a space between countries and populations, religions and politics where all can be viewed from a distance and where new lives, new viewpoints can be discussed and  thought about .

A  broader view is created by the  English  community in the fictitious South American port of Santa Marina. By taking the English out of England and portraying their types, prejudices and beliefs highlighted in a small South  American port,  a strong  contrast is created  which emphasises and highlights  their Englishness. There is almost an experience of time travel through British History too which enlarges on this commentary about England.  The  Flushings  expedition into the rainforest by river boat  harks  back  to  the Tudor explorers.  They have come to buy tribal artefacts to sell back in England. The  abandoned  camp  of  a  recent explorer, who  died  in his quest a couple of years previously, is  seen  in a forest clearing  on their journey up river and they can see the rusted decaying contents of the camp; a metaphor for England’s failed Empire perhaps? Many of the characters, the women in particular, wish for a Garibaldi, to revolutionise British society.  He was a mid-19th century revolutionary who fought for nationalism and liberalism and helped unite Italy. Helen embodies liberalism in the novel and is the prime source of guidance for Rachel in her development. She talks  freely about  sex  with  Rachel  but  also  is as free in her conversation with men, with Hirst and  Hewett.  She has a liberating and liberal way of being. She is a sort of female version of Garibaldi.

South American colonial hotel.

The female viewpoint is portrayed powerfully.  We see through the eyes of Helen Ambrose, Rachel Vinrace and single women such as  Evelyn Murgatroyd,  and married women such as Mrs Flushing. Each brings their own personalities and facet of female experience.  It is the women who take most of the proactive rolls in the story and are efficient and successful at what they do. Mrs Flushing, assertive and  proactive , a strong woman, organises the trip up river, through the jungle, to visit the tribal settlement to negotiate the price of goods. Helen Ambrose takes care of Rachel and nurses her on her sick bed.  In contrast the men who have important societal roles such as Mr Bax, the Anglican minister and the two doctors are pretty much useless.They have token roles of importance but appear impotent. This novel was written at a time when Suffragettes were  fighting for women’s suffrage. The plight of Rachel reveals women’s issues specifically education and in particular sex education. Rachel is a blank canvas on which various people try to impose ideas . Helen subtly or not so subtly attempts to guide her. She has had no systematic education such as the education Hewett and Hirst have had at Cambridge and through the public school system. Rachel has been left to her own devices and those of her cloistered aunts who know nothing of the world and life.

 A sedate upper middle class home in Richmond.

Her father’s two sisters, aunts Lucy and Eleanor, back in their grand Victorian villa in Richmond, have been Rachel’s guardians since her mother’s death. It is Evelyn Murgatroyd, flirtatious and overly friendly, experienced in a multitude of marriage offers, who says that she thinks Rachel appears to have lived all her life in a garden. Rachel’s life has consisted  of walks in Richmond Park, piano lessons and reading a random selection of novels. She reverts to playing Chopin and Beethoven , obsessively trying to perfect her style and technique when left to herself. She has read randomly, such as Ballzac,, Thomas Hardy, Cowper and Jane Austen, and it is Cowper and Austen that she likes most. Virginia Woolf and her siblings were educated at home by their father. Even in adulthood, Virginia Woolf had been so badly taught mathematics by her father, Leslie Stephens, that she still needed to count on her fingers, so she was well experienced in a piecemeal random sort of education. Hewett tries to advise books for Rachel to read including Gibbons history of The Roman Empire. Ridley Ambrose is scornful of this choice.  He doesn’t see why she should want to read Gibbon and wonders whether it would be beneficial to her. Perhaps he thinks it is something for the male of the species. She however enjoys the language and quality of the writing but admittedly the subject doesn’t interest her. How much of this is Virginia Woolf herself?

Helen is surprised that Rachel still goes to church and believes in God and religion. She wonders if Rachel or anybody could still believe in that sort of stuff if only they gave themselves time to stop and think about it.  Rachel’s attitude is not surprising when we think of her background and life with her aunts up to this moment in time. There is a service  held in the chapel next to the hotel and the Anglican minister Mr Bax takes it. The idea of passing through the hotel and into the old monastic chapel might be a reference to the clandestine gatherings of the Christians in Ancient Rome in the catacombs under the city. The way the congregation comes together is interesting. They appear from various directions, almost from different hiding places. The simile with Roman Christians is continued.  Later in the story the sight of Arthur and Susan physically embracing in the jungle and then earlier, her first kiss, on  board the Euphrosyne,when Richard Dalloway steals a kiss from her in her cabin, are two  experiences which you might think  would disgust and horrify a cloistered girl but they merely created  slightly  uncomfortable enquiring emotions. It is the sight of the nurses face in the chapel during Mr Bax’s service that truly horrifies her and has a most profound effect on her. The Lords prayer  becomes mere  childlike babble.  She observes that people are reading whatever meanings they prefer into the words intoned over them.  There is a sense of mechanical respect for  religion and Mr Bax’s  utterings appear to be  mere ravings. Her mind is awakened at the unthinking and assumed feelings and beliefs she can see encapsulated in the nurse.  The nurse becomes the embodiment of all that is wrong with religion. The same nurse is at her bedside while she is dieing. It is almost as though Virginia Woolf is saying that in this world we are mixed in with the true and the false and each relies on each other.  The only thing that gets a positive response from Rachelduring the service is the quality of the words and sentences to  be found in the King James Bible. Rachel and evidently Virginia Woolf, can appreciate the beauty of the language but not the meaning of the stories and myths which Rachel begins to see as childish.  She is bored at the platitudes of Mr Bax. It is interesting to notice that both Hewett and Hirst attended the service and sit at the back with Helen Ambrose. Hirst has brought a copy of Sappho and reads poems from it pointing out a particular poem to Helen during the service. The erotic lesbian love of  Sappho is antithetical  to  the Christian  love encapsulated  in the person of  Jesus  Christ.  From this moment on, because of this awakening experience and the encounter with the nurse, Rachel rejects religion and a belief in God.

Love and death dominate the final part of the novel. Rachel is introduced to young men when she arrives in Santa Marina, primarily Hirst and Hewett.  She proceeds in her relationships with these young men, incrementally, sense by sense and the small elements of each encounter are examined. She is at first confused about what she feels about each of them. When eventually Hewett and Rachel realise they are both in love it happens when they have been able to get away from the rest of the group travelling up river and are walking into the forest together. Their feelings have become intense. Love was a word they knew intellectually before but they had not experienced it and they didn’t know whether to attach the word, love, to what they were now experiencing. Often words by themselves are meaningless. They presume it is love. Later Hewett says they were in love from the moment they met but Rachel didn’t realise it at the time. The moment of realisation for Rachel becomes an almost out of body experience, the nearest that Virginia Woolf gets to a description of a spiritual experience. It is a chemical reaction between the minds and bodies of two people.  Virginia Woolf describes a scene of blocks of shade and colour created by the rainforest backdrop  which almost becomes a blur and Rachel’s feelings and thoughts  create a sense of vertigo, an out of world experience. It is disorientating for Rachel and also the reader.

A passenger ferry on the Amazon River.

Death is dealt  with in a similar incremental way, small step by small step, emotions and thoughts building one on top of the other like layers of experience.  It starts when Rachel has a headache and has to go to bed to rest.  Bit by bit there is deterioration and we see her developing experience seen through her perspective to start with. It slowly begins to dawn on us, along with the characters in the story that this is going to lead to death. At first we have Rachel’s point of view   , but it changes to how the process of dying affects the feelings and actions of the other characters. There are switches between different perspectives.

These two experiences of becoming aware of being in love and an awareness of encroaching death dovetail each other.  It is almost as if Virginia Woolf has dismissed the long tortuous life that normally goes between these two things out as of no importance. Rachel is complete. She has learned what love is and so her experience of life is complete.

In The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf has brought together, a sense of what it is to be English. It shows an England that is wrestling and developing out of the dark ages of conformity and religious myths and fables towards a liberal free thinking future. She has shown us the human experience in a series of emotional and sensory experiences.  Thought and conversation tie all these things together. There is minimal action in the story. It is a series of places, spaces and rooms. The developing inner self of the characters create all the drama. Rooms  are important in the novel ,from  Rachel’s cabin on board the  Euphrosyne with it’s sheet music and novels, to Miss Allen’s Spartan room in the hotel and her jar of  ginger, the rooms in which Helen and Rachel spy the hotel inmates, to the room of the death  bed scene. Some say that Virginia Woolf is the heir to Jane Austen.  In many ways she is.  She  is concerned with  the interactions of people  and she uses similar settings to  Jane  Austen,  attendance at balls,  the interiors of  rooms, almost as if  rooms and places  define us. She also shows us the prejudices, beliefs and social systems of the time she is writing in. Like Jane Austen’s novels, although The Voyage Out is set in a particular time in a particular century, its message about the way we interact as human beings is universal.

By Tony