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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Voyage Out - Chapter 18
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The Voyage Out - Chapter 18 Post by :Sandro_Forani Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :2782

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The Voyage Out - Chapter 18

Everything he saw was distasteful to him. He hated the blue and white,
the intensity and definiteness, the hum and heat of the south;
the landscape seemed to him as hard and as romantic as a cardboard
background on the stage, and the mountain but a wooden screen
against a sheet painted blue. He walked fast in spite of the heat
of the sun.

Two roads led out of the town on the eastern side; one branched off
towards the Ambroses' villa, the other struck into the country,
eventually reaching a village on the plain, but many footpaths,
which had been stamped in the earth when it was wet, led off from it,
across great dry fields, to scattered farm-houses, and the villas
of rich natives. Hewet stepped off the road on to one of these,
in order to avoid the hardness and heat of the main road,
the dust of which was always being raised in small clouds by carts
and ramshackle flies which carried parties of festive peasants,
or turkeys swelling unevenly like a bundle of air balls beneath
a net, or the brass bedstead and black wooden boxes of some newly
wedded pair.

The exercise indeed served to clear away the superficial irritations
of the morning, but he remained miserable. It seemed proved beyond
a doubt that Rachel was indifferent to him, for she had scarcely
looked at him, and she had talked to Mr. Flushing with just the same
interest with which she talked to him. Finally, Hirst's odious
words flicked his mind like a whip, and he remembered that he had
left her talking to Hirst. She was at this moment talking to him,
and it might be true, as he said, that she was in love with him.
He went over all the evidence for this supposition--her sudden interest
in Hirst's writing, her way of quoting his opinions respectfully,
or with only half a laugh; her very nickname for him, "the great Man,"
might have some serious meaning in it. Supposing that there were
an understanding between them, what would it mean to him?

"Damn it all!" he demanded, "am I in love with her?" To that he could
only return himself one answer. He certainly was in love with her,
if he knew what love meant. Ever since he had first seen her he had
been interested and attracted, more and more interested and attracted,
until he was scarcely able to think of anything except Rachel.
But just as he was sliding into one of the long feasts of meditation about
them both, he checked himself by asking whether he wanted to marry her?
That was the real problem, for these miseries and agonies could not
be endured, and it was necessary that he should make up his mind.
He instantly decided that he did not want to marry any one.
Partly because he was irritated by Rachel the idea of marriage
irritated him. It immediately suggested the picture of two people
sitting alone over the fire; the man was reading, the woman sewing.
There was a second picture. He saw a man jump up, say good-night,
leave the company and hasten away with the quiet secret look of one
who is stealing to certain happiness. Both these pictures were
very unpleasant, and even more so was a third picture, of husband
and wife and friend; and the married people glancing at each other
as though they were content to let something pass unquestioned,
being themselves possessed of the deeper truth. Other pictures--
he was walking very fast in his irritation, and they came before
him without any conscious effort, like pictures on a sheet--
succeeded these. Here were the worn husband and wife sitting
with their children round them, very patient, tolerant, and wise.
But that too, was an unpleasant picture. He tried all sorts
of pictures, taking them from the lives of friends of his, for he knew
many different married couples; but he saw them always, walled up
in a warm firelit room. When, on the other hand, he began to think
of unmarried people, he saw them active in an unlimited world;
above all, standing on the same ground as the rest, without shelter
or advantage. All the most individual and humane of his friends
were bachelors and spinsters; indeed he was surprised to find
that the women he most admired and knew best were unmarried women.
Marriage seemed to be worse for them than it was for men.
Leaving these general pictures he considered the people whom he
had been observing lately at the hotel. He had often revolved
these questions in his mind, as he watched Susan and Arthur,
or Mr. and Mrs. Thornbury, or Mr. and Mrs. Elliot. He had observed
how the shy happiness and surprise of the engaged couple had gradually
been replaced by a comfortable, tolerant state of mind, as if they
had already done with the adventure of intimacy and were taking up
their parts. Susan used to pursue Arthur about with a sweater,
because he had one day let slip that a brother of his had died
of pneumonia. The sight amused him, but was not pleasant if you
substituted Terence and Rachel for Arthur and Susan; and Arthur
was far less eager to get you in a corner and talk about flying and
the mechanics of aeroplanes. They would settle down. He then looked
at the couples who had been married for several years. It was true
that Mrs. Thornbury had a husband, and that for the most part she
was wonderfully successful in bringing him into the conversation,
but one could not imagine what they said to each other when they
were alone. There was the same difficulty with regard to the Elliots,
except that they probably bickered openly in private. They sometimes
bickered in public, though these disagreements were painfully
covered over by little insincerities on the part of the wife,
who was afraid of public opinion, because she was much stupider
than her husband, and had to make efforts to keep hold of him.
There could be no doubt, he decided, that it would have been far better
for the world if these couples had separated. Even the Ambroses,
whom he admired and respected profoundly--in spite of all
the love between them, was not their marriage too a compromise?
She gave way to him; she spoilt him; she arranged things for him;
she who was all truth to others was not true to her husband, was not
true to her friends if they came in conflict with her husband.
It was a strange and piteous flaw in her nature. Perhaps Rachel had
been right, then, when she said that night in the garden, "We bring
out what's worst in each other--we should live separate."

No Rachel had been utterly wrong! Every argument seemed to be against
undertaking the burden of marriage until he came to Rachel's argument,
which was manifestly absurd. From having been the pursued, he turned
and became the pursuer. Allowing the case against marriage to lapse,
he began to consider the peculiarities of character which had led
to her saying that. Had she meant it? Surely one ought to know
the character of the person with whom one might spend all one's life;
being a novelist, let him try to discover what sort of person she was.
When he was with her he could not analyse her qualities, because he
seemed to know them instinctively, but when he was away from her it
sometimes seemed to him that he did not know her at all. She was young,
but she was also old; she had little self-confidence, and yet she
was a good judge of people. She was happy; but what made her happy?
If they were alone and the excitement had worn off, and they had
to deal with the ordinary facts of the day, what would happen?
Casting his eye upon his own character, two things appeared to him:
that he was very unpunctual, and that he disliked answering notes.
As far as he knew Rachel was inclined to be punctual, but he could
not remember that he had ever seen her with a pen in her hand.
Let him next imagine a dinner-party, say at the Crooms, and Wilson,
who had taken her down, talking about the state of the Liberal party.
She would say--of course she was absolutely ignorant of politics.
Nevertheless she was intelligent certainly, and honest too.
Her temper was uncertain--that he had noticed--and she was not domestic,
and she was not easy, and she was not quiet, or beautiful,
except in some dresses in some lights. But the great gift she
had was that she understood what was said to her; there had never
been any one like her for talking to. You could say anything--
you could say everything, and yet she was never servile. Here he
pulled himself up, for it seemed to him suddenly that he knew less
about her than about any one. All these thoughts had occurred
to him many times already; often had he tried to argue and reason;
and again he had reached the old state of doubt. He did not know her,
and he did not know what she felt, or whether they could live together,
or whether he wanted to marry her, and yet he was in love with
her.

Supposing he went to her and said (he slackened his pace and began
to speak aloud, as if he were speaking to Rachel):

"I worship you, but I loathe marriage, I hate its smugness, its safety,
its compromise, and the thought of you interfering in my work,
hindering me; what would you answer?"

He stopped, leant against the trunk of a tree, and gazed without
seeing them at some stones scattered on the bank of the dry
river-bed. He saw Rachel's face distinctly, the grey eyes, the hair,
the mouth; the face that could look so many things--plain, vacant,
almost insignificant, or wild, passionate, almost beautiful,
yet in his eyes was always the same because of the extraordinary
freedom with which she looked at him, and spoke as she felt.
What would she answer? What did she feel? Did she love him,
or did she feel nothing at all for him or for any other man, being,
as she had said that afternoon, free, like the wind or the sea?

"Oh, you're free!" he exclaimed, in exultation at the thought
of her, "and I'd keep you free. We'd be free together.
We'd share everything together. No happiness would be like ours.
No lives would compare with ours." He opened his arms wide
as if to hold her and the world in one embrace.

No longer able to consider marriage, or to weigh coolly what
her nature was, or how it would be if they lived together,
he dropped to the ground and sat absorbed in the thought of her,
and soon tormented by the desire to be in her presence again.

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