Bodily subjectivity as alternative selfhood : The Voyage Out beyond the bildungsroman
Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out, by initiating and yet resisting the traditional bildungsroman form, illustrates the inadequacy of this genre's brand of self-development and seeks an alternative mode of selfhood. The novel’s protagonist, Rachel Vinrace, though apparently "formless" and unable to "develop," nevertheless exhibits a sense of self and seems to be more than mere blankness. In exploring what selfhood might be when the bildungsroman-self is untenable, The Voyage Out ultimately reaches toward a kind of subjectivity not rooted primarily in intellectual and linguistic experiences—which typically come to shape the subject in the bildungs—but in bodily experience. This bodily subjectivity offers rewards beyond those the telos of the bildungsroman enables, and in affirming the value of the bodily, The Voyage Out also simultaneously facilitates a feminist move towards reclaiming this characteristic of "femininity" that has so often been used to render women lesser-than. Subjectivity and self having long been associated with mind rather than body, they have also long been in the masculine domain, while the feminine is aligned with the bodily, the other, and the object. As The Voyage Out reclaims the value of the body and its involvement in subjectivity, then, it also challenges the notion that to be a subject one must be the mental, masculine hero of the traditional bildungsroman.