The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter X
Among the promises which Mrs. Ambrose had made her niece should she stay was a
room cut off from the rest of the house, large, private--a room in which she could play,
read, think, defy the world, a fortress as well as a sanctuary. Rooms, she knew, became
more like worlds than rooms at the age of twenty-four. Her judgment was correct, and
when she shut the door Rachel entered an enchanted place, where the poets sang and
things fell into their right proportions. Some days after the vision of the hotel by night she
was sitting alone, sunk in an arm-chair, reading a brightly-covered red volume lettered on
the back _Works_ _of_ _Henrik_ _Ibsen_. Music was open on the piano, and books of
music rose in two jagged pillars on the floor; but for the moment music was deserted.
Far from looking bored or absent-minded, her eyes were concentrated almost sternly
upon the page, and from her breathing, which was slow but repressed, it could be seen
that her whole body was constrained by the working of her mind. At last she shut the
book sharply, lay back, and drew a deep breath, expressive of the wonder which always
marks the transition from the imaginary world to the real world.
"What I want to know," she said aloud, "is this: What is the truth? What's the truth of it
all?" She was speaking partly as herself, and partly as the heroine of the play she had just
read. The landscape outside, because she had seen nothing but print for the space of two
hours, now appeared amazingly solid and clear, but although there were men on the hill
washing the trunks of olive trees with a white liquid, for the moment she herself was the
most vivid thing in it--an heroic statue in the middle of the foreground, dominating the
view. Ibsen's plays always left her in that condition. She acted them for days at a time,
greatly to Helen's amusement; and then it would be Meredith's turn and she became
Diana of the Crossways. But Helen was aware that it was not all acting, and that some
sort of change was taking place in the human being. When Rachel became tired of the
rigidity of her pose on the back of the chair, she turned round, slid comfortably down into
it, and gazed out over the furniture through the window opposite which opened on the
garden. (Her mind wandered away from Nora, but she went on thinking of things that the
book suggested to her, of women and life.)
During the three months she had been here she had made up considerably, as Helen
meant she should, for time spent in interminable walks round sheltered gardens, and the
household gossip of her aunts. But Mrs. Ambrose would have been the first to disclaim
any influence, or indeed any belief that to influence was within her power. She saw her
less shy, and less serious, which was all to the good, and the violent leaps and the
interminable mazes which had led to that result were usually not even guessed at by her.
Talk was the medicine she trusted to, talk about everything, talk that was free, unguarded,
and as candid as a habit of talking with men made natural in her own case. Nor did she
encourage those habits of unselfishness and amiability founded upon insincerity which
are put at so high a value in mixed households of men and women. She desired that
Rachel should think, and for this reason offered books and discouraged too entire a