The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield

THE VOYAGE TEXT (pdf, with line numbering)

THE VOYAGE QUESTIONS (download the pdf write-on version)




Briefly describe what happens in this story.

Make sure you are able to answer the following questions.  (Include the answers in your plot summary.)

The storyline is limited: a young girl travels with her grandmother by boat to her grandparents’ home, to live with them. Her mother has passed away and her grandmother now takes care of her as her guardian. Only halfway through the story, however, we can conclude that Fenella’s mother is indeed dead. In short stories, information like this is often not told in so many words, but suggested rather economically through images. Imagery means that we get the sensory impressions—that is, what someone sees, hears, smells, feels, or tastes—of the main character without wordy explanations; from these impressions we can deduct facts, or moods that go along with them.

1.  When was the moment you discovered THE REASON why Fenella was leaving to go with her grandmother on a voyage?

2.  Why was Fenella so surprised to be given a shilling from her father?

She receives a shilling from her father which in her childlike way of thinking is a lot of money: “A shilling! She must be going away forever!”

3.  Why did the stewardess know grandma personally?


Fenella A little girl of about 5 who…
Fenella’s father
The ferry stewardess
Mr Penreddy
Fenella’s grandfather


Mansfield never lets readers know the exact age of Fenella, but we can guess that she is a young child because of the limited understanding she has of different situations.  Give 3 examples where Fenella does not understand things that the readers, and adult characters in the story, do.  (This is called dramatic irony.  The style of writing is called free, indirect discourse.)

1.  The woodpile is seen as a “huge black mushroom”, an image that would perhaps be unusual from an adult’s point of view.

2.  In the middle of the story Fenella is in the private cabin with her grandmother. In wonder (although not expressed in some many words but through a registration of what she perceives) Fenella sees the old woman undress, while until then she had hardly ever seen her grandmother with even her head uncovered. Because it is new and strange to Fenella, grown-up women’s underclothing is not yet reflected by the right terms in her mind: “Then she undid her bodice, and something under that, and something else under that.” This is Fenella’s introduction to what it would be like to have a woman’s body.

3. Fenella doesn’t know why Grandma thinks that selling sandwiches for twopence is such ‘wickedness’.  She doesn’t understand the value of money.

( Also, it is the first time Fenella makes this trip. We can also tell from the images (Fenella’s impressions) the narrator uses to describe the public area on the boat that everything is new to the girl: “They were in the saloon. It was glaring bright and stifling; the air smelled of paint and burnt chop-bones and india-rubber.” An experienced traveler would no longer register this strangeness.)


1. Describe Fenella’s grandmother’s overriding emotion throughout the story.  Provide quotes to support your answer.

The grandmother, being older, understands the situation and is therefore sad and apprehensive.  We can tell she is apprehensive because she keeps praying.  She also believes that “god is with you at sea more than he is on land”, thus showing she is slightly nervous about the possibility of disaster.

2.  What sort of person is grandma?  Again, provide quotes to support your answer.

The grandmother must be a kind person, because she is taking her granddaughter home to care for her after the death of the mother.  She says “God bless you, my own brave son!” showing that she is a religious, kind-hearted person.  The gentle way in which she deals with Fenella also belies her personality – she tells Fenella she would be more comfortable taking her lace socks off, though doesn’t insist that she do so.


1.  When was the story set (approximately)?  Quote from the text to back up your answer.

The story must be set in the early 1900s.

– The old, British style money is being used (shilling, tuppence.)

– The grandmother wears restrictive clothing such as stays and bodice

–  Adults wear bonnets and caps in public

– The English used by the characters is reminiscent of the time ‘what wickedness’

–  Bananas are a luxury because of the expense

–  They ride in horse and cart

–  It takes all night to cross the Cook Strait

2.  Where is the story set?  Quote from the text to back up your answer.

‘And now the landing stage came out to meet them.  Slowly it swam towards the Picton boat’

This quote shows that they must have got on the ferry in Wellington, New Zealand.


Katherine Mansfield always disliked intellectualism and aestheticism (which she had in common with her husband John Middleton Murray), and strove to combine a realist way of writing with personal and understandable symbols. “The Voyage” is a good example of that; it is one of Katherine Mansfield’s late stories and was posthumously published in the collection The Garden Party in 1923. Mansfield’s technique can be called impressionist, borrowed from 19th century painters’ depictions of sensory impressions. Her use of impressionism, however, is modernist, in that she mainly wanted to give series of moments in her stories. No moral or plot, but rather snippets of life. At the time, this was a new idea, and related to the montage technique in film. Katherine Mansfield made an important contribution to the development of the short story genre.

Copy and complete the following chart.  Be specific in your answers.

METAPHOR Description of Fenella’s luggage as they set off on the voyage. “… her luggage strapped into a neat sausage” Indicates Fenella’s childlike, vivid imagination by giving such a simple comparison.
SIMILE “he looked like a baby fly that had fallen into the cream” Same as above.  Babies, flies and cream are all items that little girls know about, and are able to make comparisons with. Fenella may be projecting her own feelings of insecurity onto the boy. He looks like a fly drowned in the milk; this sense of being helpless or insignificant is repeated when later on Fenella is also referred to as an insect (“mite”).
ONOMATOPOEIA OR PERSONIFICATIONFenella and her grandmother are on the ship and they are leaving the harbour. “Silently the dark wharf began to slip, to slide, to edge away from them”. Emphasises that Fenella is acutely aware that the ship is taking her away from her father.  Also indicates the slow motion of the ferry.  Fenella doesn’t know that it is the ship leaving the wharf, not the other way around.  This shows her innocence.
COLLOQUIAL LANGUAGEThe man giving Fenella and her grandmother a ride from Picton describes meeting Fenella’s grandfather. ‘“I seen Mr Crane yestiddy,” said Mr Penreddy.  “He looked himself then.  Missus knocked him up a batch of scones last week.”’ Delineates the class difference between Fenella’s family and that of the working class.  Adds life to the story.
ANIMAL IMAGERY (SIMILE)Fenella’s first impression of her grandfather. “he was like a very old, wide awake bird.” Gives the readers a vivid impression of the grandfather’s eyes in particular.  A simple comparison to show Fenella’s innocence. This, too, is typically a child’s perspective and it is thus shown us how she feels.


There are two themes symbolized by the contrast between darkness and light.  First of all, complete the following chart using quotes and examples from the text.

1 The old wharf is ‘dark, very dark’. (Everything on the “Old Wharf” is dark, and the one lantern with its timid light only seems to underline that sensation.) ‘The lamp was still burning, but night was over’ (Describes the morning they arrive in Picton to Fenella’s new life).
2 Woodpile looks like a ‘huge black mushroom’. ‘the cold pale sky was the same colour as the cold pale sea.  On land a white mist rose and fell’.
3 Grandma’s cheeks are ‘white waxen’.
4 grandmother is wearing black clothes ‘crackling black ulster’ ‘up a little path of round white pebbles’
5 Little boy has black arms and legs On the table at Grandma and Grandpa’s sits a ‘white cat’.
6 Wool shed has a trail of smoke Grandpa has a ‘white tuft’ on his head and a ‘long silver beard’.
7 A ‘huge coil of dark rope’ on the ferry
8 ‘Dark figures of men lounged against the (ferry) rails’.
9 The ‘dark round eye’ is the window in the cabin on the ferry
10 ‘spider-like steps’ of Grandma climbing the bunk

This darkness/light imagery symbolizes:


the transition from being an innocent child (darkness) to becoming a knowing adult (light).

The voyage itself is the one event of the story. All the action centers around it and thus it is more than just an event; it becomes a symbol. The death of her mother perhaps forces Fenella to grow up faster than she otherwise would have. The journey may come to symbolize a transition from childhood into adolescence.

Along with the voyage, the repeatedly mentioned umbrella becomes a symbol. Fenella’s grandmother lets her take care of her swan-necked, probably expensive umbrella. At first it seems a burden to Fenella, as it is big and awkward. But she does think about it during the trip. On the boat, she prevents it from falling over the same moment her grandmother does. When they have arrived on the island, Grandma does not even have to say the word or Fenella can confirm she has performed her duty:

“‘You’ve got my—’

‘Yes, Grandma.’ Fenella showed it to her.”

The umbrella comes to symbolize Fenella’s grown sense of responsibility, a process which is speeded up because of the death of her mother. It surprises her grandfather in the end, that Fenella comes home carrying his wife’s good umbrella.


the sense of darkness may illustrate both her uncertainty and sadness because of her mother’s death.

Symbolically, these images may signify that a difficult period in Fenella’s life is now behind her. Perhaps there have been years of her mother being ill, and now she has arrived in a new, stable home. However, it is implied that life will never regain the stability it seemed to have from a child’s point of view. Dealing with the death of a beloved one and becoming an adult also means getting a sense of the irrevocable passage of time. Fenella’s grandparents are obviously no longer young, and a final image, the text painted by her grandfather, underlines the awareness that life is transitory. Fortunately for Fenella, Grandpa looks very happy.

For a sample NCEA English 1.4 essay featuring The Voyage and The Garden Party download NCEA sample 1.4 essay.

A cloze exercise based on the above essay: katherine mansfield essay 1.4 model cloze exercise

2 thoughts on “The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield

  1. I have a work about this short story, I must to analyze it, but I haven’t idea about the outlines (I. A. B. , II A. B. , III. A. B.)

    If you can help me, I await any suggestion.

Comments are closed.