Fenella hurried toward the Picton boat with her father and Grandma. The night was mild, the sky starry but Fenella took little joy in it, sensing her Father’s unease. Her Grandma’s fancy umbrella with the swan head handle was tucked into the luggage Fenella had strapped to her back. The swan head pecked her repeatedly on the shoulder as if it too wanted her to hurry.
A whistle on the large boat sounded just as they arrived at the Old Wharf harbor. The Picton boat was beaded with light and Fenella thought it belonged more to the sky than the sea. She followed her family up the gangway and listened as her Father, Frank, asked after their cabin tickets. Fenella was not deceived by his stern tone of voice and was concerned for him; he looked sad and tired. She was surprised; however, when he hugged his mother close and wished her a safe journey and she in turn held his face in her hands and lovingly called him “my own brave son” (103). Fenella turned away and chocked down her own sadness so they would not see her tears.
Fenella’s father kissed her cheek and told her to be a good girl but she grabbed his lapels in desperation and asked how long she was going to be away. He would not look at her and shook her off gently, pressing a shilling into her hand. She took that as a bad sign and called after him but he had already turned to leave.
The boat was pulling away from the wharf and Fenella could no longer see her father on the dock. She turned to her Grandma who was sitting on their luggage and praying. Fenella waited respectfully for her to finish and then they went below to find their cabin. Her Grandma led the way, having traveled on the Picton boat many times before.
They carefully navigated the steep flight of stairs and hallways below deck until they came to their cabin. The stewardess, who knew Grandma, saw their black mourning clothes. Grandma said simply, “It was God’s will” (105) and the kind stewardess promised to look in on them later on. The cabin was very small and they undressed quickly and readied themselves for bed. Grandma put on a crocheted headscarf that Fenella’s mother had made before she died. Grandma smiled tenderly at Fenella, the headscarf a silent reminder of the grief they shared.
Soon they were both ready for bed and Fenella watched in disbelief as her Grandma nimbly climbed into the upper berth. The stewardess came to check on them and warned them that the boat might pitch. The words seemed to bring on the tilting of the boat and the slapping of water at her sides. Fenella worried that the umbrella would fall and break. Thinking along the same lines, Grandma asked the stewardess to lay the swan-neck umbrella flat so it would not be damaged. The stewardess did as she was asked and they spoke about the recent death of Fenella’s mother. The stewardess called Fenella a “poor little motherless mite” (107) but she wasn’t listening to their chatter and soon drifted off to sleep.
The next day dawned early and Fenella watched the harbor appear out of the portside window. She reflected on how sad her life had been after the death of her mother. Now she was traveling with her Grandma to a new life. She hoped her luck would change.
Once her Grandma woke, she told Fenella to make haste and they dressed quickly and left the cabin to go up on deck with their luggage. Fenella watched land slowly approach in the distance, the wind like ice against her skin. She could see umbrella ferns and little houses and soon the landing stage came along side of them.
“You’ve got my-”
“Yes, grandma” (108).
Mr. Penreddy, a friend of Grandma’s was guiding the landing stage closer, an old horse and cart waited onboard. Grandma was pleased to see Mr. Penreddy and as she and Fenella climbed into the cart he said that old Mr. Walter Crane, Grandma’s husband, was in good spirits and he had looked in on him the day before.
Once ashore, the horse pulled the cart off of the landing stage and toward one of the houses. They got down and Fenella walked up a little a path of round pebbles toward her grandparents’ home. Her Grandma opened the front door and called out to her husband who called back in a stifled voice “Is that you, Mary?” (108).
Grandma left Fenella in a side room where a white cat was sleeping. She petted the cat and listened to the voices of her grandparents. Her Grandma returned and Fenella went to see her Grandpa who lay in an immense bed, his rosy face and silver beard showing over the quilt.
He happily greeted her and she kissed him hello showing him the swan-head umbrella when he asked for it.
Above the bed a needlepoint hung in a black frame with the following text:
"Lost! One Golden Hour
Set with Sixty Diamond Minutes.
No Reward is Offered
For It Is GONE FOR EVER" (109).
Grandpa explains that Grandma had made it and then he smiled so merrily at Fenella she thought he might have winked at her.
Published on December 24, 1921 in Weekly Westminster Gazette, "The Voyage" is the only story within the Garden Party and Other Stories told from the point of view of a child. Although the exact age of Fenella Crane, the young protagonist, is not mentioned in the text, she is assumed to be older than five and younger than ten. Key word choices in the dialogue support this theory. Characters refer to Fenella as a “child,” “a motherless mite” and she is told to be a “good girl” by her father. She is old enough to realize the implications of being sent away to live with her grandparents but is still too young to travel alone by herself.
As a character Fenella is very observant and yet she reacts to her surroundings passively, as if she is overwhelmed by her circumstances but is incapable of expressing her true emotions. Note how she turns away from her father during his emotional goodbye to his mother. Fenella puts on a brave face for her father’s sake but her desperate clinging to his jacket’s lapels reveals her inner turmoil over being sent away from home. Mansfield portrays Fenella as an atypical child who hides her grief over the loss of her mother very well and takes only a moment to reflect on her feelings of abandonment as she watches her father fade into the distance as the boat pulls away from the harbor. The shilling Frank Crane gives his daughter suggests to Fenella that she will be gone for a long time. To the reader Frank’s shilling may imply that he is having financial difficulties and that is the reason he is sending her away. No other hint of an explanation is given in the text and Fenella’s placid reaction fails to capture the reader’s imagination. Unlike Mansfield’s other, stronger female characters in the overall collection, Fenella appears weak in comparison and suffers for want of a better narrative.
Mansfield often experimented with structure, narration, and especially with characterization. In “The Voyage” she settles on capturing a moment in time without explaining why Fanella is leaving her father or how her mother died. As a modernist, Mansfield’s stories were often minimalist and lacked any character introductions or explanations of plot. She begins her stories in medias res and slowly reveals information as the story progresses; this tactic is especially evident in “The Voyage” as the reader learns after Fenella and her Grandma are settled in their cabin on the boat that Fenella’s mother had died recently. This is revealed in dialogue between the Grandma and the stewardess while Fenella drifts off to sleep. Very stylistic and a true quality of the modernists, this revelation explains why Fenella is leaving but does little to develop her characterization. The only hint of character growth on Fenella’s part is her welcoming of the dawn and her hope that her life will change for the better now that she is leaving home.
Although the text does not specify Fenella’s departure point, Wellington, New Zealand is a possibility. Wellington is the author’s birthplace and a frequently used setting in her stories. Logistically it is also a boat ride away from Fenella’s destination, Picton, New Zealand, a small isolated coastal town and home of her grandparents. Although the setting fluctuates throughout the story, the primary setting is the boat that Fenella and her Grandma take on their journey and the ports they leave from and arrive in. Such temporary settings reflect the transition that Fenella is undertaking as she leaves childhood and enters young adulthood.
A coming of age story set on a very short voyage, Mansfield uses several instances of symbolism to reflect Fenella’s emotional growth. The sea, a reoccurring motif in The Garden Party and Other Stories, reflects Fenella’s mood. When she arrives on the boat the sea is dark, mysterious; Fenella does not know what to expect on her journey. Onboard, the sea is turbulent and tips the boat sideways while Fenella tries to sleep but by morning it is calm again, just as Fenella wakes and greets the new day, praying for her life to change. The passage of night into day is also significant. Mansfield begins the story at night to reflect Fenella’s grief and the dark nature of her circumstances. Later when she and her Grandma arrive in Picton, the dawn has arrived and with it a new life for Fenella. The most obvious symbol of Fenella’s emotional growth is; however, her Grandma’s swan-necked umbrella.
At the beginning of her journey Fenella carries the swan-necked umbrella in her traveling gear on her back. The swan beak pecks her in the back, urging her toward the boat and away from her former life. Fenella, obedient and docile, rushes forward and is reminded by her Grandma to look after the fragile umbrella. Perhaps Grandma gave Fenella the umbrella to distract the child on the journey, to give her something to think of other than the loss of her mother and more pressingly, life without her father. Regardless of her reasoning, Fenella takes the responsibility to heart and carefully conveys the umbrella onto the boat and into the cabin. That night, as the boat threatens to tip, Fenella thinks she should lay the umbrella down so it does not fall over and break during the night. Her Grandma, thinking along the same lines, asks the stewardess to lay the umbrella flat on the ground. This small scene reflects Fenella’s growing maturity and her use of logic. Later when she and her Grandma board the landing dock, Mansfield’s simple use of dialogue “You’ve got my-” and “Yes, grandma” (108) reflect the final stage of Fenella’s entry into young adulthood.
Now that she has taken ownership of the care of the umbrella, Fenella is in good spirits and hopeful for the future. It does seem a cruel trick of fate for Fenella to exchange her mother’s deathbed for her Grandpa’s sickbed but she seems unaffected by the association and happy to see her Grandpa, showing him the swan-necked umbrella with pride. Above his bed is a needlepoint of an abbreviated quote often attributed to the American educator and reformist, Horace Mann. The quote in its entirety reads:
“Lost- Yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.”
Mansfield’s use of the poem within the context of the story may be a reference to the passage of time and the importance of letting go of the past, specifically of Fenella’s life with her parents and the death of her mother. Grandpa points out the poem to Fenella while lying in bed and although it is not stated in the story, he appears to be either ill or bedridden. Note Mr. Penreddy’s remark to Grandma on the landing stage, that he had looked in on her husband and found him in good spirits. Grandpa, his white beard showing above the bed sheets, is the embodiment of old age whereas Fenella is in the first flush of young womanhood. At opposite ends of life’s spectrum, one beginning, the other ending, Fenella and her Grandpa share a moment of understanding. They recognize that the future is inevitable and the events of the past unchangeable. This is a difficult lesson at any age, but is especially so for a child.