I've been thinking about titles. It's always been difficult for me to come up with meaningful titles for my own stories--it's definitely an art, and one that I think few people possess. Certainly many writers have needed great help from their editors in choosing appropriate ones (which of the following screams classic to you--The Great Gatsby or Petruchio in West Egg?). One of the things I don't like about fantasy and mystery novels is that the titles often have so little to do with the story that I can't remember, after reading them, what they're about! Then, of course, there are the exceptions where the title is a succinct summary of the plot and adds little meaning or insight.
I began thinking about this as I was pondering a post on Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out. Someone had asked me what the book was about, and I realized that in many ways it is indeed a voyage out. It's exactly the right way to describe the book, which is the story of a young girl "coming of age", if you will, beginning as a literal voyage on her father's ship with family friends who help draw her out of her innocent childhood into some understanding of life. Though the first of Woolf's novels, it has the same dexterity as later ones in illustrating the growth and progression of human life and thought. She tends to write about people who choose to progress, and are surrounded by many who have stunted themselves in a variety of ways; in this novel, the heroine Rachel seeks to know life and become someone, while her supposedly liberal and open-minded friend Helen is caught in her own web of superiority and cleverness.
Though I've never disliked any of Virginia Woolf's books (except perhaps The Waves, which, while again possessing an excellent and self-descriptive title, was rather too abstract for my pedestrian tastes), I particularly enjoyed this one and will be glad to peruse it again. I was surprised to find that Clarissa Dalloway was one of the secondary characters--and I didn't care for her at all! I assume it was the same woman as in the later novel, and perhaps Woolf decided to plumb her depths and discover what lay beneath the proper, party-giving, social veneer. Most illuminating. There's another interesting title--there's not much to the novel besides Mrs Dalloway, and it is at once who she is and who she is trying to escape. Neat. Then there's A Room of One's Own, although maybe that's cheating since it's not a novel, but it is the central idea of the book. I can't say much about To The Lighthouse, since it's been too long since last I read it, but again I think it's literal as well as symbolic.