Commentary Denton Welch – Maiden Voyage (1943)

The excerpt in question, from Denton Welch’s prose piece “Maiden Voyage,” acquaints us with a stubborn boy imprisoned on Chinese land. Being a foreigner it is established that this land is both mysterious and strange in his eyes. From this lack of belonging arises a desire for him to do something, and decides to explore the country side, but only further distress awaits him. The language that is used is both vivid and intense, and a great deal of description is used by Welch to articulate the harshness of the land which surrounds the speaker.

Description and emotion in Welch’s writing does not cease at merely that of the land, but continues further to enlighten us as to what the speaker is feeling, and how his surroundings affect him. It is established from the very first line, “Foreigners are not very popular here… So I don’t think you ought to go out alone,” that the speaker is foreign to his surrounding land. The atmosphere is set immediately, almost sinister and menacing. A very crucial nature of the speaker is exposed in the second paragraph, his stubbornness, which later becomes quite a crucial factor in influencing him to continue on through the baron country side.

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It is this which keeps him going and pushing on. The crude, yet strong language used by the speaker only further illustrates this sinister atmosphere as he goes on to exclaim, “I began to feel imprisoned. ” Here, we can’t help but feel the frustration that exists. “I took up the Moth-eaten balls and the old tennis racket. ” Not only are we aware as to how he is feeling at this stage, but we are now also given reason as to why he feels this way. The “moth-eaten balls” and the “old tennis racket” portray the inactivity which exists within this house, and his boredom is justified. I hit the balls fiercely… I sat brooding on the steps. ”

His displeasure is further made apparent through the language that is used as he uses words depicting great emotion, such as “fiercely” and “brooding”. “Mr Butler could not mind my walking in the country, I thought,” and with that rationalisation of the situation at hand he sets off on a walk in to the country side, all this occurring between “breakfast” and “after lunch. ” An exotic yet mystifying wasteland with “pillars and scarves of dust and sand,” is what we can make out about the land that surrounds the speaker, from his description.

Vivid in his description of the land which surrounds him, the tone, and the mood the speaker is currently in, is beautifully depicted. Everything is “still and silent”, yet “in an early-afternoon torpor,” much different to what the speaker is most probably usually used to, as in the previous paragraph he stated his familiarity with the busy English town of Sydenham. Everything is foreign to him, the “stunted bushes” speaking a language of their own, squeaking and grating “linguistically. ” Not only is description used affectively to portray the mood and emotion of the speaker but alliteration is also used. Stunted bushes which squeaked,” “Harsh spears of grass stuck. ” The repeated “S” sound can be likened to that of the sound of the wind. The exotic nature of the words chosen, adds to our perception of the writers surrounding and we to feel the desire to find shade and seek refuge from the harsh surrounds, as the “soles of my [his] shoes burn. ” The idea of the speaker’s “imprisonment” is further exemplified and witnessed in this paragraph. Across the “sandy plain” he sees the city wall’s which stand up like cliffs.

These surrounding cliff’s along with the use of the strong and captive word, “bastions” reminds us of his initial imprisonment and the reason behind his walk into the country side. The “Turrets and bastions” were “ruined” and “crumbling” reminding us of the speaker’s new found freedom. He walks on in the hope to find a “shady place. ” In the distance he spot’s a black speck. Intriguing him, he contemplates what it may be, wondering if it is a “cat crouching in the middle of the road”; “or perhaps it was a dark boulder. ” His burning shoes are forgotten and his curiosity leads him to continue towards it.

A great sense of tension can be felt as he draws nearer to the “black speck. ” It is here where the excerpt reaches its climax, as “a haze of flies suddenly lifts [lifted]. ” The use of the word “suddenly,” is deliberately used by the writer to show us how greatly it overwhelms the speaker. No longer affected by his harsh surroundings, he realises that object was not in fact a “black speck” but it is actually a human head, not black but pink in its colour. He distances himself from his discovery, referring to it only as “it,” his “stomach churning” from disgust.

Although his finding shocks and affects him deeply, the speaker still choses to describe it in horrendous detail. “The nose and eyes had been eaten away… the black hair caked and grey… off white teeth stood up like ninepins in its dark, gaping mouth. ” So gruesome is his finding that his eyes seemed to wonder back to it every time he looks away. He stares into “its raw eye-sockets,” as if being hypnotised by “its” eyes, or where “its” eyes once were. He realises what he had just stumbled upon and “run’s” away, his surroundings horrific, no longer still and silent. I found myself between high banks,” like prison wall’s, once again trapped. Freedom is no longer his, and is at mercy of his surrounds, influencing his every decision. As he ran for the city walls, everything around him seems dangerous and horrific, looking for an escape.

As he run’s he is continuously haunted by the buzzing of the insects, most probably the buzzing of the flies, which once surrounded “it,” intent on not running past the head again. Desperation had set in and he knew himself there was no escape now, no doubt haunted by Mr Butler’s words from that morning. Foreigners are not very popular here. ” It seems that not even a day has elapsed in this excerpt from Denton Welch’s, Maiden Voyage, yet so much occurs. Although bored, and unamused at the start he was still safe, engaging in conversation with Mr Butler. The country which was once silent, and in an early-afternoon torpor is by the end tinged by horror. The emotion of the speaker, and the environment that surrounds him is illustrated beautifully by the author and one can almost feel and experience what the speaker is by merely reading.