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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
When 'ugly duckling' spinster Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), sheltered and repressed all her life by her cold and domineering mother (Gladys Cooper), suffers a nervous breakdown, she spends three months at a sanitarium run by renowned psychiatrist Dr Jaquith (Claude Rains). When she has recuperated enough to be released, Charlotte chooses to take an ocean voyage to South America rather than return just yet to Boston. Soon, Charlotte blossoms into a sophisticated and confident woman. She meets and has an affair with architect Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid). The affair is brief, however, because Jerry is married, and Charlotte must eventually return to Boston and face her mother.
Now, Voyager is a 1941 novel by American novelist Olive Higgins Prouty [1882-1974]. It was adapted for the movie by screenwriter Casey Robinson [1903-1979]. The title comes from a line in the Walt Whitman poem "The Untold Want," which reads, The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, / Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find. The novel was recently reprinted and is available in both paper and ebook formats, and is now considered a minor landmark in feminist literature. It is the third book in a series of five novels chronicling the Vale family of Boston. In order, they are: The White Fawn (1931), Lisa Vale (1940), Now, Voyager (1941), Home Port (1947), and Fabia (1951).
When Dr Jaquith first comes to visit with Charlotte, she reveals that she hides cigarettes and alcohol there. The novel gives further details when Charlotte's mother tells her that she had William move her things downstairs. The color mounted to Charlotte's face. She had left for Cascade so unexpectedly last fall that she had failed to remove a number of articles from the dark tunnels behind her books -- cigarettes, three reclining bottles of medicated sherry, so bitter she'd never been able to consume but half of one bottle, a pink tin make-up box, and all that literature which her mother considered indecent. The novel mentions a number of the books hidden there, including works by D. H. Lawrence, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Bertrand Russell, and Havelock Ellis, works that were at least controversial and some considered obscene at the time.
Scenes were filmed showing Charlotte at the hairdresser's with Lisa (Ilka Chase), as well as them shopping together. During the editing process, however, producer Hal Wallis decided to cut these scenes and save the audience's first glimpse of Charlotte's new look for when she appears on the ship.
When Charlotte learns that the new patient is actually Jerry's teenage daughter Tina (Janis Wilson), she takes Tina under her wing, becoming her friend, taking her camping, and helping her generally feel loved and wanted. It is the one way that Charlotte has of still feeling connected to Jerry. Eventually, Dr Jaquith even allows Charlotte to take Tina home to live with her. As a test to be sure that Charlotte's relationship with Jerry will remain platonic and not jeopardize Tina's well-being, Dr Jaquith brings Jerry to the Vale home. Jerry is delighted to see his daughter doing so well but announces to Charlotte that he's taking Tina home with him, afraid that Charlotte is sacrificing her own life along with her ability to find a man who will make her happy. At first, Charlotte is angered by Jerry's pretentiousness, but she eventually convinces him that having Tina stay with her is actually giving great meaning to her life and that, by them both loving and raising Tina together, it's a way for them to keep their own love alive. In the final scene, Jerry asks Charlotte whether she will be happy, and she replies, 'Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."
The movie gives no indication of what becomes of Charlotte or Jerry. However, Bette Davis has been interviewed as saying that, in her mind, Charlotte ends up marrying Dr Jaquith. In the novels, Charlotte remains single.
Overall, the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, with some differences in story structure and some minor changes. There are sections of dialog, including the famous final line, that are taken directly from the book. Some minor tweaks include how the cruise in the book is in the Mediterranean, not South America, for instance, and the book plays up Jerry's middle-class origins. Dr. Jaquith is more of a background character in the book; his role was increased for the movie. Two interesting elements were left out of the movie. The first was the revelation that Jerry himself had spent time in a sanitarium, after suffering his own breakdown, which gives background to his compassion for her and establishes them as kindred spirits. The second was a strong speech from Dr. Jaquith in which he encourages Charlotte to seek personal happiness and fulfillment as a single woman, to not consider herself a failure for not marrying, and to value her freedom and autonomy, which was mildly controversial when the book was published. (In fact, one harsh critic called the book "a sustained attack on monogamy" because it involved an extramarital affair that went unpunished, and a woman willfully remaining single and being happy doing so.)
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