In this paper I consider one aspect of how student writing is supported in the university. I focus on the use of the 'writing frame', questioning its status as a vehicle for facilitating student voice, and in the process questioning how that notion is itself understood. I illustrate this by using examples from the story of the 1944 Hollywood film Gaslight and show that apparent means of facilitating voice can actually contribute to a state of voicelessness. The paper considers what recovery of voice entails and the role of the 'voice coach' both in the film, and in the classroom. Drawing on the work of Stanley Cavell, his readings of Gaslight and of the American writers Thoreau and Emerson, I explore the themes of crisis and transformation in relation to the self and society. Thoreau's notion of the father tongue and his metaphor of the axe are considered in relation to the concept of voice and are shown to be suggestive of a mature relationship to language and of an Emersonian self-reliance that is denied by the mere technical skill and mastery learning of some current approaches to academic writing. © 2009 Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.