Quotes by Virginia Woolf
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Wikipedia Summary for Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf (née Stephen; 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.
Woolf was born into an affluent household in South Kensington, London, the seventh child in a blended family of eight which included the modernist painter Vanessa Bell. Her mother was Julia Prinsep Jackson and her father Leslie Stephen. While the boys in the family received college educations, the girls were home-schooled in English classics and Victorian literature. An important influence in Virginia Woolf's early life was the summer home the family used in St Ives, Cornwall, where she first saw the Godrevy Lighthouse, which was to become central to her novel To the Lighthouse (1927).
Woolf's childhood came to an abrupt end in 1895 with the death of her mother and her first mental breakdown, followed two years later by the death of her half-sister and a mother figure to her, Stella Duckworth. From 1897 to 1901, she attended the Ladies' Department of King's College London, where she studied classics and history and came into contact with early reformers of women's higher education and the women's rights movement. Other important influences were her Cambridge-educated brothers and unfettered access to her father's vast library.
Encouraged by her father, Woolf began writing professionally in 1900. Her father's death in 1904 caused Woolf to have another mental breakdown. Following his death, the Stephen family moved from Kensington to the more bohemian Bloomsbury, where they adopted a free-spirited lifestyle. It was in Bloomsbury where, in conjunction with the brothers' intellectual friends, they formed the artistic and literary Bloomsbury Group.
In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf, and in 1917 the couple founded the Hogarth Press, which published much of her work. They rented a home in Sussex and moved there permanently in 1940. Throughout her life, Woolf was troubled by her mental illness. She was institutionalised several times and attempted suicide at least twice. Her illness may have been bipolar disorder, for which there was no effective intervention during her lifetime. In 1941, at age 59, Woolf died by drowning herself in the River Ouse at Lewes.
During the interwar period, Woolf was an important part of London's literary and artistic society. In 1915 she published her first novel, The Voyage Out, through her half-brother's publishing house, Gerald Duckworth and Company. Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her essays, including A Room of One's Own (1929), in which she wrote the much-quoted dictum, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
Woolf became one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism and her works have since garnered much attention and widespread commentary for "inspiring feminism". Her works have been translated into more than 50 languages. A large body of literature is dedicated to her life and work, and she has been the subject of plays, novels, and films. Woolf is commemorated today by statues, societies dedicated to her work and a building at the University of London.
How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life.
In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.
If we didn't live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I've no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged.
Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.
Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.
Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.
Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.
Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.
The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.
The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames. It is I who am blocking the way, he thought. Was he not being looked at and pointed at; was he not weighted there, rooted to the pavement, for a purpose? But for what purpose?
It was anger that had gone underground and mixed itself with all kinds of other emotions. To judge from its odd effects, it was anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.
As we are a doomed race, chained to a sinking ship, as the whole thing is a bad joke, let us, at any rate, do our part; mitigate the suffering of our fellow-prisoners; decorate the dungeon with flowers and air-cushions; be as decent as we possibly can.
To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination.
We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.
Literature is no one's private ground, literature is common ground; let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves.
Buy for me from the King's own kennels, the finest elk hounds of the Royal strain, male and female. Bring them back without delay. For, he murmured, scarcely above his breath as he turned to his books, I have done with men.
There was her way with flowers, for instance. At Bourton they always had stiff little vases all the way down the table. Sally went out, picked hollyhocks, dahlias -- all sorts of flowers that had never been seen together -- cut their heads off, and made them swim on the top of water in bowls.
She saw her sitting with her son in the window and the cloud moving and the tree bending, how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.
Let us not take it for granted that life exists more in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.
And what greater delight and wonder can there be than to leave the straight lines of personality and deviate into those footpaths that lead beneath brambles and thick tree trunks into the heart of the forest where live those wild beasts, our fellow men?
I detest the masculine point of view. I am bored by his heroism, virtue, and honour. I think the best these men can do is not talk about themselves anymore.
I use my friends rather as giglamps : There's another field I see: by your light. Over there's a hill. I widen my landscape.
Yes, our old age is not going to be sunny orchard drowse. By shutting down the fire curtain, though, I find I can live in the moment; which is good; why yield a moment to regret or envy or worry? Why indeed? (24 December 1940).
What a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me! ... I think I could happily live here and read forever.
The immense success of our life, is I think, that our treasure is hid away; or rather in such common things that nothing can touch it.
Habits gradually change the face of ones life as time changes one's physical face;andamp; one does not know it.
At the moment I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better -- her husband; money; his books. But for her own part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties, or slur over duties.
Are we so made that we have to take death in small doses daily or we could not go on with the business of living?
For the philosopher is right who says that nothing thicker than a knife's blade separates happiness from melancholy.
Her thoughts became mysteriously tightened and strung up as if a piano tuner had put his key in her back and stretched the nerves very taut.
Purely feminine; with that extraordinary gift, that woman's gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be.
Wat a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me! I went in and found the table laden with books. I looked in and sniffed them all. I could not resist carrying this one off and broaching it. I think I could happily live here and read forever.
The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss.
Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above.
It flattered her, where she was most susceptible of flattery, to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven.
I make it a rule to try everything, she said. Don't you think it would be very annoying if you tasted ginger for the first time on your deathbed, and found you never liked anything so much? I should be so exceedingly annoyed that I think I should get well on that account alone.
Sometimes she had it; sometimes not. She never knew why it came or why it went, or if she had it until she came into the room and then she knew instantly by the way some man looked at her.
The number of books in the world is infinite, and one is forced to glimpse and nod and move on after a moment of talk, a flash of understanding, as, in the street outside, one catches a word in passing and from a chance phrase fabricates a lifetime.
Methinks the human method of expression by sound of tongue is very elementary, and ought to be substituted for some ingenious invention which should be able to give vent to at least six coherent sentences at once.
The journey is everything. Most necessary of all, but rarest good fortune, we should try to find some man of our own sort who will go with us and to whom we can say the first thing that comes into our heads. For pleasure has no relish unless we share it.
Thus Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Joyce partly spoil their books for women readers by their display of self-conscious virility; and Mr. Hemingway, but much less violently, follows suit.
Gently the waves would break (Lily heard them in her sleep); tenderly the light fell (it seemed to come through her eyelids). And it all looked, Mr. Carmichael thought, shutting his book, falling asleep, much as it used to look years ago.
She felt... how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.
This susceptibility to impressions had been his undoing, no doubt. Still at his age he had, like a boy or a girl even, these alternations of mood; good days, bad days, for no reason whatever, happiness from a pretty face, downright misery at the sight if a frump.
What then? Who then?' she said. 'Thirty-six; in a motor car; a woman. Yes, but a million other things as well.
She put on her lace collar. She put on her new hat and he never noticed; and he was happy without her.
O why do I ever let anyone read what I write! Every time I have to go through a breakfast with a letter of criticism I swear I will write for my own praise or blame in future. It is a misery.
Neither of us knows what the public will think. There's no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin (at forty) to say something in my own voice; and that interests me so that I feel I can go ahead without praise.
For there is a virtue in truth; it has an almost mystic power. Like radium, it seems to give off forever and ever grains of energy, atoms of light.
For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself.
Quite the chilliest and least human known to me. You see brains floating like so many sea-anemones, nor have they shape or colour.
There were masses of pictures she had not seen; however, Lily Briscoe reflected, perhaps it was better not to see pictures: they only made one hopelessly discontented with one's own work.
No passion is stronger in the breast of a man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high.
But Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality has no such simple effect upon the mind of man.
I want some one to sit beside after the day's pursuit and all its anguish, after its listening, its waitings, and its suspicions. After quarreling and reconciliation I need privacy -- to be alone with you, to set this hubbub in order. For I am as neat as a cat in my habits.
Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it .
Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience (she accomplished here something dexterous with her needles) but as a wedge of darkness.
All looked distant and peaceful and strange. The shore seemed refined, far away, unreal. Already the little distance they had sailed had put them far from it and given it the changed look, the composed look, of something receding in which one has no longer any part.
I was lying in bed this morning and saying to myself, 'the remarkable thing about Ethel is her stupendous self-satisfaction' when in came your letter to confirm this profound psychological observation. How delighted I was!
For ourselves, who are ordinary men and women, let us return thanks to Nature for her bounty by using every one of the senses she has given us.
Her eyes were full of a hot liquid (she did not think of tears at first) which, without disturbing the firmness of her lips, made the air thick, rolled down her cheeks. She had perfect control of herself-Oh, yes!-in every other way.
The man looks the world full in the face, as if it were made for his uses and fashioned to his liking. The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion.
First she starved herself of love, which meant also life; then of poetry in deference to what she thought her religion demanded.
Sir, I would trust you with my heart. Moreover, we have left our bodies in the banqueting hall. Those on the turf are the shadows of our souls.
But Sasha who after all had no English blood in her but was from Russia where the sunsets are longer, the dawns less sudden, and sentences often left unfinished from doubt as to how best to end them.
The good citizen when he opens his door in the evening must be banker, golfer, husband, father; not a nomad wandering the desert, a mystic staring at the sky, a debauchee in the slums of San Francisco, a soldier heading a revolution, a pariah howling with skepticism and solitude.
I can sit alone by an open window for hours if I like, and hear only bird songs, and the rustle of leaves. The trees are pure gold and orange,.
He would argue with her about killing themselves; and explain how wicked people were; how he could see them making up lies as they passed in the street. He knew all their thoughts, he said; he knew everything. He knew the meaning of the world, he said.
Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it is liking one felt, or disliking?
A biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many as a thousand.
I am obsessed at nights with the idea of my own worthlessness, and if it were only to turn a light on to save my life I think I would not do it. These are the last footprints of a headache I suppose. Do you ever feel that? -- like an old weed in a stream. What do you feel, lying in bed?
The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it.
I condemn you. Yet my heart yearns towards you. I would go with you through the fires of death. Yet am happiest alone.
There was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room. Women must put off their rich apparel. At midday they must disrobe.
About here, she thought, dabbling her fingers in the water, a ship had sunk, and she muttered, dreamily half asleep, how we perished, each alone.
Dance music ... stirs some barbaric instinct -- lulled asleep in our sober lives -- you forget centuries of civilization in a second, and yield to that strange passion which sends you madly whirling round the room.
Come indoors then, and open the books on your library shelves. For you have a library and a good one. A working library, a living library; a library where nothing is chained down and nothing is locked up; a library where the songs of the singers rise naturally from the lives of the livers.
The immense success of our life is, I think, that our treasure is hid away; or rather in such common things that nothing can touch it.
Other worshipful objects were content with worship; men, women, God, all let one kneel prostrate; but this form, were it only the shape of a white lampshade looming on a wicker table, roused one to perpetual combat, challenged one to a fight in which one was bound to be worsted.
What the fissure through which one sees disaster? The circle is unbroken; the harmony complete. Here is the central rhythm; here the common mainspring. I watch it expand, contract; and then expand again. Yet I am not included.
Tom's great yellow bronze mask all draped upon an iron framework. An inhibited, nerve-drawn; dropped face -- as if hung on a scaffold of heavy private brooding; and thought.
Travelers are much at the mercy of phrases ... vast generalizations formulate in their exposed brains.
Our apparitions, the things you know us by, are simply childish. Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.
He lay on his chair with his hands clasped above his paunch not reading, or sleeping, but basking like a creature gorged with existence.
Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works, yet we require critics to explain the one and biographers to expound the other. That time hangs heavy on people's hands is the only explanation of the monstrous growth.
How far we are going to read a poet when we can read about a poet is a problem to lay before biographers.
Why does Samuel Butler say, 'Wise men never say what they think of women'? Wise men never say anything else apparently.
Submit to me. So she said nothing, but looked doggedly and sadly at the shore, wrapped in its mantle of peace; as if the people there had fallen alseep, she thought; were free like smoke, were free to come and go like ghosts. They have no suffering there, she thought.
The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.
Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes.
I will achieve in my life -- Heaven grant that it be not long -- some gigantic amalgamation between the two discrepancies so hideously apparent to me. Out of my suffering I will do it. I will knock. I will enter.
We agreed that people are now afraid of the English language. He T.S. Eliot said it came of being bookish, but not reading books enough. One should read all styles thoroughly.
Of course, literature is the only spiritual and humane career. Even painting tends to dumness, and music turns people erotic, whereas the more you write the nicer you become.
I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can't cross: that it's to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish.
Habits and customs are a convenience devised for the support of timid natures who dare not allow their souls free play.
A whole lifetime was too short to bring out, the full flavour; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning.
Am I alone in my egotism when I say that never does the pale light of dawn filter through the blinds of 52 Tavistock Square but I open my eyes and exclaim, Good God! Here I am again! not always with pleasure, often with pain; sometimes in a spasm.
What could be more serious than the love of man for woman, what more commanding, more impressive, bearing in its bosom the seeds of death; at the same time these lovers, these people entering into illusion glittering eyed, must be danced round with mockery, decorated with garlands.
She was thinking how all those paths and the lawn, thick and knotted with the lives they had lived there, were gone: were rubbed out; were past; were unreal, and now this was real; the boat and the sail with its patch; Macalister with his earrings; the noise of the waves -- all this was real.
It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of woman's life is that.
With twice his wits, she had to see things through his eyes -- one of the tragedies of married life.
His eyes were bright, and, indeed, he scarcely knew whether they held dreams or realities...and in five minutes she had filled the shell of the old dream with the flesh of life.
Conversation, fastidious goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will.
We all indulge in the strange, pleasant process called thinking, but when it comes to saying, even to someone opposite, what we think, then how little we are able to convey! The phantom is through the mind and out of the window before we can lay salt on.
In marriage a little licence, a little independence there must be between people living together day in and day out in the same house.
My mind turned by anxiety, or other cause, from its scrutiny of blank paper, is like a lost child -- wandering the house, sitting on the bottom step to cry.
The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it. The streets of London have their map; but our passions are uncharted. What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?
Madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does.
Our friends -- how distant, how mute, how seldom visited and little known. And I, too, am dim to my friends and unknown; a phantom, sometimes seen, often not. Life is a dream surely.
Those comfortably padded lunatic asylums which are known, euphemistically, as the stately homes of England.
To write a novel in the heart of London is next to an impossibility. I feel as if I were nailing a flag to the top of a mast in a raging gale.
Effort ceases. Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand. Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.
Better was it to go unknown and leave behind you an arch, then to burn like a meteor and leave no dust.
For it is a curious fact that though human beings have such imperfect means of communication, that they can only say 'good to eat' when they mean 'beautiful' and the other way about, they will yet endure ridicule and misunderstanding rather than keep any experience to themselves.
This was a favourite dress, one of Sally Parker's, the last almost she ever made, alas, for Sally had now retired, living at Ealing, and if ever I have a moment, thought Clarissa (but never would she have a moment any more), I shall go and see her at Ealing.
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