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Virginia Woolf Quotes

Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941)

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Writer Virginia Woolf is a key figure in the modernist literary movement. She is best known for her writings between World War I and World War II including the 1929 essay, "A Room of One's Own," and novels Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando. Interest in Virginia Woolf and her writings revived with the feminist criticism of the 1970s.

Selected Virginia Woolf Quotations

On Women

• A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

• As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the world.

• I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

• The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.

• If one could be friendly with women, what a pleasure - the relationship so secret and private compared with relations with men. Why not write about it truthfully?

• The truth is, I often like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their completeness. I like their anonymity.

• This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.

• Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

• It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly.

On Women in Literature

• [W]omen have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time.

• If woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even better.

• Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?

On History

• Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.

• For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.

On Life and Living

• To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it is...at last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away.

• One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

• When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don't seem to matter very much, do they?

• The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.

• Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by his heart, and his friends can only read the title.

• It's not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it's the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.

• Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning.

• Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.

On Freedom

• To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves.

• 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.

On Time

• 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.

• The mind of man works with strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented by the timepiece of the mind by one second.

On Age

• The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.

• One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.

• These are the soul's changes. I don't believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism.

On War and Peace

• We can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods.

• If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or "our" country, let it be understood soberly and rationally between us that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits where I have not shared and probably will not share.

On Education and Intelligence

• The first duty of a lecturer is to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece forever.

• If we help an educated man's daughter to go to Cambridge are we not forcing her to think not about education but about war? - not how she can learn, but how she can fight in order that she might win the same advantages as her brothers?

• There can be no two opinions as to what a highbrow is. He is the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea.

On Writing

• Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.

• Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.

• It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

• Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.

• 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.

• Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

• When the shriveled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning, it satisfies the senses amazingly.

• A masterpiece is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it's there complete in the mind, if only at the back.

• I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.

• I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again - as I always am when I write.

• Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.

• Language is wine upon the lips.

On Reading

• When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading."

On Work

• Occupation is essential.

On Integrity and Truth

• If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.

• This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside us. If one has the courage to ask her what she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite to what other people say.

• It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.

On Public Opinion

• On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.

• It is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed any longer.

On Society

• Inevitably we look upon society, so kind to you, so harsh to us, as an ill-fitting form that distorts the truth; deforms the mind; fetters the will.

• Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do.

• Those comfortably padded lunatic asylums which are known, euphemistically, as the stately homes of England.

On People

• Really I don't like human nature unless all candied over with art.

On Friendship

• Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.

On Money

• Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.

On Clothes

• There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.

On Religion

• I read the book of Job last night, I don't think God comes out well in it.

More About Virginia Woolf

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2011. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Virginia Woolf Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/Virginia-Woolf.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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