Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Virginia Woolf, nee Stephen, fully Adeline Virginia Woolf

English Writer

"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"

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

"I remember one morning... getting up at dawn... there was such a sense of possibility! You know? That feeling? And... and I remember thinking to myself: 'So this is the beginning of happiness...' 'This is where it starts!' 'And, of course, there'll always be more.' Never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning, It was happiness. It was the moment."

"‘Now,’ said Neville, ‘my tree flowers. My heart rises. All oppression is relieved. All impediment is removed. The reign of chaos is over. He has imposed order. Knives cut again.’... ‘Here is Percival,’ said Bernard, ‘We... now come nearer; and shuffling closer on our perch in this restaurant where everybody’s interests are at variance, and the incessant passage of traffic chafes us with distractions, and the door opening perpetually its glass cage solicits us with myriad temptations and offers insults and wounds to our confidence — sitting together here we love each other and believe in our own endurance.’"

"‘The flower,’ said Bernard, ‘the red carnation that stood in the vase on the table of the restaurant when we dined together with Percival, is become a six-sided flower; made of six lives.’"

""Yes, of course," if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added."

"A desire for children, I suppose; for Nessa's life; for the sense of flowers breaking all round me involuntarily... Years and years ago, after the Lytton affair, I said to myself, walking up the hill at Bayreuth, never pretend that the things you haven't got are not worth having; good advice I think. And then I went on to say to myself that one must like things for themselves; or rather, rid them of their bearing upon one's personal life. One must venture on to the things that exist independently of oneself. Now this is very hard for young women to do. Yet I got satisfaction from it. And now, married to L., I never have to make the effort. Perhaps I have been too happy for my soul's good? And does some of my discontent come from feeling that?"

"A fine gentleman like that, they said, had no need of books. Let him leave books, they said, to the palsied or the dying. But worse was to come. For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing."

"A book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes."

"A country life and breeding had preserved in them all a look which Mary hesitated to call either innocent or youthful, as she compared them, now sitting round in an oval, softly illuminated by candlelight; and yet it was something of the kind, yes, even in the case of the Rector himself. Though superficially marked with lines, his face was a clear pink, and his blue eyes had the long-sighted, peaceful expression of eyes seeking the turn of the road, or a distant light through rain, or the darkness of winter. She looked at Ralph. He had never appeared to her more concentrated and full of purpose; as if behind his forehead were massed so much experience that he could choose for himself which part of it he would display and which part he would keep to himself. Compared with that dark and stern countenance, her brothers' faces, bending low over their soup-plates, were mere circles of pink, unmolded flesh."

"A good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."

"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."

"‘The truth!’ we demanded. Oh, the truth, she stammered, the truth has nothing to do with literature, and sitting down she refused to say another word. It all seemed to us very inconclusive."

"A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out."

"“Like a work of art,” she repeated, looking from her canvas to the drawing-room steps and back again. She must rest for a moment. And, resting, looking from one to the other vaguely, the old question which transversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general question which was apt to particularise itself at such moments as these, when she released faculties that had been on the strain, stood over her, paused over her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying, "Life stand still here"; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent) — this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the cloud going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs. Ramsay said. "Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!" she repeated. She owed it all to her."

"A learned man is a sedentary, concentrated solitary enthusiast, who searches through books to discover some particular grain of truth upon which he has set his heart. If the passion for reading conquers him, his gains dwindle and vanish between his fingers. A reader, on the other hand, must check the desire for learning at the outset; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist or an authority, is very apt to kill what suits us to consider the more humane passion for pure and disinterested reading."

"A light here required a shadow there."

"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."

"A million candles burnt in him without his being at the trouble of lighting a single one."

"A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her."

"A State of Mind. Woke up perhaps at 3. Oh its beginning it coming – the horror – physically like a painful wave swelling about the heart – tossing me up. I'm unhappy unhappy! Down – God, I wish I were dead. Pause. But why am I feeling like this? Let me watch the wave rise. I watch. Vanessa. Children. Failure. Yes, I detect that. Failure failure. (The wave rises). Oh they laughed at my taste in green paint. Wave crashes. I wish I were dead! I've only a few years to live I hope. I can't face this horror any more – (this is the wave spreading out over me). This goes on; several times, with varieties of horror. Then, at the crisis, instead of the pain remaining intense, it becomes rather vague. I doze. I wake with a start. The wave again! The irrational pain: the sense of failure; generally some specific incident, as for example my taste in green paint, or buying a new dress, or asking Dadie for the week-end, tacked on. At last I say, watching as dispassionately as I can, Now take a pull of yourself. No more of this. I shove to throw to batter down. I begin to march blindly forward. I feel obstacles go down. I say it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. I become rigid and straight, and sleep again, and half wake and feel the wave beginning and watch the light whitening and wonder how, this time, breakfast and daylight will overcome it; and then hear L. in the passage and simulate, for myself as well as for him, great cheerfulness; and generally am cheerful, by the time breakfast is over. Does everyone go through this state? Why have I so little control? It is the case of much waste and pain in my life."

"A strange thing has happened -- while all the other arts were born naked, this, the youngest, has been born fully-clothed. It can say everything before it has anything to say. It is as if the savage tribe, instead of finding two bars of iron to play with, had found scattering the seashore fiddles, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, grand pianos by Erhard and Bechstein, and had begun with incredible energy, but without knowing a note of music, to hammer and thump upon them all at the same time."

"A mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there."

"A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death."

"A very elementary exercise in psychology, not to be dignified by the name of psycho-analysis, showed me, on looking at my notebook, that the sketch of the angry professor had been made in anger. Anger had snatched my pencil while I dreamt. But what was anger doing there? Interest, confusion, amusement, boredom--all these emotions I could trace and name as they succeeded each other throughout the morning. Had anger, the black snake, been lurking among them? Yes, said the sketch, anger had."

"A wild, wick slip she was."

"A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, thought the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen."

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

"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."

"After that, how unbelievable death was! - that is must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all."

"Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life."

"Across the broad continent of a woman's life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight, the trees regular, the sun shaded; escorted by gentlemen, protected by policemen, wedded and buried by clergymen, she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head. But on the other side all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course. The paths wind between bogs and precipices; the trees roar and rock and fall in ruin."

"Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating. I will not trouble you with that thought now, though if you look carefully you may find it for yourselves in the course of what I am going to say."

"Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange."

"All extremes are dangerous. It is best to keep in the middle of the road, in the common ruts, however muddy."

"Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!"

"All extremes of feeling are allied with madness."

"All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point - a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these two questions - women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unresolved problems."

"All great writers have, of course, an atmosphere in which they seem most at their ease and at their best; a mood of the general mind which they interpret and indeed almost discover, so that we come to read them rather for that than for any story or character or scene of separate excellence."

"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."

"All mists curl off the roof of my being. That confidence I shall keep to my dying day. Like a long wave, like a roll of heavy waters, he went over me, his devastating presence - dragging me open, laying bare the pebbles on the shore of my soul. It was humiliating; I was turned to small stones."

"All the same that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park...then these roses; it was enough. After that, how unbelievable death was! -- that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all."

"All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said... and went on in thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo ... or from the violet-sellers and the match-sellers and the old crones stationed under doorways; or from drifting girls whose faces, like waves in sun and cloud, signal the coming of men and women ... Above all, you must illumine your own soul with its profundities and its shallows, and its vanities and its generosities, and say what your beauty means to you or your plainness, and what is your relation to the everchanging and turning world of of gloves and shoes and muffs swaying up and down among the faint scents that come through chemists' bottles down arcades of dress material over a floor of pseudo-marble."

"All the time she writing the world had continued."

"All you need now is to stand at the window and let your rhythmical sense open and shut, open and shut, boldly and freely, until one thing melts in another, until the taxis are dancing with the daffodils, until a whole has been made from all these separate fragments."

"All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."

"All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides,' and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot."

"Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders."

"Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body."

"Am I a weed, carried this way, that way, on a tide that comes twice a day without a meaning?"