Virginia Woolf is known for authoring classics such as ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ ‘To the Lighthouse,’ and ‘Orlando.’ Woolf was one of the foremost and most vocal feminists in the literature of the early twentieth century. She wrote in favor of female independence and against male chauvinism, and the patriarchy, among others. Her works are known for their stream-of-consciousness style, which she believed to be the best lens from which one could peer into the human mind.
Her quotes usually revolve around themes of egalitarianism, the subjectivity of the human experience, and contemplation of life and death, among others. Woolf possessed the gift of wit and the ability to communicate complex ideas in clear and simple terms.
On Disorder and Inconsistencies
How tired I am of stories, how tired I am of phrases that come down beautifully with all their feet on the ground! Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of note-paper. I begin to long for some little language such as lovers use, broken words, and inarticulate words, like the shuffling of feet on the pavement. I begin to seek some design more following those moments of humiliation and triumph that come now and then undeniably. Lying in a ditch on a stormy day, when it has been raining, then enormous clouds come marching over the sky, tattered clouds, wisps of cloud. What delights me then is the confusion, the height, the indifference, and the fury. Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch. Of story, of design, I do not see a trace then.
Woolf, in ‘The Waves’, expresses her dissatisfaction with the faux neatness of life. Reality, Woolf contends, is messy, uneven, disorderly, and chaotic, and thus, we should embrace this disorganization of life, its ups, and downs, ebb and flow.
For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may have many thousand…and these selves of which we are built up, one on top of the other, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own… so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there… and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.
Culled from the book, ‘Orlando’. In it, Woolf points to the propensity people have towards order and consistency and points out that, disorder and inconsistency are part of life’s experience. Not everything can be neatly tied and placed in nice little boxes. There’s an element of disorganization and incoherence to the human spirit — a sentiment she espoused in her writing style.
On Feminism and Egalitarianism
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
Arguably Virginia Woolf’s most famous quote is culled from her book ‘A Room of One’s Own’. In this statement, Woolf epitomizes her philosophy on feminism and the independence of women from the patriarchy. In her books, Woolf always sought to distinguish the female characters by giving them traits of independence. For instance, the character of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe in ‘To the Lighthouse’.
By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis the waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.
Woolf considered herself a rebel. A square peg in a round hole. She never tried to fit into the mold but sought to destroy the mold. A female novelist was still seen as unorthodox in her time. Woolf considered it better to die chasing one’s dreams (in her case, of being a novelist and critic) than being pigeonholed into the stereotypical housewife of the early twentieth century.
On Friendship and the Meaning of Life
I see nothing. We may sink and settle on the waves. The sea will drum in my ears. The white petals will be darkened with seawater. They will float for a moment and then sink. Rolling over the waves will shoulder me under. Everything falls in a tremendous shower, dissolving me.
Culled from her book ‘The Waves’. Six friends are followed throughout the book as they grow up and experience middle age. They all grew up together and there are five of them. They graduate from school (bonding over how much they despise it) and separate as soon as they are not required to sit in the classroom. As the years go by and the sea’s waves continue to crash, their friendships grow further apart as they come to terms with the realities of aging and the isolation that can accompany it. In the above quote, Woolf reminisces about the tendency for long friendships and bonds to wane over time. Woolf also makes the case that the bond of friendship gives our lives meaning.
It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.
Culled from ‘Mrs. Dalloway’. Here, Septimus presents a Modernist point of view. He chooses to define the parameters of his existence rather than submit to authority or religion. The only fundamental meaning that exists in the world is the meaning that individuals assign to it. Septimus finds significance in seemingly insignificant things, like a dog or a tree, but he struggles to make sense of the greater picture in light of the horrors he has witnessed throughout the war.
On Time and the Cyclical Nature of Life
The sun rose. Bars of yellow and green fell on the shore, gilding the ribs of the eaten-out boat and making the sea-holly and its mailed leaves gleam blue as steel. Light almost pierced the thin swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach. The girl who had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks of fire in them, dance, now bared her brows and with wide-opened eyes drove a straight pathway over the waves.
Virginia Woolf draws parallels between the time of day and the time of life. There are cycles in everything in the universe. Sunrise, dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. Birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, aging, and death. Wave after wave a new wave begins to form somewhere in the sea as soon as one breaks on the shore.
it has contrived that the whole assortment shall be stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.
Woolf wrote extensively on the subject of time, as other modernist writers like Joyce, Proust, and Faulkner did. The perception of the forward movement of time is subjective to everyone. This is why Woolf — like most modernist writers — imbibed their works with multiple perspectives to give the reader a fuller picture of the nature of things.
Who inspired Virginia Woolf?
The essay “Haworth, November 1904,” which appeared in The Guardian on December 21st, 1904, was Virginia Woolf’s first publication. The piece was written by Virginia after visiting the Bronte sisters’ family home, the almost-holy site where the classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were created. Virginia had long regarded the Bronte sisters as literary gods.
Was Virginia Woolf ever a teacher?
Virginia Woolf was a professor at Morley College from 1906 to 1907, which provided evening sessions for working-class persons looking to advance their literacy. Not only would Virginia teach throughout her life, but her lectures at the esteemed women’s institutions Girton College and Newnham College would also be published as ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in 1929.
Why did Virginia Woolf change her name from Adeline?
Many Woolf scholars believe that Virginia’s decision to shed her first name was a coping strategy or a sign of her coming of age. The same thing would happen today if someone got a nose piercing or changed the way they wore their hair. Virginia desired a brand-new, mature persona that was distinct from the young girl she had been raised in a very dysfunctional family.