Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Virginia Woolf, nee Stephen, fully Adeline Virginia Woolf

English Writer

"Women's rights, that antediluvian topic."

"Words are very democratic; think that a word is as good as another, that the rough words worth as those educated, the uneducated that are equal to those educated, there are no classes or titles of merit in their society. And I do not like to be raised at the tip of a pen and examined one by one. They will always be together in sentences, paragraphs, and sometimes for whole pages in a row. Hate to be useful; hate to make money; hate to go around lecturing. In short, they hate anything that requires them only one meaning, or that the fixed assets in a single pose, because change is part of their nature."

"Words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and dither falling in love, meeting together. It's true they are much less bound by ceremony, convention, than we are. Royal words meet with common words. English words marry French words, German words. Indian words, Negro words."

"Would there be trees if we didn't see them?"

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

"Words rose above the intolerably laden dumb oxen plodding through the mud. Words without meaning - wonderful words."

"Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigues, I have had my vision."

"Yes, yes, I'm coming. Right up the top of the house. One moment I'll linger. How the mud goes round in the mind—what a swirl these monsters leave, the waters rocking, the weeds waving and green here, black there, striking to the sand, till by degrees the atoms reassemble, the deposit sifts itself, and a gain through the eyes one sees clear and still, and there comes to the lips some prayer for the departed, some obsequy for the souls of those one nods to, the one never meets again."

"Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when you put the lid on the tea spills over. There is a brown pool on the table--it is running among your books and papers. Now you mop it up, clumsily, with your pocket-hankerchief. You then stuff your hankerchief back into your pocket--that is not Byron; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty years' time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep."

"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."

"Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes. Now and again an Emily Bronte or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But certainly it never got itself on paper. When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to… Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty."

"Yet it is true that there was an absent mindedness about her which sometimes made her clumsy; she was apt to think of poetry when she should have been thinking of taffeta; her walk was a little too much of a stride for a woman, perhaps, and her gestures, being abrupt, might endanger a cup of tea on occasion."

"Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial’. And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. 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. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop — everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists."

"Yet there are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed, and I could fancy that we might blow so vast a bubble that the sun might set and rise in it and we might take the blue of midday and the black of midnight and be cast off and escape from here and now."

"Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards–their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble–the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

"Yet, it is true, poetry is delicious; the best prose is that which is most full of poetry."

"Yet, she said to herself, form the dawn of time odes have been sung to love; wreaths heaped and roses; and if you asked nine people out of ten they would say they wanted nothing but this--love; while the women, judging from her own experience, would all the time be feeling, This is not what we want; there is nothing more tedious, puerile, and inhumane than this; yet it is also beautiful and necessary."

"You are not listening to me. You are making phrases about Byron. And while you gesticulate, with your cloak, your cane, I am trying to expose a secret told to nobody yet; I am asking you (as I stand with my back to you) to take my life in your hands and tell me whether I am doomed always to cause repulsion in those I love?"

"You can't think what a raging furnace it still is to me? Madness and doctors and being forced."

"You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets. People who have seen them running wild in Russia say that the sight is not a pleasant one."

"You have neither wife nor child (without any sexual feeling, she longed to cherish that loneliness)."

"You cannot find peace by avoiding life."

"You send a boy to school in order to make friends - the right sort."

"You have been reading Byron. You have been marking the passages that seem to approve of your own character. I find marks against all those sentences which seem to express a sardonic yet passionate nature; a moth-like impetuosity dashing itself against hard glass. You thought, as you drew your pencil there, I too throw off my cloak like that. I too snap my fingers in the face of destiny. Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when you put the lid on the tea spills over. There is a brown pool on the table - it is running among your books and papers. Now you mop it up, clumsily, with your pocket-handkerchief. You then stuff your handkerchief back into your pocket - that is not Byron; that is you; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty years' time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep."

"You were given a sharp, acute, uncomfortable grain..; yet in absence, in the most unlikely places, it would flower out, open, shed its scent, let you touch, taste, look about you, get the whole feel of it and understanding, after years of lying lost."

"You wish to be a poet; you wish to be a lover. But the splendid clarity of your intelligence, and the remorseless honestly of your intellect bring you to a halt."

"Young women... you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or led an army into battle. The plays by Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilization. What is your excuse?"

"Youth, youth- something savage- something pedantic. For example there is Mr. Masefield, there is Mr. Bennett. Stuff them into the flame of Marlowe and burn them to cinders. Let not a shred remain. Don't palter with the second rate. Detest your own age. Build a better one."

"The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder."

"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."

"Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary … of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call “reality”: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. But who knows — once one takes a pen and writes? How difficult not to go making “reality” this and that, whereas it is one thing. Now perhaps this is my gift: this perhaps is what distinguishes me from other people: I think it may be rare to have so acute a sense of something like that — but again, who knows? I would like to express it too."

"Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing the world into different perspectives."

"Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine, I thought. But it would be well to test what one meant by man-womanly, and conversely by woman-manly, by pausing and looking at a book or two."

"In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female? The androgynous mind is resonant and porous? naturally creative, incandescent and undivided."

"Coleridge? meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare?s mind as the type of the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind? And if it be true that it is one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think specially or separately of sex, how much harder it is to attain that condition now than ever before? No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own?"

"The mind is certainly a very mysterious organ ? about which nothing whatever is known, though we depend upon it so completely. Why do I feel that there are severances and oppositions in the mind, as there are strains from obvious causes on the body? What does one mean by ?the unity of the mind?? ? Clearly the mind has so great a power of concentrating at any point at any moment that it seems to have no single state of being. It can separate itself from the people in the street, for example, and think of itself as apart from them, at an upper window looking down on them. Or it can think with other people spontaneously, as, for instance, in a crowd waiting to hear some piece of news read out."

"When I saw the couple get into the taxicab the mind felt as if, after being divided, it had come together again in a natural fusion. The obvious reason would be that it is natural for the sexes to co-operate. One has a profound, if irrational, instinct in favor of the theory that the union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most complete happiness. But the sight of the two people getting into the taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness? And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female; and in the man?s brain the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman?s brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her."

"Style is a very simple matter: it is allÿrhythm. Once you get that, you can?t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can?t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. 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; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year."

"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."

"I want to appear a success even to myself. Yet I don?t get to the bottom of it. It?s having no children, living away from friends, failing to write well, spending too much on food, growing old. I think too much of whys and wherefores; too much of myself. I don?t like time to flap round me. Well then, work."

"I wonder why time is always allowed to harry one."

"Life piles up so fast that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections."

"Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal 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 on the timepiece of the mind by one second."