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Tragic Genius: Quotes from Virginia Woolf

Updated on March 12, 2013

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

The connection between dress and war is not far to seek; your finest clothes are those you wear as soldiers.

The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.

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

The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.

The poet gives us his essence, but prose takes the mold of the body and mind.

The telephone, which interrupts the most serious conversations and cuts short the most weighty observations, has a romance of its own.

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

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.

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.

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.

They can because they think they can.

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.

This is not writing at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.

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.

Thought and theory must precede all salutary action; yet action is nobler in itself than either thought or theory.

To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.

To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves.

We are nauseated by the sight of trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print.

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.

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

Where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe.

Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?

Why are women... so much more interesting to men than men are to women?

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.

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

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

You cannot find peace by avoiding life.

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

It is far more difficult to murder a phantom than a reality.

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

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

It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

It seems as if an age of genius must be succeeded by an age of endeavour; riot and extravagance by cleanliness and hard work.

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.

Language is wine upon the lips.

Let a man get up and say, Behold, this is the truth, and instantly I perceive a sandy cat filching a piece of fish in the background. Look, you have forgotten the cat, I say.

Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

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.

Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.

My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery - always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What's this passion for?

Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.

Nothing induces me to read a novel except when I have to make money by writing about it. I detest them.

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

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

Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.

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

One has to secrete a jelly in which to slip quotations down people's throats - and one always secretes too much jelly.

One likes people much better when they're battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph.

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.

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

Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.

Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life.

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

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

Somewhere, everywhere, now hidden, now apparent in what ever is written down, is the form of a human being. If we seek to know him, are we idly occupied?

That great Cathedral space which was childhood.

The beautiful seems right by force of beauty, and the feeble wrong because of weakness.

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

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.

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

I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.

I want the concentration and the romance, and the worlds all glued together, fused, glowing: have no time to waste any more on prose.

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

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

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?

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?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.

For what Harley Street specialist has time to understand the body, let alone the mind or both in combination, when he is a slave to thirteen thousand a year?

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

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

Boredom is the legitimate kingdom of the philanthropic.

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.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way.

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.

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

Virginia Woolf   English novelist (1882 - 1941)
Virginia Woolf English novelist (1882 - 1941)

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