80 Influential Quotes from Virginia Woolf

Last updated on Jan 25th, 2017

80 Influential Quotes from Virginia Woolf

Adeline Virginia Woolf (née Stephen; January 25, 1882, London, England – March 28, 1941, near Rodmell, Sussex) was an English novelist, essayist and one of the foremost pioneers of modernism in English literature, best known for her nonlinear prose style.

Woolf was an important figure in the London literary society and one of the best known members of the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. Among her notable works are novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and an essay A Room of One’s Own. Novel Mrs. Dalloway has been turned into a movie of the same name (1997) and been the subject of a Michael Cunningham’s novel, The Hours (1998).

In addition to her best works, Woolf also wrote essays on artistic theory, literary history and women’s writing. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press.

Virginia Woolf might not belong to the group of the greatest authors, but she is certainly one of the most innovative writers of the 20th century. Her works have been translated into over 50 languages, thanks to writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Marguerite Yourcenar.


One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


As a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.Three Guineas (June 1938)


The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.An Unwritten Novel, written early 1920, published in London Mercury (July 1920)


If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.The Leaning Tower, Folios of New Writing, (Autumn 1940)


A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


The truth is that human beings have neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase the pleasure of the moment. They hunt in packs. Their packs scour the desert and vanish screaming into the wilderness.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


Boredom is the legitimate kingdom of the philanthropic.The Diary (September 20, 1918)


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.Modern Fiction (April 1919)


I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.
(Very often misquoted as: For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.)A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Beauty was not everything. Beauty had this penalty—it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life—froze it.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


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.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


Beauty is only two finger’s-breadth from goodness.'Montaigne,' Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)


Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.The Waves (October 8, 1931)


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.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


The strongest natures, when they are influenced, submit the most unreservedly: it is perhaps a sign of their strength.'Thoreau,' Times Literary Supplement (July 12, 1917)


Books are the mirrors of the soul.Between the Acts (1941)


Nothing shakes my opinion of a book. Nothing-nothing. Only perhaps if it’s the book of a young person-or of a friend-no, even so, I think myself infallible.The Diary (June 23, 1920)


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.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Once you begin to take yourself seriously as a leader or as a follower, as a modern or as a conservative, then you become a self-conscious, biting, and scratching little animal whose work is not of the slightest value or importance to anybody.'A Letter to a Young Poet,' Yale Review (June 1932)


The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it.Jacob's Room (October 26, 1922)


Love had a thousand shapes.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


Where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.'On Not Knowing Greek,' The Common Reader (1925)


Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


But nothing is so strange when one is in love (and what was this except being in love?) as the complete indifference of other people.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


To enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, we have of course to control ourselves.How Should One Read a Book?, Yale Review, (October 1926)


That great Cathedral space which was childhood.A Sketch of the Past (1938)


The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes.Three Guineas (June 1938)


Happiness is to have a little string onto which things will attach themselves.The Diary (April 20, 1925)


It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.'Professions for Women' (1933)


To be caught happy in a world of misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


A whole lifetime was too short to bring out, now that one had acquired the power, the full flavour; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning; which both were so much more solid than they used to be, so much less personal.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


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.'Hours in a Library,' Times Literary Supplement (November 30, 1916)


Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life; every quality of his mind is written large in his works.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


There are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed.The Waves (October 8, 1931)


Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


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.'Montaigne,' Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)


The older one grows the more one likes indecency.The String Quartet (January 1921)


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.Jacob's Room (October 26, 1922)


One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph.The Diary (August 13, 1921)


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 in any longer.'The Mark on the Wall,' Two Stories, The Hogarth Press (July 1917)


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 Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


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.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


The man who is aware of himself is henceforward independent; and he is never bored, and life is only too short, and he is steeped through and through with a profound yet temperate happiness.'Montaigne,' Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)


Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


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.Three Guineas (June 1938)


It seems as if an age of genius must be succeeded by an age of endeavour; riot and extravagance by cleanliness and hard work.'How it strikes a Contemporary,' Times Literary Supplement (April 5, 1923)


Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in—and that is herself.A Society (1921)


I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


It was enemies one wanted, not friends.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life.'Montaigne,' Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)


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.The Diary (October 2, 1932)


For our penitence deserves a glimpse only; our toil respite only.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


Why are women, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover seeds of truth.'Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid,' New Republic, New York (October 21, 1940)


All extremes of feeling are allied to madness.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us.Jacob's Room (October 26, 1922)


On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.The Waves (October 8, 1931)


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.The Modern Essay (1925)


The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Words rose above the intolerably laden dumb oxen plodding through the mud. Words without meaning—wonderful words.Between the Acts (1941)


To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.Three Guineas (June 1938)


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.'Montaigne,' Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)


Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)


The extraordinary woman depends on the ordinary woman.'Women and Fiction,' Forum, New York (March 1929)


Never pretend that the things you haven’t got are not worth having.The Diary (January 2, 1923)


A light here required a shadow there.To the Lighthouse (May 5, 1927)


Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


The artist after all is a solitary being.The Historian and 'The Gibbon,' Times Literary Supplement (April 24, 1937)


As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.Orlando: A Biography (October 11, 1928)


Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title.Jacob's Room (October 26, 1922)


Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it.'Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid,' New Republic, New York (October 21, 1940)


No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.A Room of One's Own (October 24, 1929)


Still, life had a way of adding day to day.Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)