80 Influential Quotes from Virginia Woolf

Last updated on Jan 25th, 2023

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.

As one of the best-known members of the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals, Woolf was a prominent figure in the London literary society. Her notable works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and the essay A Room of One’s Own (1929). Mrs. Dalloway has been turned into a movie of the same name (1997) and has been the subject of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (1998).

In addition to her best works, Woolf wrote essays on artistic theory, literary history, and women. 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 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.

Table of Contents
  1. Famous Virginia Woolf Quotes
  2. Virginia Woolf Quotes about Women (Feminism)
  3. Virginia Woolf Quotes about Life
  4. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Writing
  5. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Thinking
  6. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Beauty
  7. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Freedom
  8. Virginia Woolf Wisdom Quotes
  9. Virginia Woolf Quotes about Truth
  10. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Love and Feelings
  11. Virginia Woolf Quotes on Happiness and Friendship
  12. Virginia Woolf Quotes about People

Famous Virginia Woolf Quotes

Boredom is the legitimate kingdom of the philanthropic. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
1

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

The strongest natures, when they are influenced, submit the most unreservedly: it is perhaps a sign of their strength. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
2

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

Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. - Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas Quotes)
3

Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes.Three Guineas (ed. 1938), Chapter 1, Page 34

Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue. - Virginia Woolf (On Not Knowing Greek Quotes)
4

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

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. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
5

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 (ed. 1928), Chapter 4, Page 170

That great Cathedral space which was childhood. - Virginia Woolf (A Sketch of the Past Quotes)
6

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

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. - Virginia Woolf (Hours in a Library Quotes)
7

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, in Times Literary Supplement (November 30, 1916)

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. - Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas Quotes)
8

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 (ed. 1938), Chapter 3, Page 260

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. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
9

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, in Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)

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. - Virginia Woolf (The Mark on the Wall Quotes)
10

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, in Two Stories, The Hogarth Press (July 1917)

On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points. - Virginia Woolf (The Waves Quotes)
11

On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.The Waves (ed. 1931), Page 176

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. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
12

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, in 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. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
13

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)

It seems as if an age of genius must be succeeded by an age of endeavour; riot and extravagance by cleanliness and hard work. - Virginia Woolf (How it strikes a Contemporary Quotes)
14

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, in Times Literary Supplement (April 5, 1923)

The older one grows the more one likes indecency. - Virginia Woolf (The String Quartet Quotes)
15

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

To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father. - Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas Quotes)
16

To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.Three Guineas (ed. 1938), Chapter 1, Page 31

Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
17

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

It was enemies one wanted, not friends. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
18

It was enemies one wanted, not friends.Mrs. Dalloway (ed. 1925), Page 266

For our penitence deserves a glimpse only; our toil respite only. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
19

For our penitence deserves a glimpse only; our toil respite only.To the Lighthouse (ed. 1927), Part II. Time Passes, Chapter 3, Page 199

Words rose above the intolerably laden dumb oxen plodding through the mud. Words without meaning - wonderful words. - Virginia Woolf (Between the Acts Quotes)
20

Words rose above the intolerably laden dumb oxen plodding through the mud. Words without meaning – wonderful words.Between the Acts (ed. 1941), Page 248

Never pretend that the things you haven't got are not worth having. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
21

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

Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
22

Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 2, Page 58

The artist after all is a solitary being. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
23

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

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

Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 2, Page 52

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
25

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 1, Page 17

Virginia Woolf Quotes about Women (Feminism)

As a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world. - Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas Quotes)
26

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 (ed. 1938), Chapter 3, Page 197

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
27

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 1, Page 6

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
28

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 3, Page 74

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. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
29

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 2, Page 53

The extraordinary woman depends on the ordinary woman. - Virginia Woolf (Women and Fiction Quotes)
30

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

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
31

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 ed. 1935), Chapter 6, Page 157

Why are women, so much more interesting to men than men are to women? - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
32

Why are women, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 2, Page 42

The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
33

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 3, Page 84

As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
34

As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.Orlando: A Biography (ed. 1928), Chapter 6, Page 242

Virginia Woolf Quotes about Life

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. - Virginia Woolf (Jacob's Room Quotes)
35

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 (ed. 1922), Chapter 8, Page 94

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. - Virginia Woolf (Modern Fiction Quotes)
36

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)

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. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
37

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 (ed. 1927), Part III. The Lighthouse, Chapter 3, Page 249

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. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
38

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 (ed. 1925), Page 120

It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
39

It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.Mrs. Dalloway (ed. 1925), Page 133

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. - Virginia Woolf (Jacob's Room Quotes)
40

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 (ed. 1922), Chapter 6, Page 81

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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. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
41

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, in Times Literary Supplement (January 31, 1924)

Still, life had a way of adding day to day. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
42

Still, life had a way of adding day to day.Mrs. Dalloway (ed. 1925), Page 97

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Writing

Books are the mirrors of the soul. - Virginia Woolf (Between the Acts Quotes)
43

Books are the mirrors of the soul.Between the Acts (ed. 1941), Page 22

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. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
44

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)

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. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
45

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 3, Page 62

Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life; every quality of his mind is written large in his works. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
46

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 (ed. 1928), Chapter 4, Page 189

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. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
47

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 4, Page 98

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
48

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 3, Page 85

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. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
49

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)

Once she knows how to read there's only one thing you can teach her to believe in - and that is herself. - Virginia Woolf (A Society Quotes)
50

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)

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Thinking

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. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
51

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 4, Page 114

There are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed. - Virginia Woolf (The Waves Quotes)
52

There are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed.The Waves (ed. 1931), Page 159

Where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
53

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 (ed. 1928), Chapter 4, Page 193

Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. - Virginia Woolf (Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid Quotes)
54

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

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Beauty

Beauty was not everything. Beauty had this penalty - it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life - froze it. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
55

Beauty was not everything. Beauty had this penalty – it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life – froze it.To the Lighthouse (ed. 1927), Part III. The Lighthouse, Chapter 5, Page 273

Beauty is only two finger's-breadth from goodness. - Virginia Woolf (Montaigne Quotes)
56

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

The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
57

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 1, Page 25

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Freedom

To enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, we have of course to control ourselves. - Virginia Woolf (How Should One Read a Book? Quotes)
58

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

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. - Virginia Woolf (A Letter to a Young Poet Quotes)
59

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, in Yale Review (June 1932)

I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
60

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 (ed. 1935), Chapter 1, Page 37

Virginia Woolf Wisdom Quotes

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
61

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.A Room of One's Own ( ed. 1935), Chapter 1, Page 28

The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages. - Virginia Woolf Quotes
62

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

It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. - Virginia Woolf (Professions for Women Quotes)
63

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

A light here required a shadow there. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
64

A light here required a shadow there.To the Lighthouse (ed. 1927), Part I. The Window, Chapter 9, Page 85

Virginia Woolf Quotes about Truth

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. - Virginia Woolf (The Leaning Tower Quotes)
65

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

Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. - Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
66

Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.A Room of One's Own (ed. 1935), Chapter 2, Page 47

It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover seeds of truth. - Virginia Woolf (Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid Quotes)
67

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

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Love and Feelings

It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
68

It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.Mrs. Dalloway (ed. 1925), Page 175

All extremes of feeling are allied to madness. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
69

All extremes of feeling are allied to madness.Orlando: A Biography (ed. 1928), Chapter 1, Page 44

Love had a thousand shapes. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
70

Love had a thousand shapes.To the Lighthouse (ed. 1927), Part III. The Lighthouse, Chapter 11, Page 295

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. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
71

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 (ed. 1925), Page 51

Virginia Woolf Quotes on Happiness and Friendship

Happiness is to have a little string onto which things will attach themselves. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
72

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

Nothing thicker than a knife's blade separates happiness from melancholy. - Virginia Woolf (Orlando: A Biography Quotes)
73

Nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.Orlando: A Biography (ed. 1928), Chapter 1, Page 44

Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends. - Virginia Woolf (The Waves Quotes)
74

Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.The Waves (ed. 1931), Page 189

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. - Virginia Woolf (Jacob's Room Quotes)
75

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 (ed. 1922), Chapter 5, Page 63

Virginia Woolf Quotes about People

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. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
76

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 (ed. 1925), Page 135

Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame. - Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway Quotes)
77

Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.Mrs. Dalloway (ed. 1925), Page 74

To be caught happy in a world of misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes. - Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse Quotes)
78

To be caught happy in a world of misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes.To the Lighthouse (ed. 1927), Part I. The Window, Chapter 8, Page 73

One likes people much better when they're battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph. - Virginia Woolf (The Diary Quotes)
79

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)

Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. - Virginia Woolf (Jacob's Room Quotes)
80

Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us.Jacob's Room (ed. 1922), Chapter 12, Page 140