Born Adeline Virginia Stephen
British author, feminist and modernist literary figure of the 20th century
Married to Leonard Woolf
Founded the Bloomsbury Group and the Hogarth Press
Strong emotional ties with women, bisexually involved with members of the Group
Sexually abused by half brothers, loss of both parents led to brief institutionalization
Suffered 2 major nervous breakdowns, believed she was to suffer a third and commited suicied by filling her pockets with stones and drowning herself in the River Ouse, near her home in Rodmell
Left two suicide notes for her husband and her sister:
“I feel certain that I am going mad again: I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness… I can’t fight it any longer, I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work”
Jacob’s Room (1922)
Considered to be Woolf’s first piece of experimental fiction
Woolf breaks down traditional ways of representing character and experience
Portrait of a young man (Jacob) who is both representative and victim of the social values which led Edwardian society into war
Traces Jacob’s life from the time he is a small boy through his years in Cambridge, in London, and on his trip to Greece
Jacob is presented in glimpses and fragments
“‘So of course,’ wrote Betty Flanders, pressing her heels rather deeper in the sand, ‘there was nothing for it but to leave.’
Slowly welling from the point of her gold nib, pale blue ink dissolved the full stop; for there her pen stuck; her eyes fixed, and tears slowly filled them. The entire bay quivered; the lighthouse wobbled; and she had the illusion that the mast of Mr Connor’s little yacht was bending like a wax candle in the sun. She winked quickly. Accidents were awful things. She winked again. The mast was straight; the waves were regular; the lighthouse was upright; but the blot had spread.
‘… nothing for it but to leave,’ she read.”
“‘How could I think of marriage!’ she said to herself bitterly, as she fastened the gate with a pice of wire. She had always disliked red hair in men, she thought, thinking of Mr Floyd’s appearance, that night when the boys had gone to bed. And pushing her workbox away, she drew the blotting-paper towards her, and read Mr Floyed’s letter again, and her breast went up and down when she came to the word ‘love’, but not so fast this time, for she saw Johnny chasing the geese, and knew that it was impossible for her to marry anyone – let alone Mr Floyd, who was so much younger than she was, but what a nice man – and such a scholar too.
‘Dear Mr Floyd,’ she wrote. -‘Did I forget about the cheese?’ she wondered, laying down her pen. No, she had told Rebecca that the cheese was in the hall. ‘I am much surprised…’ she wrote.
But the letter which Mr Floyd found on the table when he got up early next morning did not begin ‘I am much surprised,’ and it was such a motherly, respectful, inconsequent, regretful letter that he kept it for many years; long after his marriage with miss Wimbush, of Andover; long after he had left the village. For he asked for a parish in Sheffield, which was given him; and, sending for Archer, Jacob, and John to say good-bye, he told them to choose whatever they liked in his study to remember him by. Archer chose a paper-knife, because he did not like to choose anything too good; Jacob chose the works of Byron in one volume; John, who was still too young to make a proper choice, chose Mr Floyd’s kitten, which his brothers thought an absurd choice, but Mr Floyd upheld him when he said: ‘It has fur like you.’ Then Mr Floyd spoke about the King’s Navy (to which Archer was going); and next day he received a silver salver and went – first to Sheffield, where he met Miss Wimbush, who was on a visit to her uncle, then to Hackney – then to Maresfield House, of which he became principal, and finally, becoming editor of a well-known series of Ecclesiastical Biographies, he retired to Hampstead with his wife and daughter, and is often to be seen feeding the ducks on Leg of Mutton Pond. As for Mrs Flanders’s letter – when he looked for it the other day he could not find it, and did not like to ask his wife whether she had put it away. Meeting Jacob in Piccadilly lately, he recognized him after three seconds. But Jacob had grown such a fine young man that Mr Floyd did not like to stop him in the street.”
“Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a railway carriage. They see a whole – they see all sorts of things – they see themselves … Mrs Norman now read three pages of one of Mr Norris’s novels. Should she say to the young man (and after all he was just the same age as her own boy): ‘If you want to smoke, don’t mind me’? No: he seemed absolutely indifferent to her presence… she did not wish to interrupt.
But since, even at her age, she noted his indifference, presumably he was in some way or other – to her at least – nice, handsome, interesting, distinguished, well built, like her own boy? One must do the best one can with her report. Anyhow, this was Jacob Flanders, aged nineteen. It is no use trying to sum people up. One must follow hints, not exactly what is said, nor yet entirely what is done – for instance, when the train drew into the station, Mr Flanders burst open the door, and put the lady’s dressing-case out for her, saying, or rather mumbling: ‘Let me’ very shyly; indeed he was rather clumsy about it.”
“No doubt if this were Italy, Greece, or even the shores of Spain, sadness would be routed by strangeness and excitement and the nudge of a classical education. But the Cornish hills have stark chimneys standing on them; and, somehow or other, loveliness is infernally sad. Yes, the chimneys and the coastguard stations and the little bays with the waves breaking unseen by anyone make one remember the overpowering sorrow. And what can this sorrow be?
It is brewed by the earth itself. It comes from the houses on the coast. We start transparent, and then the cloud thickens. All history backs our pane of glass. To escape is vain.”
“Oh yes, human life is very tolerable on the top of an omnibus in Holborn, when the policeman holds up his arm and the sun beats on your back, and if there is such a thing as a shell secreted by man to fit man himself here we find it, on the banks of the Thames, where the great streets join and St Paul’s Cathedral, like the volute on the top of the snail shell, finishes it off. Jacob, getting off his omnibus, loitered up the steps, consulted his watch, and finally made up his mind to go in …Does it need an effort? Yes. These changes of mood wear us out.”
“It seems then that men and women are equally at fault. It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case, like is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if this and much more than this is true, why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us – why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about him.
Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love.”
“But something is always impelling one to hum, vibrating, like the hawk moth, at the mouth of the cavern of mystery, endowing Jacob Flanders with all sorts of qualities he had not at all – for though, certainly, he sat talking to Bonamy, half of what he said was too dull to repeat; much unintelligible (about unknown people and Parliament); what remains is mostly a matter of guess work. Yet over him we hang vibrating.”
“The problem is insoluble. The body is harnessed to a brain. Beauty goes hand in hand with stupidity. There she sat staring at the fire as she had stared at the broken mustard-pot. In spite of defending indecency, Jacob doubted whether he liked it in the raw. He had a violent reversion towards male society, cloistered rooms, and the works of the classics; and was ready to turn with wrath upon whoever it was who had fashioned life thus.
Then Florinda laid her hand upon his knee.
After all, it was none of her fault. But the thought saddened him. 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.
Any excuse, though, serves a stupid woman. He told her his head ached.
But when she looked at him, dumbly, half-guessing, half-understanding, apologizing perhaps, anyhow saying as he had said, ‘It’s none of my fault,’ straight and beautiful in body, her face like a shell within its cap, then he knew that cloisters and classics are no use whatever. The problem is insoluble.”
“Well, people have tried. Byron wrote letters. So did Cowper. For centuries the writing-desk has contained sheets fit precisely for the communications of friends. Masters of language, poets of long ages, have turned from the sheet that endures to the sheet that perishes, pushing aside the tea-tray, drawing close to the fire (for letters are written when the dark presses round a bright red cave), and addressed themselves to the task of reaching, touching, penetrating the individual heart. Were it possible! But words have been used too often; touched and turned, and left exposed to the dust of the street. The words we week hang close to the tree. We come at dawn and find them sweet beneath the leaf.”
“Such faces as one sees. The little man fingering the meat must have squatted before the fire innumerable lodging-houses, and heard and seen and known so much that it seems to utter itself even volubly from dark eyes, loose lips, as he fingers the meat silently, his face sad as a poet’s, and never a song sung. Shawled women carry babies with purple eyelids; boys stand at street corners; girls look across the road – rude illustrations, pictures in a book whose pages we turn over and over as if we should at last find what we look for. Every face, every shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a picture feverishly turned – in search of what? It is the same with books. What do we seek through millions of pages? Still hopefully turning the pages- oh, here is Jacob’s room.”
“The worn voices of clocks repeated the fact of the hour all night long.”
“The dialogue draws to its close. Plato’s argument is done. Plato’s argument is stowed away in Jacob’s mind, and for five minutes Jacob’s mind continues alone, onwards, into the darkness. Then, getting up, he parted the curtains, and saw, with astonishing clearness, how the Springetts opposite had gone to bed; how it rained; how the Jews and the foreign woman, at the end of the street, stood by the pillarbox, arguing.”
“And down they sat cross-legged upon cushions and talked about Jacob, Helen’s voice trembled, for they both seemed heroes to her, and the friendship between them so much more beautiful than women’s friendships.”
“…the bright yet vague glance of the young.
Bright yet vague.”
“The fixed faces are the dull ones.”
“Then, at a top-floor window, leaning out, looking down, you see beauty itself; or in the corner of an omnibus; or squatted in a ditch – beauty glowing, suddenly expressive, withdrawn the moment after. No one can count on it or seize it or have it wrapped in paper. Nothing is to be won from the shops, and Heaven knows it would be better to sit at home than haunt the plate-glass windows in the hope of lifting the shining green, the glowing ruby, out of them alive. Sea glass in a saucer loses its lustre no sooner than silks do. Thus if you talk of a beautiful woman you mean only something flying fast which for a second uses the eyes, lips, or cheeks of Fanny Elmer, for example, to glow through.
She was not beautiful, as she sat stiffly; her underlip too prominent; her nose too large; her eyes too near together. She was a thin girl, with brilliant cheeks and dark hair, sulky just now, or stiff with sitting. When Bramham snapped his stick of charcoal she started. Bramham was out of temper. He squatted before the gas fire warming his hands. Meanwhile she looked at his drawing. He grunted. Fanny threw on a dressing-gown and boiled a kettle.
‘By God, it’s bad,’ said Bramham.
Fanny dropped on to the floor, clasped her hands round her knees, and looked at him, her beautiful eyes – yes, beauty, flying through the room, shone there for a second. Fanny’s eyes seemed to question, to commiserate, to be, for a second, love itself. But she exaggerated. Bramham noticed nothing. And then the kettle boiled, up she scrambled, more like a cold of a puppy than a loving woman.”
“The body after long illness in languid, passive, receptive of sweetness, but too weak to contain it.”
“Fanny thought it all came from Tom Jones. He could go alone with a book in his pocket and watch the badgers. He would take a train at eight-thirty and walk all night. He saw fireflies, and brought back glow-worms in pill-boxes. He would hunt with the New Forest Staghounds. It all came from Tom Jones; and he would go to Greece with a book in his pocket and forget her.
She fetched her hand-glass. There was her face. And supposed one wreathed Jacob in a turban? There was his face. She lit the lamp. But as the daylight came through the window only half was lip up by the lamp. And though he looked terrible and magnificent and would chuck the Forest, he said, and come to the Slade, and be a Turkish knight or a roman emperor (and he let her blacken his lips and clenched his teeth and scowled in the glass), still – there lay Tom Jones.”
“Then Jinny Carslake, after her affair with Lefanu the American painter, frequented Indian philosophers, and now you find her in pensions in Italy cherishing a little jewler’s box containing ordinary pebbles picked off the road. But if you look at them steadily, she says, multiplicity becomes unity, which is somehow the secret of life, though it does not prevent her from following the macaroni as it goes round the table, and sometimes, on spring nights, she makes the strangest confidences to shy young Englishmen.”
“The moor accepted everything. Tom Gage cries aloud so long as his tombstone endures. The Roman skeletons are in safe keeping. Betty Flanders’ darning needles are safe too and her garnet brooch. And sometimes at midday, in the sunshine, the moor seems to hoard these little treasures, like a nurse.”
“Indeed there has never been any explanation of the ebb and flow in our veins – of happiness and unhappiness. That respectability and evening parties where one has to dress, and wretched slums at the back of Gray’s Inn- something solid, immovable, and grotesque- is at the back of it, Jacob thought probable. But then there was the Birtish Empire which was beginning to puzzle him; nor was he altogether in favour of giving Home Rule to Ireland. What did the Daily Mail say about that?”
“There are very few good books after all, for we can’t count profuse histories, travels in mule carts to discover the sources of the Nile, or the volubility of fiction.
I like books whose virtue is all drawn together in a page or two. I like sentences that don’t budge though armies cross them. I like words to be hard- such were Bonamy’s views, and they won him the hostility of those whose taste is all for the fresh growths of the morning, who trow up the window, and find the poppies spread in the sun, and can’t forbear a shout of jubilation at the astonishing fertility of English literature. That was not Bonamy’s way at all. That his taste in literature affected his friendships, and made him silent, secretive, fastidious, and only quite at his ease with one or two young men of his own way of thinking, was the charge against him.
But then Jacob Flanders was not at all of his own way of thinking- far from it. Bonamy sighed, laying th ethin sheets of notepaper on the table and falling into throught about Jacob’s character, not for the first time.
The trouble was this romantic vein in him. ‘But mixed with the stupidity which leads him into these absure predicaments,’ thought Bonamy, ‘there is something – something’- he sighed, for he was fonder of Jacob than of anyone in the world.”
“it was not that he himself happened to be lonely, but that all people are.”
“‘Everything seems to mean so much,’ said Sandra. But with the sound of her own voice the spell was broken. She forgot the peasants. Only there remained with her a sense of her own beauty, and in front, luckily, there was a looking-glass.
‘I am very beautiful,’ she thought.”
“Jacob’s intention was to sit down and read, and, finding a drum of marble conveniently placed, from which Marathon could be seen, and yet it was in the shade, while the Erechtheum blazed white in front of him, there he sat. And after reading a page he put his thumb in his book. Why not rule countries in the way they should be ruled? And he read again.
“No doubt his position there overlooking Marathon somehow raised his spirits. Or it may have been that a slow capacious brain has these moments of flowering. Or he had, insensibly, while he was abroad, got into the way of thinking about politics.
And then looking up and seeing the sharp outline, his meditations were given an extraordinary edge; Greece was over; the Parthenon in ruins; yet there he was.”
“The flight of time which hurries us so tragically along: the eternal drudge and drone, now bursting into fiery flame like those brief balls of yellow among green leaves (she was looking at orange trees); kisses on lips that are to die; the world turning, turning in mazes of heat and sound- though to be sure there is the quiet evening with its lovely pallor”
“It is no use trying to sum people up. One must follow hints, not exactly what is said, nor yet entirely what is done. Some, it is true, take ineffaceable impressions of character at once. Others dally, loiter, and get blown this way and that. Kind old ladies assure us that cats are often the best judges of character. A cat will always go to a good man, they say; but then, Mrs Whitehorn, Jacob’s landlady, loathed cats.”
“The salt gale blew in at Betty Flanders’ bedroom window, and the widow lady, raising herself slightly on her elbow, sighed like one who realizes, but would fain ward off a little longer- oh, a little longer!- the opression of eternity.”
“Strolling in at dusk, Sandra would open the books and her eyes would brighten (but not at the print), and subsiding into the armchair she would suck back again the soul of the moment; or, for sometimes she was restless, would pull out book after book and swing across the whole space of her life like an acrobat from bar to bar. She had had her moments. Meanwhile, the great clock on the landing ticked and Sandra would hear time accumulating, and ask herself, ‘What for? What for?'”
“‘The guns?’ said Betty Flanders, half asleep, getting out of bed and going to the window, which was decorated with a fringe of dark leaves.
‘Not at this distance,’ she thought. ‘It is the sea.’
Again, far away, she heard the dull sound, as if nocturnal women were beating great carpets. There was Morty lost, and Seabrook dead; her sons fighting for their country. But were the chickens safe? Was that someone moving downstairs? Rebecca with the toothache? No. The nocturnal women were beating great carpets. Her hens shifted slightly on their perches.”
“The eighteenth century had its distinction. These houses were bulit, say, a hundred and fifty years ago. The rooms are shapely, the ceilings high; over the doorways a rose or a ram’s skull is carved in the wood. Even the panels, painted in raspberry coloured paint, have their distinction.”
“Listless is the air in an empty room, just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One fibre in the wicker armchair creaks, though no one sits there.
Bonamy crossed to the window. Pickford’s van swung down the street. The omnibuses were locked together at Mudie’s corner. Engines throbbed, and carters, jamming the brakes down, pulled their horses sharp up. A harsh and unhappy voice cried something unintelligible. And then suddenly all the leaves seemed to raise themselves.
‘Jacob! Jacob!’ cried Bonamy, standing by the window. The leaves sank down again.
‘Such confusion everywhere!’ exclaimed Betty Flanders, bursting open the bedroom door.
Bonamy turned away from the window.
‘What am I supposed to do with these, Mr Bonamy?’
She held out a pair of Jacob’s old shoes.”
Modern Fiction (1925)
Argues that modern fiction must break away from the traditional forms to explore unanswerable questions and embrace the ambiguity of life: narrative should be true to the artist and not concerned with plot or cohesion
Comments of Joyce’s form of writing
Explores the Russian influence on fiction
Justifies the use of a “stream of consciousness” narrative
“In making any survey, even the freest and loosest, of modern fiction, it is difficult not to take it for granted that the modern practice of the art is somehow an improvement upon the old. With their simple tools and primitive materials, it might be said, Fielding did well and Jane Austen even better, but compare their opportunities with ours! Their masterpieces certainly have a strange air of simplicity. And yet the analogy between literature and the process, to choose an example, of making motor cars scarcely holds good beyond the first glance. It is doubtful whether in the course of the centuries, though we have learnt much about making machines, we have learnt anything about making literature. We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that, but with a circular tendency should the whole course of the track be viewed from a sufficiently lofty pinnacle. It need scarcely be said that we make no claim to stand, even momentarily, upon that vantage-ground. On the flat, in the crowd, half blind with dust, we look back with envy to htose happier warriors, whose battle we can scarcely refrain from whispering that the fight was not so fierce for them as for us. It is for the historian of literature to decide; for him to say if prose fiction, for down in the plain little is visible. We only know that certain gratitudes and hostilities inspire us; that certain paths seem to lead to fertile land, others to the dust and the desert; and of this perhaps it may be worth while to attempt some account.”
“We have tto admit that we are exacting, and, further, that we find it difficult to justify our discontent by explaining what it is that we exact. We frame our question differently at different times. But it reappears most persistently as we drop the finished novel on the crest of a sigh – Is it worth while? What is the point of it all? Can it be that, owing to one of those little deviations which the human spirit seems to make from time to time, Mr. Bennett has come down with hes magnificent apparatus for catching life just an inch or two on the wrong side? Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while. It is a confession of vagueness to have to make use of such a figures as this, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking, as critics are prone to do, of reality. Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek.Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestiments as we provide.”
“Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this.’ Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myraid impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all dises they come, an incessant shower of innumberable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps noat a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a simitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. It is not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”
“In contrast with those whom we have called materialists, Mr. Joyce is spiritual; he is concerned at all costs to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain, and in order to preserve it he disregards with complete courage whatever seems to him adventitious, whether it be probability, or coherence, or any other of these signposts which for generations have served to support the imagination of a reader when called upon to imagine what he can neither touch nor see.”
“Is it the method that inhibits the creative power? Is it due to the method that we feel neither jovial nor magnanimous, but centred in a self which, in spite of its remor of susceptibility, never embraces or creates what is outside itself and beyond? Does the emphasis laid, perhaps didactically, upon indecency contribute to the effect of something angular and isolate? Or is it merely that in any effort of such originality it is much easier, for contemporaries especially, to feel what it lacks than to name what it gives? In any case it is a mistake to stand outside examining ‘methods’. Any method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express, if we are writers; that brings us closer to the novelist’s intention if we are readers.”
“However this may be, the problem before the novelist at present, as we suppose it to have been in he past, is to contrive means of eing gfree to set down what he chooses. He has to have the courage to say that what interests him is no longer ‘this’ but ‘that’: out of ‘that’ alone must he construct his work. For the moderns ‘that’, the point of interest, lies very likely in the dark places of psychology.”
“The conclusions of the Russian mind, thus comprehensive and compassionate, are inevitably, perhaps, of the utmost sadness. More accurately indeed we might speak of the inconclusiveness of the Russian mid. It is the sense that there is no answer, that if honestly examined life presents question after question which must be left to sound on and on after the story is over in hopeless interrogation that fills us with a deep, and finally it may be with a resentful, despair.”
“And if we can imagine the art of fiction come alive and standing in our midst, she would undoubtedly bid us break her and bully her, as well as honour and love her, for so her youth is renewed and her sovereignty assured.”
Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
Stream of consciouness narrative
Follow main character, Clarissa Dalloway, through one day in post WWI England
Compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses
Focuses on themes of madness, feminism, colonialism, commericalism, politics, medicine, and sexuality
“For having lived in Westmister-how many years now? over twenty, -one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. first warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life.”
“She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”
“..but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she kenw best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself.”
“Oh if she could have had her life over again! she thought, stepping on to the pavement, could have looked even differently!”
“She had a right to his arm, though it was without feeling. He would give her, who was so simple, so impulsive, only twenty-four, without friends in England, who had left Italy for his sake, a piece of bone.”
“…when London is a grass-grown path and all those hurrying along the pavement this Wednesday morning are but bones witha few wedding rings mixed up in their dust and the gold stoppings of innumerable decayed teeth.”
“…but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty, and tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky and bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible charity and laughing goodness on eshape after another of unimaginable beauty and signalling their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty! Tears ran down his cheeks.”
“To love makes one solitary, she thought.”
“…how moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only)…”
“Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, beings, collects, lets fall.”
“Well, I’ve had my fun; I’ve had it, he thought, looking up at the swinging baskets of pale geraniums. And it was smashed to atoms- his fun, for it was half made up, as he knew very well; invented, this escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he thought- making oneself up; making her up; creating an exquisite amusement, and something more. But odd it was, and quite true; all this one could never share- it smashed to atoms.”
“the word ‘time’ split its husk; poured its riches over him; and from his lips fell like shells, like shavings from a plane, without his making them, hard, white, imperishable words, and flew to attach themselves to their places in an ode to Time; an immortal ode to Time.”
“It was seeing blue hydrangeas that made her think of him and the old days- Sally Seton, of course!”
“…so she evolved this atheist’s religion of doing good for the sake of goodness.”
“…it must be the fault of the world then- that he could not feel…It might be possible, Septimus thought, looking at Englad from the train window, as they left Newhaven; it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”
“For the truth is (let her ignore it) that human beings have neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase the pleasure of the moment.”
“it was precisely twelve o’clock; twelve by Big Ben; whose stroke was wafted over the northern part of London; blent with that of other clocks, mixed in a thin ethereal way with the clouds and wisps of smoke, and died up there among the seagulls- twelve o’clock struck as Clarissa Dalloway laid her green dress on her bed, and the Warren Smiths walked down Harley Street. Twelve was the hour of their appointment. Probably, Rezia thought, that was Sir William Bradshaw’s house with the grey motor car in front of it. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.”
“but Proportion has a sister, less smiling, more formidable, a Goddess even now engaged… Conversion is her name and she feasts on the wills of the weakly, loving to impress, to impose, adoring her own features stamped on the face of the populace.”
“The time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too shy to say it, he thought, pocketing his sixpence or two of change, setting off with his great bunch held against his body to Westminster to say straight out in so many words (whatever she might think of him), holding out his flowers, ‘I love you.’ Why not?…he repeated that it was a miracle that he should have married Clarissa; a miracle- his life had been a miracle, he thought… Because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels…(But he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.) But how lovely, she said, taking his flowers. She understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa.”
“Both of them criticised her very unfairly, laughed at her very unjustly, for her parties. That was it! That was it! Well, how was she going to defend herself? Now that she knew what it was, she felt perfectly happy. They thought, or Peter at any rate thought, that she enjoyed imposing herlf; liked to have famous people about her; great names; was simply a snob in short. well, Peter might think so. Richard merely thought it foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart. it was childish, he thought. And both were quite wrong. What she liked was simply life.”
“After that, how unbelievable death was!- that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how, every instant…”
“Love and religion! thought Clarissa, going back into the drawing-room, tingling all over. how detestable, how detestable they are!… but love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul.”
“For that made Septimus cry out about human cruelty- how they tear each other to pieces. The fallen, he said, they tear to pieces.”
“Clarissa once, going on top of an omnibus with him somewhere, Clarissa superficially at least, so easily moved, now in despair, now in the best of spirits, all aquiver in those days and such good company, spotting queer little scenes, names, people from the top of a bus, for they used to explore London and bring back bags full of treasures from the Caledonian market- Clarissa had a theory in those days-they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. it was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. it was unsatisfactory, they agreed , how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not ‘here, here, here’; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in the street, some man behind a counter-even trees, or barns. it ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her skepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death… perhaps-perhaps.”
“Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that every one was unreal in one way; much more real in another.”
“Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was embrace in death.”
“She felt somehow very like him-the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.”
“…and she felt that Peter was an old friend, a read friend- did absence matter? did distance matter? She had often wanted to write to him, but torn it up, yet felt he understood, for people understand without things being said, as one realises growing old and old she was…”
“Did they know, she asked, that they were surrounded by an enchanted garden? Lights and trees and wonderful gleaming lakes and the sky. Just a few fairy lamps, Clarissa Dalloway had said, in the back garden! But she was a magician!”
“‘…What does the brain matter,’ said Lady Rosseter, getting up, ‘compared with the heart?'”
To the Lighthouse (1927)
The freely, multiply discursive tale centers on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920
Plot is secondary to philosophical introspection, and the prose can be winding and hard to follow
Includes little dialogue and almost no action: most of it is written as thoughts and observations of the major characters
Recalls the power of childhood emotions and highlights the impermanence of adult relationships
“Indeed, she had the whole of the other sex under her protection; for reasons she could not explain, for their chivalry and valour, for the fact that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance; finally for an attitude towards herself which n o woman could fail to feel or to find agreeable, something trustful, childlike, reverential; which an old woman could take from a young man without loss of dignity, and woe betide the girl – pray Heaven it was none of her daughters! – who did not feel the worth of it, and all that it implied, to the marrow of her bones!”
“When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better – her husband; money; his books. But for her own part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties, or slur over duties. She was now formidable to behold, and it was only in silence, looking up from their plates, after she had spoken so severely about Charles Tansley, that her daughters, Prue, Nancy, Rose – could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves of a life different from hers; in Paris, perhaps; a wilder life; not always taking care of some man or other; for there was in all their minds a mute questioning of deference and chivalry, of the Bank of England and the Indian Empire, of ringed fingers and lace, though to them all there was something in this of essence and beauty, which called out the manliness in their girlish hears, and made them, as they sat at the table beneath their mother’s eyes, honour her strange severity, her extreme courtesy, like a Queen’s raising from the mud to wash a beggar’s dirty foot, when she thus admonished them so very severely about that wretched atheist who had chased them – or, speaking accurately, been invited to stay with them – in Isles of Skye.”
“That was the view, she said, stopping, growing greyer-eyed, that her husband loved.”
“The gruff murmur, irregularly broken by the taking out of pipes and the putting in of pipes which had kept on assuring her, though she could not hear what was said (as she sat in the window which opened on the terrace), that the men were happily talking; this sound, which had lasted now half an hour and had taken its place soothingly in the scale of sounds pressing on top of her, such as the tap of balls upon bats, the sharp, sudden bark now and then, ‘How’s that? How’s that?’ of the children playing cricket, had ceased; so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again as she sat with the children the words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, ‘I am guarding you – I am your support,’ but at other times suddenly and unexpectedly, expecially when her mind raised itself slightly from the task actually in hand, had no such kindly meaning, but like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat the measure of life, made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that itw as all ephemeral as a rainbow – this sound which had been obscured and concealed under the other sounds suddenly thundered hollow in her ears and made her look up with an impulse of terror.”
“The jacmanna was bright violet; the wall staring white. She would not have considered it honest to tamper with the bright violet and the staring white, wince she saw them like that, fashionable though it was, since Mr. Paunceforte’s visit, to see everything pale, elegant, semitransparent. Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself – struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: ‘But this is what I see; this is what I see,’ and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay’s knee and say to her – but what could one say to her? ‘I’m in love with you?’ No, that was not true. ‘I’m in love with this all,’ waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was absurd, it was impossible. So now she laid her brushes neatly in the box, side by side, and said to William Banks:
‘It suddenly gets cold. The sun seems to give less heat,’ she said, looking about her, for it was bright enough, the grass still a soft deep green, the house starred in its greenery with purple passion flowers, and rooks dropping cool cries from the high blue. But something moved, flashed, turned a silver wing in the air. It was September, and past six in the evening. So off they strolled down the garden in the usual direction, past the tennis lawn, past the pampas grass, to that break in the thick hedge, guarded by red hot pokers like braisers of clear burning coal, between which the blue waters of the bay looked bluer than ever.
They came there regularly every evening drawn by some need. It was as if the water floated off and set sailing thoughts which had grown stagnant on dry land, and gave to their bodies even some sort of physical relief. First, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves. Then, up behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain of white water; and then, while one waited for that, one watched, on the pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again smoothly, a film of mother of pearl.”
“So now she always saw, when she thought of Mr. Ramsay’s work, a scrubbed kitchen table. It lodged now in the fork of a pear tree, for they had reached the orchard. And with a painful effort of concentration, she focused her mind, not upon the silver-bossed bark of the tree, or upon its fish-shaped leaves, but upon a phantom kitchen table, one of those scrubbed board tables, grained and knotted, whose virtue seems to have been laid bare by years of muscular integrity, which struck there, its four legs in air. Naturally, if one’s days were passed in this seeing of angular essences, this reducing of lovely evening, with all their flamingo clouds and blue and silver to a white deal four-legged table (and it was a mark of the finest minds to so to do), naturally one could not be judged like an ordinary person.”
“How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt, or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, atfer all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impessions poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably fixed there for eternity.”
“That windows should be open, and doors shut – simple as it was, could none of them remember it? She would go into the maids’ bedrooms at night and find them sealed like ovens, except for Marie’s, the Swiss girl, who would rather go without a bath than without fresh air, but then at home, she had said, ‘the mountains are so beautiful.’ She had said that last night looking out of the window with tears in her eyes. ‘The mountains are so beautiful.’ Her father was dying there, Mrs. Ramsay knew. He was leaving them fatherless. Scolding and demonstrating (how to make a bed, how to open a window, with hands that shut and spread like a Frenchwoman’s) all had folded itself quietly about her, when the girl spoke, as, after a flight through the sunshine the wings of a bird fold themselves quietly and the blue of its plumage changes from bright steel to soft purple. She had stood there silent for there was nothing to be said. He had cancer of the throat. At the recollection – how she had stood there, how the girl had said, ‘At home the mountains are so beautiful,’ and there was no hope, no hope whatever, she had a spasm of irritation, and speaking sharply , said to James:
‘Stand still. Don’t be tiresome,’ so that he knew instantly that her severity was real, and straightened his leg and she measured it.”
“How many men in a thousand million, he asked himself, reach Z after all? Surely the leader of a forlorn hope may ask himself that, and answer, without treachery to the expedition behind him, ‘One perhaps.’ One in a generation. Is he to be blamed then if he is not that one? provided he has toiled honestly, given to the best of his power, and till he has no more left to give? And his fame lasts how long? It is permissible even for a dying hero to think before he dies how men will speak of him hereafter. His fame lasts perhaps two thousand years. And what are two thousand years? (asked Mr. Ramsay ironically, staring at the hedge). What, indeed, if you look from a mountain top down the long wastes of the ages? The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.”
“He would argue that the world exists for the average human being; that the arts are merely a decoration imposed on the top of human life; they do not express it. Nor is Shakespeare necessary to it. Not knowning precisely why it was that he wanted to disparage Shakespeare and come to the rescue of the man who stands eternally in the door of the lift, he picked a leaf sharply form the hedge.”
“For him to gaze as Lily saw him gazing at Mrs. Ramsay was a rapture, equivalent, Lily felt, to the loves of dozens of young men (and perhaps Mrs. Ramsay had never excited the loves of dozens of young men). It was love, she thought, pretending to move her canvas, distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases, was meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain. So it was indeed. The world by all means should have shared it, could Mr. Bankes have said why that woman pleased him so; why the sight of her reading a fairy tale to her boy had upon him precisely the same effect as the solution of a scientific problem, so that he rested in contemplation of it, and felt, as he felt when he had proved something absolute about the digestive system of plants, that barbarity was tamed, the reign of chaos subdued…
That people should love like this, that Mr. Bankes should feel this for Mrs. Ramsay (she glanced at him musing) was helpful, was exalting. She wiped one brush after another upon a piece of old rag, menially, on purpose. She took shelter from the reverence which covered all women; she felt herself praised. Let him gaze; she would steal a look at her picture.
She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be hung, and there was Mr. Tansley whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…'”
“…there could be no disputing this: an unmarried woman (she lightly took her hand for a moment), an unmarried woman has missed the best of life. The house seemed full of children sleepin and Mrs. Ramsay listening; shaded lights and regular breathing.”
“Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.”
“But it had been seen; it had been taken from her. This man had shared with her something profoundly intimate. And, thanking Mr. Ramsay for it and Mrs. Ramsay for it and the hour and the place, crediting the world with a power which she had not suspected – that one could walk away down that long gallery not alone any more but arm in arm with somebody – the strangest feeling in the world, and the most exhilarating- she nicked the catch of her paint-box to, more firmly than was necessary, and the nick seemed to surround in a circle forever the paint-box, the lawn, Mr. Bankes, and that wild villain, Cam, dashing past.”
“And so she went down and said to her husband, Why must they grow up and lose it all? Never will they be so happy again. And he was angry. Why take such a gloomy view of life? he said. It is not sensible. For it was odd; and she believed it to be true; that with all his gloom and desperation he was happier, more hopeful on the whole, than she was. Less exposed to human worries – perhaps that was it. He had always his work to fall back on. Not that she herself was ‘pessimistic,’ as he accused her of being. Only she thought life – and a little strip of time presented itself to her eyes – her fifty years. There it was before her – life. Life, she thought – but she did not finish her thought. She took a look at life, for she had a clear sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance. There were the eternal problems: suffering; death; the poor. There was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through it all. To eight people she had said relentlessly that (and the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds). For that reason, knowing what was before them – love and ambition and being wretched and alone in dreary places – she had often the feeling, Why must they grow up and lose it all? And then she said to herself, brandishing her sword at life, Nonesense. They will be perfectly happy. And here she was, she reflected, feeling life rather sinister again, making Minta marry Paul Rayley; because whatever she might feel about her own transaction, she had had experiences which need not happen to every one (she did not name them to herself); she was driven on, too quickly she knew, almost as if it were an escape for her too, to say that people must marry; people must have children.”
“He had no right. The father of eight children – he reminded himself. And he would have been a beast and a cur to wish a single thing altered. Andrew would be a better man than he had been. Prue would be a beauty, her mother said. They would stem the flood a bit. That was a good bit of work on the whole – his eight children. They showed he did not damn the poor little universe entirely, for on an evening like this, he thought, looking at the land dwindling away, the little island seemed pathetically small, half swallowed up in the sea.
‘Poor little place,’ he murmured with a sigh.
She heard him. He said the most melancholy things, but she noticed that directly he had said them he always seemed more cheerful than usual. All this phrase-making was a game, she thought, for if she had said half what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.
It annoyed her, this phrase-making, and she said to him, in a matter-of-fact way, that it was a perfectly lovely evening. And what was he groaning about, she asked, half laughing, half complaining, for she guessed what he was thinking – he would have written better books if he had not married.
He was not complaining, he said. She knew that he did not complain. She knew that he had nothing whatever to complain of. And he seized her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed it with an intensity that brought the tears to her eyes, and quickly he dropped it.”
“Brooding, she changed the pool into the sea, and made the minnows into sharks and whales, and cast vast clouds over this tiny world by holding her hand against the sun, and so brought darkness and desolation, like God himself, to millions of ignorant and innocent creatures, and then took her hand away suddenly and let the sun stream down.”
“It was her grandmother’s brooch; she would rather have lost anything but that, and yet Nancy felt, it might be rue that she minded losing her brooch, but she wasn’t crying only for that. She was crying for something else. We might all sit down and cry, she felt. But she did not know what for.”
“But nevertheless, the fact remained, it was almost impossible to dislike any one if one looked at them. She liked his eyes; they were blue, deep set, frightening.”
“It is so beautiful, so exciting, this love, that I tremble on the verge of it, and offer, quite out of my own habit, to look for a brooch on a beach; also it is the stupidest, the most barbaric of human passions, and turns a nice young man with a profile like a gem’s (Paul’s was exquisite) into a bully with a crowbar (he was swaggering, he was insolent) in the Mile End Road.”
“Now she need not listen. It could not last, she knew, but at the moment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to go round the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging, trembling. So she saw them; she heard them; but whatever they said had also this quality, as if what they said was like the movement of a trout when, at the same time, one can see the ripple and the gravel, something to the right, something to the left; and the whole is held together; for whereas in active life she would be netting and separating one thing from another; she would be saying she liked the Waverley novels or had not read them; she would be urging herself forward; now she said nothing. For the moment, she hung suspended.”
“With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.”
“For it was windy (she stood a moment to look out). It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed open a star, and the stars themselves seemed to be shaking and darting light and trying to flash out between the edges of leaves. Yes, that was done then, accomplished; and as with all things done, became solemn. Now one thought of it, cleared of chatter and emotion, it seemed always to have been, only was shown now and so being shown, struck everything into stability. They would, she thought, going on again, however long they lived, come back to this night; this moon; this wind; this house: and her too. It lfattered her, where she was most susceptible of flattery, to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven; and this, and this, and this, she thought, going upstairs, laughing, but affectionately, at the sofa on the landing (her mother’s); at the rocking-chair (her father’s); at the map of the Hebrides. All that would be revived again in the lives of Paul and Minta; ‘the Rayleys’ – she tried the new name over; and she felt, with her hand on the nursery door, that community of feeling with other people which emotion gives as if the walls of partition had become so thin that practically (the feeling was one of relief and happiness) it was all one stream, and chairs, tables, maps, were hers, were theirs, it did not matter whose, and Paul and Minta would carry it on when she was dead.”
“Wherever they put the light (and James could not sleep without a light) there was always a shadow somewhere.”
“And seeing the gold watch lying in his hand, Mrs. Ramsay felt, How extraordinaryily luck Minta is! She is marrying a man who has a gold watch in a wash-leather bag!”
“Mrs. Ramsay raised her head and like a person in a light sleep seemed to say that if he wanted her to wake she would, she really would, but otherwise, might she go on sleeping, just a little longer, just a little longer? She was climbing up those branches, this way and that, laying hands on one flower and then another.”
“‘Well, we must wait for the future to show,; said Mr. Bankes, coming in from the terrace.
‘It’s almost too dark to see,’ said Andrew, coming up from the beach.
‘One can hardly tell which is the sea and which is the land,’ said Prue.
‘Do we leave that light burning?’ said Lily as they took their coats off indoors.
‘No,’ said Prue, ‘not if every one’s in.’
‘Andrew,’ she called back, ‘just put out the light in the hall.’
One by one the lamps were all extinguished, except that Mr. Carmichael, who liked to lie awake a little reading Virgil, kept his candle burning rather longer than the rest.”
“But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.”
“Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer.
[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]”
“Loveliness and stillness clasped hands in the bedroom, and among the shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs even the prying of the wind, and the soft nose of the clammy sea airs, rubbing, snuffling, iterating, and reiterating their questions – ‘Will you fade? Will you perish?’ – scarcely disturbed the peace, the indifference, the air of pure integrity, as if the question they asked scarcely needed that they should answer: we remain.”
“…she seemed to say how it was one long sorrow and trouble, how it was getting up and going to bed again, and bringing things out and putting them away again. It was not easy or snug this world she had known for close on seventy years. Bowed down she was with weariness. How long, she asked, creaking and groaning on her knees under the bed, dusting the boards, how long shall it endure?”
“As summer neared, as the evenings lengthened, there came to the wakeful, the hopeful, walking the beach, stirring the pool, imaginations of the strangest kind – of flesh turned to atoms which drove before the wind, of stars flashing in their hearts, of cliff, sea, cloud, and sky brought purposely together to assemble outwardly the scattered parts of the vision within. In those mirrors, the minds of men, in those pools of uneasy water, in which clouds for ever turn and shadows form, dreams persisted, and it was impossible to resist the strange intimation which every gull, flower, tree, man and woman, and the white earth itself seemed to declare (but if questioned at once to withdraw) that good triumphs, happiness prevails, order rules; or to resist the extraordinary stimulus to range hither and thither in search of some absolute good, some crystal of intensity, remote from the known pleasures and familiar virtues, something alien to the processes of domestic life, single, hard, bright, like a diamond in the sand, which would render the possessor secure. Moreover, softened and acquiescent, the spring with her bees humming and gnats dancing threw her cloak about her, veiled her eyes, averted her head, and among passing shadows and flights of small rain seemed to have taken upon her a knowledge of the sorrows of mankind.
[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised so well.]”
“Let the broken glass and the china lie out on the lawn and be tanled over with grass and wild berries.”
“The extraordinary unreality was frightening; but it was also exciting. Going to the Lighthouse. But what does one send to the Lighthouse? Perished. Alone. The grey-green light on the wall opposite. The empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how bring them together? she asked. As if any interruption would break the frail shape she was building on the table she turned her back to the window lest Mr. Ramsay should see her. She must escape somewhere, be alone somewhere.”
Orlando: A Biography (1928)
Woolf’s sixth major novel
A fantastic historical biography, which spans almost 400 years in the lifetime of its protagonist
Was conceived as a “writer’s holiday” from more structured and demanding novels
Woolf allowed neither time nor gender to constrain her writing
Orlando ages only thirty-six years and changes gender from man to woman
Contains issues of gender, self-knowledge, and truth
“He- for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it- was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”
“The river had gained its freedom in the night. It was as if a sulphur spring (to which view many philosophers inclined) had risen from the volcanic regions beneath and burst the ice asunder with such vehemence that it swept the huge and many fragments furiously apart. The mere look of the water was enough to turn one giddy. All was riot and confusion. The river was strewn with icebergs. Some of these were as broad as a bowling green and as high as a house; others no bigger than a man’s hat, but most fantastically twisted. Now would come down a whole convoy of ice blocks sinking everything that stood in their way. Now, eddying and swirling like a tortured serpent, the river would seem to be hurting itself between the fragments and tossing them from bank to bank, so that they could be heard smashing against the piers and pillars. But what was the most awful and inspiring of terror was the sight of the human creatures who had been trapped in the night and now paced their twisting precarious islands in the utmost agony of spirit. Whether they jumped into the flood or stayed on the ice their doom was certain. Sometimes quite a cluster of these poor creatures would come down together, some on their knees, others suckling their babies.”
“It was a ghastly sepulchre; dug deep beneath the foundations of the house as if the first Lord of the family, who had come from France with the Conqueror, had wished to testify how all pomp is built upon corruption; how the skeleton lies beneath the flesh; how we that dance and sing above must lie below; how the crimson velvet turns to dust; how the ring (here Orlando, stooping his lantern, would pick up a gold circle lacking a stone, that had rolled into a corner) loses its ruby and the eye which was so lustrous, shines no more. “Nothing remains of all these Princes,” Orlando would say, indulging in some pardonable exaggeration of their rank, “except one digit,’ and he would take a skeleton hand in his and bend the joints this way and that. ‘Whose hand was it?’ he went on to ask. ‘The right or the left? The hand of man or woman, of age or youth? Had it urged the war horse, or plied the needle? Had it plucked the rose, or grasped cold steel? Had it-‘ but here either his invention failed him, or what is more likely, provided him with so many instances of what a hand can do that he shrank, as his wont was, from the cardinal labour or composition, which is excision, and he put it with the other bones, thinking how there was a writer called Thomas Browne, a Doctor of Norwich, whose writing upon such subjects took his fancy amazingly.”
“But some were early infected by a germ said to be bred of the pollen of the asphodel and to be blown out of Greece and Italy, which was of so deadly a nature that it would shake the hand as it was raised to strike, cloud the eye as it sought its prey, and make the tongue stammer as it declared its love. It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality, so that Orlando, to whom fortune had given every gift- plate, linen, houses, men-servants, carpets, beds in profusion- had only to open a book for the whole vast accumulation to turn to mist. The nine acres of stone which were his house vanished; one hundred and fifty indoor servants disappeared; his eighty riding horses became invisible; it would take too long to count the carpets, sofas, trappings, china, plate, cruets, chafing dishes and other movables often of beaten gold, which evaporated like so much sea mist under the miasma. So it was, and Orlando would sit by himself, reading, a naked man.”
A Room of One’s Own (1929)
Extended essay based on speeches given at two women’s colleges at Cambridge University
In order to be a successful novelist, a women needs a fixed income and private space
Provides an evolving history of the female sex: showing women as cultural contributors
Breaks with the masculine lecture form – wants the audience to come to their own conclusions
“Whatever may be their use in civilised societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.”
“For if she beings to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgement, civilising natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?”
“The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?”
“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.”
“The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare-compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton- is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not held up by some ‘revelation’ which reminds us of the writer. All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the sitness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded. If ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was Shakespeare. If ever a mind was incadescent, unimpeded, I thought turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare’s mind.”
“When I rummage in my own mind I find no noble sentiments about beng companions and equals and influencing the world to higher ends. I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves.”
“Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for the great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so- I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals- and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings now always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.”