Quotations from the Essays of Virginia Woolf

From the Essays Volume II

p. 65

To Americans, we suppose, England is always something of an old curiosity shop; they rummage in our past with inquisitive affection, and even, one might suggest, with an eye for bargains.

p. 84

[On Dosto’s Eternal Husband, after reviewing the outline of the plot]

These, at least, are the little bits of cork which mark a circle upon the top of the waves while the net drags the floor of the sea and encloses stranger monsters than have ever been brought to the light of day before.

p. 87

Before reviewing Mrs Elinor Mordaunt’s new volume of short stories, Before Midnight, we ought to confess two, perhaps unreasonable, prejudices: we do not like the war in fiction, and we do not like the supernatural.

p. 116

But Greek is the golden bough; it crowns its lovers with garlands of fresh and sparkling leaves.

p. 245

[on Chekhov]

He is aware that modern life is full of a nondescript melancholy, of discomfort, of queer relationships which beget emotions that are half ludicrous and yet painful, and that an inconclusive ending for all these impulses and oddities is much more usual than anything extreme.

p. 249

The danger of trying to write beautifully in English lies in the ease with which it is possible to do something very like it. There are the old cadences humming in one’s head, the old phrases covering nothing so decently that it seems to be something after all. Preoccupied with the effort to be smooth, rotund, demure, and irreproachable, sentimentality slips past unnoticed, and platitudes spread themselves abroad with an air of impeccable virtue.

p. 265

Now the interest and value of the art of criticism lie more than anything in the critic’s ability to seize upon what is good and to expatiate upon that.

p. 271

The romantic poet lays heavier tasks upon his imagination than any other. The vision alone is not enough; he must see it in detail as well as hold it in mass; he must know when to release and when to restrain the words which flock too fast and freely.

p. 273

The Russians might well overcome us, for they seemed to possess an entirely new conception of the novel and one that was larger, saner, and much more profound than ours. It was one that allowed human life in all its width and depth, with every shade of feeling and subtlety of thought, to flow into their pages without the distortion of personal eccentricity or mannerism.

p. 309

But manner in the young is a form of paralysis, and already Miss Sitwell repeats her favourite adjectives and similes so often as to suggest that she is becoming prematurely imprisoned within the walls of her own style.

p. 314

The question [of women novelists] is one not merely of literature, but to a large extent of social history. What, for example, was the origin of the extraordinary outburst in the eighteenth century of novel writing by women? Why did it begin then, and not in the Elizabethan renaissance?

p. 315

The effect of these repressions is still clearly to be traced in women’s work, and the effect is wholly to the bad. The problem of art is sufficiently difficult in itself without having to respect the ignorance of young women’s minds or to consider whether the public will think that the standard of moral purity displayed in your work is such as they have a right to expect from your sex. The attempt to conciliate, or more naturally to outrage, public opinion is equally a waste of energy and a sin against art.

p. 317

[Brussof] is not a great writer: he does not hint at something more than he can state, or imply a whole of which he is only a part.

p. 328

[on the quality of bad literature]

It is the quality of unfettered imagination. Bad books are written in a state of boiling passion, with a complete certainty of inspiration. Langauge and grammar are impediments which are disregarded if they become troublesome…

p. 345

Mr. Cannan has every right to criticise society in his books, but, like everything else in a novel criticism must be the expression of a writer’s own convictions; the conventions of the intellectual are at least as sterile as the conventions of the bourgeois.

p. 346

Henry James is much at present in the air – a portentous figure looming large and undefined in the conscioiusness of writers, to some an oppression, to others an obsession, but undeniably present to all.