Virginia Woolf 138th Birth Anniversary: Why you should read Virginia Woolf; quotes by the author for every 21st-century feminist
“Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One’s past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden... The sound of the sea at night... almost forty years of life, all built on that, permeated by that: so much I could never explain,” Virginia Woolf wrote employing the stream-of-consciousness approach best explaining her writing technique.
A video by TED-Ed explains why one should read Virginia Woolf, saying that “if William Shakespeare had a female version, it would be Virginia Woolf”.
Born in London on January 25, the celebrated author was best known for her novels namely Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). She also wrote essays on artistic theory, literary history, women’s writing, the politics of power and was also popular for the numerous letters she wrote to her family members.
While Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927) are her most famous books, she is also credited with writing The Voyage Out (1915), Jacob’s Room (1922), Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931). Her most famous essay was A Room of One’s Own (1929).
Woolf’s poignant Reminiscences, a book about her childhood and the loss of her mother was published in 1908.
Virginia Woolf suffered from mental health ailments nearly all her life which had begun with the death of some family members she was very close to, including her father. She was constantly nagged by depressive worries feeling she was a failure as a writer and a woman, or that she was despised by her sister and painter Vanessa Bell and unloved by her husband Leonard Woolf. After a provoked a suicide attempt in September 1913, she started on her road to recovery and kept the demons of mania and depression mostly at bay for the rest of her life.
Her literary technique:
Virginia Woolf’s haunting language, her insights into a wide array of issues including historical, political, feminist, and artistic, and the non-linear approaches to the narrative which she adopted, exerted a major influence on the modernist genre. E.M Forster, Clive Bell, Roger Fry and Leonard Woolf are notable names of modernism and belonged to the same group who came to be known as The Bloomsbury Group.
In her diary that she describes people as “splinters & mosaics”. Her essay titled Modern Novels (1919, revised in 1925 as Modern Fiction) attacked the “materialists” who wrote about superficial rather than spiritual experiences.
One might opine that Mrs. Dalloway, set in the course of a day, is as patterned as a Post-Impressionist painting but is also an exact representation of the character’s movements through the streets of London on this day in June. Through To the Lighthouse and The Waves, Virginia Woolf became one of the three major English-language Modernist experimenters in stream-of-consciousness writing along with names like James Joyce (Ulysses) and William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury). Stream-of-consciousness writing was first used by the psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890). The stream-of-consciousness novel usually uses the narrative techniques of interior monologue, distortions in time and multiple or shifting perspectives.
Her feminist views spoke of unequal opportunities for women which negatively affect all of society. Through her 1931 talk Professions for Women, she urged women to destroy the “angel in the house,” a reference to Coventry Patmore’s poem of that title, the quintessential Victorian paean to women who sacrifice themselves to men.
Her tragic death:
She committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. Her body was not found for three weeks. She left a heartbreaking suicide note to her husband which began: “Dearest, 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.”
Woolf’s quotes stand true most in our times. Here are a few that evoke feminist pride and show what a visionary this celebrated author and important voice was in literary history.
“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” - A Room of One’s Own
“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
“Books are the mirrors of the soul.” - Between the Acts
“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” - A Room of One’s Own / Three Guineas
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” - The Waves