Virginia Woolf's advice on life, womanhood, writing and the world

Celebrated writer best known for saying, 'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 25 January 2018 10:06 GMT
Listen to recording of Virginia Woolf's voice

Today would have marked the 136th birthday of the great British modernist novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), an occasion marked by Google's latest Doodle.

The writer is revered for her works Mrs Dalloway (1925), To The Lighthouse (1927), Orlando: A Biography (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) and is credited with popularising the stream-of-consciousness style of prose, giving the English novel a bold, new voice and pushing it beyond the tried-and-tested narrative structures of the Victorian era into fresh and experimental new territory.

Woolf is also remembered as a scion of the intellectual Bloomsbury Group, a loosely convened artistic salon that also included her husband Leonard, an essayist and publisher, economist John Maynard Keynes, novelist EM Forster, critic Roger Fry and post-impressionist painter Vanessa Bell.

Woolf suffered from depression throughout her life and killed herself in 1941 at the height of the Blitz, wading into the River Ouse in Sussex with stones lining her pockets.

She would later be revived as a feminist icon, however, celebrated for her independent example and famous for her dictum, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Although this last remark remains her most famous, Woolf of course made many other insightful observations on life, writing and femininity, a selection of which follow.

On women

  • “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”
  • “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.”
  • “Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.”
  • “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.”

On life

  • “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
  • “Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.”
  • “Never pretend that the things you haven't got are not worth having.”

On writing

  • “Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”
  • “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”

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