A Voice Recording Virginia Woolf Still Exists Today, Meaning She Can Still Talk About Words From Beyond The Grave

Virginia Woolf left the world quite a bit: nine novels, numerous short stories and works of non fiction, and an unforgettable voice that has forever left a mark on English literature. As for Woolf's actual, audible voice, however, that has left less of a record, however, there is one recording of Virginia Woolf's voice that still exists today, 75 years after her death. And it will give you chills.

Given that Woolf was born in the nineteenth century and died in 1941, it is not overly surprising that although we have plenty of written quotes from the author, there isn't much of a record of her voice. The one recording we do have, however, is from a 1937 BBC radio broadcast. And the subject matter, fittingly enough, is words. That's right, we not only have a recording of Virginia Woolf, we have a recording of her speaking about words. Could anything be more fitting?

The segment was part of a series called "Words Fail Me," and only eight minutes of the original recording remain — which is still much better than nothing. To mark the 75th anniversary of Woolf's death, BBC Culture and BBC Britain commissioned an animation set to an edited version of the broadcast, which is about two and a half minutes long and can be seen at their website.

But even without any animation or image of Woolf herself, hearing Woolf talk about words is a magical experience. Here are 5 lines sure to send shivers up your spine.

"Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations – naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries."

"Words belong to each other"

"They [Words] are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind."

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"Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady’s reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid."


"The truth they [words] try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive."

You can find the full transcript of Woolf's radio broadcast here, and can listen to the full recording below.

Images: tara hunt/flickr; Wikipedia Commons (5)