One hundred-and-thirty-three years ago today, Adeline Virginia Woolf was born at a posh London address to a posh intellectual family. (Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen, was a model for the pre-Raphaelite painters; her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was distinguished in basically every field that breeds distinguishing characters.) Even though the erudite Capricorn was deeply rooted in a prohibitively elite society, her genius has outlasted her life, finding its way into our plebeian conversations and onto high school syllabi ‘round the globe, giving us more than several reasons to celebrate Virginia Woolf's birthday.
Woolf is perhaps best known as a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group, an elite (duh) hub of writers, artists, and intellectuals renowned as much for their collective brilliance as they are for their progressive attitudes toward sexuality. For both her personal life and her professional life, Woolf is extolled as a feminist icon: Woolf and the writer Vita Sackville-West carried on a brief affair while Woolf was married to her husband Leonard, and the novel she wrote during this period, Orlando, addresses gender identity issues that had rarely, if ever, been broached during Woolf’s time. Plus, her seminal non-fiction work A Room of One's Own honors women's interior lives, while also urging her female colleagues to carve a place for themselves amid an oppressive patriarchal society.
Woolf was ahead of her time, for sure, but her staggering wisdom, her sheer gift for words, transcends any era. In honor of her 133rd birthday, here’s a selection of the writer's brightest gems. Despite their seriously advanced age, these tips, insights, observations, and objections will still resonate with us '80s- and '90s-born kiddos.
On doing/being/reading what you want, despite the "rules":
“Nothing is easier and more stultifying than to make rules which exist out of touch with facts, in a vacuum.” —“How Should One Read a Book?”
On being crazy in love:
“But nothing is so strange when one is in love (and what was this except being in love?) as the complete indifference of other people.” —Mrs. Dalloway
On life's little miracles:
“What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.” —To The Lighthouse
On treating yo'self:
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” —A Room of One's Own
On the beautifying process:
“She remembered how, as a young man, she had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled. 'Now I shall have to pay in my own person for those desires,' she reflected; 'for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled by nature. They can only attain these graces, without which they may enjoy none of the delights of life, by the most tedious discipline.'” —Orlando
On just doing you:
“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” —A Room of One's Own
On being Zen:
“I am rooted, but I flow.” —The Waves
On the beauty of alone time:
“I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up in a little world of one’s own, with pictures and music and everything beautiful.” —The Voyage Out
On speaking your piece:
“Communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty; to go down boldly and bring to light those hidden thoughts which are the most diseased; to conceal nothing; to pretend nothing; if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.” —The Common Reader
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