“She is like a plant which is supposed to grow in a well-prepared garden bed - the bed of esoteric literature - and then pushes up suckers all over the place, through the gravel of the front drive, and even through the flagstones of the kitchen yard. She was full of interests, and their number increased as she grew older, she was curious about life, and she was tough, sensitive but tough.”
“There is, after all, one little lifeline to catch hold of: she liked writing.
These words, which usually mean so little, must be applied to her with all possible intensity. She liked receiving sensations - sights, sounds, tastes - passing them through her mind, where they ecountered theories and memories, and then bringing them out again, through a pen, on to a bit of paper. Now began the higher delights of autorship. For these pen-marks on paper were only the prelude to writing, little more than marks on the wall. They had to be combined, arranged, emphasized here, eliminated there, new relationships had to be generated, new pen-marks born, until out of the interactions, something one thing, one, arose. This one thing, whether it was a novel or an essay or a short story or a biography or a private paper to be read to her friends, was, if it was successful, itself analogous to a sensation. although it was so complex and intellectual, although it might be large and heavy with facts, it was akin to the very simple things which had started it off, to the sights, sounds, tastes. It could be best described as we describe them. For it was not about something. It was something.”
“She liked writing with an intensity which few writers have attained or even desired. Most of them write with half an eye on their royalties, half an eye on their critics, and third half an eye on improving the world, which leaves them with only half an eye for the task on which she concentrated her entire vision. She would not look elsewhere, and her circumstances combined with her temperament to focus her. Money she had not to consider, because she possessed a private income, and though financial independence is not always a safeguard against commercialism, it was in her case. Critics she never considered while she was writing, although she could be attentive to them and even humble afterwards. Improving the world she would not consider, on the ground that the world is man-made, and that she, a woman, had no responsibility for the mess.”
“She was master of her complicated equipment, and though most of us like to write sometimes seriously and sometimes in fun, few of us can so manage the two impulses that they speed each other up, as hers did.”
“In her work, as in her private problems, she was always civilized and sane on the subject of madness. She pared the edges off this particular malady, she tied it down to being a malady, and robbed it of the evil magic it has acquired through timid or careless thinking; here is one of the gifts we have to thank her for.”
“Belonging to the world of poetry, but fascinated by another world, she is always stretching out from her enchanted tree and snatching bits from the flux of daily life as they float past, and out of these bits she builds novels. She would not plunge. And she should not have plunged. She might have stayed folded up in her tree singing little songs like ‘Blue-Green’ in the Monday or Tuesday volume, but fortunately for English literature she did not do this either.
So that is her problem. She is a poet who wants to write something as near to a novel as possible.”
“It is always helpful, when reading her, to look out for the passages which describe eating. They are invariably good. They are a sharp reminder that here is a woman who is alert sensuously. She had an enlightened greediness which gentlemen themselves might envy, and which few masculine writers have expressed…
The Boeuf en Daube, which had taken the cook three days to make and had worried Mrs Ramsay as she did her hair, stands before us, ‘with its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine’; we peer down the shiny walls of the great casserole and get one of the best bits, and like William Banks, generally so hard to plase, we are satisfied. Food with her was not a literary device put in to make the book seem real. She put it in because she tasted it, because she saw pictures, because she smelt flowers, because she heard Bach, because her senses were both exquisite and catholic, and were always bringing her first-hand news of the outside world. Our debt to her is in part this: she reminds us of the importance of sensation in an age which practices brutality and recommends ideals.”
“She respected and acquired knowledge, she believed in wisdom. Intellectualy, no one can do more; and since she was a poet, not a philosopher or a historian or a prophetess, she had not to consider whether wisdom will prevail and whether the square upon the oblong, which Rhoda built out of the music of Mozart, will ever stand firm upon this distracted earth. The square upon the oblong. Order. Justice. Truth. She cared for these abstractions, and tried to express them through symbols, as an artist must, though she realized the inadequacy of symbols.”
“And her snobbery – for she was a snob – has more courage in it than arrogance. It is connected with her insatiable honesty, and is not, like the snobbery of Clarissa Dalloway, bland and frilled and unconsciously sinking into the best armchair.”
“She was fascinated, she was unafraid, but she detested mateyness, and she would make no concession to popular journalism, and the ‘let’s all be friendly together’ stunt. To the crowd - so far as such an entity exists - she was very jolly, but she handed out no bouquets to the middlemen who have arrogated to themselves the right of interpreting the crowd, and get paid for doing so in the daily press and on the radio.”
“Like all her friends, I miss her greatly – I knew her ever since she started writing. But this is a personal matter, and I am sure that there is no case for lamentation here. Virginia Woolf got through an immense amount of work, she gave acute pleasure in new ways, she pushed the light of the English language a little further against darkness.”
“And sometimes it is as a row of little silver cups that I see her work gleaming. ‘These trophies,’ the inscription runs, ‘were won by the mind from matter, its enemy and its friend.”