I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf‘s “To The Lighthouse” (is there an underscore feature on WordPress?) and her language has been just blowing me away. The exactness of her words, the complexity of her phrasing, the power that she carries with her. An image from one of the special features from the movie “The Hours” has been stuck in my mind as a I read this (actually, the image is always with me but more so as I read this): that of Virginia Woolf striding across the heath (or heather or peat or whatever it is she would be striding across) and barking out the phrases from her writings as she formed them in her mind. (I’ve found myself doing the same and call it “composing”.)
Anyways, here are some of my favorite passages from “To The Lighthouse”:
[p. 192:] But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.
[p. 280:] So we took a little boat, she thought, beginning to tell herself a story of adventure about escaping from a sinking ship. But with the sea streaming through her fingers, a spray of seaweed vanishing behind them, she did not want to tell herself seriously a story; it was the sense of adventure and escape that she wanted
[p. 283:] He read, she thought, as if he were guiding something, or wheedling a large flock of sheep, or pushing his way up and up a single narrow path; and sometimes he went fast and straight, and broke his way through the bramble, and sometimes it seemed a branch struck at him, a bramble blinded him, but he was not going to let himself be beaten by that; on he went, tossing over page after page.
[p. 284:] so much depends, she thought, upon distance: whether people are near us or far from us; for her feeling for Mr Ramsay changed as he sailed further and further across the bay.
[p. 289:] Mr Carmichael had “lost all interest in life.” What did it mean — that? she wondered. Had he marched through Trafalgar Square grasping a big stick? Had he turned pages over and over, without reading them, sitting in his room in St. John’s Wood alone?
[p. 293:] He must have confided in her on one of those long expeditions when people got separated and walked back alone.
[p. 299:] At last then somebody had come into the drawing-room; somebody was sitting in the chair. For Heaven’s sake, she prayed, let them sit still there and not come floundering out to talk to her.
[p. 306:] He was so pleased that he was not going to let anybody share a grain of his pleasure.
[p. 309:] Then, surging up, puffing slightly, old Mr Carmichael stood beside her, looking like an old pagan god, shaggy, with weeds in his hair and the trident (it was only a French novel) in his hand.
The page numbers relate to my edition (Harcourt, Brace & World Inc.; New York; Copyrighted: 1955 by Leonard Woolf) and with special thanks to http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91t/index.html from where many of my final quotes were copy and pasted from (finger cramps and all that.)
You’ll notice that several of the quotes are from the final pages of the book. Soon after starting this post I realized that I could not fit every quote I wanted into the post (for a complete collection of my favorite passages go to your local library or local bookstore and get your own copy) and so focused onto one section to weed and prune until I had the exact ones I wanted.