Misquoted Woolf: when we get it wrong
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Virginia Woolf was such a prolific writer of intense thought and process, and often I see her quoted in memes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was, of course, inevitable that over time and through use, the quotes would be misrepresented or misquoted, rather like the game of ‘Whispers’ from my youth. But what are these misquotes?
For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.
Unfortunately, as much as we might use it (and I think I’m guilty here, too), this is not what Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own. What it should read is this: ‘Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.’
Still just as powerful, and takes nothing away from the sentiment – not as catchy…
If it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.
The film The Hours has a lot to answer for, and that’s not just Nicole Kidman’s nose. The film, directed by Stephen Daldry with screenplay by Sir David Hare, includes a lot of fictional information. While researching for Virginia Woolf in Richmond, I approached the agent of Sir David and discovered that he had actually invented most of the train station scene in which this ‘quote’ is heard. The problem here is that a ‘real’ person says it, and thus many of the audience take it as truth. This ‘quote’ isn’t even in the book The Hours by Michael Cunningham, on which the film is based.
Don’t believe everything you hear…
You cannot find peace by avoiding life.
Once again, The Hours is to blame for this. It’s a wonderful sentiment and idea, but Virginia Woolf never wrote or said these words. This is the one that I see most often attributed to Woolf.
Other ‘quotes’ I can’t find in my Woolf library – if anyone can tell me where they feature, I’d be very happy to know:
‘I am in the mood to dissolve in the sky.‘ I’ve seen this attributed to a diary entry on 1st July 1918, but I’ve looked and can’t find it.
‘A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.’ Again, it’s a super sentiment, but I just can’t find it in Woolf’s writing – please prove me wrong!
I think there are probably many more, but I shall stop there for now.
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