A gif of Virginia Woolf next to an image of a table laden with food

12 times Virginia Woolf understood the millennial condition

Existential crises, a longing for experience and a fascination with the self(ie), Virginia Woolf may have died in the 1940s but she would have made an excellent millennial.

More than a century has passed since Virginia Woolf began her publishing career, and yet the Modernist writer has rarely felt more in vogue. During lockdown, a new generation reached for Mrs Dalloway to find some distraction and solace in the novel’s exacting analysis of a single day’s domesticity. As The New Yorker wrote at the time: “we are all Mrs Dalloway now”.

Even in the wake of lockdown, though, Woolf persists. Earlier this year, a new collection of love letters between Woolf and her long-term friend and lover Vita Sackville West was published. Head over to Etsy and you can find Virginia Woolf tapestry kits, inspirational journals and even a sticker set inspired by the clothing worn by Orlando, the titular character of Woolf’s trans novel – the first in English literature.

Woolf lived – and wrote – through one of the most turbulent periods in modern history. Cultural shifts around and influenced by gender politics, power structures, international diplomacy and, yes, a pandemic, all shaped her work. What emerges from it is an acute sense of self, a hunger for experience, a search for authenticity and a desperation to connect. Feel familiar? Read on for evidence of a millennial way ahead of her time.

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” (Woolf’s diary, 2 January, 1931)

“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.” (A Writer’s Diary, 1953)

“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” (A Room of One’s Own, 1929)

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” (The Waves, 1931)

“What a born melancholiac I am! The only way I keep afloat is by working.” (A Moment’s Liberty, 1990)

“All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.” (Orlando, 1928)

“I am terrified of passive acquiescence. I live in intensity.” (A Writer’s Diary)

“I have a deeply hidden and inarticulate desire for something beyond the daily life.” (Moments of Being: A Collection of Autobiographical Writing, 1985)

“I am sick to death of this particular self. I want another.” (Orlando)

“Nothing has really happened until it has been described.” (As said to her biographer and Sackville-West’s son, Nigel Nicolson)

“What if I told you I’m incapable of tolerating my own heart?” (Night and Day)

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Image: Getty and Unsplash / Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

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