[Vwoolf] Misquotations and misattributions

Stuart N. Clarke stuart.n.clarke at btinternet.com
Wed Jun 27 03:52:15 EDT 2018

I don’t think this is by Virginia Woolf.


From: JJ Wilson via Vwoolf 
Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 11:11 PM
To: Sarah M. Hall 
Cc: vwoolf at lists.osu.edu 
Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] Misquotations and misattributions

This thread gives me an opening to ask if any of you scholars sans pareil can answer me this query:  for years I have been, when appropriate and it all too often is, quoting Virginia Woolf as saying that”the only true tragedy is premature death” .  The other day someone called me on it, asking me where this telling and comforting quote appears in Woolf.  Darned if I could come up with an answer…. 

Is it hers?  and if so, where is it?  And there will be a prize for the first person to clue in

J.J. Wilson, the clueless

  On Jun 26, 2018, at 4:34 AM, Sarah M. Hall via Vwoolf <vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote:

  Another common Bloomsbury-related example is that they 'lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles', most often attributed to Dorothy Parker. Those who read their Virginia Woolf Bulletin assiduously will know better (No. 57, Jan 2018). Stuart N. Clarke, researching a tip from Vara Neverow, discovered a novel by the largely unsung Margaret Irwin called Fire Down Below (now there's a title to conjure with), in which a character describes 'Gloomsbury' with the line:

  'It is a circle [ ... ] composed of a few squares where all the couples are triangles.'

  Although I've given away the punchline, the article is a lovely read. The journey is as interesting as the destination (with apologies to Montaigne, and L Woolf).

  On Tuesday, 26 June 2018, 09:45:42 BST, Jeremy Hawthorn via Vwoolf <vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote: 

  There are various web pages that list misattributed, misunderstood, or just plain false quotations. But they are generally popular, and not open to submissions or reliably monitored. What is needed is something of the reach and reliability of Snopes, a place where false quotations can be reported.

  And rather than a soundbite, a virus would perhaps be a more appropriate analogy, as such falsities spread, as the saying has it, like the plague. My own recent encounter with a similar fake quotation came in connection with writing an introduction to a reissue of Ernest Bramah's What Might Have Been (1907, reissued in 1909 as The Secret of the League). Every bookseller advertising a copy of this book seems to have to include the claim that George Orwell acknowledged the book as a source or inspiration for 1984. Even Bramah's biographer Aubrey Wilson, repeats the claim, asserting that "in his letters" Orwell made this acknowledgement. None of these claims is backed up by evidence from the letters or elsewhere, although there is evidence that Orwell was familiar with a number of Bramah's books. For those interested, the next number of Notes and Queries will have a short piece by me questioning the claim.

  All this confirms that when we impress upon students the need to check sources and to provide full references, we are doing something important.


  On 26.06.2018 09:44, Sarah M. Hall via Vwoolf wrote:

  This is the most common Woolf misquotation, it seems. Googling just now gave 51,600 results for the fake and 5,190 for the real one. It looks as though truth is a casualty not just of war*, but of the soundbite.

  *Which itself is a contested quotation; see https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-21510,00.html. Some think the original of this is Samuel Johnson's 'Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' But you may prefer to believe that Aeschylus had already come up with a snappier version.

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