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Trivia quiz on Virginia Woolf, “To the Lighthouse” and “A Room of One’s Own”

Trivia Quiz for To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf

with the answers below

For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 5/22/22

I. To the Lighthouse

A. On Frustrated Yearning     

1. The book begins with a scene of a young boy’s yearning, which opens the reader’s horizon to a long-awaited sea voyage. In a few lines, however, the dream of travel is dashed. Who is the first person to announce the trip’s impossibility, and why?

a. the protagonist’s nurse, because the boy is sickly and too weak for travel at present.

b. the child’s mother, who reminds him that he has schoolwork to do.

c. the child’s father, who announces that the weather “won’t be fine.”

d. a houseguest, who feels a west wind blowing.

2. On Comfort.

Among other things, words provide comfort to the child and it is usually his mother who speaks comforting words. Which of the following refrains is not spoken by the mother, Mrs. Ramsey?

a. “But it may be fine—I expect it will be fine.”          

b. “Let’s find another picture to cut out.”                   

c. “Oh, how beautiful!”

d. “Well then, we will cover it up.”                 

e. “Think of a kitchen table, when you’re not there.”

3. Ordinary Misogyny. Quotes that we may find objectionable run through the narrative. Which is not from To the Lighthouse?

a. “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilisation impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness.”

b. “Treat ‘em like chickens, son. Throw ‘em a little corn and they’ll run after you, but don’t give ‘em too much. If you do, they’ll stop layin’ and expect you to wait on ‘em.”

c. “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings.”

d. “There was Mr. X whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”

e. “She guessed what he was thinking—he would have written better books if he had not married.”

4. Extraordinary Restraint. Women react to men’s comments in ways that feel uncomfortably familiar—with silence, resentment, and smoldering rage. Which is not in To the Lighthouse?

a. “She had done the usual trick—been nice.”  

b. “’Odious little man,’ thought Mrs. Ramsey, ‘why go on saying that?’”

c. “She would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties or slur over duties.”

d. “She bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.”

e. “If she had said half of what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”

f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. How long does it take before the Ramseys take the trip mentioned on page one?

a. two months             

b. ten years                 

c. twenty years            

d. one week

II. A Room of One’s Own and themes found in both books

6. Why does Woolf declare that “the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction” must remain unsolved in her work?  Which reason is not in the book?

a. because there are too many great women novelists to synthesize into one conclusion

b. because until the 17th century, most women were too poor and uneducated to write anything

c. because throughout history, women have lacked the time, money and solitude necessary to discover their genius

7. Acc. to Woolf, what emotion dominates the books (by men) explaining women and their works?

a. delight                     

b. anger                       

c. awe              

d. jealousy  

8. Creativity: How to explain it? Woolf attempts variously to describe what it feels like to conceive ideas and create things. Which quote is not by Virginia Woolf in these two books?

a. “It is fatal for anyone who writes to ignore their sex. The mind must be focused on one’s sexual identity, for its limitations and biological demands matter more than anything.”

b. “She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight … that made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as down a dark passage for a child.”

c. “Thought … had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute by minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked.”

d. “The androgynous mind is resonant and porous … it transmits emotion without impediment … it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”

9. Woolf’s reality. Which of the following is not in A Room?

a. “If she begins to tell the truth, the [man’s] figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”

b. “It is remarkable … what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”

c. “The Suffrage campaign has done the unthinkable! Finally, it has roused in men an extraordinary desire to help women achieve their potential.”

d.  “Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”

e. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”

10. What’s wrong with women’s writing of the nineteenth century? Which reason is not cited?

a. Ignorance and emotion. “Anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Brontë the novelist. … Her imagination swerved from indignation and we feel it swerve.”

b. Lack of natural ability. “No woman has ever written as well as Dickens or Proust.”

c.  Pressure of convention. “She was thinking of something other than the thing itself. … She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”

d. Lack of female community and heritage. “They had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For we think back through our mothers … it is useless to go to the great men writers for help.”

11. What advice does Woolf not proffer to young women? 

a. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

b. There must be a lock on that door, the door to your room.

c.  “Adopt the name of a man for your writing; anonymity runs in our blood.”

d. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”


1. c.

2. e. (Son Andrew makes that observation, describing his father’s philosophical writings.)

3. b.  That quote is from Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes.

4. f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. b.

6. a.

7. b.

8. a.

9. c.

10. b.

11. c.

To all women: please write! write simply, write sadly, write with your heart or your anger…

Write about your lives, about your thoughts, about your past, present, or future, but write, and let the world know you were here!

For what it is worth, I’ve pasted below a photo of the books I’ve created during my time on this earth, inspired partly at least by my reading of Woolf’s essay during my time as an undergraduate….

Woolf makes me proud to be a writer. To exist. To forgive us all, and to hope… for more great writers will come! Please write!

And, of course, thank you for reading.


Trivia Quiz for “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Trivia Quiz for Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 10/18/20

A. Friends or Lovers?

1. Peter Walsh and Clarissa Dalloway express deep compassion and love for each other. But they also find fault. What trait does Clarissa not have, according to Peter?

a. she knows how to have fun            

b. she is bitter

c. she has too many parties                

d. she needs people                

e. she is talkative

B. Social Portraits

Familial, societal, and marital obligations loom large over the characters in Mrs. Dalloway; those characters who have no families are seen as lonely outcasts, unmoored. Yet even the most privileged come under ironic scrutiny by this wry narrator. Match the quote to the character.

The characters include: a. Lucrezia Warren Smith; b. Peter Walsh;

c. Clarissa Dalloway; d. Elizabeth Dalloway; e. Miss Doris Kilman


2. “Like some dumb creature who has been brought up to a gate for an unknown purpose, and stands there longing to gallop away, X sat silent.”

3. “I never go to parties. Why should they ask me? I’m plain, I’m unhappy.”

4. “What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought, always playing with a knife.”

5. “She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she … frittered her time away … talking nonsense, saying things that she didn’t mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination.”

6. “They were perfectly happy now, she said, suddenly, putting the hat down. For she could say whatever came into her head. That was the first thing she had felt about him…”

C.  London and Westminster: A Uniquely Historic Urban Setting

7. There are many picturesque places named in Mrs. Dalloway, where the action mostly stays in the historic center of London. Which of the following places is not named?

a. Westminster Cathedral                              

b. Fleet Street             

c. Brown Willy

d. Regent’s Park         

e. Hyde Park                          

f. Big Ben                  

g. Bond Street

8. Mrs. Dalloway includes some memorable portraits of city life and famous monuments when the characters walk or ride around in London. Which of the following is not present?

a. “With thoughts of ships, of business, of law, of administration, and with it all so stately (she was in the Temple), gay (there was the river), pious (there was the Church), made her quite determined, whatever her mother might say, to become either a farmer or a doctor. But she was, of course, rather lazy.”

b. “As for Buckingham Palace (like an old prima donna facing the audience all in white)”

c. “Crossing the Seine, he saw the Louvre shimmering in the winter sun.”

d. “There was Regent’s Park. Yes. As a child he had walked in Regent’s Park.”

D. Time and its vicissitudes

9. Some of the most vivid passages endeavor to describe time’s power and elasticity, and how people who are otherwise intimate perceive time’s passing so differently, unbeknownst to each other. Which of the following is not in the novel?

a. “For she was a child, throwing bread to the ducks, between her parents, and at the same time a grown woman coming to her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms”

b. “Odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me—the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought.”

c. “There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.”

d. “The word ‘time’ split its husk; poured its riches over him; and from his lips fell like shells … white, imperishable words… flew to attach themselves to their places in an ode to Time.”

e. None of the above—they are all in the novel.

E. Style and technique

Virginia Woolf is a master of psychological narrative. We feel like we are listening to the characters’ most secret thoughts, yet sometimes they surprise us. It is that changeability that makes her work so satisfying, just like a rich inner life. Plus, their thoughts are often funny or weirdly fascinating! Match the person to the quote. Characters include: a. Septimus Smith; b. Clarissa Dalloway   


10. “Her people were courtiers once in the times of the Georges and she, too, was going that very night to kindle and illuminate.” 

11. “He was not afraid. At every moment Nature signified by some laughing hint like that gold spot … to show, by brandishing her plumes, shaking her tresses, flinging her mantle this way and that, beautifully, always beautifully … her meaning.”


1. b. 

2. d. Clarissa’s daughter, Elizabeth Dalloway, is described as: “Like some dumb creature who has been brought up to a gate for an unknown purpose, and stands there longing to gallop away, she sat silent.”

3. e. Miss Doris Kilman says, “I never go to parties. Why should they ask me? I’m plain, I’m unhappy.”  [Her name gives it away; she’s a natural killjoy, the overeducated female in a society with no place for her.]

4. b. Peter Walsh. Clarissa’s description reveals her annoyance/affection for the man who’s constantly fidgeting: “What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought, always playing with a knife.”

5. c. This is Peter Walsh’s take on Clarissa Dalloway: “She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she … frittered her time away … talking nonsense, saying things that she didn’t mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination.”

6. a. Lucrezia Warren Smith. In a passage rendered heart-breaking by our realization of her young husband’s broken brain, shell-shocked by his military service in WWI, we look into this young wife’s mind where all is well … temporarily, and in an illusory way, until it’s not.  “They were perfectly happy now, she said, suddenly, putting the hat down. For she could say whatever came into her head. That was the first thing she had felt about him…”

7. c. Brown Willy is in Cornwall, a place captured magnificently in Daphne Dumaurier’s novel, Jamaica Inn.

8. c.

9. e.

10. Clarissa Dalloway imagines her party along the lines of a courtly event, during the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century heyday of the Hanover kings: King George I (1714-1727), King George II (1727-1760), King George III (1760-1820), and George IV (1820-1830).

11. In the life and death of Septimus Smith, Woolf expresses the most lyrical, perfectly mad yet endearing descriptions of a human’s spiritual bond to the natural world, such as: “He was not afraid. At every moment Nature signified by some laughing hint like that gold spot … to show, by brandishing her plumes, shaking her tresses, flinging her mantle this way and that, beautifully, always beautifully … her meaning.”

English literature French literature happiness health humor meditation memory wisdom

in medias res doesn’t mean suffering

Hi everybody,

Today’s meditation took me back to my graduate school days again!  As I have let go of my institutional identity more and more, in preparation for leaving Notre Dame and South Bend, I have come to cherish that student self more and more. That girl from Seattle who loves France, has a whole tapestry of friends and memories in France, and who only became a professor as a means to continue that love affair. (And because I could not get a job with the state department or an airline!)

One thing I learned in grad school is a bunch of literary terms, most of which are not that useful in daily life. But sometimes they are. Sometimes they mask profound philosophical truths. One such term is in medias res. In medias res means “in the middle of the thing.” It is a literary device that you’ll see everywhere–in TV shows, films, as well as classic literature. Its power comes from making us feel off-center and a little anxious, the way life really feels sometimes. Consider these three famous opening scenes:

  1. from a famous play*

Barnardo:  Who’s there?

Francisco: Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

Barbardo:  Long live the King!

Francisco: Barnardo?

2. from a famous work of non-fiction**

“But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction–what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?”

3. from a famous work of fiction***

“The litigation had seemed interminable and had in fact been complicated; but by the decision on the appeal the judgment of the divorce court was confirmed as to the assignment of the child.”

You are probably thinking, “What?!  What’s going on? Who are those guards and why do they know each other? Who asked her to give a speech about women and fiction, and why does she seem so defensive about changing the subject?  Who got custody of the child? why was the divorce so complicated and what might that mean for the child?”

As you can see now, each one of these books pulls in the reader by making you feel like you are entering a real world. A world where important things are already happening. And as reader, it is your job to figure out what is going on. We assume that the things going on make sense, even if they are immoral, unjust, foolish or doomed. That’s the writer’s trick.

But life is like that too!  Every day, we step into situations that began long before our arrival, and that we don’t understand, except we usually don’t realize it. We think everything we see around us is normal and that our feelings in response to it all are normal too. But we are highly susceptible to influences good and bad! Beware!

Remember that, although you may feel stuck in a situation, you can choose your response to it. You can choose to limit suffering and focus on love, think about a long-term approach to life. If no one else is kind to you, be kind to yourself. Make plans to get out, if necessary, or limit negative influences around you. Make this day worth remembering, because as you will realize tomorrow, those feelings–good or bad–that you wake up with tomorrow were nurtured today. As mortal, earthbound creatures, we are always living in medias res.


* William Shakespeare, Hamlet

** Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

***Henry James, What Maisie Knew