From Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, Chapter XV:
Here Rachel came up from the lower garden with a book in her hand.
“What’s that book?” said Ridley, when she had shaken hands.
“It’s Gibbon,” said Rachel as she sat down.
“The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?” said Mrs. Thornbury. “A very wonderful book, I know. My dear father was always quoting it at us, with the result that we resolved never to read a line.”
“Gibbon the historian?” enquired Mrs. Flushing. “I connect him with some of the happiest hours of my life. We used to lie in bed and read Gibbon—about the massacres of the Christians, I remember—when we were supposed to be asleep. It’s no joke, I can tell you, readin’ a great big book, in double columns, by a night-light, and the light that comes through a chink in the door. Then there were the moths—tiger moths, yellow moths, and horrid cockchafers. Louisa, my sister, would have the window open. I wanted it shut. We fought every night of our lives over that window. Have you ever seen a moth dyin’ in a night-light?” she enquired.
The passage continues:
Hewet picked up the book that lay on the ground.
“You like this?” he asked in an undertone.
“No, I don’t like it,” she replied. She had indeed been trying all the afternoon to read it, and for some reason the glory which she had perceived at first had faded, and, read as she would, she could not grasp the meaning with her mind.
“It goes round, round, round, like a roll of oil-cloth,” she hazarded. Evidently she meant Hewet alone to hear her words, but Hirst demanded, “What d’you mean?”
She was instantly ashamed of her figure of speech, for she could not explain it in words of sober criticism.
“Surely it’s the most perfect style, so far as style goes, that’s ever been invented,” he continued. “Every sentence is practically perfect, and the wit—”
“Ugly in body, repulsive in mind,” she thought, instead of thinking about Gibbon’s style. “Yes, but strong, searching, unyielding in mind.” She looked at his big head, a disproportionate part of which was occupied by the forehead, and at the direct, severe eyes.
“I give you up in despair,” he said. He meant it lightly, but she took it seriously, and believed that her value as a human being was lessened because she did not happen to admire the style of Gibbon. The others were talking now in a group about the native villages which Mrs. Flushing ought to visit.
“I despair too,” she said impetuously. “How are you going to judge people merely by their minds?”
“You agree with my spinster Aunt, I expect,” said St. John in his jaunty manner, which was always irritating because it made the person he talked to appear unduly clumsy and in earnest. “‘Be good, sweet maid’—I thought Mr. Kingsley and my Aunt were now obsolete.”
“One can be very nice without having read a book,” she asserted. Very silly and simple her words sounded, and laid her open to derision.
“Did I ever deny it?” Hirst enquired, raising his eyebrows.