Language is wine upon the lips. –Virginia Woolf
The above quote is one of my all-time favourites. It evokes a full-bodied red wine, enjoyed in good company, while eating delicious food. It evokes laughter. Friendship. Candles gently lighting the room.
I have wanted to know where this sentence is taken from. What is its context? For what kind of story did she come up with this metaphor? I have found only two answers to these questions, neither completely satisfactory.
According to one blog I found, she said once said this to her husband Leonard. No source was provided for this piece of information.
Using Ctrl+F to search for the phrase “wine upon” in her works on Project Gutenberg, I found the following sentence, from her book Jacob’s Room:
Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, sipped his port alone, or with one rosy little man, whose memory held precisely the same span of time; sipped his port, and told his stories, and without book before him intoned Latin, Virgil and Catullus, as if language were wine upon his lips.
At this point I almost regret looking for the context. For one thing, the words are not exactly the same. The book version is tied to a person, a he, Erasmus Cowan, that I can’t know without reading the book, and now the perfect adaptability of the internet quote is destroyed. What is more, Cowan is drinking port wine while telling stories, so there is an almost physical connection between the wine and the language rather than the evocative metaphoric connection of the internet quote.
The point of all this? For once I should have remembered the old line about never letting the truth get in the way of a good story instead of following my native academic instinct to dig for sources and originals.