At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.

Woolf makes this statement in Chapter 1 just before donning her narrator persona. She believes that when a topic is polarizing, it becomes very difficult to figure out any objective truth. Everyone sees the world very differently, and any attempt to state what she believes is the truth will only result in stating something that reflects upon her, not reality. The inherent subjectivity of everyone’s truth makes discovering what is objective nearly impossible.

I had been foolish to ask my professor to furnish me with “indisputable proofs” of this or that in his argument about women. Even if one could state the value of any one gift at the moment, those values will change; in a century’s time very possibly they will have changed completely.

The narrator comes to this conclusion in Chapter 2 after her research trip to the British Museum. Although she begins the chapter by declaring that the British Museum is the best place to discern the truth of everything, here she states this was a futile exercise. Not only do individuals have subjective observations, but history judges things subjectively. The values of society at one point in history will not match those of another. Thus, expecting academics to give any definitive truth about women requires to try and find objectivity in an inherently subjective space.

At any rate, where books are concerned, it is notoriously difficult to fix labels of merit in such a way that they do not come off.

The narrator makes this observation in Chapter 6 concerning the futility of making any comparative judgments at all. She notes that the general opinion of a book will change with history, and that books once considered genius fade to obscurity and vice versa. Despite clearly having strong opinions on what makes a book great, the narrator acknowledges that judgment is inherently subjective and will change given the values of different times and places.

That is all as it should be, for in a question like this truth is only to be had by laying together many varieties of error.

Woolf makes this comment in Chapter 6 as she steps away from her narrator persona. She admits that the audience is likely to find fault in her argument despite her great care to tease out as much truth as possible. However, she accepts any errors she makes as an inevitable consequence of trying to tease out the truth. Because she believes any objective truth can only come from observing multiple subjective truths, anything her audience disagrees with will only bring them closer to understanding.

What is meant by “reality”? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable—now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now in a daffodil in the sun.

This quotation comes from Chapter 6 as Woolf continues to wrap up her argument. For all the pains she has taken to give her essay the best chance to discern the truth about women and fiction, she here acknowledges that reality itself is slippery and subjective. She does not quite deny its existence, but rather suggests that because people are inherently subjective beings, they only get ephemeral glimpses of truth that are impossible to rely on for guidance.