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Previous weeks' quotations

2003

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Jan 2003

1st January

Why bother with detail --with nuance and contradiction--if you already know your attitude towards the Victorian era, country-house fiction, the aristocracy, classic literature and so on?

Ian Christie, review of The British Cinema Book (2001), Times Higher Education Supplement, 2 Aug 2002

8th January

It's hard to know whether it would have been different if I'd been a man. It does seem to get worse as you get older; when you are young you almost expect to be patronised and ignored. It's when you get older and start challenging the men that it gets harder

Susan Greenfield 'Still hard to be a woman', New Scientist, 30 Nov 2002

15th January

Like Freud and Marx, Darwin has suffered from becoming a belief system, when he was simply a very original thinker. A legitimate hypothesis is not an article of faith.
AS Byatt, Darwin's web: review of Janet Browne's Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002), The Guardian, Saturday January 4, 2003

22nd January

Normal doesn't exist; everyone is vulnerable and peculiar.

Michel Faber, Q&A, Compiled by Rosanna Greenstreet, The Guardian, Saturday January 4, 2003

29th January

It suffers the fate of all obsessively honest intellectual works: it is riddled with contradictions.

Janet Malcolm, 'The Patient is Always Right', The Poisoned Couch (1992)

Feb 2003

5th February

Three husbands had taught her that though you might be right, saying so to men only made matters worse.

Stella Gibbons, The Woods in Winter (1970)

12th February

I much prefer being as I am now. I have a much larger capacity for everything. I see a lot more and care a lot less about things like people and whether they like me.

M F K Fisher, From the Journals of M F K Fisher, entry for 3 July 1940.

19th February

I never knew anybody, anywhere I have been, who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details, the way a planet looks smooth, from orbit

Ursula Le Guin, 'Solitude', The Birthday of the World (2002)

26th February

Men are not very good at loving, but they are experts at admiring and respecting: the woman who goes after their admiration and respect will often come out better than she who goes after their love.

Florence King, 'Spinsterhood is Powerful', Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)

Mar 2003

5th March

Christopher found that his life had become all of a piece; everybody knew everything there was to know about him. In theory, he saw that this was morally preferable; it made hypocrisy and concealment impossible. In practice, he hated it.

Christopher Isherwood, Lost Years: A memoir 1945-51, 2000

12th March

To be on the safe side they adopt an unvarying attitude of non-compromise and renunciation, being too cowardly of Eternity to accept the more terrible task of joyous performance.

Rebecca West (edited by Kathryn Lang), The Sentinel: An Incomplete Early Novel, 2002

19th March

Neither realized in the slightest degree that the atmosphere of oppressive disapproval and hurt feeling which they contrived wordlessly to diffuse whenever their children fell short of the ideal, caused infinitely greater suffering to both than the severest punishment would have done.

E M Delafield, Humbug, 1921

26th March

The Major was hurt by Guy's behaviour. He was always hurt and astonished if the measure he meted out to others was meted out to him.

Dorothy Whipple, The Priory 1939
just republished by Persephone Books

Apr 2003

2nd April

Only when you have quite lately been scared and unhappy can you appreciate the safety, the luxury of being bored.

Robert Liddell, Stepsons 1969

9th April

How ridiculous it was, she thought, to have all this difficulty with words. One imagined that one thought in words, and it wasn't until trying to write or speak one's thoughts that one discovered how untrue this was.

Jocelyn Playfair, A House in the Country, 1944
just republished by Persephone Books

16th April

Whatever his failings in politics, I knew no-one I would rather have with me to go tiger-shooting.

John Buchan, The Power-House (1916)

23rd April

The loss of a fountain-pen long known & trained & loved & the enforced use of a substitute is only to be compared with having to sleep with a man to whom one is indifferent by inevitable compulsion, one's lover being away

Mary Butts, journal entry for 19th March 1930, The Journals of Mary Butts edited by Natalie Blondel (2002)

30th April

Gerda has no sense of process.... She wants the results without doing any of the work that goes to make it.... She wants to be our friend, to be so close to us in friendship that we will ask her to travel about the country with us, but she does not make the slightest effort to like us, or even to conceal that she dislikes us. She is angry when you are paid such little respect as comes your way because you are a well-known writer, she feels it ought to come to her also, though she has never written any books.... As she has no sense of what goes to bring people love, or friendship, or distinction or wealth, it seems to her that the whole world is enjoying undeserved benefits.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942)

May 2003

7th May

They rose and thanked each other yet again, delicately balancing formality against effusiveness, the sort of precise social interchange you sometimes achieve by the end of a first meeting, which then allows you to part feeling altogether better about the world you live in.

Peter Dickinson, Some Deaths Before Dying (1999)

14th May

It wasn't that those three boys liked me for my mind. It was that they were the only three who were not terrified by my mind, and could therefore enjoy (or try to enjoy) my body.

Better to Have Loved: the life of Judith Merril (2002)

21st May

The attitude of doubt, the entertainment of hypotheses, the holding of judgement in suspense, is irksome, and even intensely repugnant, to many minds. They demand certainties and are eager for assurances

FGS Schiller 'Hypothesis' in Charles Singer, Studies in the History and Method of Science (Vol II) 1921

28th May

Being the world's confidante was a strain on a character naturally unsympathetic and inelastic, and poor Miss Digby had to suffer from time to time for the satisfaction it gave her. She did not love her fellow-men.... But somebody, when she was still only a girl, had said:
'May is such a good listener'
This casual sentence had marked and moulded her for the rest of her life.

Emma Smith, The Far Cry 1949
recently republished by Persephone Books

Jun 2003

4th June

There is a sharp line between self-absorption and taking responsibility for what and who one is. Without the latter, it's easy to assume that everything simply happens to one, and the result, an unselfish victim emerges

Elizabeth Jane Howard, Slipstream: A Memoir 2002

11th June

Anthea was exactly the sort of patient Nurse Pye liked best: inexperienced, looking to Nurse Pye for help, physical and moral. Nurse Pye liked to be looked to, she liked to help, to manage other people's affairs for them

Dorothy Whipple, The Priory 1939
just republished by Persephone Books

18th June

Prudence had forgotten all about that little inconsequential affair.... it hadn't been a real infidelity at all for she had been so busy describing her rapturous idyll with Steve that she honestly hadn't noticed what the sympathetic Argentinian was up to.

Dawn Powell, The Happy Island 1938

25th June

Here we see the double role of science in the modern world: to be the other culture and to be its own antithesis, disguised fundamentalist religion, which imagines technological discoveries which take the pain out of living as their predecessors imagined miracles.

Rebecca West, Survivors in Mexico 2003

Ju1 2003

2nd July

All their short lives they had seen gentleness oppressed, beauty ignored, and order thrust aside in favour of chaos. The most beautiful object in their daily lives had been their mother, and her life had been a bondage to misery. They all reverenced gentleness and beauty... but the daily spectacle of the apparent powerlessness of virtue had sunk deeply into their minds.

Stella Gibbons, Enbury Heath 1935

9th July

The child's delusion of being freakishly different from everybody else, a feeling most of us outgrow, is the feeling that an autobiographer must summon and fan back to life in order to do his work of creating a literary figure out of the unpromising material of himself.

Janet Malcolm, 'Schneebaum's confessions', The Poisoned Couch (1992)

[No quotation for 16th July]

23rd July

He thought he was having a conversation with Mavis, but in reality he was delivering a lecturette, including detailed digressions and ornamentation....
This is a problem with many blokes. While they are droning on, someone, usually a woman, chips in and contributes to the narrative, but the droners do not appreciate her contribution. They feel that she is "butting in". Mavis doesn't call it butting in. She calls it "having a conversation", which means that both, or several persons, play a part, rather than one person droning and the other sitting silently admiring his drone....
At the end of the drone or lecturette, other persons are allowed to at last respond, by saying "Absolutely right," or "How interesting, I never knew that"

Michele Hanson, 'Talk to the hand: Droning on ... it's the classic chap's mistake', The Guardian, 21 Jul 2003

30th July

A damaging dichotomy has been set up by a culture which has seemingly lost all concept of appropriate sexual boundaries. We can discuss at length the proclivities of a photogenic teen we'll never meet, while still unable to tell our partner that we don't like the way they perform oral sex. The first demeans us all, making desire a nonsense or a competition.... There must be a way to repress the junk succour of public sex while freeing private appetites.

Libby Brooks, 'Kiss and Tell: A tabloid obsession with celebrities' sex lives makes it harder for the rest of us to express our real desires', The Guardian, 23 Jul 2003

Aug 2003

6th August

There's no such thing as the perfect relationship.... Often the greatest rewards of a relationship come with how a couple deals with the imperfections.

Penny Mansfield, director of One Plus One, a relationships research and information organisation, cited in Tammy Cohen, A hard act to follow, Guardian Weekend, 26 July 2003

[No quotation for 13 August]

20th August

Gregor had to admit that interesting people were more likely to be vilified than uninteresting ones.

Jane Haddam, Conspiracy Theory (2003)

27th August

Gaudian was clearly a good fellow.... I could have worked with him, for he was a fellow of my own totem.

John Buchan, Greenmantle (1916)

Sep 2003

3rd September

I pointed out the illegality once, being something of a goody-goody and inclined to follow rules because then people left me in peace to read books, which I did instead of almost everything else.

Suzy McKee Charnas, My Father's Ghost: the Return of My Old Man and Other Second Chances (2002)

10th September

She was supposed to be very clever. All young ladies are either very pretty or very clever or very sweet; they may take their choice as to which category they will go in for, but go in for one of the three they must. It was hopeless to try and pass Charlotte off as either pretty or sweet. So she became clever as the only remaining alternative.

Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh (1903)

17th September

Something not very far off the deification of man is on us now, not, or not yet, of the kings and millionaires, but, and again, and this is primitive, of the conspicuous young men and women, our sexually desirable ones, whose nature it is to wax and wane and be replaced

Mary Butts, 'Traps for Unbelievers' (1932) in Ashe of Rings and other writings

[No quotation for 24 September]

Oct 2003

1st October

His mind reduced the world to diagrams, and he saw to it that the diagrams fitted.... he really had an insight into the technical side of the great military campaigns of the past. He could see what Caesar or Napoleon had done, and why, and, how; it was not to be expected, that he could have seen it, as they did, before it happened.

Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell (1937)

8th October

It smashed the romantic pretence that women had as a birthright the gift of perfect adaptation: that they were in a bland state of desireless contentment which, when they were beautiful, reminded the onlooker of goddesses, and when they were plain [was] more likely to remind him of cabbage.

Rebecca West, 'The Freewoman' first published in Time and Tide 16 Jul 1926, reprinted in Dale Spender (ed.), Time and Tide Wait for No Man (1984)

15th October

Maybe we should turn the precepts of the seventies around, and recognize not just that sexual freedom is connected to other struggles, but that it is meaningless in the absence of other forms of freedom and equality.

Dennis Altman, Global Sex (2001)

[No quotation for 22nd October]

29th October

The only book of mine that got a big literary award was the only one in which I've killed off a major character. Somehow tragedy attracts awards and comedy doesn't.

Alison Lurie, interview in The Guardian Review 25 Oct 2003

Nov 2003

5th November

I have even been informed quite solemnly that a woman should beware the 'smarmy so-and-sos' who compulsively buy flowers for the ladies, as this is a sure sign they are closet wife beaters. Nice try, guys, but maybe women should be more wary of the man who never buys blooms, for he is a lazy thoughtless git

Barbara Ellen, 'Is Romance Dead, in The Observer Magazine 2 Nov 2003

12th November

Those who stick their necks out to start social movements tend to be in certain respects atypical. Paradoxically, they are likely to have economic and social privileges that free them from an overwhelming preoccupation with survival, that make them feel less vulnerable and more entitled.... Or conversely, they may already be social outcasts or misfits in one way or another and so feel they have little to lose.... Yet rebellious minorities are really just canaries in the mine. When their complaints speak to widespread, if unadmitted, disappointments and desires, it's amazing how fast ordinary people's desires and the whole social atmosphere can change.

Ellen Willis, Don't Think, Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial (1999)

19th November

There are circumstances in which virtue feels abashed; it is in general easier to be taken for a rogue than a prig.

Margery Sharp, The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

26th November

The desire for sanctuary, special and solitary, is as fundamental as the opposite desire to do away with frontiers and barriers and to ramble carelessly on everybody's grass.

G B Stern, Another Part of the Forest (1941)

Dec 2003

3rd December

Prophesying is a perilous if pleasant pastime, because mankind refuses to behave with the consistency displayed by obliging factors in mathematical problems.

Olga Hartley and Mrs C F Leyel, Lucullus: The Food of the Future (1924)

10th December

Boredom. They were so bored that some believed they were ill. Boredom in some undefined and undiagnosed way undermines, slows minds, and skews thinking.

Doris Lessing, 'A Love Child', in The Grandmothers (2003)

17th December

The inability of certain men, once they got to their feet, to finish a statement and sit down, amounted, in Kate's view, to a disease as incurable as satyriasis and far more socially dangerous.

Amanda Cross, Poetic Justice (1970)

24th December

Our mistake is in thinking that the wide range of humanity represents aberration when in fact it represents just what it is: range. Nature is not two little notes on a child's flute.

Amy Bloom, Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops and Hermaphrodites with Attitude (2003)

31st December

'Why,' Katherine demanded, 'are people determined to think of one in terms of sexual activity?.... I do not like to be limited, I am all of myself. But first and foremost I am Katherine, pianist.'

Madeleine L'Engle, A Severed Wasp (1982)

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