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Previous weeks' quotations

2004

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Jan 2004

7th January

It is curious, while your mind is engaged on a book, how everything that happens, big and small, seems predestined to find a place in it. Which may mean that such a book goes on all the time in every life, whether it gets written or not.

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

14th January

History shows that there is not enough deliberate callousness and selfishness in human nature to keep the gross abuses of any social and industrial system going, once they become recognised as abuses. They need to be fortified by spurious theory, safeguarded by an ostrich blindness, in order to withstand the assaults of humane desire.

M K Bradby The Logic of the Unconscious Mind (1920)

21st January

How useful, how essential to the pattern, is the occasional boringness of life.

Margaret Cole, Marriage, Past and Present (1938)

28th January

'Alfred is very secret,' I said reflectively. 'I often think that's why I'm so happy with him. Plate glass is such a bore.'

Nancy Mitford, Don't Tell Alfred (1960)

Feb 2004

4th February

I remember the occasion... for it was one of the few on which I have had a pang of dissatisfaction with the calling I had chosen. As Tommy's footsteps grew faint on the stairs I suddenly felt as if I were missing something, as if somehow I were out of it. It is an unpleasant feeling even when you know that the thing you are out of is foolishness.

John Buchan, The Power-House (1916)

11th February

There had been a moment for that friendship and it vanished, as moments for perfect contact between human beings will, and all one knows is that they passed neglected.

Dawn Powell, The Story of a Country Boy (1934)

18th February

'Question and answer has never seemed to me a liberal form of conversation,' said he.

Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate (1979)

25th February

For life is tolerable only if sometimes, just now and then, it need not be often, one has the chance of receiving some benefit which one has not earned and perhaps does not even deserve.

Rebecca West, Survivors in Mexico (2003)

Mar 2004

3rd March

One can't say how life is, how chance or fate deals with people, except by telling the tale. In general one can't say more than--yes, that is the way it goes. For better or worse, of course, but the worst is certainly what people used to tell you, especially in this country: Nothing ever happens to me. Think of the craze for operations in middle-aged women. We seem unable to live without events, life becomes an indifferent flux and we are hardly able to tell one day from the next. Life itself is full of tales. What made the tales disappear?

Hannah Arendt to Mary McCarthy, 28 May 1971, in Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975 , edited by Carol Brightman (1996)

10th March

No man is sure he does not need to climb.
It is not human to feel safely placed.
"A girl can't go on laughing all the time".

William Empson, 'Reflection from Anita Loos', Collected Poems (1962)

17th March

The great test for historians is not how much they know - it's how they treat what they don't know.

David Jays, Review of John Brewer, A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century (2004)

[No quotation for 24th March]

31st March

She felt an aesthetic objection to the squalor and the lowering of human dignity, and this if anything made her cling all the more rigorously to the principles of virtuous living that she had learned before the war.

K J Bishop, The Etched City (2004)

Apr 2004

7th April

No matter whether she lovingly forgives and cherishes the mother, whether she reconstitutes her with new understanding and compassion, whether she continues to revolt against her, even in memory, the fact is that ... "the quality of the mother's life... is her primary bequest to her daughter'.

Carolyn Heilbrun, Women's Lives: The View from the Theshold (1999)

14th April

Women are proud of what they know, but men are proud of what they can tell.

Robertson Davies What's Bred in the Bone (1986)
[via David Doughan]

21st April

When I was very young indeed, I was disgracefully intolerant; when I passed into the thirties, I prided myself on having learnt a beautiful tolerance; that, however, I realize now was nothing but laziness. After a few years of it I began to be heartily intolerant again, which meant that I had sorted out and tidied up as much as possible what matters and what doesn't, who matters and who doesn't, what I have to do and what I needn't, what I have to wear and fashion-my-foot, what I have to say and what I can let-it-go-at-that.

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

28th April

Whenever the scandal had been mentioned it had always been in that bland, well-informed, unexaggerated, half-spoken, half-insinuated manner which was the well-bred style adopted by the Szent-Gyorgyi circle.

Miklos Banffy, They Were Divided (1940, English translation 2001)

May 2004

5th May

The deadly crank whose influence is fatal, destructive of courage and sanctity escapes unabused. He is the man who madly and intemperately subjugates his life to the ideal of being ordinary.

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

12th May

I read recently in an article by G. K. Chesterton that sex without gestation and parturition is like blowing the trumpets and waving the flags without doing any of the fighting.... such words... from a man... are an unforgivable, intolerable insult. What is man's part in sex but a perpetual waving of flags and blowing of trumpets and avoidance of the fighting?

Dora Russell, Hypatia Or Woman and Knowledge, 1925

19th May

Well, maybe I just hate art when the only thing going for it is that it's beautiful.

Sischy, quoted in Janet Malcolm, 'A Girl of the Zeitgeist' (1986), The Poisoned Couch (1992)

26th May

The ice-cream shops of Martha's childhood had offered vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.... Now she was confronted with a range of choices that approached infinity: chocolate chocolate chip, vanilla Swiss almond, cherry vanilla, rum raisin, butter pecan, pistachio...

Some of what is called progress really is progress.

Gretchen Sprague, Murder in a Heatwave (2003)

Jun 2004

2nd June

She deliberately misuses her body, in a kind of complicated masochism and as a silent reproach. Many women are that way. They will iron longer than they need to so that the backache they acquire, even though they never tell anyone they have it, can be used as a little incentive for the recrimination they never utter.

M F K Fisher, From the Journals of M F K Fisher, entry for 19 Feb 1934.

9th June

Like most seekers for an ideal woman, he did not really like women, believing that they disappointed and failed him on purpose.

Stella Gibbons, Westwood, or The Gentle Powers (1946)

16th June

There's not much to be said for being dragged up in a council house in Rutland, but it does seem to have left me with the feeling that whatever I'm doing, and however badly I'm doing it, it's a hell of a lot better than what I could be doing (the local knicker factory springs to mind).

For some of us, this is the key. Not so much the good things that happen, but the bad things that don't.

Barbara Ellen, 'Status complacency', OM:The Observer Magazine, 13 Jun 2004

23rd June

The oldest child often grows up too soon and presents a confident independent personality but the rock upon which others rely for stability is balanced precariously upon the shifting sands of unmet needs. In me the infantile desire to be cuddled and comforted has been deeply denied and a defensive armour makes it impossible for me or other seemingly strong characters to demand or accept the affection we crave.

Rose Hacker, Abraham's Daughter: The Autobiography of Rose Hacker (1996)

30th June

The task of the historian is not to simplify, but to illuminate the complexities and contradictions in the various texts and documents that have survived.

Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: women who loved women, 1778-1928 (2004)

Ju1 2004

7th July

A great talker, when allowed, she would converse without the faintest animation for hours together, relating, with epic monotony, the innumerable occasions on which Fortune had missed her; nor did she ever perceive that her hearers sympathised with Fortune, for her heart was kind.

John Galsworthy, The Man of Property (1906) in The Forsyte Saga Volume I

14th July

"Surely there has to be a limit to hypocrisy."

Dalgleish said: "I've never found one."

P D James, A Certain Justice (1998)
[Thanks to David Doughan for this one]

21st July

Now this sex-antagonism has all manner of consequences, one of the chief of which is a tendency on the part of men to go and see what women are doing and tell them not to. This procedure is known (in other circumstances) when the sexes of the participants are reversed as nagging.

Rebecca West, 'On a Form of Nagging', published in Time and Tide 31 Oct 1924, reprinted in Dale Spender (ed.), Time and Tide Wait for No Man (1984)

28th July

The problem of Galatea is really the problem of any woman, in fiction or out, who gets crammed into the golden mould of someone else's stereotype: she scrambles out, swearing, as fast as she can. And if no man gets his ideal woman, it could simply be because she does not exist; and when you think what the ideals are like, a jolly good thing too.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Man's Ideal Woman', in Only on Sundays (1966)

Aug 2004

4th August

There was no way I could duck him. If I withdrew, I felt him appreciating my withdrawal. If I stayed away from anywhere he might be, my absence interested him. If I ever spoke to him, he listened intently, as if my voice revealed some new side of my nature.... He deprived me of the right to know when I was alone.

Laurie Colwin, 'A Girl Skating', in The Lone Pilgrim (1981)

11th August

Politicians are always talking about the importance of choice as if that were what we all wanted, but they are wrong. On the whole, we don't want choice.

When I want to buy a train ticket from Milton Keynes to London, I am asked if I would rather travel by Virgin or Silverlink. How should I know? I just want to catch the earliest reliable train that will get me to London quickly.

Alexander Chancellor, 'Guide to Age', The Guardian Magazine, 7 Aug 2004

18th August

Few things have such a tonic effect on a young man accustomed to be a little heavy on waking in the morning as the discovery that he has stolen a prize pig overnight.

P G Wodehouse, Summer Lightning (1929)

25th August

She has never sat down with one of her new hero's seminal world-famous volumes and read it through from cover to cover. She knows what he stands for, and what he writes about, but her knowledge of his ideas has percolated into her consciousness indirectly, from non-textual sources. It has permeated her by osmosis; it has reached her by convection currents.

Margaret Drabble, The Red Queen (2004)

Sep 2004

1st September

Mr Courtney certainly liked to be adored, even blindly adored, but he did not care about it unless the adorers were competent at their jobs; then it became both useful and desirable.

G B Stern, The Reasonable Shores (1946)

8th September

One so seldom realizes that the finest virtues stem from never-tested self-confidence. Husbands are faithful because it has never occurred to them that they could not win any other woman they chose, men are modest or kind because they are sure of their superiority, women hug their chastity because they are so certain all men crave it.

Dawn Powell, The Story of a Country Boy (1934)

15th September

Once a fiction is crafted cleverly enough to provide an entertaining story, it has the capacity to overpower virtually any facts given sufficient time.... a wildly and patently inaccurate account of events will be preferred to more objective accounts if it is packaged attractively enough.

Ronald Hutton, 'How Myths are Made', Witches, Druids and King Arthur (2003)

22nd September

She felt as if the night were a journey on which she had set out with Lucien, and together they had travelled through a great many different countries, sometimes losing one another for a time, sometimes running to catch up.

Pamela Frankau, Born At Sea (1931)

29th September

The River Irwell has been perverted and abused.

William Lee, Report to the General Board of Health on a preliminary inquiry into the sewerage, drainage, and supply of water, and the sanitary condition of the inhabitants of Bacup (1849)

Oct 2004

6th October

Persons blinded by passionate prejudice collide with other persons blinded by passionate prejudice and the collisions engender a dynamic force which shapes our present and determines our future. If these persons were not so passionate that their prejudices blinded them, then they could not engender this dynamism. We develop by misunderstanding.

Rebecca West, Survivors in Mexico (2003)

13th October

He seldom failed to seduce since he neither commanded nor pleaded but put the whole matter on the basis of a polite gesture required by the best society, so that women feared to seem gauche or uneducated by struggling.

Dawn Powell, The Story of a Country Boy (1934)

20th October

Sympathy attracted by having neither too few misfortunes nor too many. Up to a point, people's interest increases when one's in trouble, they feel it a shame that so radiant a being should be harassed and put themselves out to preserve one's charms. But the point once past, they quickly chorus 'This is too much,' and feel that since there is a great deal of sorrow in the world it may as well be piled on a single victim.

E M Forster, 'Commonplace Book', Jan/Feb 1930 E M Forster's Commonplace Book, edited by Philip Gardner (1987)

27th October

Having a personal philosophy is like having a pet marmoset, because it may be very attractive when you acquire it, but there may be situations when it will not come in handy at all

Lemony Snicket, The Grim Grotto (2004)

Nov 2004

3rd November

People who try to do either all the giving or all the taking are equally likely to be unhappy and therefore unbalanced and therefore unsuccessful at whatever it is they want to do.

Amabel Williams-Ellis, The Art Of Being A Woman (1951)

[No quotation for 10th November]

17th November

People don't break into furies about something which is dull, only about work which is full of real fire and contains what appears as danger to safe comfortable people.

Edith Sitwell to Gertrude Stein, c. April 1926, no 70, Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell, (ed. Richard Greene, 1997)

24th November

She is of a moody type that thrives on 'hot emotional baths' and I can't supply her with them. She would love me... if I'd only weep upon her breast, or scream with rage, or sulk.

M F K Fisher, From the Journals of M F K Fisher, entry for 8 Nov 1935

Dec 2004

1st December

I think of the strain as something like that silent, uninterrupted thrust of an arch against the wall, of a dome on the walls that support it. There is no sign of stress. But it is so difficult to build a dome rightly that Italy, the land of domes, is covered with the ruins of those churches whose domes gradually, slowly, thrust outwards till the walls on which they rested gave way and the church was in ruins. That kind of strain is easily denied by the very people who are enduring it. It is so customary, so much a part of their life, that they are unconscious of it.

A Maude Royden, Sex and Commonsense (1922)

8th December

If you spend twenty-five years working on anything, you become the world expert.

Molly Crowfoot, quoted in Georgina Ferry, Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life (1998)

15th December

Men are understood to be absolutely silent with each other on personal matters but this is only when they are asked direct questions. Then they remember that men never talk, men never gossip, men never betray a friend - certainly not for such a small audience. But, unquestioned, they are apt to reveal their own secrets as well as those of their friends, and are goaded on to all sorts of incriminating revelations by a look of indifference in the listener's eye.

Dawn Powell The Locusts Have No King (1948)

22nd December

A good deal of the sympathy that is forced on us when we are most unhappy, most raw, is merely a mask for impertinent curiosity

Edith Sitwell to Stella Bowen, 5 Dec 1928, no. 100 Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell, (ed. Richard Greene, 1997)

29th December

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.


Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry


Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.


And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Edward Thomas, 'The Owl' (c. 1916/7), in Collected Poems

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