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Previous weeks' quotations

2006

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Jan 2006

4th January

But if we do not understand it, and if we are not outright opportunists who always accept the here-and-now, who circumvent unpleasantness by lies and forget the good, our history will take its revenge, will exert its superiority and become our personal destiny. And that is never any pleasure for the person affected.

Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess (1997, first published 1957)

11th January

There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all. We speak; we spread round us with sounds, with words, an emanation from ourselves. Sometimes they overlap the circles others are spreading round themselves. Then they are affected by these other circles, to be sure, but not because of any real communication that has taken place.

Rebecca West, 'There is no conversation', in The Harsh Voice (1935)

18th January

So strangely alike, so perfectly in harmony, they reminded me sometimes of characters on the stage, two figures in some graceful pantomime who had been drilled to make the same gestures in time to the same music and who moved always through the close articulate measure of their parts in perfect unison, tracing parallel patterns in the space round them, mysteriously united yet never touching and scarcely ever looking at each other.

Mary Borden, Jane - Our Stranger (1923)

25th January

Aston Moffat.... was a pure scholar, a holy and beautiful soul who would have sacrificed reputation, fortune, and life, if necessary, for the discovery of one fact about the horse-boys of Edward Plantagenet.... Wentworth was... at that moment when a man's real concern begins to separate himself from his pretended, and almost to become independent of himself.... [H]e identified scholarship with himself, and asserted himself under the disguise of scholarship. He refused to admit that the exact detail of Edward's march was not, in fact, worth to him the cost of a single cigar.

Charles Williams, Descent into Hell (1937)

Feb 2006

1st February

You cannot be Maud Gonne and devote yourself, soul and body, to a cause without making use of those who happen to be hopelessly in love with you.

Penelope Fitzgerald, 'Too Long a Sacrifice' (1992) in A House of Air: Selected Writings (2003)

8th February

[W]hen it comes to housework the one thing no book of household management can ever tell you is how to begin. Or maybe I mean why.
Perhaps no book can answer it completely: but what I am waiting for... is a book that starts off on the assumption that all sorts of goads and bribes are necessary to get some of us up off the hearthrug and doing the housework at all.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Nought for Housework', in Roundabout (1962)

15th February

He was kind, and not only to Angela. He carried his kindness over to Harriet so she, an admirer of wit, intelligence and looks in a man, was beginning to realise that kindness, if you had the luck to find it, was an even more desirable quality.

Olivia Manning, The Battle Lost and Won (1978)

22nd February

Artists drawn to morbidity and horror are constantly asked why, as if expected to justify it. Of course, its attraction is that it is unjustifiable. It is indefensible. It is horrible, depraved and corrupt. It is wrong, otherwise one wouldn't be interested. To evoke evil with conviction, one must have a powerfully developed sense of its opposite.

Elizabeth Young, 'Dennis Cooper: Closer' (1994), in Pandora's Handbag: Adventures in the Book World (2001)

Mar 2006

1st March

A journey is full of excitement when one leaves or arrives, but the intervening period is commonly characterised by discomfort and boredom.

Andrew Taylor, The American Boy (2003)

8th March

Ivor... proved you can be a success without having to try to do everything. He didn't try to write TV series, or branch out into directing operas. Not everyone is a renaissance man, and you don't hire a plumber to do your painting. Being special at one thing is far better than being not bad at a ton of things.

Mark Radcliffe, 'The dignity of Ivor Cutler', The Guardian, 8 March 2006

15th March

Clare knew that her real delight during the three Goldoni weeks was in being an ordinary opera-trouper again, in lodgings and free, with only easy work to sing: escaped a while from having to take one's talent at the highest level of seriousness.

Kate O'Brien, As Music and Splendour (1958)

[No quotation for 22nd March]

29th March

[E]veryone marries into an odd family, since all families are odd except your own, and remain so to the end.

Lettice Cooper, The New House (1936)

Apr 2006

5th April

Clothes? Oh yes, I like clothes - on other people. Well, somehow they seem to suffer a sea-change when they get on to me. They look quite promising in the shop; and not entirely without hope when I get them back into my wardrobe. But then, when I put them on they tend to deteriorate with a very strange rapidity and one feels so sorry for them.

Joyce Grenfell, 'Eng. Lit. I' (1965), in Turn Back the Clock: Her Best Songs and Monologues (1983)

12th April

[P]oor Charles could not realise that a woman may very well like a man to kiss her and make love to her for a week or two, and yet shrink in horror from a lifetime with him.

Susan French, Strictly Private (1954)

19th April

Curious about the difference between the male and female in middle age. After 50, women seem to enjoy and prefer the friendship of their own sex. No fighting over men, no rivalry, and their family responsibilities pretty well completed. This is the time when men suddenly are thrown back on the home.

Dawn Powell, letter to Geraldine Rhoads of the Ladies' Home Journal, 29 Dec 1958, Selected Letters of Dawn Powell 1913-1965, edited by Tim Page (1999)

26th April

[P]utting a letter into a filing system is like releasing your ferret in the Hampton Court maze.

Filing is concerned with the past: anything you actually need to see again has to do with the future. The more a thing is filed away, the more useless it is. A sweet disorder in the desk at least ensures that the whole thing is ploughed through often enough for useful things to come to the surface.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Sorting Out', in Sunday Best (1976)

May 2006

3rd May

[H]aving once fallen into love as into a rut he had lain there ever since like a sheep on its back.

Sheila Kaye-Smith, Joanna Godden (1921)

10th May

Susan had one fault which permeated all her good qualities and very nearly cancelled them: a relish for life which drew its sustenance from other people's daily failures and distresses. If something went right... Susan nearly expired of chagrin.

G B Stern, The Woman in the Hall (1939)

17th May

He brought to the relationship all that nervous attention and exacting self-consciousness which he had withheld from the rest of life.... Worst of all he came furnishing it with his own dreams, and leaving no room for another's.

Kate O'Brien, The Ante-Room (1934)

24th May

A desire for a warm fuzzy feeling... is one of the worst guides to right action that you can have in this life. This is not a useful kind of love. Neither is the kind of love that amounts to a prize for the ego--the people who can't stop watching themselves loving others.

Maggie Helwig, 'Politics and Love', in Real Bodies (2002)

[No quotation for 31st May]

Jun 2006

7th June

How then, measure up this irrational gladness against the Epicurean truth which, also, he recognised? Perhaps because people's motives are, in the end, not rational, although they ought to be in the direction of reason. And that was the direction of the action he intended taking tonight, although it also had elements of gross unreason.... But this unreason was only in it so as to make a hold on the unreason in the human soul: which if one is honest one knows to be there. True enough, the superstitions in Christianity might come to grow and spread and come to outweigh their usefulness, their present necessity.

Naomi Mitchison The Blood of the Martyrs (1939)

14th June

These stories testify to the inventiveness with which women have both split themselves in order to circumvent men's agendas and circumvented men's agendas to split women for those same (and other) agendas. They testify, moreover, to women's ability to consummate these subversions under the very noses of the male authors of the texts, to insert their agendas and their strategies even in texts composed by men literally to demonize them.

Wendy Doniger, Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India (1999)

21st June

[T]here is greater virtue in a factory broiler cooked by somebody who knows what they are doing than a poulet de Bresse massacred by an incompetent mouthing platitudes.

Jay Rayner, 'Untainted Love', The Observer Magazine, 18 June 2006

28th June

I hope that those of us who wish to reach a wider audience will always stand loyally by the rights of the avant-garde in their isolation, if only for the selfish reason that our vision of life, our means of expression, owe so much to the avant-garde of yesterday.

Angus Wilson, on 'The Author and the Public' in The Author and the Public: Problems of Communication (1957, proceedings of the PEN Congress, London, July 1956)

Ju1 2006

5th July

They had come to a kind of peace and understanding, based on not saying or being aware of a great deal about one another, a pattern of exclusion which made for great courteousness, tenderness even, and which went easily with the life they must both lead.

Naomi Mitchison, The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931)

12th July

Thus I lost this round, but gained an insight. The result of trying to please people out of a sense of guilt only leads to laying yourself on an altar, cutting a gash, & letting the suckers suck.

Gail Godwin, The Making of a Writer: Journals 1961-1963 (2006), entry for 9 February 1963

19th July

The argument that women did not mind their husbands committing adultery rested on the assumption that women are such materialists that, so long as their bodies are not assaulted and they get food and clothing, they will put up with any indignity.

Rebecca West, 'The Divorce Commission: A Report that Will Not Become Law', The Clarion 29 November 1912, reprinted in The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-1917, edited by Jane Marcus (1982)

26th July

Why are so many people ashamed of having intelligence and using it? There is nothing democratic about such an attitude. To pretend to be less intelligent than one is deceives nobody and begets dislike, for intelligence cannot be hidden; like a cough, it will out, stifle it how you may.

Robertson Davies, 'The Shame of Brains', in A Voice from the Attic: Essays on Reading (1960, revised edition 1990)

Aug 2006

2nd August

When looking at plants or animals in any kind of Natural History show or zoo or gardens just say: 'Oh, but it is not the same...not the same behind bars.' You can say that all round the rock garden at Kew, for instance:

'Pyrenean Iris. Oh, yes, yes, yes, but terrible. Terrible if one has ever been overcome by the miracle of this thing bravely clasping the crevice of the perpendicular cliff-face at Luchesse - terrible to see it here, tamed and humbled by man.'

I like and recommend this gambit.

Stephen Potter, One-Upmanship (1952)

[No quotation for 9th August]

16th August

To love great-aunt Leocadie demanded the same respectful application as the performance of a difficult piece of piano-music. There must be the same agility, the same watchfulness, the same attention to phrasing and expression-marks, and simultaneously one must sit well upright, keeping the shoulders down, the elbows in, the wrists arched, the knuckles depressed. Moreover, even in the most taxing passages, one must breathe through the nose and preserve a pleasing and unaffected smile.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show (1936)

23rd August

People who go about treading on other people's toes are peculiarly unaware of what it is like to be trodden on, so that they are naturally much surprised when it happens to themselves.

Mary Midgley, The Owl of Minerva: a memoir (2005), cited in review in the Times Literary Supplement, 28 Apr 2006

30th August

'No pain is too small if it hurts, but any pain is too small if it is cherished,' Anne said.

Edward St Aubyn, Never Mind (1992) in Some Hope: A Trilogy (2003)

Sep 2006

6th September

But the mortals built the libraries, too, argued Lewis.... It takes thousands of them to create an archive of human wisdom; only one to set a torch to it. Wouldn't you have to say, then, that the work of the librarians is more typical of mortal behavior than the work of the arsonist?

Kage Baker, Children of the Company (2005)

13th September

[T]he pelican I have in mind is a somewhat ridiculous fellow, resident in Nigeria. Like other pelicans, he has large webbed feet, and when walking, so I am told, places one foot firmly on top of the other--and then turns round and tries to bite, under the impression that someone is holding him back. This is, of course, one comforting way of interpreting our usual failure to advance rapidly, with suppleness and dash.

G B Stern, 'Preface', Pelican Walking: short stories (1934)

20th September

These two women care for each other more than they care for any man. They are bound together by a curious feeling about men, a sort of muffled contempt, a mixture of mild antagonism and irritated sympathy, and they have an obscure stifled feeling of impatience with an instinct in themselves which draws them to men.

Mary Borden, Flamingo (1927)

27th September

Dear Mr ---
I am not surprised that you would rather not have your name appear in The Enquirer at the end of the letter which you have signed "Fair Play." The letter contains several libellous statements and an incitement to a violent illegal act.

Robertson Davies, as editor of the Peterborough Examiner, 21 Jan 1948, in Discoveries: Letters 1938-1975, edited by Judith Skelton Grant (2002)

Oct 2006

4th October

'Well, in South Pacific whenever they saw a girl, whenever they thought of seeing a girl their mouths watered and so did the audiences', but how could my mouth water - I was a girl'

'That at least is no different in Europe,' Irene said. 'We are cakes that must think, How nice to eat me!'

Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy (1954)

11th October

That dandy of cranks, D'Auvergne, is always jumping up and demanding that we should all be kind to illegitimate children, as if we all make a habit of seeking out illegitimate infants and insulting them.

Rebecca West, letter to Dora Marsden, c. 1912/13, in the files of The Freewoman among Marsden's papers at Princeton

18th October

The recurrence of this asymmetrical Saturday was one of those minor events, intra-mural, localised, almost civic, which, in uneventful lives and stable orders of society, create a kind of natural tie and become the favourite theme for conversation, for pleasantries, for anecdotes which can be embroidered as the narrator pleases.

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913) (translated by C K Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, 1981)

25th October

His mother was really a good person, but like almost everybody she had found her compass spinning in the magnetic field of intimacy.

Edward St Aubyn, Some Hope (1994) in Some Hope: A Trilogy (2003)

Nov 2006

1st November

There are critics who sit in judgment upon a writer's life, sagely putting a finger on the point where he went wrong, was false to himself, let popularity and the flattery of publishers and public lead him from the strait path. Let such critics look to their own careers, if they have indeed careers to look to.

Robertson Davies, 'Career of a Popular Humorist', in A Voice from the Attic: Essays on Reading (1960, revised edition 1990)

8th November

When Mr William Faraday sat down to write his memoirs after fifty-eight years of blameless inactivity, he found the work of inscribing the history of his life almost as tedious as living it had been, and so, possessing a natural invention coupled with a gift for locating the easier path, he began to prevaricate a little on the second page, working up to downright lying on the sixth and subsequent folios.

Margery Allingham, Dancers in Mourning (1934)

15th November

She spent a great deal of money, having, as she said, very simple tastes. She hated clutter and tawdriness and mess; all she asked were a few good things, standing where she could see them; things that were plain and tasteful, like Egyptian alabaster or heavy gold.

Mary Renault, The Praise-Singer (1978)
[Thanks to David Doughan for this one]

22nd November

Which is better, an actor with immense control and flawless execution, whose decisions you dislike; or a technically unexpert, random actor, whose instincts seem true?

Eleanor Bron, The Pillow-Book of Eleanor Bron (1985)

[No quotation for 29th November]

Dec 2006

6th December

[I]t is the abdication of voice that makes some authors irredeemably dull, regardless of clever plots or exotic settings. Dull writers use a generalized, undistinguished language, not an inner language in the making.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books (1996)

13th December

One is only inwardly comfortable, so to speak, after one's life has assumed some sort of shape. Not just a routine, like studying or a job or being a housewife, but something more complete than all those, which would include goals set by oneself and a circle of life-time type friends. I think this is one of the hardest things to achieve, in fact often just trying doesn't achieve it but rather it seems to develop almost by accident.

Jessica Mitford to her daughter Constancia Romilly, 29 Jan 1960, in Decca: The letters of Jessica Mitford (2006), edited by Peter Y Sussman

20th December

Most successful people, thought Muriel sadly, have a shadow somewhere, a personality sharing their desires and even part of their ability, but without just the one quality that makes success.

Winifred Holtby, The Crowded Street (1924)

27th December

You are trying to avoid a certain person at a party but the inevitable happens and he comes up and greets you with a condescencing leer, saying, 'Cheer up, it may never happen!', and 'Why do you always look so depressed whenever I see you?' You bite back the reply, 'Because whenever you see me I see you.'

Eleanor Bron, The Pillow-Book of Eleanor Bron (1985)

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