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Previous weeks' quotations

2007

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Jan 2007

3rd January

[T]he wound is healed, the secret told, the riddle becomes plain, the reconciliation is made between man and what surrounds him. Each happening depends on the other. But if it was for all time, the flowers might go on blooming but the spirit would wither. It would be sad beyond all telling if the finding of the Grail were to happen once for all. Because then it could not happen again for anyone.

Naomi Mitchison, To The Chapel Perilous (1955)

10th January

I was surprised to hear a writer once say that she wrote the sort of books she wanted to read, since no one else was writing them. Many people, most of them dead, have written the sorts of books I want to read. But not me. What we love to read is not necessarily what we write.

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

17th January

We are certain in proportion as we do not know. We seem, indeed, so made that intellectual certainty is not good for us. We grow arrogant, intolerant, unable to learn and to attain better grounds of certainty precisely because we are certain. The right attitude for the mind would seem to be humility.

Edith Hamilton, Prophets of Israel (1936)

24th January

But nothing, not even her beauty, pleased him better than the way in which she managed her intellect, divining by some infallible instinct how much of it was wanted by any given listener at a given time. She had none of the nasty tricks that clever women have, always on the look out to go one better, and to catch you tripping. Her lucidity was remarkable; but it served to show up other people's strong points rather than her own.

May Sinclair, The Divine Fire (1908)

31st January

His great strength was that he was even more interested in playing with what was going on than he was in wasting his time trying to control it.

Edward St Aubyn, Mother's Milk (2006)

Feb 2007

7th February

Mr Havelock Ellis' Essays in Wartime give a delightful further disclosure of one of the finest English minds, remarkable for his exquisite literary manners and his inveterate appearance which he can sustain in the most difficult circumstances of being a character out of Cranford

Rebecca West, 'War and Women', first published in the Daily News, 20 Dec 1916, The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-17 (edited by Jane Marcus) (1982)

14th February

Mrs Eliott had been uplifted by Anne's preposterously grave approval. Anne had been ravished by her own distinction as the audience of Fanny Eliott's loftier and profounder moods. There could be no criticism of these heights and depths. To have depreciated Fanny Eliott's rarity by a shade would have been to call into question her own.

May Sinclair, The Helpmate (1907)

21st February

We discussed females & their rights & wrongs. She is the exact opposite to me in her views. She thinks they ought not to have the vote but she hates men (unconsciously).... It is queer how these obviously domineering & passionate women react against their emancipation so violently. What does it mean?

Alix Strachey in Berlin to James Strachey, 4 Oct 1924, in Bloomsbury/Freud: the letters of James and Alix Strachey, 1924-1925: edited by Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick (1986)

28th February

The belief that the malleable is always preferable to the immovable is a postmodern cliche. There is a good deal about human history which ought not to alter (educating our children, for example), and quite a lot of change which is deeply undesirable. Change and permanence are not related to each other as radicalism is to conservatism.

Terry Eagleton, 'Have you seen my Dada boss?', review of Elizabeth Ewen and Stuart Ewen, Typecasting: on the arts and sciences of human inequality (2006), in the London Review of Books, 30 Nov 2006.

Mar 2007

7th March

But though it looks foolish or even disgusting, Vinnie presently found, sex feels wonderful. She didn't find that odd, since it is the same way with food: an oyster or a plate of spaghetti is far from attractive in itself. The solution to the problem was simple: you either make love in the dark or shut your eyes.

Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs (1984)

14th March

Friendship, or love, gratifies self-love; for it tacitly acknowledges that we must possess some good qualities to attract beyond the mere love of nature....[M]utual affection is a tacit avowal and appreciation of mutual good qualities.

Grace Aguilar, Women's Friendship: A Tale of Domestic Life (1850)

21st March

Despite the strength and breadth of the erotic interest taken in virginity in our culture, the three centuries of virginity related pornography, the China Shrink Creams and Lotus Blossom Pocket Pal masturbation sleeves for men... even in the face of all the young women's virginities sold around the world, the erotic desire for virginity has been continually avoided as a subject of intellectual and clinical enquiry, as if there were no reason to ask and nothing that could possibly be learned by asking.

Hanne Blank, Virgin: The Untouched History (2007)

28th March

Some of what she already knew she believed to be true and some of what she already knew she believed to be delusion, but since this was a business in which truth and delusion appeared equally doubtful she was left to proceed as if even the most apparently straightforward piece of information could at any time explode.

Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted (1996)

Apr 2007

4th April

In the end, it was even harder to behave badly than to behave well. That was the trouble with not being a psychopath. Every avenue was blocked.

Edward St Aubyn, Mother's Milk (2006)

11th April

When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

[Thanks to David Doughan for mentioning this one]

18th April

It is agreeable to distemper ones' own nursery, bake crusts, squeeze oranges and mix nourishing salads; it is not agreeable to sit on quarrelling committees, listen to tedious speeches, organise demonstrations and alter systems, in order that others -- for whom such wholesome pleasures are at present impossible -- may enjoy them. Yet women are praised for the maternal instinct which makes the care expended on their own children natural and pleasant; they are criticised for the political activities which result in the safeguarding of other people's children as well as their own.

Winifred Holtby, Women and a Changing Civilisation (1932)

25th April

'How did you end up with a werewolf stripper as your driver for the day?'
'Just lucky I guess.'

Laurel Hamilton, Cerulean Sins (2003)

May 2007

2nd May

[T]here is a good deal of warfare for which men take a great deal of glorification which has involved more practical sacrifice on women than it has on any man.

Emmeline Pankhurst, Freedom or Death, 13 Nov 1913

9th May

I cannot be ungrateful to anyone who has given me pleasure, even if that pleasure is not very strong or lasting.

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

16th May

It is this, really, that makes it so hard to root out mistakes: the fact that, like bindweed, you never know where they start. They say that in the Army the way to disguise the fact the you've let half a dozen water-carts slide over a cliff into the sea is to send authority one memo lamenting the loss of six water-bottles, and another, ten days later, saying 'In previous memo for "bottles" read "carts" - of which naturally no-one takes the slightest notice. The same is apt to be true of any correction, any reassessment, any denial: it never catches up with the origins of the mistake.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Odd Facts of Life' in Only on Sundays (1966)

23rd May

And yet take enough observers or take no observers at all and it becomes clear as sunlight that the story of life is played out by a cast of mortals who are all equal in importance and stature. None are secondary, none are useless, and none are ever left over.

Vera Nazarian, Dreams of the Compass Rose (2004)

And Rose was wishing that the spring would last for ever, the spring with its promise of excitement and adventure which would not be fulfilled, though one was willingly deceived into believing that it would.

E M Young, The Misses Mallett (1922, as The Bridge Dividing)

Jun 2007

6th June

For explorers alone have no need to find their way. They lose their way, and by doing so establish once and for all and for ever afterwards a way that other people have to find.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)

13th June

You are neither a good man nor a bad man: the intellectual type cannot be forced into either category. You could be capable, out of selfishness or love of comfort, of omitting to do things which any decent man would do for his fellow creatures. But you would be incapable of doing anything which might deliberately hurt another. You're too passive for that.

Antal Szerb, The Pendragon Legend (first published as A Pendragon legenda in Hungarian, 1934, English translation by Len Rix, 2006)

20th June

[I]t would be strange... if they had not, in the course of ages, acquired a measure of that mental dexterity and rapid skill which, in any other business, would be dubbed mechanical, but in a woman's business of obtaining and managing a lord and master is commonly described as intuitive.

Cicely Hamilton, 'Intuition', published in Time and Tide, 16 Sep 1927, reprinted in Dale Spender, Time and Tide Wait for No Man (1984)

27th June

Nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library.

Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost (1951), in The Salterton Trilogy

[with thanks to David Doughan]

Ju1 2007

4th July

'What does it matter?' Miss Spanner asked. 'You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.'
'A very nice pigskin one, though.'

E H Young, Chatterton Square (1947)

11th July

Was he, after all, really a bad man doing a brilliant impersonation of an idiot? It was hard to tell. The connections between stupidity and malice were so tangled and so dense.

Edward St Aubyn, Mother's Milk (2006)

18th July

As I turn back time, reviewing my personal past, I find the Women's Liberation Movement providing the first secure moorings in a world hitherto largely devoid of significant meanings, morality or goals. This was despite and also because of our ardent attempts in the 1960s to shed all the conventional trappings of competitive social ranking and respectability, which women such as I had been raised to secure.

Lynne Segal, Making Trouble: Life and Politics (2007)

25th July

A friend of mine once said, "What can you do if you have two conflicting needs?" He's lucky to have only two - what if it's 102? - you have to be always shifting your ground to accommodate them.

Margaret Buckley, Fragments: Pieces of Autobiography (2006)

Aug 2007

1st August

[C]ommunities that have gone through periods of change and innovation become subject to boredom.... Monotony and repetition are characteristic of many parts of life, but these do not become sources of conscious discomfort until novelty and entertainment are built up as positive experiences.

Mary Catherine Bateson, With a Daughter's Eye: a memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (1984)

8th August

Surely in each human being there is both a hungry and naked outcast and a Sister of Charity, desolate without those whom she can feed and clothe and shelter, and these cannot minister to each other. This is the rule which has been put in to make it more difficult. They must find a stranger outside the skin to whose Sister of Charity the outcast can offer his sores, to which outcast their Sister of Mercy can offer her pity.

Rebecca West, The Thinking Reed (1936)

15th August

It is a rich, illuminating experience to discover the thousand different ways girls can be girls and still be nothing like yourself.

Dawn Powell, to the Lake Erie Nota Bene, March 1958, in Tim Page (ed) Selected letters of Dawn Powell, 1913-1965 (1999)

22nd August

[T]hough they were endowed with all the traditional christening gifts, the charm that is better than beauty, great expectations and the rest, the bad fairy always turned up at the last moment and added the one gift which ruined the luck--the gift for doing the right thing at the wrong time.

Clemence Dane, London Has a Garden (1964)

29th August

One of the most carefully-prepared meals of my life provoked several appreciative remarks from the man in question about "those unplanned, carefree, golden days that sometimes just happen". Hah!

Katharine Whitehorn, Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961, as Kitchen in the Corner)

Sep 2007

5th September

'One of the great aims our culture has set itself has been that of changing or repressing certain basic psychological, physiological, and anatomical facts to make them more aesthetically presentable. On the whole, it has succeeded in that aim. But the end result is that a large number of people -- I'd guess about half the population -- has come to feel, as you do, that while physical love is very beautiful, it isn't much fun.'

Margaret St Clair, 'Rages' originally published as 'Rations of Tantalus', 1954, in Three Worlds of Futurity (1964)

12th September

She was in that state of the schemer which is more blissful than accomplishment, but her fellow-conspirator next door was less content. This was the difference between the constructive and the destructive mind, between seeking material advantages for self and the feverish desire for disaster to others

E H Young, Jenny Wren (1932)

19th September

My attitude to Esmond is as follows - and I rather expect his to me to be the same. I naturally wouldn't hesitate to shoot him if it was necessary for my cause, and I should expect him to do the same to me. But in the meanwhile, as that isn't necessary, I don't see why we shouldn't be quite good friends, do you.

Unity Mitford to Jessica Mitford Romilly, 11 April 1937, The Mitfords: letters between six sisters (2007)

26th September

I didn't discover sex until my mid-thirties and it lasted until my mid-fifties. I mean, I had sex, but it only got quite interesting later on. Being sexy isn't the same thing as having good sex.

Britt Ekland, This much I know, The Observer Magazine, 23 September 2007

Oct 2007

3rd October

As a rule, menstruation is generally not something that's seen in porn, which is a peculiar omission in an industry that fetishizes everything from shoes to stuffed animals to excretory functions.

Audacia Ray, Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration (2007)

[No quotations 10-31 October]

Nov 2007

[No quotation 7 November]

14th November

[I]f there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count to three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than anyone would imagine.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

21st November

"Inconsistencies," answered Imlac, "cannot both be right, but, imputed to man, they may both be true."

Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia (1759)

28th November

[This book] is polished, professional, straightforward and all on the surface. It even has detachable ideas in it, about which you can argue afterward. (Some people will think this makes the book profound, though to my mind what makes a book profound is the undetachability of its ideas.)

Joanna Russ, Review, Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, April 1969, reprinted in The Country you have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews (2007)

Dec 2007

5th December

It's no accident that the Oxford colleages had girl undergraduates long before they had an even passable number of women academics, for the male desire to have pretty girls around can often overcome their general reluctance to grant prerogatives to women. Girls saying 'Very true, Socrates' with shining eyes are a lot more acceptable than middle-aged women saying 'Just what do you mean by that?'

Katharine Whitehorn, Selective Memory: An Autobiography (2007)

12th December

Your pier-glass... will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering effect of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

19th December

It is obvious to the meanest mind that sexual relationships may be good or evil. A universal test which declares all relationships entered into under certain conditions to be good and all other relationships to be evil saves much mental effort. And those whose spiritual tendency is not towards virtue can acquire its reputation by conformity to these conditions.

Rebecca West, 'Strindberg: the English Gentleman [2]', first published in The Freewoman, 22 Aug 1912, The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-17 (edited by Jane Marcus) (1982)

26th December

For I have been accustomed even in my life - and all history confirms the same thing - I have been accustomed to see that the crotchet of to-day, the crotchet of one generation, becomes the truth of the next and the truism of the one after.

John Stuart Mill, The Westminster Election of 1865, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868

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