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Previous weeks' quotations

2009

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Jan 2009

7th January

Civilisation, whose influences are tender as they are strong, had won again. Giles could contemplate sleeping with a man's wife, but could not imply that he was a bore who wrote badly.

Stella Gibbons, Miss Linsey and Pa (1936)

14th January

The trouble is, I'm so at sea with other people's feelings that I very often appear egotistical and unsympathetic because I'm afraid to discharge my sympathy when it is out of place and therefore offensive.

Virginia Woolf to Ethel Smyth, 19 Sep 1930, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Volume IV 1929-1931: A Reflection of the Other Person (1978)

21st January

Jack said 'It's hard, Glory. I know what you think of me.'
'Well, that's more than I know'
'Are you serious?'
'I'm completely serious'

Marilynne Robinson, Home (2008)

[Y]ears and years of listening to people had taught her that if she just kept quiet and sipped or sewed and never looked shocked, there was literally no limit - no limit at all - to what people would tell her.

Stella Gibbons, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm (1949)

Feb 2009

4th February

We were selling Votes for Women, and we offered one to a dear old lady in rustling black silk and widow's bonnet. With superb vigour she raised her umbrella and brought it down on my sister's head, remarking: 'Thank God I am a womanly woman!' And since then I have noticed that womanliness is a virtue claimed only with aggressive intent.

Rebecca West, 'The Nature of Woman: Every Home a Little Earlswood', review of The Nature of Woman by Dr Lionel Tayler, The Clarion, 7 Mar 1913, reprinted in The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-17 (edited by Jane Marcus) (1982)

11th February

It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
The more things happen to you the more you can't
Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.
The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
You don't want madhouse and the whole thing there.

William Empson, 'Let It Go' (1945)

18th February

Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people.

Saki (H H Munro), "Reginald at the Carlton" in Reginald (1904)

25th February

[T]hough I know the women's papers are always warning you never to let your husband see that kind of thing it seems to me that if a husband is going to pass out at the sight of a wife in rollers, he cannot be relied on--which is what you need in a husband.

Stella Gibbons, The Wolves Were In The Sledge (1964)

Mar 2009

4th March

More than for the starved passion he had satisfied, more than for the buoyant atmosphere he exhaled, Kathleen loved him because he did not understand her...

G B Stern, A Marrying Man (1918)

It seems to be a common defect of human minds that they tend to crave for complete certainty of belief or disbelief.

R A Lyttleton, 'The Nature of Knowledge', in The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance (1977), cited by Alison Wells, 'Mapping Ignorance in Archaeology' in R Proctor and L Schiebinger (eds), Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (2008)

17th March

The pleasure of writing to me is more than any pleasure. Writing is essential to my life like breathing. I can live without a husband but I cannot live without writing.

Nawal El Saadawi. 'How I Write', Time Out (London): Books Section, no 2013, March 19-26 2009

25th March

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather--in many cases--offers an alternative to it

Susan Sontag, entry for 31 Dec 1957, Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1964 (2008)

Apr 2009

1st April

Some make a point of boasting that they are never bored. 'Oh, I've always known how to occupy myself, I've never known a day's boredom in my life!' are lines often spoken by those bores who do not fear boring others.

Margaret Drabble, The Pattern in the Carpet: a personal history with jigsaws (2009)

8th April

Have been with at least five men to Simpson's--(Query: Will Americans know about Simpson's? Explain briefly: famous restaurant for joints, sirloin, saddle, etc. Stilton.) All, except one, stated didactically that meat in the room where ladies were admitted, was inferior to meat they have been given in downstairs room for Men Only. Seemed to find comfort in the thought.

G B Stern, 'Man - Without Prejudice', in Mabel Ulrich (ed) Man, Proud Man (1932)

15th April

It was a pleasant side of Mrs Tebben's character that although her own books were described, by those who read them, as important, she was entirely modest about what she had done and never dreamt of demanding elbow-room or solitude for herself, although she accepted their necessity for her husband.

Angela Thirkell, August Folly (1936)

22nd April

'I bake okay wholemeal bread,' she said, 'not marvellous bread, just okay. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that bread's the oldest and most primitive of foods made by man, and there's a sort of earth magic about making it. You get your soul cleansed a bit.'

Peter O'Donnell, The Night of Morningstar (1982)

29th April

But what, she wondered, could anyone know of another person from ignorant, perhaps predetermined, surveillance? He might know her musical tastes, her posture, gestures, and attitudes while lecturing, he might even know the percentage of tubefood in her diet, how often her bowels moved and how many times a week she fucked with Scott. But these things could not tell him what she was likely to do in a given situation, what she was feeling, or how her loyalties were structured.

L Timmel Duchamp, Alanya to Alanya: Book One of the Marq'ssan Cycle (2005)

May 2009

6th May

With him gone they were cut free from the troublesome possibility of success, recognition, advancement. They had no reason to look forward, nothing to regret. Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle, breakfast time, supper time, lilac time, apple time.

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)

13th May

Need a vocabulary with which to discuss influences. Have now only the notion of orthodoxy, disciples, heretics (on religious model) to discuss great intellectual movements like Freudianism or Marxism: need words to pin down the more loosely influenced.

Susan Sontag, entry for 17 Aug 1954, Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1964 (2008)

[No quotation for 20 May]

27th May

I don't think it's in spite of prosperity and tranquillity, but that peace and tranquillity are almost essential for meaningful change. Violence just doesn't work. Violent revolution always leads to new forms of tyranny. That's because the cycle of violence is difficult to break. In my view, the better things are materially and the freer people are to express themselves and make demands and challenge authority, the more truly radical change becomes possible.

L Timmel Duchamp, Stretto: Book Five of the Marq'ssan Cycle (2008)

Jun 2009

3rd June

Then there was the book, The Anxiety of Influence.... The book came out at the same time that a lot of us were energetically rejoicing in the rediscovery and reprinting of earlier women writers, the rich inheritance that had been withheld from all writers by the macho literary canon. While these guys were over there being paranoid about influence, we were over here celebrating it.

Ursula K Le Guin, 'The Wilderness Within' (1998) reprinted in Cheek by Jowl: talks and essays on how & why fantasy matters (2009)

10th June

They were cordial enough, in that way that people can be who have nothing in common and little to talk about.

Elizabeth Bear, All the Windwracked Stars (2008)

17th June

[S]he felt from time to time a weariness of spirit. It might be more blessed to give than to receive, but there had been times when she would have given a year's life to be the receiver and not the giver. Her longing to step aside for a moment, to lean on a shoulder, to give gratitude as freely as she gave help was very great, so she had taught herself that one can't have it both ways and mocked herself for sentimental weakness.

Angela Thirkell, Before Lunch (1939)

24th June

Our capacity for disapproving of and moralising about one another's amusements, as of one another's artistic tastes, is almost limitless.

Margaret Drabble, The Pattern in the Carpet: a personal history with jigsaws (2009)

Ju1 2009

1st July

For if a woman does not do a man the little favour of handing him over her body and soul, regardless of whether she likes him, it appears to him the unvarnished truth that she is a leper, that her father is a hunchback who sold his country, that her mother was a cripple who neverthless was a whore.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942)

8th July

If you were into detection, what difference did it make whether you were researching the life of the hunter-gatherers, the Cistercian monks, the lads of the trenches, or Sophia Simeonidis?

Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Reynolds), The Three Evangelists (2006: first published 1995)

15th July

The sexual relation is a matter upon which average man--and we emphasise the average--is unfit to reason; the finer shades of thought seem invisible to him: in his view a woman is just a woman, the object of whose life should be to subject herself to his will: he can see no good in one who repudiates this position.

Margaret Dalham, Mere Man (1911)

22nd July

Things happen, oh, things happen and are so important that those they happen to feel their hearts must break, yet all will be the same in a hundred years. For a while Applekirk remembers, but in the end everything that happens becomes the past and is forgotten, as it is everywhere.

Jo Walton, Lifelode (2009)

[No quotation for 29th July]

Aug 2009

5th August

I can only observe that in a changing world the oddest individual arrangements do seem to work, and to be compatible with loyalty, and suggest that, as the success of marriage appears more and more to depend, as we become more and more civilised and self-conscious, upon the fitting together of the personalities of individuals, we should more and more aim to be tolerant of the arrangements adopted, whether they seem to Puritans immoral, to feminists degrading, or to rationalists irrational, and not to interfere with them, or even to take public cognisance of them, more than we can possibly help.

Margaret Cole, Marriage: Past and Present (1938)

12th August

The trouble with these upmarket film-makers is that they act as though they're the first people ever to spot the symbolic and metaphorical content that has always formed a large part of horror's subliminal appeal. But, once they've spotted it, they're determined to share it with us, again and again.

Anne Billson, Spoilers: selected film reviews 1989-2001 (2008)

19th August

Wonderful that there are very gentle women, women completely at home in their femininity, young, exquisite women, flirtatious women, radiant women. I am delighted, really, for all those women who are happy with the way things are.I'm saying this without the slighest irony. It's just that I am not one of them.

Virginie Despentes (trans Stephanie Benson), King Kong Theory (2009, first published 2006)

26th August

She was polite in that way that highly educated, highly sophisticated people often were, with such a meticulous dedication to detail that she seemed to be insulting you in a way you couldn't quite put your finger on.

Jane Haddam, Living Witness (2009)

Sep 2009

2nd September

[N]ewspaper people... are familiar with the subscriber who regards the paper's letters column as his megaphone and his platform. Newspaper people know that writers of Letters to the Editor, who are unaccustomed to the pen, often need protection against themselves, when indignation has triumphed over common sense.

Robertson Davies, 'Introduction to Hunting Stuart and The Voice of the People' (1994) reprinted in Happy Alchemy: On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre edited by Jennifer Surridge and Brenda Davies (1998)

9th September

It was a longing to be somewhere outside the reality, the loneliness, the out-on-a-limb feeling, among all these people. It was a longing to know something new and real and intimate and other-worldly.

Candas Jane Dorsey, A Paradigm of Earth (2001)

16th September

[I]f they had been living normal lives with their own kind, she knew that things would have been made easier.... Instead of being normal they were married. Yes, it was still possible, though difficulties were put in their way; there were various checks and humiliations and delays. But actual monogamous marriage was usually feasible.

Naomi Mitchison, Solution Three (1975)

23rd September

'The trouble is,' said Selena, with a certain wistfulness, 'that you and I, Julia, have been brought up in an era of emancipation and enlightenment, and we have got into the habit of treating men as if they were normal, responsible grown-up people.'

Sarah Caudwell, The Sirens Sang of Murder (1989)

30th September

It is not our policy continuously to try to be one-up, as a nation, on other nations; but it is our aim to rub in the fact that we are not trying to do this, otherwise what is the point of not trying to do this?

Stephen Potter, One-Upmanship (1952)

Oct 2009

7th October

The truth is, there is nothing fascinating about transsexuality. It is simply reality for many of us.... [M]y femaleness is not some complex production that requires smoke and mirrors for me to pull off; believe it or not, I live my life by just being myself and doing what feels most comfortable to me.

Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (2007)

14th October

'I think it's simpler,' said Stella, 'I think that gay men and lesbians and some straight women and some bi-sexuals, but no heterosexual men, can simply be group-identified as queer and within that context object choice doesn't count.'

Sara Maitland, Brittle Joys (1999)

[No quotation for 21st October]

28th October

[S]he took no credit for her own single affection; she might have loved another man if she had met him first; she had no illusions about the inevitability of her marriage with Edward; it had been good, but another might have been as good in a different way, and she had a normal, though generally unconfessed, desire to be loved by any man who could do it with dignity and skill.

E H Young, The Vicar's Daughter (1928)

Nov 2009

4th November

It is a grave mistake for a woman to look for some great spiritual experience in sex at any age, or even to assume that she ought to have such a thing. All assumptions about sex are disastrous. They tend to lead to disappointment and recriminations.... It is is one's own personal experience that counts and it should not be measured up against any generalization.

Irene Claremont de Castillejo, Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology (1973)

11th November

[T]he proof of a life well lived, of Having Had as much of the mythical All as any of us deserves, will almost certainly be internal, invisible to anybody other than ourselves.

Kathryn Flett, What Having It All means for mums,The Observer Magazine, 8 Nov 2009

18th November

Irony has its place. But it can't be everywhere. And it disturbed me greatly that I could not recall a single unironic conversation between me and Marilyn. Everything that had transacted between us - seven years of dinners and sex and arm-in-arm appearances and talk, reams of gossip - started to feel artificial. I never wanted to look stupid in front of Marilyn. How well could she really know me? How well did I really know me?

Jesse Kellerman, The Brutal Art (2008)

[No quotation for 25th November]

Dec 2009

2nd December

[T]hat things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

9th December

It was hard to say what Nadia lacked; her technique was good and her musicality was good, but somehow you knew when she danced how well trained she had been, and when you remember training as you watch a dancer that dancer cannot be good.

Noel Streatfeild writing as Susan Scarlett, Pirouette (1948)

16th December

He was aware of his social disabilities, but, aloft in the pulpit, in that place of authority where he was not subject to interruption and could not discern or imagine the changes in expression he so dreaded in closer intercourse, he remembered only enough of himself for the fit management of his voice and the control of his gestures.

E H Young, The Vicar's Daughter (1928)

23rd December

The 'genius' typically possesses feminine characteristics - imagination, intuition, emotion, madness - but is not of course an actual woman: the great artist is a feminine male, but not a feminine female or a masculine female. Women can be mad, but not aesthetically inspired, or they can be sane, and provide comfort for the true creators, who are a little bit womanish, but not too much.

Nina Power, One-Dimensioanl Woman (2009)

30th December

She neither relished nor appreciated the new note of wonderment which had crept into their expressions of admiration. It was one thing to be admired because one was so lovely, and quite another thing to be admired because one was still so lovely.

Vita Sackville-West, The Edwardians (1930)

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