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Previous weeks' quotations

2010

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Jan 2010

6th January

He started up the ladder, thinking, as he had so often thought before, that once he'd done this, he'd find himself on the other side of fear, like jumping through a paper hoop. And then he knew that he wouldn't. There would always be more paper hoops. All it would mean was that this time he hadn't let his fright make any difference to the thing he had to do, and next time--well, next time might be easier. On the other hand it might not.

Antonia Forest, Falconer's Lure (1957)

13th January

Even with a microscope directed on a water-drop we find ourselves making interpretations which turn out to be rather coarse: for whereas under a weak lens you may seem to see a creature exhibiting an active voracity into which other smaller creatures actively play... a stronger lens reveals to you certain tiniest hairlets which make vortices for these victims while the swallower waits passively at his receipt of custom.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

20th January

The social conscience does not spring fully equipped, like Athena from the head of Zeus. It is a matter of slow and halting growth. The great battle of human rights was... a silent battle for many years.

Violet Markham, Return Passage: The Autobiography of Violet Markham (1953)

27th January

All those women artists wracked and torn, felled by life's blows, never finding their man or peace. I presume that the man and peace are mutually exclusive. One or the other would be bad enough for the avid biographer and other lovers of desperate women singers, but to get both a man of her dreams and peace would surely render a life unwritable.

Jenny Diski, 'Queening It', review in the London Review of Books, 25 June 2009. of David Brun-Lambert, Nina Simone: The Biography (2009)

Feb 2010

3rd February

After all, in our culture, the meanings of "bold," "rebellious," and "dangerous"--adjectives that often come to mind when considering subversiveness--are practically built into our understanding of masculinity. In contract, femininity conjures up antonymns like "timid," "conventional," and "safe," which seem entirely incompatible with subversion.

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

10th February

[H]er dominating feature was her wavering, dithering uncertainty. She was incapable of making a clean, clear movement, and she was equally incapable of keeping still. She was irritating and pathetic at one and the same time.

Jane Duncan, My Friend Muriel (1959)

17th February

It was a lesson he would never forget. He had started out trying to read technically, but then he had gotten so lost in the telling of the story that he forgot to look out for mechanics. That was the sign of a great work.

Sarah Schulman, The Mere Future (2009)

24th February

He sang without thinking at all of the words of his song, but out of simple male pleasure in himself and the satisfactory, gentlemanly noise he was making.

Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices (1941)

Mar 2010

3rd March

Olive's early tales had been grimly sweet and unassuming. The coming - or return - of the fairytale opened some trapdoor in her imagination. Her writing became compulsive, fluent and daring.

A S Byatt, The Children's Book (2009)

10th March

Now that it had once made its appearance that young gay face must often be seen at Chalford House. It had brought a happiness into her life which she had not known for sixteen years, the happiness of talking freely, cosily, and at length to another woman.

Nancy Mitford, Wigs on the Green (1935)

17th March

When I first meet people I seem to display or deploy this inquisitiveness in the form of a sympathetic interest in their affairs but, with many of them, when this leads them to tell me all their secrets, my inquisitiveness is then satisfied and I begin to wish that they would go away. This is, I know, reprehensible and I am ashamed of it and because I am ashamed I screen it with a facade of more interest and sympathy than ever and this, of course, leads to the situation where the confider calls on me at every opportunity.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton (1966)

24th March

So the friends I did continue to see were of that odd, persistent variety that one sees largely through habit, and because they always have an address and telephone number.... while those passionately loved and wanted are swept into oblivion.

Margaret Drabble, A Summer Bird-Cage (1963)

31st March

My excuse for recording all this is that it is of intense interest to me, and that as a fanatic for Arnold Bennett's Journal I am prepared to be absorbed in an entry telling me which sock he put on first.

James Agate, entry for 1 Aug 1937 EGO 3: being still more of the autobiography of James Agate (1938)

Apr 2010

7th April

Discovering, surprised, at this period, that her shyness resented his loving "stand and deliver" attitude--for she thought shyness was over long ago--she invented a reserve store of thoughts that would do well enough for these occasions.

G B Stern, The Room (1922)

[No quotation for 14th April]

She was tired of her own aloofness. She had never wanted the detachment which circumstances forced on her and which her proud temperament exaggerated in acceptance.

Kate O'Brien, Pray for the Wanderer (1938)

28th April

Walter could be trusted under any circumstances to behave admirably. It was a pity that with his great qualities, his unselfishness and honor, his intelligence and sensibility, he should be so unlovable.

W Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil (1925)

May 2010

5th May

[A]lthough I do not know why this should be, I find it irritating to feel sorry for someone whom I do not basically like. It seems to me to be a paradoxical position to feel a sort of sympathy for someone and yet, at the same time, to feel active dislike for that person.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton (1966)

12th May

[I]t was not conceivable to her, whose own soul was an overcrowded gathering of small worried considerations for other people and what might affect them and what might hurt them, that anyone should behave boldly and crudely, following in the simple track of selfishness.

G B Stern, A Lion in the Garden (1940)

19th May

[S]he hadn't actually said anything objectionable at all. Instead, I suspected, her talent was to drive other people to the borders of objectionability and beyond.

Susan Lanigan, A Trifle (2010)

26th May

When he was wondering, he was a likeable, congenial, and sociable person. When he had stopped wondering and was convinced that he knew the answer, he became stubbon and stern.

Jane Smiley, Private Life (2010)

Jun 2010

2nd June

[W]e are the kind of people, I realised--whatever our distant ancestors' religion--who do not carry on traditions, who do not do things just because someone has done them before.

Barbara Ehrenreich, 'Cultural Baggage' (1992), in The Snarling Citizen: Essays (1995)

9th June

I am extremely good...at maintaining silence when it pleases me, although I will not go so far as to say that it is a well-bred silence. Indeed, I think I am silent only when I have the hope that by listening to other people I may learn something that I want to know.

Jane Duncan, My Friend Cousin Emmie (1964)

It is seldom safe to confide in lonely people. Their very loneliness requires the importance of making known the confidence, at hinting at its existence and source, if not actually divulging it.

Elizabeth Taylor, At Mrs Lippincote's (1945)

23rd June

It may be true that the cult of self is at odds with the “forbearance, consideration for another and unselfishness” that marriage demands – but it is worth remembering that for centuries women were trained up in self-denial and kindheartedness, yet had no grounds for complaint if these sterling virtues were missing in their men.

Amanda Vickery, Love and marriage, English-style, review of Maureen Waller, The English Marriage: Tales of Love, Money and Adultery (2009), in The Times Literary Supplement, 13 Jan 2010

30th June

[S]he liked life to move to a gracious rhythm and this was her weakness and her strength. Little jars and checks were so distasteful that she avoided problems which ought to have been faced, but she also avoided the state of mind which might produce them.

E H Young, Celia (1937)

Ju1 2010

7th July

He was not prepared to let any of us risk anything that, if not well done, would make a fool of him. He expected us to be highly successful, much liked, and to marry well, but he expected us to do all this with an unobtrusiveness which could never bring shame on his own head

Frances Donaldson, Child of the Twenties (1959)

14th July

These are the people who, knowing that if they give money to refugees, jobs to deserving friends or time to the aged they would only be building up their own moral ego: and they consequently refrain. What they overlook is that to the hungry refugee, the down-at-heel friend and the lonely old crone the quality of their motives is not of so much interest compared to the money, the job, or the chance to talk. It is quite fantastic how the purely descriptive phrase "do-gooder" has obscured the simple fact that, moral compensation or no, many do gooders actually do good

Katharine Whitehorn, Roundabout (1962)

21st July

I think she had to tell me about it in order to make it real and convincing for herself. A lot of people seem to think that an idea that is in their own minds only is not quite real and, to give it reality, they have to try it on some dog.

Jane Duncan, My Friend Martha's Aunt (1962)

28th July

There is a huge gulf of toleration between respect and banning. In a free society, people should be allowed to do what they want wherever possible. The loss of liberty incurred by any alternative principle is too high a price to pay to stop people making dicks of themselves. But, if people are using their freedoms to make dicks of themselves, other people should be able to say so.

David Mitchell, If Britain decides to ban the burqa I might just start wearing one, The Observer, 25 July 2010

Aug 2010

4th August

No one ever says: 'Cornbread and prosciutto. I wonder what that will taste like.'

Instead, they say the words every cook longs to hear: 'This is wonderful. May I please have some more?'

Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking (1988)

11th August

The emotions of her youth had never been properly released and now they warred with her age, her experience and the humour she could always turn upon herself. Her pain was complicated by her mind's disdain of it.

E H Young, Celia (1937)

18th August

When I was a child it puzzled me as to how the grown-up people knew that colours as different as turquoise and indigo and cornflower were all blue: they seemed to me too different to have the same name. Now I thought how odd it was that Antonia and Mrs Backhouse should both be called 'women'.

Lettice Cooper, Late in the Afternoon (1971)

25th August

[S]ince everybody has to worry about something, there's a great deal to be said for deliberately selecting the worry which suits you best

Some people need a worry which keeps them on their feet, some need a worry that stops them getting up at all; most want a worry that blacks out other worries. Very important, this, on the same principle as jamming a radio wave.

Katharine Whitehorn, View from a Column (1981)

Sep 2010

1st September

Max growled:
"Every dancer ought to be shot on her thirtieth birthday".
Rose let that pass, It was, in her opinion, the sort of thing that aggressive young artists always said. Showing off was her mental reaction.

Susan Scarlett (Noel Streatfeild), Pirouette (1948)

8th September

Freddie herself had fulfilled the one sure condition of being loved by the English nation, that is, she had been going on a very long time.

Penelope Fitzgerald, At Freddie's (1982)

[No quote for 15 September]

22nd September

[H]e wanted agreement, belief, even, possibly, worship. And he wanted that worship to be large and surrounding, something that he could feel, not the mere something that she, or anyone, could give.

Jane Smiley, Private Life (2010)

29th September

'Tell me, Wyndham, what makes you think I'm any better at sewing buttons on than you are?'
'Well, you're a woman. More practice.'
'You could start practising now. Then you wouldn't have to take women to bed with you in order to get your buttons sewn on. I'll give you a lesson.'

Margaret Drabble, The Garrick Year (1964)

Oct 2010

6th October

[S]implicity consists in getting bothersome irrelevancies out of the way... therefore the best place to be simple is at the top of a pyramid of other people's exertions.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'The Simple Life', in Only on Sundays (1966)

13th October

It is only when you are young that you want to share everything with your friends. When you are old you know that you can have deep and strong friendships with reserves of privacy on both sides.

Lettice Cooper, Late in the Afternoon (1971)

[No quote for 20 October]

27th October

[S]he was fixed permanently at the age when she found that life had disappointed her; she would never reach the age when less rigid people begin to wonder how they have failed life.

E H Young, Celia (1937)

Nov 2010

3rd November

I had already passed the time of life in which desire is fierce, most compelling (which is the best reason I know for acting on desire when you feel it: it is not a permanent part of the somatopsychic complex).

Marilyn French, A Season in Hell: a memoir (1998)

10th November

To stand like a rock is one way of doing it; to change skins like a snake is another. The hardest thing for anyone to do is to evolve; no wonder so few are rash enough to attempt it.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Saints and Turncoats' in View from a Column (1981)

[No quote for 17 November]

[S]he was often overcome, in other people's homes, by an overpowering desire to escape, a tyranical restlessness as inexplicable as it was embarrassing. Every nerve in her body would suddenly telegraph 'I must get out of this'. It could happen, even in a restaurant, where, if the waiter was slow with the bill, Troy suffered agonies of frustration.

Ngaio Marsh, Tied Up In Tinsel (1972)

Dec 2010

1st December

And she thought it was quite intolerable for Walter Ash to hesitate, even though she herself found it necessary to hesitate. She stood there, timidly, full of a most mordant rage. Then, pained beyond belief in some tender pride, she advanced alone upon the cows, and they parted softly and meekly before her and Walter Ash followed her, and they regained their bicycles.

And she thought, quite calmly: this isn't good enough for me, I shall get further if I'm pulled, I can't waste time in going first.

Margaret Drabble, Jerusalem the Golden (1967)

8th December

One blunt and tactless sentence can undo the devotion of months or years. Yet you need not plant a rhinoceros hoof in deepest mud before upsetting a friend, for I have always believed there is more touchiness (called by the owner "sensitiveness") in almost every nature than we realize or care to realize.

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

15th December

If white radicals are serious about revolution, they are going to have to discard a lot of bullshit ideology created by and for educated white middle-class males.

Ellen Willis, Women and the Myth of Consumerism (1969)

22nd December

Her change of direction in middle age marks that often radical shift, either in work or in emphasis, that some women, up to then unconsciously courageous, consciously make in their later years.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life (1988)

29th December

I keep trying to imagine the sort of person whose bookshelves don't say 'This is what I'm interested in' but 'This is what I've read, actually; go on, test me'. What a miserable way to live your life. I remember once a potential boyfriend (it came to nothing) solemnly inspecting my bookshelves as though they were a measure of compatibility.

Lynn Truss, Making the Cat Laugh: One woman's journal of single life on the margins (1995)

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