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Jan 2012

4th January

'Not really'

Olwen had long ago discovered that this is a response which may be made with impunity to almost any enquiry, including, 'Are you well?' and 'Are you free on Saturday?'

Ruth Rendell, Tigerlily's Orchids (2010)

11th January

The sexton.... has himself tried his hand at sculpture, and his carvings are all excruciating parodies of Mestrovitch, criticisms which none of his enemies have ever surpassed in venom; and, as every artist knows, there are tortures which a dragon dreads far more than the pyre.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942)

18th January

It was by now apparent that Mrs Lace was one of those people whose energies, whilst often boring, are occasionally indispensable. Poppy and Jasper recognized though they deplored this fact. Noel sat in a kind of admiring trance.

Nancy Mitford, Wigs on the Green (1935)

25th January

[H]e is filled with that humility and eagerness to learn which is only found in those who have already learned more than their neighbours.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer (1899)

Feb 2012

1st February

When something is wrong or doesn't work, it seldom occurs to me to try to repair it. I usually--without thinking--work out a way of seeing the thing without bringing into play the defective part.

Susan Sontag, entry for 16 Aug 1961, Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1964 (2008)

8th February

Gregor had to admit that interesting people were more likely to be vilified than uninteresting ones.

Jane Haddam, Conspiracy Theory (2003)

15th February

Triumphant was the issue for her, whatever it may have been for her creations, and as we recollect all that she dared and achieved, how with every obstacle against her - sex and health and convention - she sought more knowledge and more freedom till the body, weighted with its double burden, sank worn out, we must lay upon her grave whatever we have it in our power to bestow of laurel and rose.

Virginia Woolf, 'George Eliot' (1919)

22nd February

If there were no more books, the best thing would be to hang oneself, for life would not be worth having.

Mary Elizabeth Clarke Mohl, in M. C. M. Simpson, Letters and recollections of Julius and Mary Mohl (1887)

29th February

The Croydon tours will, I bet, be brilliant – especially as Naylor is apparently a local history buff. For there is nothing more reliably engaging than someone genuinely, enthusiastically imparting their genuine, enthusiastic knowledge to you.

Lucy Mangan, A walk on the wild side – in Croydon Guardian Weekend, 18 Feb 2012

Mar 2012

7th March

Except in the classroom and of people he already knew outside it, Peter loathed asking questions.... He had never outgrown the feeling that a quest for information was a series of manoeuvres in a game of espionage.

Mary McCarthy, Birds of America (1971)

14th March

The best way to praise the exhibition is to say 'It's a great jaunt, a delightful affair, and a huge success. Exhibitions always are a huge success.'

You can then criticize.

After showing that you yourself are a jolly and exhibition-minded person... you can then be generally nasty by complaining that this particular show lacks the indefinable something.

Stephen Potter, One-Upmanship (1952)

21st March

'It's the hardest addiction of all,' said Patrick. 'Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, that deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning'

Edward St Aubyn, At Last (2011)

[No quotation for 28th March]

Apr 2012

4th April

[Goethe] did not, I am sure, care much really about flowers and gardens, yet he said many lovely things about them that remain in one's memory just as persistently as though they had been inspired expressions of actual feelings; and the intellect must indeed have been gigantic that could so beautifully pretend. Ordinary blunderers have to feel a vast amount before they can painfully stammer out a sentence that will describe it; and when they have got it out, how it seems to have just missed the core of the sensation that gave it birth.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer (1899)

[No quotation for 11th April]

18th April

To any one who has ever shouldered responsibility for any length of time, the most beautiful words in the language will always be: 'Don't worry. Leave it to me,' if said with a ring of truth behind them, a ring of efficiency.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)

25th April

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self–defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must—to put it bluntly—tell lies if they are to succeed.

Virginia Woolf, 'Professions for Women', in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)

May 2012

2nd May

Being without coquetry she did not feel herself bound to feign a degree of entertainment which she had not experienced, and the same deficiency made her insensible to the duty of every marriageable young woman to be charming, whether her charm be directed towards one special object or, in default of that, universally distributed through a disinterested love of humanity.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes (1926)

9th May

Assmann's argument is the sort of razzle-dazzle that depends on coinages like 'mnemohistory', which is the exalted and useful discipline of interpreting history that collective memory has displaced and suppressed so thoroughly only the writer has an inkling even of the fact of suppression. In this cognitive implosion a fusion occurs... which conventional history simply cannot achieve.

Marilynne Robinson, 'The Fate of Ideas: Moses' in When I was A Child I Read Books (2012)

[No quotation for 23rd May]

16th May

I envied that she had chosen her work herself and was doing what she wanted to do. I don't suppose I had any idea what I 'wanted' and so I was chosen, not choosing. There's glory and honour in being chosen. But not much room for free will.

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity (2012)

30th May

'He was the great love of her life, you know.'

'Oh, dulling,' said my mother, sadly. 'One always thinks that. Every, every time'

Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (1947)

Jun 2012

6th June

I've never gone anywhere where the men have come up to my infantile expectations. I always have gone through life constantly being surprised by the extreme, marvellous qualities of a small minority of men. But I can't see the rest of them. They seem awful rubbish.

Rebecca West, interviewed in 1980 by Marina Warner, in Writing Lives: conversations between women writers, edited by Mary Chamberlain (1988)

13th June

I don't feel guilt at being unsociable, though I may sometimes regret it because my loneliness is painful. But when I move into the world, it feels like a moral fall--like seeking love in a whorehouse. Even more, I somewhere take my unsociability as evidence of my 'seriousness,' a quality which I take as necessary to my existence as a moral being. What a strange set of assumptions.

Susan Sontag, entry dated 17 Feb 1970, in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (2012)

20th June

"You didn't want to do anything big," May said in a hard, contemptuous voice. "You're just like all the rest of them. You just want to be something big. There's a difference. You don't want to do anything. None of you would do a stroke of work to get the thing you think you want. You're all too big for that." She laughed sardonically. "I may be nothing but a hack—that's what you think, I can tell—but let me tell you I think it's a damned sight more artistic to be a good hack than to be a bum artist waiting for the moon to drop."

Dawn Powell, Whither (1925)

27th June

Although as good as gold, she had inconvenient plans for other people's pleasure, and ideas differing from her own she was not able to imagine

Elizabeth Taylor, The Soul of Kindness (1964)

Ju1 2012

[No quotation for 4 July]

11th July

They want the world to conspicuously enjoy itself in a manner of their choosing, and they turn vaguely sanctimonious when they encounter pockets of resistance, as though their definition of fun is the only one that matters.

Charlie Brooker, 'Andy Murray: not miserable, just normal', The Guardian, 9 Jul 2012

18th July

Janet considered interrupting, but what she thought of as the fatal flaw of the novel-reader prevented her. She had meant to ask Nick if he and Robin were coming to the party, since neither of them had actually expressed any intention of doing so. But the flaw of the novel-reader is to want to know what will happen if a situation is left to develop unmolested.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin (1991)

25th July

[H]er conversation was all of things, not people - of porcelain marks, and figures lying on tombs, whose lives, however turbulent while they lasted, could not be boringly involved with his own. He had liked this about her--safe talk, but interesting.

Elizabeth Taylor, The Soul of Kindness (1964)

Aug 2012

1st August

[H]e had nothing to do with her life or Robin's, and yet this strange story about them had been going on in his head, even impelling him to leave the comfort of his London flat for the discomfort of their home. She felt exhausted at all the endless projections of herself and Robin that she suddenly saw before her, living out their strange and separate existences in the minds of their friends.

Angus Wilson, 'Such Darling Dodos' in Such Darling Dodos and other stories (1950)

8th August

[W]hen I ran across him here or there he shook hands with me cordially, but showed no desire to further our acquaintance; and if I saw him at the opera, say, he being with a person of high rank, he was apt not to catch sight of me. But then I happened to make a somewhat startling success as a playwright, and presently I became aware that Elliot regarded me with a warmer feeling.

W Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)

15th August

Ma, shaken from her silent and dignified retirement, rose to the occasion in a manner that Mary Lou always regarded as miraculous, and filled the house with boarders. And enjoyed the new venture thoroughly, too, although Mary Lou never suspected that. Perhaps Ma, herself, did not realize how much she liked to bustle and toil, how gratifying the stir and confusion in the house were, after the silent want and loneliness. Ma always spoke of women in business as unfortunate and hardened; she never spoke of her livelihood as anything but a temporary arrangement, never made out a bill in her life.

Kathleen Norris, Saturday's Child (1914)

22nd August

A woman is always expected to have a good deal of time to be kind and sympathetic and expand her maternal instinct over any males-especially her own husband-who happen to want the comforting they got as children.

Naomi Mitchison, The Home and a Changing Civilisation (1934)

29th August

Enormously proud and shut in on himself, he was without curiosity of any sort. He lived in London because it was immense, solitary, administrative and apparently without curiosity as to its own citizens. If he could have found, in the north, a city as vast and as distinguished by the other characteristics, he would have preferred it.

Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not (1924)

Sep 2012

5th September

By contrast, the happiness of not being in love is like coming out of a rush-hour Underground in a hot August and stepping straight into the loneliness of leafy country, with a couple of old retired horses vaguely munching in the distance.

Stephen Potter, Anti-Woo: The Lifeman's Improved Primer for Non-Lovers (1965)

12th September

[S]he felt once more the pleasure she always felt at any reminder that he existed; she saved for him Saint Augustine's best sentence: I want you to be.

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

19th September

[A]lthough she would have been ready for any normal job of smartening up a roughish man, she was by no means prepared to readjust other women's hopeless maternal misfits.

Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925)

26th September

Guy, who like most children made fun of his mother's work... was genuinely surprised when he found that real people in London spoke of her books with respect. That she earned a good deal of money by them seemed to him quite fantastic and a little unfair, but he bore her no grudge.

Angela Thirkell, Pomfret Towers (1938)

Oct 2012

3rd October

The progressive world is necessarily divided into two classes — those who take the best of what there is and enjoy it — those who wish for something better and try to create it. Without these two classes the world would be badly off. They are the very conditions of progress, both the one and the other. Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.

Florence Nightingale, Cassandra (1860)

10th October

They would always in some degree be huntresses - though neither very chaste nor very fair - for they had been born that way, but their liking for one another now dominated their marauding propensities against the male of the species. Men were all very well, they seemed to indicate, but a nice evening spent with Loose or Daze, either at home or at the cinema, had a great deal to commend it, and really - although you wouldn't admit this in public - much more restful and comfortable than having to entertain a gentleman.

Jane Duncan, My Friend Monica (1960)

17th October

[T]he very notion of anger crops up again and again in feminist discussions; either you're too angry, or you're not angry enough. If you're angry, you're irrational; if you're not angry, you don't care enough.

Kat Banyard, We were sold a lie on an almighty scale, that equality had been won, the battle was over, The Guardian, 15 Oct 2012

24th October

His goal was to capture what he called a "heightened reality" through a visual style that was understated to the point of being subliminal: "I don't think you can ever make a movie that looks amazing when you're trying to make it look amazing," he said.

Ryan Gilbey, Harris Savides obituary, The Guardian, 12 Oct 2012

31st October

As we grow older and see the ends of stories as well as their beginnings, we realise that to the people who take part in them it is almost of greater importance that they should be stories, that they should form a recognisable pattern, than that they should be happy or tragic.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942)

Nov 2012

7th November

[S]ometimes a moment of utter blissful perfection is all you are going to get and somehow you know that it will remain in memory forever.

Roz Kaveney, Rituals: Rhapsody of Blood Volume One (2012)

14th November

[I]f you always pick the most cynical explanation, you'll sound "brutally honest" every time.... The real harsh reality is that reality isn't always harsh.

Oliver Burkeman, 'This column will change your life: the harsh realities of relationships', Guardian Weekend, 10 Nov 2012

[No quotation for 21st November]

28th November

[Y]et he wasn't vain, exactly, and he wasn't the hypocrite Gertrude said he was. He had not evolved to the stage of moral development at which hypocrisy is possible. To him, the action was right because it was his--he had never learned to judge his own act as though it were another's.

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

Dec 2012

The Queen was in her chamber; her sins were on her head;
She looked the spirits up and down and statelily she said:
'Backwards and forwards and sideways though I've been,
Yet I am Harry's daughter and I am England's Queen!'
And she faced the looking-glass (and whatever else there was)

Rudyard Kipling, The Looking-Glass in Rewards and Fairies (1910)

12th December

Don't I give in return? Sure. Lots. Maybe, in some cases, more than I get in exchange. It's a compulsive giving (benefaction, generosity) to ward off my own oppressive sense of guilt (over feeling like a predator).

Susan Sontag, entry for 12 Aug 1967, in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (2012)

19th December

[T]hey do things that are beautiful, moving, courageous; but all the while, in front of the world and to their own households and to themselves, they seem undramatic and unheroic. That quality is not strained; it is elusive; it cannot be gained by prayer; nor by knowing it to be, like kindness and with kindness, the most exciting, the most satisfying quality in the world.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)

[No quotation for 26th December]


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History of Sexuality Women's History Stella Browne Archival matters Books
Interwar Progressives Science Fiction and Fantasy Random Links of Interest
Victoriana Quirky Stuff