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1st January

The limits of the possible constantly shift, and those who ignore them are apt to win in the end. Again and again I have had the satisfaction of seeing the laughable idealism of one generation evolve into the accepted commonplace of the next. But it is from the champions of the impossible rather than the slaves of the possible that evolution draws its creative force.

Barbara Wootton, In A World I Never Made (1967), cited in Ann Oakley, A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century (2011)

9th January

Marise laughed, and persisted. "Just because it's called a steam-whistle, we won't hear its beauty and grandeur, till something else has been invented to take its place, and then we'll look back sentimentally and regret it."

Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Brimming Cup (1919)

16th January

Lady R was very beautiful and gentle and clever, with a kind, gracious manner that was more terrible than an army with banners.

Winifred Holtby to Jean McWilliam, 20 Oct 1920, in Letters to a Friend (1937)

23rd January

When she sang you decided that a singer does after all need a voice to sing, but you did not decide this until several minutes until after she had finished singing. Even her breathing was unmistakeable, so that her hearers would feel, in senseless pleasure: "Who else in all the world would have thought of breathing there?" She did what she did because there was nothing else possible to do.

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

30th January

Kindness has too often been confused with mildness; the two have very little in common. And kindness is thrilling, however loudly you may exclaim at seeing the words linked; because you cannot be deeply kind unless you do so with authority, and you can do nothing from authority unless you are experienced; in fact, unless you have been pulled through a hedge backwards; and not one hedge, but many hedges; emotionally, almost all hedges.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)


6th February

She could never now, with a tranquil heart, go into the ivory tower. It would do her no good to shut and bar the golden door a hundred times behind her, because she would have with her, everywhere she went, wrought into the very fiber of her being, a guilty sense of all the effort and daily strain and struggle in which she did not share.

She saw no material good accomplished by taking her share. The existence in the world of so much drudgery and unlovely slavery to material processes was an insoluble mystery; but a life in which her part of it would be taken by other people and added to their own burdens . . . no, she had grown into something which could not endure that!

Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Brimming Cup (1919)

13th February

'[A] man who seems to carry a natural or accidental loftiness into every aspect of his life. It's there even to the way he dresses - a totally characteristic naturalness and straightforwardness. It took me some time to feel his appearance was so magnificently unselfconscious it amounted to being dressy and probably took no end of conscious discrimination to achieve.'

Margaret Buckley, The Commune (1993)

20th February

'That's a job I do love, now - cuttin' the pages of a book. 'Tis like what an explorer must feel in an uncharted country...'

Hilda Vaughan, Battle to the Weak (1925)

27th February

There is a time to adventure--when one is uncertain of what to do where one is. But, having overcome difficulties, striven and even suffered to obtain something, and just before realisation to throw it up and go off in search of adventure seems to me to be folly. Wings and roots--the world needs both.

Winifred Holtby to Jean McWilliam, 15 Apr 1925, in Letters to a Friend (1937)

Mar 2013

6th March

Emma paused to listen to the music, The hunting theme was by now periodically turning into one of those gorgeous Brahms cello and viola meanders, the music of rivers thinking to themselves. Sometimes, she thought, one needs to experience the pleasure of the moment rather than focus.

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

Not many people will admit that what they sometimes feel the need of, by way of a good read, is something vulgarly tawdry and immorally meretricious. There are, nevertheless, many indeed who do feel that way.

Claud Cockburn, Bestseller: The Books That Everyone Read 1900-1939 (1972)

20th March

On certain occasions, this attitude frustrated her: his indiscriminate acceptance of things as they unfolded day by day, his refusal to be selective or intense. But now she was enveloped in its peculiar, private solace.

Gail Godwin, The Good Husband (1994)

27th March

[T]he only difference is that where men do it, it's regarded as high-powered and difficult, and if it's women's work it's a lowly chore.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'King Baby' Observations (1970)

Apr 2013

3rd April

[T]he ones who think of themselves as victims, who think that everything that happens is somebody else's fault. The ones who take utterly no responsibility for their actions but always figure out a way to blame someone else.... I have noticed that people who think of themselves as victims invariably fuck over everyone in their paths. They're so sure someone's going to do it to them that they get their licks in first.

Cynthia Heimel, Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye (1993)

10th April

[O]ne of those women who were not impelled to take part in the woman's movement when it was dangerous and unpopular, who felt indeed that the women who did so were immoral conspirators against the home and the State, but who have been converted to a different way of thinking now that the career is legitimate and richly productive of publicity.

Rebecca West, 'On a Form of Nagging', published in Time and Tide 31 Oct 1924, reprinted in Dale Spender (ed.), Time and Tide Wait for No Man (1984)

17th April

I couldn't help inventorying my own arsenal to date, the weapons best suited to my personality under duress: guile, subterfuge, goal-oriented politeness, teeth-gritting staying power, and the ability, when necessary, to shut down my heart.

Gail Godwin, Queen of the Underworld (2006)

24th April

She had always been faintly ashamed of being the only one of the sisters who could lie with an absolutely open face. She thought it was probably not so much any talent of hers as a tendency of other peoples' to only listen to about a tenth of what anyone else said.

Ankaret Wells, The Maker's Mask: Book One of Requite (2011)

May 2013

1st May

In spite of Nature's gifts to the sexes of similar sensory and hormonal equipment, and of similar impulses to communal play, Society has managed to step in and indoctrinate these sweet and affectionate animals with opposite conceptions of what is love.

Ruth Herschberger, Adam's Rib (1948)

8th May

Alexandra was in heaven. Good sex was always nice (mediocre sex wasn't all that bad either, when you got down to it), but a good massage was ecstasy!

Laura Antoniou, The Marketplace (1993)

15th May

Battered deep-fried slices of dill pickle are proof that just because it's possible to put something in the deep-fat fryer doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Jay Rayner, Red's True Barbecue, Leeds: restaurant review. Observer Magazine, 12 May 2013

22nd May

My sister Miriam had been considered very strange, and offensive, too, for purporting to live by her conscience. She stood accused of putting herself above the rest of us, adopting moral airs, even though she didn't press any of my sisters on the subject and never even spoke of it unless she was asked. Merely doing what she did was flaunting enough for Harriet, Beatrice, and Alice, not to mention their husbands.

Jane Smiley, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998)

29th May

Intimately analyzed, the details of the temptation redound entirely to Eve’s credit. Woman rather than man is selected as the one more open to argument, more capable of initiative, the one bolder to act, as well as braver to accept the consequences of action. The sixth verse of the third chapter cuts away forever all claim for masculine originality, and ascribes initiative in the three departments of human endeavor to woman.

Winifred Kirkland, 'The Joys of Being a Woman' in The Joys of Being a Woman and other papers (1918)

Jun 2013

5th June

Dullness, in a book of this kind, can only be avoided by accident; it would so obviously be foolish to try and divide up your life into two heaps; one heap of all the things that can only be interesting to yourself, and the other of things that just may be interesting to those who read of them. For no-one can emphatically state: In this heap are jewels, but this is the rubbish heap. At least, they may state it, but that have only a most fantastic chance of being right. What is there to guide your selection, as you help yourself from the large heap on your right, the small heap on your left. No prayer, no instinct, no advice.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)

12th June

'But what is often called an intuition is really an impression based on logical deduction or experience. When an expert feels that there is something wrong about a picture or a piece of furniture or the signature on a cheque he is really basing that feeling on a host of small signs and details, He has no need to go into them minutely--his experience obviates that--the net result is the definite impression that something is wrong.'

Agatha Christie, The ABC Murders (1936)

19th June

It was she herself... who could lay a more legitimate claim to bisexual leanings. But maybe those leanings had been merely a fashionable phase of feminism, a rite of passage through which all women of the 1960s and 1970s were obliged to make their way? She liked women, she had made friends with women, but she had much preferred sexual intercourse with men.

Margaret Drabble, The Sea Lady: A Late Romance (2006)

[No quotation for 26th June]

Ju1 2013

3rd July

Oh for a world of restaurants which recognise all the things they cannot adequately do. Imagine all the great sauces that would not be screwed up. No more would we be tortured by the promise of a classic dish only to receive an approximation made by someone who had never tasted the real thing. The world, or at least the hungry one I inhabit, would be a better place.

Jay Rayner, Yuzu, Manchester: restaurant review Observer Magazine, 30 June 2013

10th July

"People can't live with you, so you'll be left alone."

Yet even now she was still protected by a miracle, that last skin of all, which can save your reason when the others have one by one been pierced. Not "This is how I am," but "This is how Millie sees me, and even Etienne and Rudi and . . . Letti? Perhaps that is how they all see me, Paris, the whole world." And, standing outside, one unit of the world, she looked towards a large, fat, very ridiculous old woman....

Looked once, quickly, then averted her eyes. One need not look again.

And still, by a miracle, not "This is how I am." Not quite that, ever, with Berthe.

G B Stern, Mosaic (1930)

17th July

Almost suddenly an expanding field of possibility lay open to women, certainly to me. And almost as suddenly I had reasonable uses to make of my brains and my education. By chance I benefited profoundly from the self-transformation of communities and institutions that have been most central to my life. They changed my experience, and they also changed my mind.

Marilynne Robinson, 'Imagination and Community' in When I was A Child I Read Books (2012)

[No quotations for 24th or 31st July]

Aug 2013

7th August

I realized that between heroic resistance to and fatalistic acceptance of oppression, there was ample space for coping strategies and creative improvisation. Much of human life was and is carried on in this fertile middle ground.

Natalie Zemon Davis, 'How the FBI Turned Me On to Rare Books', New York Review of Books blog, 30 July 2013

14th August

It's not for nothing that most of the workable short-cutting circuits.... indeed have been the work of men and women who realised that their genetic make-up was such that communication would always be difficult.

Naomi Mitchison, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962)

21st August

He blew on his coffee. "I could say they're just worried about nothing, but maybe that's the thing precisely. Nothing can be extremely disturbing."

Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down (2008)

28th August

'I shall sit here,' the Footman remarked, 'till tomorrow—'

At this moment the door of the house opened, and a large plate came skimming out, straight at the Footman's head: it just grazed his nose, and broke to pieces against one of the trees behind him.

'—or next day, maybe,' the Footman continued in the same tone, exactly as if nothing had happened.

'How am I to get in?' asked Alice again, in a louder tone.

'ARE you to get in at all?' said the Footman. 'That's the first question, you know.'

It was, no doubt: only Alice did not like to be told so. 'It's really dreadful,' she muttered to herself, 'the way all the creatures argue. It's enough to drive one crazy!'

The Footman seemed to think this a good opportunity for repeating his remark, with variations. 'I shall sit here,' he said, 'on and off, for days and days.'

'But what am I to do?' said Alice.

'Anything you like,' said the Footman, and began whistling.

'Oh, there's no use in talking to him,' said Alice desperately: 'he's perfectly idiotic!' And she opened the door and went in.

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

Sep 2013

4th September

The general tone of novels is so literal that when the fantastic is introduced it produces a special effect: some readers are thrilled, others choked off: it demands an additional adjustment because of the oddness of its method or subject matter - like a sideshow in an exhibition where you pay sixpence as well as the original entrance fee. Some readers pay with delight, it is only for the sideshows that they entered the exhibition.... Others refuse with indignation.

E M Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927)

11th September

Arnold Bennett says that the horror of marriage lies in its dailiness'. All acuteness of relationship is rubbed away by this. the truth is more like this. Life - say 4 days out of 7 - becomes automatic; but on the 5th day a bead of sensation (between husband & wife) forms, wh. is all the fuller & more sensitive because of the automatic customary unconscious days on either side. That is to say the year is marked by moments of great intensity. Hardy's 'moments of vision'. How can a relationship endure for any length of time except under these conditions?.

Virginia Woolf, 'The Married Relation', diary entry 2 Aug 1926, The Diary of Virginia Woolf: 1925-30 vol 3 (1987)

18th September

There were any number of ways this could have ended that might have seemed simple and sad and final, satisfying in an elegiac way. But our lives are great shambling stupid things, the flawed nerve paths of memory and randomly built excuses for the body, and we are mostly still trying to make them come out right when we die.

Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down (2008)

25th September

[W]e are dealing with issues so extremely obvious and grossly plain that it takes enormous social forces (as with racism) to make these phenomena seem "invisible" or "natural".

Joanna Russ, 'Letter to Susan Koppelman' in To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995)

Oct 2013

2nd October

Beatrice had a sort of candid way of reasoning about her faults, and would blame herself, and examine her motives in a manner which disarmed reproof by forestalling it. She was perfectly sincere, yet it was self-deception, for it was not as if it was herself whom she was analysing, but rather as if it was some character in a book.... Her own character was more a study to her than a reality, her faults rather circumstances than sins.

Charlotte Yonge, Henrietta's Wish, or Domineering: A Tale (1850)

9th October

I am quite sure that the feminist position wants to be restated every few years. There are a whole lot of new problems since the last statement which must be dealt with.

Naomi Mitchison, letter to Stella Benson, n.d. early 1930s, quoted in You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (1979)

16th October

In his heart of hearts, Henry Pritchard thought women negligible. He had strong puritan ideas of what they ought to be, and as they rarely conformed to them, he thought them wicked or worthless.... He could not consider a woman as an independent being, he could only consider her as a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter

Dorothy Whipple, Young Anne (1927)

23rd October

She has observed how a scientist speaks, how he (and it is nearly always a he) talks up his own work, rubbishes his critics, patronises his students and she knows that if she can replicate this behaviour she can become one of them, with a few minor modifications needed to allow for the fact that she's a woman.

Pippa Goldschmidt, The Falling Sky (2013)

30th October

[T]he disclosure that heterosexuality is in trouble never fails to arrive freshly as the diagnosis of a particularly contemporary crisis, its signature sex act failing to deliver the reciprocal sexual satisfactions it nonetheless emblematizes.

Annamarie Jagose, Orgasmology (2013)

Nov 2013

6th November

[S]hould we only ever play great music? There is a lot of good music that is also very interesting

Sakari Oramo, interview with Jonathan Lennie, in programme for BBC Symphony Orchestra concert at the Barbican, 2 Nov 2013

13th November

I am inclined to write a Hymn to Middle Age, valuing the companions of my maturity, their austerities and astringencies; their palate for life; their subtle understanding of what need not be said and of what can be taken for granted; varied by their sudden agreeable frankness, so far removed from the mere juvenile crudity of blurting out the truth; their taste, mellow, fastidious, that has learnt by experiences, good and bad.

G B Stern, Monogram (1936)

20th November

Good cooking is a form of benevolence. Molly gladly sacrificed a fine afternoon to give pleasure by a cake at tea-time. She would lay her afternoon and fresh air on the table with the cake and be rewarded by the glow of pleasure she felt when they enjoyed it.

Dorothy Whipple, Because of the Lockwoods (1949)

27th November

[T]here could be no end to this, not a proper end with catharsis and resolution. Because there would be neither a single evildoer to case out of the community nor a moment of realization to draw us together, because there would be no shape or sense but only but only the ongoing confusion of our lives.

Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down (2008)

Dec 2013

4th December

She found it inconvenient that these people seemed to have at least three genders, though not as inconvenient as dealing with people from Dekker's Star who measured gender on an incremental scale including imaginary numbers.

Ankaret Wells, Heavy Ice: A Requite novel (2013)

11th December

I don’t really think there is one answer, so I never went looking for it. My impulse is less questing and more playful. I like trying on ideas and ways of life and religious approaches.

Ursula Le Guin, The Paris Review Interviews: The Art of Fiction No. 221 (2013)

18th December

Christmas is near. The shop windows, too, are piled with that diversity of obscene knick-knacks which nothing but the spirit of universal goodwill could surely tolerate... an orgy of the superfluous.

Nicholas Blake, Thou Shell of Death (1936)

[No quotation for 25 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