The Wisdom of Literature

(Much criticized in his own time for theĀ  aesthetic ‘weakness’ of his writing style, Orwell has had the last laugh, his major opus outliving other twentieth-century classics, influencing millions of people around the globe since it was written, and currently enjoying a huge revival.)


As I was saying previously, much of what I have learned about life and human nature has come from an adult life built on reading and teaching literature. The following quotes are typical of some of the big ideas, truths. and views I have garnered from books and reading.

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s voice, another soul.
–Joyce Carol Oates

The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.
–Sophocles, Oedipus the King

The gates of hell are open night and day; smooth is the descent and easy is the way.
–Virgil, The Aeneid

Endure the hardships of your present state. Live, and reserve yourselves for better fate.
–Virgil, The Aeneid

We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
–Li Bai, Quan Tangshi

He who dares not follow love’s command errs greatly.
–Chretien de Troyes, Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart

Let another’s wound be my warning.
Njal’s Saga

There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.
–Dante, The Divine Comedy

Time, which diminishes and erodes all things, increases and augments generous deeds.
–Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

He that loves pleasure must for pleasure fall.
–Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

Every man is the child of his deeds.
–Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

One man in his time plays many parts.
–William Shakespeare, First Folio

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
–William Shakespeare, As You Like It

But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.
–Andrew Marvell, Miscellaneous Poems

If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?
–Voltaire, Candide

It is certain that nothing on earth but love makes a person necessary.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Poetry is the breath and the finer spirit of all knowledge.
–William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

Age is no second childhood–age makes plain, children we were, true children we remain.
–Goethe, Faust

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
–Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.
–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!
–Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

All partings foreshadow the great final one.
–Charles Dickens, Bleak House

The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.
–Charles Dickens, Bleak House

The poet is a kinsman in the clouds.
–Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.
–Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

A hundred suspicions don’t make a proof.
–Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.
–George Eliot, Middlemarch

What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult to each other?
–George Eliot, Middlemarch

Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.
–Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.
–Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
–Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

All interest in disease and death is only really another expression of interest in life.
–Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death.
–Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly in to the past.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Here is my secret, very simply: you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Big Brother Is Watching You.
–George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.
–George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever.
–George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
–Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

He was Beat–the root, the soul of beatific.
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

What is good among one people is an abomination with others.
–Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.
–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

One reads alone, even in another’s presence.
–Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Memory’s truth….selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies, but in the end it creates its own reality.
–Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

Who, what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have seen done, of everything-done-to-me.
–Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
–Toni Morrison, Beloved

What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world.
–Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Is it possible …for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?
–Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.
–Zadie Smith, White Teeth

I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.
–Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When that Coyote dreams, anything can happen.
–Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water

Metaphors are our way of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeing.
–Roberto Bolano, 2666


(ps/Anything quoted in this blog, I agree with, understand, appreciate, have lived and experienced, or see the truth of. “I am large, I contain multitudes.”–Walt Whitman)

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