“The word ‘however’ is like an imp coiled beneath your chair. It induces ink to form words you have not yet seen, and lines to march across the page and overshoot the margin. There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.”
— Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
Submitted by Joss Taylor Olson
As I write this, the third book in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to be released. It’s been a while since I got into a series before it’s been completed, and I’ve never been more hooked than at the end of Bring Up the Bodies. Mantel finishes the book in her characteristic style – analytical yet lyrical – with a recapitulation of this trilogy’s thesis: Constant change. Thus far, once-lowly lawyer Thomas Cromwell has navigated the legal, marital and religious quagmire of Henry VIII’s court, gradually working to become indispensable to the King. Yet the bitter triumph of Anne Boleyn’s execution and Cromwell’s elevation to chief minister has barely settled before Mantel pulls us back to reality. The plot may have wrapped up for now, but this is not just literature: this is historical fiction, and we already know what happens next. The third book will deal with Cromwell’s disgrace and execution, the ruin of Henry VIII, a traditionally villainized historical figure readers have come to empathize with. I like books that don’t pull their punches; Mantel’s England is a heartless and stormy sea of precedent, and Cromwell must be equally ruthless and pragmatic to survive. But nobody is invincible; at the very end of the book, in the same breath as Mantel makes him a god, she reminds us that he is only human.
“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.”
— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Submitted by Michelle Gajewski
There’s no arguing that Jane Austen is credited with a plethora of great quotes from both her books and her letters. However, this quote from one of her best-loved novels particularly strikes a chord as the sentiments remain to be relatable for many people today. How often do we log into social media and think the exact same as Elizabeth muses to her sister Jane? Especially with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and what-else-have-you, we are able to see our friends and acquaintances in a variety of different ways, often leaving a sense of their fakeness in various degrees. Social media simplifies the processes of portraying oneself as someone they wish to be, whether it is to appear richer, fitter, prettier, smarter, etc., which has fostered a strong “seeing is not believing” attitude towards each other.
Although there are many memorable quotes from Pride & Prejudice, such as Mr. Darcy’s proclamation of love, the sentiment of this particular quote remains eerily timeless. Although the quote itself is cynical, it reminds us that yes, we as a species tend to be foolish and inconsistently attempt to present ourselves better than we think we are, but we cannot judge someone based on looks alone. Let’s remember that everyone is trying their best to make it through life so try to show a little more sympathy towards each other than Miss Bennet does at the start of the novel, before she begins to see beyond how Mr. Darcy presents himself.
“Perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
— Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
Submitted by Lena Yang
When I was a child, I lived with my grandparents while my parents worked out of the city. My mom visited most weekend; yet strangely, I can hardly recall a single moment of her stays. However, what I do remember is my mom in a worn brown leather jacket carrying me, with my grandma in tow, to the bus stop where she was to leave for the city where she lived and worked. I was wailing the gross way a child does, with snot and drool dirtying the shoulder of my mom’s jacket.
It was my earliest concept of what it was like to miss someone, and what it meant to be left behind. Leaving is extremely difficult, but being left behind is utterly gutting, because you are left with an aching longing in place of somebody’s absence. As Chiron in Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles suggests, the “greater grief” does not belong to those who leave, but rather to those who are left behind. Miller’s quote simultaneously exposes two contrasting sides of human nature: our selfish tendency to prioritize our own needs especially in light of another’s tragedy, and our ability to love so completely and selflessly that another may be permitted to take away our happiness when they leave.
The Song of Achilles is a story of perpetual leaving and longing. For those who are familiar with the story of Achilles and Patroclus either by having read the Illiad or Miller’s novel, the irony of Miller’s quote should be perfectly clear. The novel is wrought with tension at the prospect of tragedy that looms like a black cloud, and it repeatedly asks a deeply unnerving question: what will become of us when those dear to us are gone? Perhaps, as Miller suggests, sorrow and hopeless yearning is inevitable for those who are left behind. Such hollowing emotions may indeed be the greater grief after all.
“I don’t have to tell you that the one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again. But baseball has marked time while America has rolled by like a procession of steamrollers.”
— W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe
Submitted by A.J. Wales
This quote comes from one of the best written sports books of all time: Shoeless Joe, by W.P Kinsella. The book itself is a timeless masterpiece of life and baseball. It touches on the romantic side of the sport and the human story behind it. The quote above captures the idea that baseball is a way to go back in time, a form of cheap nostalgia of an easier era. It perfectly states the spirit of baseball that is timeless. It is part of our cultural narrative. It encapsulates that while progress and change are occurring all around us, baseball keeps us connected to the past. This timelessness is part of our own personal history too. How some of life’s best moments come from attending a sporting event as a child with a parent and how no matter what changes in a person’s life, those moments will always be remembered and looked fondly upon… especially if, like me, you hear James Earl Jones narrating every time you crack open Shoeless Joe.
“You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
— Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You
Submitted by Drew D. Carter
This is Where I Leave You is an honest and heartbreaking story that focuses on a man’s struggle to come to terms with the things that he’s lost in his life. Throughout the book he has to deal with the death of his father and his wife cheating on him, all the while putting up with his estranged family as they sit shiva to fulfill his father’s dying wish. And as he copes with all these problems, he figures out that as bad as life can be at times, there’s always a chance to start over. It’s one of my favorite books and has so many good lines in it that are really sincere and true about life, but this quote sums up the novel perfectly, saying that even though it’s hard and many are unable to do it, the best thing to do in life is try to forget the past and focus on all the good things that you have. I love the way Tropper phrases it it in the book, that even though people say to just move on and forget the past, in reality it’s such a difficult thing to do and I think he captures it perfectly here.
“‘Doc,’ Jack Torrance said. ‘Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.'”
— Stephen King, The Shining
Submitted by Michael Snoxall
I’m willing to admit that Stephen King is one of my favourite authors solely for The Shining. I don’t believe any of his other novels come anywhere near as close to the intense levels of horror, character development, atmosphere, and intimacy with the reader that The Shining holds. And one of the biggest accomplishments of the story is its ability to capitalise on all that tension in a single, heartbreaking line. Yet reading this simple piece of dialogue on its own is hardly enough to give anyone the idea of how much weight it holds. Protagonist Jack Torrance is a man haunted by so many demons, his alcoholism consumes him, the torturous past of his childhood looms over him as he tries not to become his father, yet it becomes more and more inevitable
that he is his father’s son. His wife and child resent him; they can never quite wholly forgive him for the way he broke Danny’s arm in a moment of drunken anger. Their time at The Overlook Hotel is his chance at redemption, his time to become the loving father he knows he can be. But as the hotel itself begins to consume and possess him, he finds it harder and harder to fight what he believes is his inner demons taking over. And it’s in the story’s final throes that Jack Torrance, a man who has failed his wife, ruined his son’s image of him, and become the ultimate embodiment of evil, gives it everything he has to fight those spirits that consume him. He knows he’s done for, and and yet it’s there that he sheds the darkness for one tiny moment to tell his son, “Doc, run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.”
“‘Not at all, not at all my dear sir! Let me see, I don’t think I know your name?’
‘Yes, yes, my dear sir and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don’t remember I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think I should have lived to be good-morning by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!'”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Submitted by Patrick Fenton
Tolkien is my favourite author and Gandalf is at his best here. He takes the long way to introduce himself to Bilbo that fateful morning in the Shire, and the revelation would change the fate of all the free folk in the war of the ring to come. Aside from its influence on the fate of Middle-Earth, Gandalf’s long-winded and roundabout introduction is a perfect example of Tolkien’s word-smithing. It’s a heartfelt introduction to his unique style of wit and charm that filled The Hobbit especially. To think he began a story that would span over a thousand of pages with a long winded debate about the semantics of “Good Morning” between two folks that knew each other, even if only one of them knew it at the time. Bilbo’s “British” blustering and Gandalf’s indignant response to not being recognized immediately is a timeless introduction to two of my favourite characters that have ever graced the page.
“‘I am,’ he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. ‘I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.'”
— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Submitted by Michelle Gajewski
There are many unique quotes to come from author John Green, so much so that their constant presence on Tumblr has turned many of them into clichés, despite his first book only being published in 2005. This quote in particular, however, is one of the most sobering.
Scenes in which a character proclaims their love for another are commonplace in literature; they predictably follow either a heartwarming or a passionate formula. Green, however, captures the reality of the human condition through Augustus’ proclamation of love to Hazel. Both characters are fully aware of their mortality due to being cancer patients, and both are aware that everything in the world is temporary – even their love. Nevertheless, just because life, the planet, and the universe as we know it is fleeting, it does not mean that we should live our limited days avoiding the remarkable feeling that is love. This quote encompasses the novel’s message of living your numbered days to their fullest potential, to love freely, wholly, and honestly because life is too short. To love is a way to live fully, whether it’s romantic, platonic, familial, or any other type of love. This is arguably the best proclamation of love in contemporary literature, since it remains realistic yet grand. In the end, nothing humanity accomplishes will matter, but by simply existing in the here and now, it does… to us at least. So go hug your loved ones and let them know how much you love them.
“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.”
— Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Submitted by Joss Taylor Olson
For all the impassioned argument and debate between the characters of Les Misérables (and even at times from the author himself), their love is the one realm that theoretically remains completely free of logic. In acknowledging this, Victor Hugo makes seriously lucid cases for the purest and most passionate love in fiction. He puts into words what most can only experience, because love is by nature unique and specific to the people who share it. As Hugo knows, that specificity leads many to denounce romantic clichés like love at first sight. Yet the story of Marius and Cosette’s courtship and eventual marriage both plays the tropes straight and puts “love at first sight” into perspective as not the sole cause of love, but definitely a common instigator. Hugo’s lovers are intimately familiar and beautiful to readers because they are looking for the same thing we are: someone who surprises, intrigues and confuses them at every turn, and yet inspires them to rise to the challenge. Finding that person is an experience that defies description. The thrill of speaking to someone for hours without knowing their name is one in a million. Hugo appeals to that thrill not by claiming to know what to look for, but by leaving us to trust the innate desire for happiness that leads us there.
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
— George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Submitted by Sam Henry Miller
Aside from those entranced by the ‘Sean Bean Effect’ of HBO’s Game of Thrones, many might rank Eddard Stark, in the novel version, A Game of Thrones, somewhere between a “Stannis” and a “Hodor” on the scale of character complexity. In other words, he’s dull as seven hells, an astoundingly incompatible protagonist, and destined for decapitation. But why?
Perhaps because Eddard Stark serves, above all, the role of a symbol rather than character, or, alternatively: Stark is a martyr. Despite his primacy in plot, dialogue, and story, Stark exists, not to grow nor learn, but to confer one of the heaviest implicit and endemic themes throughout the series of A Song of Ice and Fire: namely, that fear does not preclude courage; it facilitates it—or, a step further into abstraction: feelings do not define us; our actions in spite of them do.
We may like Stark, because he’s honorable to a fault and an exemplar of morality, but we’re not like Stark. We admire idealism because our minds prefer to placate the precarious terror of moral ambiguity with dichotomous, absolute anchors. However, by virtue of (human) being, we can only identify with the opposite: the tainted, the grey, the fundamentally flawed. These types, unlike Stark, are our most appropriate protagonists. “The flawed” don’t know all the answers, they asphyxiate in moral ambiguity, have ample room to grow, and strive towards the ‘right actions’ in spite of inner turmoil . . . .
In a sense, George R.R. Martin created Stark solely to subvert him, and if Stark is idealism/honor incarnate, then his wisdom bestowed and believed (namely the quote in case) is, too, subverted. The purpose of this emotional maneuver by Martin then becomes clear: to shock us into the indiscriminately cruel world of A Song of Ice and Fire—to desert us disillusioned, sparing only a shred of hope that some character(s) may live on and live by Stark’s words.