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Jan 2021

6th January

Thou shalt not be embarrassed about making exactly the same things from leftovers as you always do. Yes, your turkey curry is awful. It’s always been awful. But tradition is important and your awful turkey curry is one of them. Stop trying to re-invent the wheel.

Jay Rayner, My 10 Christmas food commandments, The Guardian, 14 Dec 2017

13th January

This isn’t a proper novel. It is not Stendhal’s mirror being carried along the linear high road. We dropped that with a ghastly crash back in March. Instead, we offer you an improvised disco ball, with tiny squares of reflection, little glimpses into little lives, and scraps of light floating all around like snowflakes.

Catherine Fox, Tales from Lindford: DECEMBER: Long Night Moon Part II, 3 January 2021

20th January

Had Nicholas been more familiar with rural life he would have known where, before such a social earthquake as he glimpsed, to look for the first crack. There was a meeting of the Women’s Institute that same afternoon. These meetings were at no time dull. There were too many subterranean goings-on. There was the perennial battle for leadership between Mrs. Crowner and Mrs. Pye, there was the perennial and slanderous battle between Mrs. Uffley and Mrs. Ada Thirkettle.... Every one enjoyed the meetings very much.

Margery Sharp, The Stone of Chastity (1940)

27th January

There was some inherited twist in his mind which gave him vague discomfort if other people were enjoying themselves in their own way. To him the gods of unhappiness and ill-luck appeared to need frequent propitiation, and they could best be served by making oneself and everyone else unhappy now, in case they were in any event going to be unhappy later.

Angela Thirkell, Ankle Deep (1933)

Feb 2021

3rd February

Could we, I wondered to my husband, have always been as serene as this? No, we decided; you can only come to it after the turbulence of earlier years. A sunlit haven is fine after a life on the high seas, but if you had never ventured, never set sail, you would just be rotting on the beach.

Katharine Whitehorn, Success, social life and serenity: Katharine Whitehorn's guide to happiness at every age (2003, reprinted 2021, hail and farewell)

10th February

Q: You said you used to be too respectful to disagree with Tolstoy but after you got into your sixties your faculty of respect atrophied and you began to ask rude questions of Tolstoy. What were they?
LE GUIN: 'Why did you say ‘all happy families are alike’? You know, the famous beginning of Anna Karenina. What a ridiculous thing to say. Show me two happy families that are alike. Show me two happy families.... There are families that are happy from time to time, I grew up in one. But the idea of them being 'a happy family' or a family that is continuously happy? what are you talking about, Tolstoy? I think he got a good first sentence, it sounded good, he couldn’t let it go.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (2019)

17th February

Allende says that for years she wanted to write a romance novel, but failed every time because she didn’t believe in the male characters she was writing.... When she does introduce a male character into her books with romantic intent, she says, 'I kill him somewhere around page 112, because I soon find I can’t stand the guy. If you wouldn’t want him in your life, why would you impose him on your protagonist?'

Isabel Allende: 'Everyone called me crazy for divorcing in my 70s. I’ve never been scared of being alone' The Guardian Saturday Review 13 Feb 2021

24th February

Entertaining people -- inducing laughter or interest -- is really difficult. It takes effort and thought. Scaring them is comparatively easy and a much surer way of grabbing attention.

David Mitchell, We need to develop a vaccine against media scare tactics The Observer New Review 14 Feb 2021

Mar 2021

3rd March

Rebecca sewed diligently for a minute, her eyes on the seam; then she said, ‘You’re not the sort of person who would ever mean to hurt any one. You would always want to shower gifts on people and be kind to them and pet them, but did you ever think how irritating unwanted kindness can be to the recipient? Did you ever think how much more grace it requires to be a receiver than a giver? From the first I could feel you saying to yourself, "Oh, the poor plain good little thing! I must be kind to her and try to brighten life for her a little."

O. Douglas (Anna Buchan), Pink Sugar (1924)

10th March

Yet some things aren’t important, even things that happen every day. To very serious people this is one of the galling things about life. Daily existence is often trivial, silly and absurd. Indeed, I believe much pleasure and beauty is to be found in these aspects of life. To insist on endless struggle and endless heroism and endless meaning is to cut yourself off from a great deal of what is best in people and in the world.

James Marriott, Beyond Order by Jordan B Peterson review - stick to YouTube videos, Jordan, The Times, 2 Mar 2021

17th March

Spiritually, gentrification is the removal of the dynamic mix that defines urbanity—the familiar interaction of different kinds of people creating ideas together. Urbanity is what makes cities great, because the daily affirmation that people from other experiences are real makes innovative solutions and experiments possible. In this way, cities historically have provided acceptance, opportunity, and a place to create ideas contributing to freedom.

Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2012)

24th March

The idea of the organic society, united by blood, faith, language, and culture, attractive as it may sound, actually tears societies apart, since some intolerable difference can always be found, some old wrong remembered.

Marilynne Robinson, 'A Proof, a Test, an Instruction', in What Are We Doing Here? Essays (2018)

31st March

[It] is a perfect example of a certain kind of woman's writing that is so smart it seems as though it must have been as easy to compose as it is to read, so smart that it doesn't seem important compared to more difficult and experimental novels.

Jane Smiley, 'Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows', in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005)

Apr 2021

7th April

[I]t is painful to reflect on how much people long to believe in national honor and decency, how great a political need that longing addresses.

Vivian Gornick, 'Hannah Arendt' in Taking a Long Look Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (2021)

14th April

Our guests talk about the Whitenights atmosphere, the Whitenights perfection as though it were an aroma given off by the intellect alone, and such things as laundries had no existence. The perfection of a big house, let me tell you, is very largely a matter of laundry organisation: its fragrance is a matter of potpourri, not epigrams.

Margery Sharp, Rhododendron Pie (1930)

21st April

Oh, my goodness, how can people be so silly? The solidarity of men accounts for half the trouble in the world. Just because George is a man you trusted him. I’d have locked him into his room, anything, sooner than run the risk of his talking.

Angela Thirkell, O, These Men, These Men: A Woman's Struggle To Love Again (1935)

28th April

[I]n Anna’s experience the fact that you knew somebody was being kind-hearted did not, if their good-heartedness happened to be the exasperating sort, make that person less exasperating.

Noel Streatfeild, Mothering Sunday (1950)

May 2021

5th May

Reading Nancy Mitford makes me believe that writing comic novels is one of the most purely humanitarian endeavors civilization has ever come up with.

Jane Smiley, 'Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, Don't Tell Alfred', in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005)

12th May

[S]he felt neglected and taken for granted -- and as if she did not have much right to complain, since she had always been neglected and taken for granted but, as she was loved, honored, and revered, had never felt the need to complain in the past.

Laurie Colwin, Family Happiness (1982)

19th May

If they get to know a woman well, they honour her by telling her about themselves, their deeper selves, the part of themselves that they have never shown to anyone because they are so reserved.... Given, unwisely, a little too much sympathy and interest at the start, she will have become firmly established in the man's mind as a dust-bin; a dust-bin into which he can shoot all his accumulated rubbish, and then put on the lid and walk away. A nice dust-bin, mind you; quiet grey, with forget-me-nots growing around.

GB Stern,'Man--Without Prejudice', in Mabel Ulrich (ed) . Man, Proud Man: A Commentary (1932)

26th May

When we evaluate how we have spent our lives, we have to look at our cumulative impact, not at the moments of failure or bad faith.

Sarah Schulman, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 (2021)

Jun 2021

2nd June

To a certain kind of man, who has never fought in a war himself, there is no greater glory than armed conflict.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, ‘It’s not like you were in a war, love’: the ignorance surrounding an MP with PTSD The Guardian 27 May 2021

9th June

For if the child ever went anyways wrong, and you hadn’t done your part by it, Master Marner—’noculation, and everything to save it from harm—it ’ud be a thorn i’ your bed for ever o’ this side the grave.

George Eliot, Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe (1861)

16th June

He went on to say, with a smile at his homely metaphor, that Gertrude's bark was worse than her bite. This was foolish--Gertrude's bark was her bite; and may a bite has lain awake all night longing to be Gertrude's bark.

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

23rd June

Despite the care she took not to offend the Amerian cult of motherhood in the fifties--how outspoken revolutionary women can ever be is central to the question of female anxiety and ambivalence--she made new female destinies possible.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Margaret Mead and Women's Biography' (1985), in Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (1990)

30th June

It took me years to realize that I chose to work in such despised, marginal genres as science fiction, fantasy, young adult, precisely because they were excluded from critical, academic, canonical supervision, leaving the artist free; it took ten more years before I had the wit and guts to see and say that the exclusion of the genres from "literature" is unjustified, unjustifiable, and a matter not of quality but of politics

Ursula K Le Guin, 'The Fisherwoman's Daughter' (1988) in Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (1989)

Ju1 2021

7th July

[T]hat story of “Kubla Khan” grinding to a halt when a “person from Porlock” interrupted Samuel Taylor Coleridge always amuses me. Is it the only time a man has been interrupted while writing? Women have 50 “persons from Porlock” a day.

Caitlin Moran on How to Be a Woman: ‘It was a thrill to rifle through the box marked TABOOS’ Guardian Saturday Review 3 July 2021

14th July

Yet when I think back to those I loved it is not only the ones I went to bed with who matter.

Naomi Mitchison, You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (1979)

21st July

'[B]ut I too have feelings about tradition and family. My family is a bookish family, a thinking family -- it means as much to me that Leo should grow up in a house full of books as it does to his father that there should be a pony and woods.'

AS Byatt, Babel Tower (1996)

28th July

Whatever the satisfying and as yet culturally endorsed adventure after sixty may be, its necessary element is the sense of something essential and vital having been achieved or discovered or learned.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty (1997)

Aug 2021

4th August

In some of the stories in The Delicate Fire there is, I would have thought, far more overt sex than in We Have Been Warned, but apparently it's all right when people wear wolfskins and togas.

Naomi Mitchison, 'A Note on the Literary Decencies' in You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (1979)

11th August

One is lonely for the absent idealized other, but in useful solitude I am there, keeping myself imaginative company, breathing life into the silence, filling the room with proof of my own sentient being.

Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City: a memoir (2015)

18th August

Her goal was to be good and forgiving--that was the mission of peoplw with level and happy temperaments, as her mother had often reminded her. And as the only member of her family who was not moody, quirky, or willful, she had had plenty of practice.

Laurie Colwin, Family Happiness (1982)

25th August

She says, 'I wrote it for bookish children. Like myself, like you. For children despised because they read. To say, you can learn to live from books.'

AS Byatt, Babel Tower (1996)

Sep 2021

1st September

[S]implicity consists in getting bothersome irrelevancies out of the way, and... 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)

8th September

Making ingredients taste of themselves is of course virtuous. But slamming them together with other ingredients so they become something else is where the real action is. Messy makes flavours talk to each other. Messy makes them bounce off each other.

Jay Rayner, 'Messing Around', in Chewing the Fat: Tasting Notes from a Greedy Life (2021)

15th September

Slow progress is truly underrated. In our fast-paced world of same-day delivery and overnight fame, I’d do well to remember the wise words of someone I once knew: that the best endeavours are not about speed but simply about keeping it going, long and strong.

Coco Khan, Slipping into a faster lane at the pool is a rush that never gets old, 'Adult learner', The Guardian Life and Style, 3 Sep 2021

22nd September

Hobart couldn't discuss. He could talk; he could assert, produce opinions and information, but he couldn't meet or answer arguments. And he was cautious, afraid of committing himself, afraid, I fancied, of exposing gulfs in his equipment of information[.]

Rose Macaulay, Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract (1920)

29th September

'Ludo could afford it, if that is what you mean. Or at least he could afford something.'

'I am sure he could', said Mrs. Morland. But it is very good for all of us to learn to take, as well as to give. It’s more difficult sometimes, I admit. Nearly everybody is born a Giver or a Taker.'

Angela Thirkell, Never Too Late (1956)

Oct 2021

6th October

Women, I believe, search for fellow beings who have faced similar struggles, conveyed them in ways a reader can transform into her own life, confirm desires the reader had hardly acknowledged--desires that now seem possible. Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Unmet Friends', in The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty (1997)

13th October

A woman may live a whole life of sacrifice and at her death meekly say 'I die a woman.' But a man passes a few years in experiments in self-denial and simple life, and he says, 'Behold, I am a God'.

Abba May Alcott (1800-1877), in My Heart is Boundless:Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's Mother, edited by Eve La Plante (2012)

20th October

[W]e talked. That is the way one puts it, but as a matter of fact Katherine seldom does much of the talking; one talks to her. She listens, and puts in from time to time some critical comment that often extraordinarily clears up any subject one is talking round. She contributes as much as any one I know to the conversation, but in such condensed tabloids that it doesn't take her long. Most things don't seem to her to be worth saying.

Rose Macaulay, Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract (1920)

27th October

I have always found that retaining the freedom to abandon something is essential to getting it done.

Clive James, Reports of My Death, The Guardian, 31 October 2015

Nov 2021

3rd November

[T]he wound is healed, the secret told, the riddle becomes plain, the reconciliation is made between man and what surrounds him. Each happening depends on the other. But if it was for all time, the flowers might go on blooming but the spirit would wither. It would be sad beyond all telling if the finding of the Grail were to happen once for all. Because then it could not happen again for anyone.

Naomi Mitchison, To The Chapel Perilous (1955)

10th November

Mrs. Morland replied very simply that no one had ever fallen in love with her and when the late Mr. Morland had offered his hand and heart, she had never been asked by anyone else and couldn’t think of any reason for refusing. 'Henry had his good points,' said Mrs. Morland, musingly. 'He was quite easy to get on with and then he died[.]'

Angela Thirkell, Happy Return (1952)

17th November

All writers get ideas which don't really belong to them.... Literature is cluttered up with the consequences of authors' playing around with a wrong number[.]

Christopher Isherwood, 'Take It or Leave It' (1942), in Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses (1966)

24th November

Dr. Bottwink felt the warm glow of triumph steal through his veins. Here was reality - here was truth!.... The fretful dreams of the twentieth century faded away and there was left only Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink with a historical discovery that was destined to confound all the experts - to the number of at least half a dozen - who were capable of understanding its significance. It was a solemn and a joyful moment, such as comes to a man only once or twice in a lifetime.

Cyril Hare, An English Murder (1951)

Dec 2021

1st December

Mrs. Grantly experienced, as other people had, a curious kind of shock at finding that a woman who on the platform at Women’s Institute meetings or any other county activities was so competent and practical could be quite helpless and indeed almost foolish about private matters; and perhaps liked her all the better for it.

Angela Thirkell, Happy Return (1952)

8th December

Lawrence was an artist and appeared to have, outside his art, only two subjects—cooking and the life and behaviour of eels—on both of which subjects he was extremely interesting. The only other time his attention appeared thoroughly awakened was when it dawned on him that Vernon was obliged to leave Bray on Saturday afternoon, at some hour which would give him sufficient time to motor up to London for the evening performance of Nice People. The idea that Vernon really had to be at a certain place at a certain time seemed to fill him with pity and horror.

Ursula Orange, Tom Tiddler's Ground (1941)

15th December

I’m sure when I bought the myriad jars I meant it. I really was going to become a different kind of cook. I really was going to stop making the same old things I always made. But I was going to become that different cook tomorrow. Or perhaps the day after that. Or next week. And all of a sudden, it’s six years later and you can’t find the Marmite for the tubs of ras el hanout spice mix.

Jay Rayner, 'Jar Head', in Chewing the Fat: Tasting Notes from a Greedy Life (2021)

22nd December

There’s no sense in buying and publishing a manuscript you don’t like, just because you think someone else ought to like it. No reader ever buys a book because it strikes them as being the kind of thing somebody else might like.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden 'Anatomy of a Sale: The Fortunate Fall to Tor Books', in Making Conversation (2016)

29th December

[T]he state of rapture I experience when I read a wonderful book is one of the main reasons I read, but it doesn't happen every time or even every other time, and when it does happen, I'm truly beside myself.

Nora Ephron, 'On Rapture' in I Feel Bad About My Neck: and other thoughts on being a woman (2006)


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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