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Jan 2022

5th January

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.
Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

William Empson Missing Dates (1937)

12th January

The feminism I know began as politics, not rules for living. To call X a feminist issue did not then mean that there was a good way to do X and a bad way, and that we were trying to replace the bad way with the good way. X was a feminist issue because it was the locus of various social pressures (which it made visible) and those social pressures were what feminism was all about.

Joanna Russ, 'News from the Front' in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts: Feminist Essays (1985)

19th January

["]We women can’t go in search of adventure--to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without complaining. That is my notion about the plants; they are often bored, and that is the reason why some of them have got poisonous. What do you think?" Gwendolen had run on rather nervously[.]

George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)

26th January

I read what I feel inclined to read, and I am conscious of no duty to finish a book that I don’t care to finish. I read in my leisure, not from a sense of duty, not to improve myself, but solely because it gives me pleasure to read.... I want to have lots of books on my shelves because I know they are good, because I know they would amuse me, because I like to look at them, and because one day I might have a caprice to read them.

Arnold Bennett, Mental Efficiency, and Other Hints to Men and Women (1911)

Feb 2022

2nd February

They pulled down all the houses where the children used to crowd
And built expensive blocks of flats where children weren't allowed;
So if father got a job there wasn't anywhere to dwell,
And everybody wondered why the population fell.
Five hundred brand-new motor cars each morning rode the roads,
And flashed about like comets or sat motionless as toads;
Whichever course they took they made the public highway hell,
And everybody wondered why the population fell.
The world, in short, which never was extravagantly sane,
Developed all the signs of inflammation of the brain;
The past was not encouraging, the future none could tell,
But the Minister still wondered why the population fell.

AP Herbert, MP, Population (Statistics) Bill: Second Reading (29 November 1937)

9th February

There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader - I seldom look into novels - Do not imagine that I often read novels - It is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss - ?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1803)

16th February

[T]o suggest that you have the artistically awakened eye and can form your own opinion in perfect independence of the kind of judgement which the lay-out and emphssis of the exhibition seem to demand, pause a long time before some object which has nothing to do with the exhibits - say a fire extinguisher or a grating in the floor through which warmed-up museum air rises[.]

Stephen Potter, 'A Note on Exhibitionship', in One-Upmanship (1959)

23rd February

"Water under the bridge"... he said this with the air of one who spent a lot of time on bridges, waiting for the bodies of his enemies to float past.

Mick Herron, Real Tigers (2016)

Mar 2022

2nd March

We have an elegant sufficiency of women novelists and they give us a great deal of evidence which will enable us to make up our minds whether the feminist pioneers have been disappointed in their hope that if women were admitted to the universities and the professions and commerce and industry and exercised the vote and were eligible for both Houses of Parliament they would not only be able to earn their own livings and develop their minds and live candidly but might also be luckier in love than their mothers and grandmothers and would take it better if they were unlucky. But this evidence is not forthcoming. After a course of study in Contemporary Women Novelists it is as if one heard a massed female choir singing 'Early one morning just as the sun was rising I heard a maid sing in the valley below, "Oh don't deceive me, oh never leave me, how could you use a poor maiden so?"'

Rebecca West. 'And They All Lived Unhappily Ever After' in Rebecca West, A Celebration (1977) (first published in 'Women and Literature - 1', Times Literary Supplement, 16 July 1974)

9th March

Society is a curious affair. There are no fixed rules for it. It makes its own as it goes along, never put into words but somehow recognized by all well-thinking people. Let us give an example of its curious workings. Mrs. Brandon, who was nobody in particular, her parents having been quiet well-to-do people in another county, had married, many years ago now, Mr. Brandon who was also nobody in particular, but well off and the owner of that charming place Stories at Pomfret Madrigal. Here his wife had settled down quite happily, for if you do not notice quite how dull your husband is and he is kind to you and provides you with a charming house, money for plenty of pretty clothes, a good well-trained staff, a very rich aunt from whom he has expectations and two very nice children, you can lead a very pleasant contented life, as Lavinia Oliver when she became Mrs. Brandon undoubtedly did. And if, just as your wife is beginning gently to realize how uninteresting you are, you very obligingly die of a chill on the Riviera and are buried there so that no one has to visit your grave, leaving her very comfortably off, it seems to us that no one can say a word against you.

Angela Thirkell, Happy Return (1952)

16th March

[W]omen, whose lives are professionally successful, and who have all they want of life's material blessings and furnishings, often find themselves overcome by a desire for something--risk, adventure, a new challenge--they know not exactly what. And today's proliferation of the romantic story stands ready to anser that craving for need. But how can a fiction writer name another resolution, when our culture offers none?

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Sex and Romance' in The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty (1997)

23rd March

What was most exciting about this "re-reading" in those early years was that I--and many others like me--experienced feminist consciousness as a persepctive through which the sense of world and being was immeasurably enriched. To think in feminist terms was to feel intellectual promise and emotional discovery quickening to new life.... The mere act of understanding my life again in historical terms induced in me a sense of human kinship.

And then the unthinkable happened to the women's movement: feminist consciousness gave way to feminist dogma.

Vivian Gornick, 'To End With', The Romance of American Communism (1977, 2020)

30th March

Often before Sarah had infuriated her colleagues by suggesting remedies instead of grievances. She had not yet recognised the human preference for complaint

Winifred Holtby, South Riding (1936)

Apr 2022

6th April

People thought it was silly, almost wrong to look at the end of a book. But if it spoilt a book, there was something wrong about the book. If it was finished and the interest gone when you know who married who, what was the good of reading at all? It was a sort of trick, a sell. Like a puzzle that was no more fun when you had found it out. There was something more in books than that[.]

Dorothy Richardson, Honeycomb: Pilgrimage Volume 3 (1917)

13th April

Claude wasn't a vindictive man, but this was largely because the opportunity to be one had rarely presented itself.

Mick Herron, London Rules (2018)

For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open; for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish; for keeping their neat maid-servants in admirable order; for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. 'A man,' as one of them observed to me once, 'is so in the way in the house!'

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Cranford (1853)

27th April

[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

May 2022

4th May

She chattered. Evelyn lent herself amiably to the chatter; it seemed to her that she was always lending herself amiably to somebody or something, till she ceased to have any existence of her own at all. Would she ever turn round on the whole of her acquaintance, and in a moment of harshness send them all packing? She knew that the necessary harshness lurked somewhere within her; in fact, she was rather frightened of it.

Vita Sackville-West, Family History (1932)

11th May

As the only person with whom man can compare himself is woman, it is desirable that she should do worse. In fact, by the Lord Harry, she shall do worse.... The woman who forgets this, who does not realise that by reason of her sex she lives in a beleaguered city, is a fool who deserves to lose (as she certainly will) all the privileges that have been won for her by her more robustly-minded sister.

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)

18th May

The visitors in this investigation hoped to carry with them a gospel of porridge to the hard-worked mothers of families in Lambeth. The women of Lambeth listened patiently, according to their way, agreed to all that was said, and did not begin to feed their families on porridge. Being there to watch and note rather than to teach and preach, the visitors waited to hear, when and how they could, what the objection was. It was not one reason, but many. Porridge needs long cooking; if on the gas, that means expense; if on an open fire, constant stirring and watching just when the mother is most busy getting the children up. Moreover, the fire is often not lit before breakfast. It was pointed out that porridge is a food which will keep when made. It could be cooked when the children are at school, and merely warmed up in the morning. The women agreed again, but still no porridge. It seemed, after further patient waiting on the part of the visitors, that the husbands and children could not abide porridge - to use the expressive language of the district, "they ’eaved at it."

Mrs Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound a Week (1913)

25th May

Your country is not in an advantageous state at this moment; from one end of the kingdom to the other there is a general collapse of industry. Those Members of this House not intimately acquainted with the trade and commerce of the country do not fully comprehend our position as to the diminution of employment and the lessening of wages. An increase in the cost of living is finding its way to the homes and hearts of a vast number of the labouring population. At the same time there is growing up... a bitter and angry feeling against that class which has for a long period conducted the public affairs of this country.... The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. There is no one, as when the first-born were slain of old, to sprinkle with blood the lintel and the two sideposts of our doors, that he may spare and pass on[.]

John Bright, Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Order be postponed till after the Notice of Motion for nominating the Committee on the Army before Sebastopol." House of Commons, 23 February 1855

Jun 2022

1st June

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son[.]

Wilfred Owen, The Parable of the Old Man and the Young (c.1918)

8th June

[T]he past of the novel has been diverse and so will be its future.... The novel, we have all agreed, reflects human life, and its strength must therefore lie in the variety of the individual visions which are at its origin.

Angus Wilson, Condition of the Novel (Britain), New Left Review, I/29, Jan/Feb 1965

15th June

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader.
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I'm the leader
I'm the leader

OK what shall we do?

Roger McGough, The Leader, in Sky in the Pie (1985)

22nd June

'And now he's gone,' Gregor said, 'and all that is gone with him, and it makes no sense at all. It's wasteful, and arbitrary, and it makes no sense at all'

Jane Haddam, Blood in the Water (2012)

29th June

Some women weep and curse, I say
(And no one marvels), night and day.

'And thou shalt take their part to-night,
Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and bitter, and good.'

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, A Curse for a Nation (1856)

Ju1 2022

6th July

[T]hose words ought to be construed in a reasonable sense: if the doctor is of opinion on reasonable grounds, on adequate knowledge, that the probable consequences of the continuance of pregnancy would indeed make the woman a physical wreck or a mental wreck, then he operates, in that honest belief, "for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother".... The unborn child must not be destroyed except for the purpose of preserving the yet more precious life of the mother.

Mr Justice Macnaghten, Address to the jury in the case of Rex v Bourne 23 July 1938

13th July

Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue./It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

William Empson, Villanelle (1935)

20th July

[T]here's a liberation in being on the margins. You exist on a blank page, where you can misbehave, doodle, dream and fail.

Igor Toronyi-Lalic, review of Kate Molleson, Sound within Sound: Opening Our Ears to the Twentieth Century 2022, in Literary Review, July 2022

27th July

[T]he novel is not hung upon a nail and festooned with glory, but, on the contrary, walks the high road, alive and alert, and brushes shoulders with real men and women.

Virginia Woolf, 'Romance and the Heart', [reviews] in The Nation and Atheneum 19 May 1923, quoted here

Aug 2022

3rd August

Perhaps the best thing for now would be to get more information. Even when knowledge is not power, it is always liable to be interesting.

Roz Kaveney, Tiny Pieces of Skull Or, a Lesson in Manners (2015)

10th August

"Don't let me catch any of you at any time loving anything without asking questions. Question everything - even what I'm saying now. Especially, perhaps, what I say. Question every one in authority, and see that you get sensible answers to your questions. Then, if the answers are sensible, obey the orders without protest. Question your government's policy, question the arms race, question the Kingsport slums, and the economies over feeding school children, and the rule that makes women have to renounce their jobs on marriage, and why the derelict areas still are derelict. This is a great country, and we are proud of it, and it means much that is most lovable. But questioning does not mean the end of loving, and loving does not mean the abnegation of intelligence. Vow as much love to your country as you like; serve to the death if that is necessary. . . ." She was thinking of Joe Astell, killing himself by over-work in the Clydeside, dying for his country more surely than thousands of those who to-day waved flags and cheered for royalty. "But, I implore you, do not forget to question."

Winifred Holtby, South Riding (1936)

17th August

The danger in trying to do good is that the mind comes to confuse the intent of goodness with the act of doing things well.

Ursula K Le Guin, 'The Finder', Tales From Earthsea (2001)

24th August

The best way I can serve my country is... by living further away where I can really get on with my primary job which is to become a better and better writer and a more tolerant and compassionate human being.

Noel Coward to 'Darling Larryboy' (Laurence Olivier) 12 January 1957, in The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day (2007)

31st August

He felt both wise and magnanimous in refusing the chance of this exhibition; he did not realize that whenever some hint of success hovered upon the horizon, his nature withdrew and pursued another creative medium. In his mind he had always been ambitious for fame and wealth, but he was naturally self-destructive[.]

Colin Spencer, The Victims of Love (1978)

Sep 2022

7th September

So I asked for a companion: to pour everything into, and leave the rest clean, unaffected. To never have to... beg or compete for love. To never have to earn it. Never be worthy of it.

Premee Mohamed, A Broken Darkness (2021)

14th September

'When I am gone, I hope my friends will not try to carry out any special system, or to follow blindly in the track which I have trodden. New circumstances require various efforts, and it is the spirit, not the dead form that should be perpetuated. When the time comes that we slip from our places, and they are called to the front as workers, what should they inherit from us? Not a system, not an association, not dead formulas. We shall leave them a few houses, purified and improved, a few new and better ones built, a certain record of thoughtful and loving management; a few open spaces, some of which will be more beautiful than they would have been, but what we care most to leave them is not any tangible thing however great, not any memory, however good, but the quick eye to see, the true soul to measure, the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come--greater ideals, greater hope and patience to realize both.

Octavia Hill, social reformer and co-founder of The National Trust, 1898 speech on the presentation of her portrait by John Singer Sargent, quoted in E. Moberley Bell, Octavia Hill: A Biography (1942)

21st September

Mr Charlecote... reflected upon the strange phenomenon that people who are rude are always intensely astonished and genuinely pained at getting as good as they give.

Richard Oke, Frolic Wind (1929)

28th September

Understanding somebody else's filing system is just about as easy as really getting to know another human being. Just when you think you know everything about them, there's the impossible happening, the M for Miscellaneous when you naturally assumed it would be under something else.

Barbara Pym, Less than Angels (1955)

Oct 2022

5th October

Paying attention to the positive aspects of living online is just as important as weeding out the negatives. There are many millions of ways to waste time online, some of them intensely pleasurable, but there are also many millions of ways to enrich ourselves as humans there, to communicate and desire and learn. Beneath every mention of a 'digital detox' I hear a puritan hum, the familiar sound made when someone attempts to drag the world backwards.

Eva Wiseman, My phone is my girlfriend, analyst, flower shop, bank, bully. Is it time for a digital detox? Observer Magazine, 18 Sep 2022

12th October

LE GUIN: Can we get away from the battle metaphor, and from winning and losing? Things have changed and maybe they’ve changed in that perspective, and in a good direction. You talk about winning and losing. I see it as, you make a gain here and then discover you lost something there.

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

19th October

He still stood outside, a serious slack shape in a tweed overcoat. He masked, behind that faint, deprecating smile of his, more than the mere confusion of surprise. He would very much rather it had not been me he had met just there. Napier and I were friends only because all our friends were mutual. We hadn't ever found, tried to find, any common ground for friendship. Sincerely, I was very sorry to be there. Napier had that effect on one.

Michael Arlen, The Green Hat (1924)

26th October

She had felt rather at a loss with Mr Charlcote. He was so very definite, and appeared to say just whatever came into his mind. At any rate he was a great success with their hostesses. Not that he said anything brilliant. She could think of much more brilliant things to say.... Of course, Mr Charlcote was much more conspicuously young than she was; perhaps that was why he was a success. He was ostentatiously young, aggressively young.

Richard Oke, Frolic Wind (1929)

Nov 2022

2nd November

'You know Mildred would never do anything wrong or foolish'
I reflected a little sadly that this was only too true and hoped that I did not appear too much that kind of person to others. Virtue is an excellent thing, and we should all strive after it, but it can sometimes be a little depressing.

Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (1952)

9th November

Thorpe, most happy to be on speaking terms with a man of General Tilney’s importance, had been joyfully and proudly communicative.... With whomsoever he was, or was likely to be connected, his own consequence always required that theirs should be great, and as his intimacy with any acquaintance grew, so regularly grew their fortune.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)

16th November

That "books furnish a room, so I always think" has been said by many an amateur of interior decoration. Reading, on the other hand, hardly furnishes a room at all. In sad cases it has been known to de-furnish a room, when indulged in until the cows come home and the brokers come in.

GB Stern, Another Part of the Forest (1941)

23rd November

A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long,
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon,
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ
With something new to wish or to enjoy,
Railing, and praising, were his usual themes;
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes:
So over-violent, or over-civil,
That every man with him was god or devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.

John Dryden, Character of Zimri (the Duke of Buckingham), from Absalom and Achitophel (1681)

30th November

If we look at our roster of novelists, we have to be struck by two facts: one is that most of them started out as nobodies, and the other is that many of them came to be regarded as prophets and sages.

Jane Smiley, 'Who is the Novelist?', in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005)

Dec 2022

7th December

Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814)

14th December

Lady Davenant had not the least doubt of the correctness of the story, but she believed the names of the parties were different; she had heard it years ago of another person. It often happens, as she observed, to those who make themselves notoriously ridiculous, as to those who become famous for wit, that all good things in their kinds are attributed to them; though the one may have no claim to half the witticisms, and the other may not be responsible for half the absurdities for which they have the reputation.

Maria Edgeworth, Helen (1834)

21st December

Catherine stayed nearly a fortnight at the Swans' house, during which she was cosseted and cared for and almost knew what it was like to be one of a family. In that short time she experienced all the cosiness and irritation which can come from living with thoroughly nice people with whom one has nothing in common,

Barbara Pym, Less than Angels (1955)

28th December

"Nan is thirty-three."
"A dangerous age."
"All Nan's ages," said Mrs. Hilary, "have been dangerous. Nan is like that."
"As to that," said Mr. Cradock, "we may say that all ages are dangerous to all people, in this dangerous life we live.

Rose Macaulay, Dangerous Ages (1921)


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