Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Five Quotes From Classic World Literature

Hello world. *waves* Summer vacation is over already? I offer my first post-summer-vacation blog post: a list! And one that's self-explanatory... quotes from classic world literature. I do love books, so why not? 

Ten Five Quotes From Classic World Literature

English Classic: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wait... not Shakespeare? *blinks* I know, I knowwww... but I could easily make a list in and of itself of my favorite Shakespearean quotes. I chose Great Expectations because I recently read it. Kinda strange, since this is usually one of my rainy-day reads, and it certainly hasn't been raining this summer. Anyway, here's the quote, from the first time Estelle and Pip played together:

Miss Havisham beckoned her [Estelle] to come close, and took up a jewel from the table, and tried its effect upon her fair young bosom and against her pretty brown hair. "Your own, one day, my dear, and you will use it well. Let me see you play cards with this boy."

"With this boy? Why, he is a common labouring-boy!"

I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer - only it seemed so unlikely - "Well? You can break his heart."

Poor Pip-- if only he knew. Poor Estelle, created as a tool for Miss Havisham's vengeance. This book has two endings, and I'm thankful for editors and the revision process in general, because the second ending is my favorite.

Spanish Classic: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marques

I could probably quote this entire novel. Gorgeous descriptive writing on every page *loves it* The passion is so amazingly described: the crazed ferocity of new love, the smoldering longing of unrequited love, the intensity of love that spans decades and holds two people across life's greatest chasms; it's about love. Quotes:

Worldly goods: security, order, happiness, contiguous numbers that, once they were added together, might resemble love, almost be love. But they were not love, and these doubts increased her confusion, because she was also not convinced that love was really what she most needed to live.

Hm... she was almost NOT convinced that love was what she needed; therefore, almost quite convinced that she didn't need love? I adore books that make me think over a turn of phrase... writing that gives me an impression of a character greater than the words on the page. 

And then there's this, somewhat famous and a sort of sad way to see things, but also one that's made me think:

Love, no matter else it might be, is a natural talent. You are either born knowing how or you never know.

Japanese Classic: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Students of world literature might be groaning at my consistent lack of imagination in these book choices, but how could I not choose it? Beautiful, subtle, powerful and intense; it's full of history without even meaning to be. Written in the time period, (11th century) the horror and glory of life is fundamentally the same all these centuries later. Despite being translated from medieval (Heian period) Japanese to modern Japanese to English (and there are a bunch of variations in each of those translations), it remains true transportative fiction; I felt like a lady-in-waiting from the very first paragraph, which is right here:

In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others. The grand ladies with high ambitions thought her a presumptuous upstart, and lesser ladies were still more resentful. Everything she did offended someone. Probably aware of what was happening, she fell seriously ill and came to spend more time at home than at court. The emperor's pity and affection quite passed bounds. No longer caring what his ladies and courtiers might say, he behaved as if intent upon stirring gossip.

Isn't that a great opening? The last line cinched it for me. An interesting fact: since it was considered rude during the period to write about someone by name, even though this was a work of fiction, the author (a lady-in-waiting herself) described the characters by their clothing. The modern translated version gives everyone a name, though; I imagine scholars sat around deciding which reference in the story should be the characters' names... one character was named for the chapter she died in. But it's just those little details, the description of the almost-love note on lavender-colored paper folded with formal precision with a wisteria attached; I can just see Asagao opening it, living in a medieval court so different and not so different from its European counterparts... annnd oops... history-nerd alert! *ahem* Anyway, here's another quote... or, should I say, brief passage between the hero, playboy prince Genji, and the complex, beautifully dark yet girlishly sweet Murasaki:

He smiled. "What would we do if there were not these old romances to relieve our boredom? But amid all the fabrication I must admit that I do find real emotions and plausible chains of events. We can be quite aware of the frivolity and the idleness and still be moved. We have to feel a little sorry for a charming princess in the depths of gloom. Sometimes a series of absurd and grotesque incidents which we know to be quite improbable holds our interest, and afterwards we must blush that it was so. Yet even then we can see what it was that held us. I think that these yarns must come from people much practiced in lying. But perhaps that is not the whole of the story?"
She pushed away her inkstone. "I can see that that would be the view of someone much given to lying himself. For my part, I am convinced of their truthfulness."
He laughed. "I have been rude and unfair to your romances, haven't I. They have set down and preserved happenings from the age of the gods to our own. The Chronicles of Japan and the rest are a mere fragment of the whole truth. It is your romances that fill in the details." He came closer. "I doubt that even among the most unworldly of your heroines there is one who manages to be as distant and unnoticing as you are. Suppose the two of us set down our story and give the world a really interesting one."
"I think it very likely that the world will take notice of our curious story even if we do not go to the trouble." She hid her face in her sleeves.
"Our curious story? Yes, incomparably curious, I should think." Smiling and playful, he pressed nearer.

French Classic: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Who doesn't love a little vengeance? Hee. Okay, a lot of vengeance. And a suffering hero; I can hardly think of one who suffered more. Adventure, romance, more adventure, intrigue, conspiracies and all wrapped up in descriptive writing. Plus, there's a philosophical undercurrent in this story. It makes me ponder life, think about a phrase for a moment and see how it applies to my own existence. 

Anyway, the quotes! Here's one showing a little of how the sweet, trusting Dantes became twisted by life's cruelties into a (nearly) numb vehicle of vengeance and wrath:

He decided it was human hatred and not divine vengeance that had plunged him into this abyss. He doomed these unknown men to every torment that his inflamed imagination could devise, while still considering that the most frightful were too mild and, above all, too brief for them: torture was followed by death, and death brought, if not repose, at least an insensibility that resembled it. 

And this, the Abbe's realization that Dante's life would be dominated by this dark emotion, that the immense treasure that could have given Dante any path in life, any career, any pursuit, and ultimately freedom if he chose, would instead become the enabling device for Dante's emotional destruction:

“I regret now,” said he, “having helped you in your late inquiries, or having given you the information I did.”

“Why so?” inquired Dantès. 

“Because it has instilled a new passion in your heart—that of vengeance.”

There's also the famous letter he sends, after he comes to the realization that vengeance isn't as sweet as he thought it would be.

"There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is
only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more.
He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience
supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die,
Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.

Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and
never forget that until the day when God shall deign to
reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in
these two words, -- `Wait and hope.' Your friend,

Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo."

And, the ending. *happy sigh* Thinking about the years Dante spent in prison still make me shudder; so much was unjustly taken from him. It scarred him so profoundly that he couldn't enjoy the company of friends, he couldn't enjoy the life his wealth opened up for him; he couldn't move beyond his hatred because the minute-to-minute workings of his daily life revolved around wreaking vengeance. His realization that vengeance will never ease his pain comes late, but I like that he comes to it on his own and in his own way.

Russian Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Another unimaginative choice-- this is becoming like a list of required reading for Honors Literature or something. But it's such a great book. I love the symbolism, the impending doom, the everything. Writing that always means something... the poor horse who the main character ruined in that race, doesn't it foreshadow exactly his treatment of Anna? Even though he loved them both-- or did he? Was it all just pride and a way to win? Tragic stuff. Moreover, the whole book is about notions of love, the power of an emotion that may or may not exist, but is strong enough to lead to ruination, happiness, despair and triumph. Here's a quote, one from the "love is sweet" angle:

One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.

And then there's this one, love unrequited:

[Kitty] expected [Vronsky] to ask her for a waltz, but he did not, and she glanced wonderingly at him. He flushed slightly, and hurriedly asked her to waltz, but he had only just put his arm round her waist and taken the first step when the music suddenly stopped. Kitty looked into his face, which was so close to her own, and long afterwards – for several years after – that look, full of love, to which he made no response, cut her to the heart with an agony of shame. 

*sigh* It just doesn't always go both ways. Like here, about Anna and her husband:

"Not at all," he said. "Listen to me. You can't see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion." Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. "I'll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let's admit." 

Ha, Vronsky is so clever... "let's admit it" and therefore, let's have a passionate love affair without any guilt, whee! Which leads us to the insurmountable variety of love:

He was angry with all of them for their interference just because he felt in his soul that they, all these people, were right. He felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either but pleasant or unpleasant memories. He felt all the torture of his own and her position, all the difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving, feigning, and continually thinking of others, when the passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love.

Okay, this was going include 1001 Arabian Nights from Persian/Arabic literature, Dream of the Red Chamber from Chinese literature, the Ramayan from Indian literature, The Odyssey from Greek literature... but this got long, and I have to take the kids to school! Eek! So rather than Ten Quotes, I'll change it to Five Quotes. If I make another list of classic world literature someday, those will be on it. 

And if anyone has a favorite classic book or quote from a book, do share-- I love finding new books to read.


  1. Lovely, lovely list!! I feel as though I'm back in my world lit class (and, for the record, I LOVED my world lit class...word nerd alert!!). I read the Tale of Genji just two terms ago and found it very intriguing.

    I laughed out loud at your comment regarding Anna Karenina: "let's have a passionate love affair without any guilt, whee!"

    Have a great Tuesday!

  2. Thank you so much, Jen. I first read the Tale of Genji in college and I wander to selected chapters in it from time to time. It's a fascinating look into the past.

    Your blogs are all lovely. Odd words are my very favorite kinds. :) High five to a fellow nerd!

  3. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorites, and the quotes illustrate the book so well. I felt like I was reading it all over again!

    It breaks my heart that Edmond was such a good guy! He had what really mattered and cherished it. I think that's what makes the story so tragic. It wouldn't have been the same if Edmond had been wealthy and had a beautiful home and women fawned over him. He was a hard worker, a lover of goodness, honest to a fault. Edmond didn't have things taken away from him; he was stripped of everyone he cared about, of his freedom, of love itself.

    The tragedy was that he lost his love of mankind.

    Thank you for sharing these. They've made me think.

  4. So true, Emily! At the beginning of the novel Edmond cherished the people he loved. He knew what was important in life, his father, his beloved, and he didn't squander it or throw it away-- he was so undeserving of betrayal, and yet that's what fate dealt him, taking that sweet soul and crushing it so completely that the Edmond who leaves the prison is almost unrecognizable. It's what made his tragedy (and later his redemption) so profound.

    Thank you for the lovely comment. It made me think, too. :)

  5. Lmfao, you were right--this list is *totally* a return to my Honors classes. But good choices!! I agree with you about Love in the Time of Cholera. One of my favourites. If you love that type of poetic literature, Michael Ondaatje is AMAZING! The English Patient is one of my favourite books. As well, his book Running in the Family is also very good.

  6. What a lovely revisiting of old favorites. We forget how brilliant these guys were that we're competing against for a reader's attention. My sister just got a Kindle and has decided she's not paying for any books until she reads all the classics she never got around to that are free for Kindle. Not so good for new authors, but great for readers who want to continue their education.

  7. Thanks Natalie! I had a feeling this was borderline academic, ha! I've read and LOVED The English Patient but I haven't read Running in the Family. I will definitely check it out, thank you!

    Hi Anne, thank you! How right you are-- it's easy to forget that current bestsellers aren't the only ones filling up readers' bookshelves. And my Nook easily has four times as many free classics on it than bought books. Authors of the past have left their mark on the world, without a doubt. :)

  8. Great, great quotes! There's a reason all those books would be on a required reading list. ;)