Sunday, October 12, 2008

Georgette Heyer, Mark Twain, Tom Robbins & More Quotations for Our Times

Dorothy Parker reportedly answered the telephone, “What fresh hell is this?” (See for example, Marion Meade’s biography of that title.) Many of us have felt this way in recent weeks.

Dumas pere, in the Count of Monte Cristo, implied that the ancients had it correct when they named “Mercury, the of merchants and robbers – classes which we in modern times have separated if not made distinct, but which antiquity appears to have included in the same category.”

These trying times call for wisdom greater than my own. For example, Tom Robbins, in Still Life with Woodpecker, reminded, “A successful external reality depends upon an internal vision that is left intact.”

Along similar lines, Mark Twain commented, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

J. B. Priestley, in The Magicians, succinctly stated, “When you’re bitter, you’re beat.”

Eastern philosophy is always a good place to turn for bracing ideas. Swami Sivananda, in Divine Bliss, explained the concept of mental austerity or tapas:

To keep a balanced mind in all conditions of life, to bear insult, injury and persecution, to be ever serene, contented and peaceful, to be cheerful in adverse conditions, to have fortitude in meeting danger, to have presence of mind and forbearance, are all forms of mental tapas.

I have often rallied myself with this quotation from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, “You have fallen into a fit of despondency, and there is not the least need! In fact, nothing could be more fatal in any predicament! It encourages one to suppose that there is nothing to be done, when a little resolution is all that is wanted to bring matters to a happy conclusion.”

I whiled away many afternoons as a teenager with Heyer, lying in a hammock. My ex-husband used to say that the reason I liked to read costume novels was because, “You imagine that you will be would have been the royalty. But you wouldn’t have, you know. You’d be the kitchen maid.”

He probably is right. My father’s family was potato farmers in the old country. My maternal grandfather came from the illegitimate second family of a wine merchant. The family was well-off but those are not credentials that gain admittance to the castles of lords and ladies.

I remember where I was when I learned of Heyer’s death: reading the Times-Picayune in a corner diner, eating breakfast, on my first trip to New Orleans, my first separation for the husband of the snarky quote above.

The point of reading novels is not to weigh the words on the scales of reality but to slip through the veils of imagination into the literary space created by the writer.


ellen said...

Interesting quotations! Thanks for your comment on my Peacock Feathers shawl. It's in full swing now and I hope to meet my deadlines for its completion.

I really enjoy your pictures of gorgeous tropical Florida. I know you won't mind that it's the Southwest coast has my heart. It's sad to see how the current trying times have hurt your beautiful state.

Dogwalkmusings said...

Ah, all those books. How many would Sarah Palin ban?

Sylvia K said...

How many would Palin ban? Probably all of them if she could even get through them -- waste of time you know. I love your quotes, too, sometimes books are the best comfort, the best doctor, the best friend any of us can have.