24 May, 2013

Quotable Friday (10)

As I'm scheduling this post for when I'm away from my desk, I'm relying on you all to make witty and insightful comments without me. I'll be back to check very soon so no misbehaving at the back there.

I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves.

Today's quote is another from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. With all the millions of books in the world you would think I could manage to do more than 10 of these posts without using the same book twice, but I can't help myself. I'm in love. Steinbeck wasn't a Nobel Laureate for nothing, and I think one of his greatest skills is characterisation. He draws characters so vividly in only a few words, using interesting ideas and descriptors without being over the top or pretentious. This short passage contains my favourite single description of a character in literature - I've highlighted it in bold. I think it's beautiful.

"She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build laughter out of inadequate materials....She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall."


  1. Witty AND insightful? That is a tall order. I think most writers have had the experience of writing a golden, gleaming line that was so perfect you wanted to hug it like a kitten, or flaunt it like a favourite scarf. It all comes with practice and a little bit of favoured inspiration. Knowing the character inside out helps, as does having a love of language that's practically an arrestable offence.

    1. I love that description of our favourite lines! I think most authors have also had the experience of writing one of those lines then having to cut it later because it didn't work in context. Boo!


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