Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Elizabeth Bowen, Full name Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen

Anglo-Irish Novelist, Short-Story Writer

"Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies."

"Some people are molded by their admirations, others by their hostilities."

"Habit is not mere subjugation, it is a tender tie; when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness."

"If you look at life one way, there is always cause for alarm."

"Illusions are art, for the feeling person, and it is by art that we live, if we do."

"The heart may think it knows better: the senses know that absence blots people out. We have really no absent friends."

"There is no end to the violations committed by children on children, quietly talking alone."

"When you love someone all your saved-up wishes start coming out."

"All your youth you want to have your greatness taken for granted; when you find it taken for granted, you are unnerved."

"Art is one thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting. "

"Intimacies between women often go backwards, beginning in revelations and ending in small talk without the loss of esteem. "

"No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye. "

"One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it. "

"We are minor in everything but our passions."

"A fragrant, faint impropriety, orris-dust of a century, still hangs over parts of this neighbourhood; glass passages lead in from high green gates, garden walls are mysterious, laburnums falling between the windows and walls have their own secrets. Acacias whisper at night round airy, ornate little houses in which pretty women lived singly but were not always alone. In the unreal late moonlight you might hear a ghostly hansom click up the empty road, or see on a pale wall the shadow of an opera cloak… Nowadays things are much tamer: Lady Waters could put up no reasoned objection to St. John’s Wood."

"A living dog's better than a dead lion."

"A romantic man often feels more uplifted with two women than with one: his love seems to hit the ideal mark somewhere between two different faces."

"A smell of sandalwood boxes, a kind of glaze on the air from all the chintzes numbed his earthy vitality, he became all ribs and uniform."

"After dark – where once there was silence, a tree’s shadow drawn slowly across the grass by the moon, or no moon, an exhalation of darkness – rows of windows come out like lanterns in pink and orange; boxed in bright light hundreds of lives repeat their pattern; wireless picks up a tune from street to street."

"Also, there is something very heroic about dangling one’s legs at a height."

"And then, Hilary Bevel was recounting, it all changed, and we were moving very quickly through a kind of pinkish mist – running, it felt like, only all my legs and arms were somewhere else. That was the time you came into it, Aunt Willoughby. You were winding up your sewing machine like a motor car, kneeling down in a sort of bunching bathing dress… She dared indelicacy, reaching out for the marmalade with a little agitated rustle to break up the silence with which her night’s amazing experiences had been received."

"Anna Partridge, whose brain was all shreddy with rabbit-combing and raffia, had had electric light for years, just from living in England; even the Trents talked of harnessing their waterfall."

"Annabelle heard him. Wild with affront, she scrambled heavily to her feet with a cowlike movement and dashed down the naked stairs. ‘Mother, mother’ she wailed. Her mother came out of the library. ‘Oh, mother, John said Damn to me!’"

"At Spezia when I am angry I go full of smoke inside, but when you make me angry I see everything."

"Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day."

"But Miss Pym gave an impression, somehow, of having been attacked from within."

"But nowadays the whole incentive to motoring seems an anxiety to be elsewhere."

"But she was his lovely woman: kissed. He shone at her, she helpless. She looked out at the hopeless rain."

"But surely love wouldn't get so much talked about if there were not something in it?"

"But the imagination-game palled upon him earlier than usual, defeated by his returning consciousness of the room. Here was he alone, enisled with tragedy. The thing had crouched beside his bed at night; he had been conscious of it through the thin texture of his dreams. He reached out again now, timidly, irresistibly to touch it, and found that it had slipped away, withdrawn into ambush, leaving with him nothing of itself, scarcely even a memory."

"But to be quite oneself one must first waste a little time."

"But what a horrible world 'society' is."

"But when she looked for Gerald there seemed too much of him. He was a wood in which she counted from tree to tree – all hers – and knew the boundary wall right round. But how to measure this unaccountable darkness between the trees, this living silence? So she turned back to Mr. Montmorency, adding a paragraph."

"Cecilia, indignant, still webbed-up in dreams, rolled round to stare at Emmeline in the yellow dusk of drawn curtains."

"Clumps of trees stretched up their branches all fretted over with green; here and there a field was ridiculous with lambs, and above them larks surcharged with song went wobbling up into the blue."

"Coming down early for dinner, red satin dress cut low, she attacked the silence with loud laughter before he had spoken. He recollected having heard that she was abnormal – at twenty-five, of statuesque development, still detained in childhood. […] She let the lantern out of her skirts and waved. Her fine arm with bangles went up and down, up and down, with the staggering light; the trees one by one jumped up from the dark, like savages."

"Darling, I don't want you; I've got no place for you; I only want what you give. I don't want the whole of anyone.... What you want is the whole of me-isn't it, isn't it?-and the whole of me isn't there for anybody. In that full sense you want me I don't exist."

"Down there, between the dreary trunks of the beeches, houses lay like a sediment in the cup of the misty valley: great gabled carcasses, villas aping the manor, belfried garages where you could feel the cars get cold."

"During a strained little silence, between two gusts of wind, Mrs Vermont observed that an angel must be passing over the house; she wanted them to listen for its wings. They listened; they thought of empty country blotted out by the darkness."

"Education is not so important as people think."

"Emerald’s children looked up at her out of a coloured earthquake-city. Unnerved by her manner they turned to retreat; gilt, flowered and brightly pictorial boxes scrunched with the unresistance of cardboard under their wildly placed feet. They evacuated, with shaken majesty, an empire of chocolate boxes."

"Emmeline met Markie at Croydon: he was so very late she feared he would miss the plane. In her thin grey coat and skirt she sat waiting under the skylight on that sexagonal seat round the little pharos of clocks. A huge blue June day filled the aerodrome and reflected itself in the hall: she heard a great hum from the waiting plane hungry for flight."

"Emmeline’s world, that had hung shining throughout the week like a bubble on some divine breath, contracted suddenly to this room – staring, positive, full of shelves and tables – the scene of some terror from which she had lately fled."

"Experience isn't interesting until it begins to repeat itself. In fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience."

"Fantasy is toxic: the private cruelty and the world war both have their start in the heated brain."

"Fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat."

"For in February, before those leaves had visibly budded, the death – execution, rather – of the three houses, Danielstown, Castle Trent, Mount Isabel, occurred in the same night. A fearful scarlet ate up the hard spring darkness; indeed, it seemed that an extra day, unreckoned, had come to abortive birth that these things might happen. It seemed, looking from east to west at the sky tall with scarlet, that the country itself was burning…"

"Gerda edged, breathlessly, round the door. Only me, she said, and sank with a puff of billowing skirts into the white fur rug at her patron’s feet. I’ve hadsuch a time; you must have thought I was lost! It made that buzzing, gone-away noise at me every time I dialled: you know how a telephone makes one feel, Lady Waters, quite in disgrace!…"

"He feels spikes everywhere and rushes to impale himself."

"He suggested that they should go to a film at the Polytechnic, a film with no nonsense in it, about lions."