Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Elizabeth Bowen, Full name Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen

Anglo-Irish Novelist, Short-Story Writer

"Solitary and farouche people don't have relationships; they are quite unrelatable."

"Somebody who had come in late had brought him, with an apology, and had whispered an explanation into somebody else’s ear. They had seated him, and he had sat, looking propped-up and a little dejected, like an umbrella that an absent-minded caller had brought into the drawing-room."

"Something disturbed her with its insistence, some humming at the back of her mind that was not a mind."

"Spezia offered Leopold almost nothing: his precocity devoured itself there, rejecting the steep sunny coast and nibbling blue edge of the sea that had drowned Shelley. His spirit became crustacean under douches of culture and mild philosophic chat from his Uncle Dee, who was cultured rather than erudite."

"Square cattle moved in the fields like saints, with a mindless certainty. Single trees, on a rath, at the turn of the road, drew up light at their roots. Only the massed trees – spread like a rug to dull some keenness, break some contact between self and senses perilous to the routine of living – only the trees of the demesne were dark, exhaling darkness. Down among them, dusk would stream up the paths ahead, lie stagnant over the lawns, would mount in the tank of garden, heightening the walls, dulling the borders like a rain of ashes. Dusk would lie where one looked as though it were in one’s eyes, as though the fountain of darkness were in one’s own perception. Seen from above, the house in its pit of trees seemed a very reservoir of obscurity; from the doors one must come out stained with it. And the kitchen smoke, lying over the vague trees doubtfully, seemed to be the very fume of living."

"That is partly why women marry - to keep up the fiction of being in the hub of things."

"The best that an individual can do is to concentrate on what he or she can do, in the course of a burning effort to do it better."

"The cat came nimbling back on the tips of its paws and looked at her scornfully. She climbed on a step-ladder to loop back the curtains at the top and let in more light, then she felt dizzy up there and screamed. Her husband, who happened to be passing across the kitchen, had to come in and help her down again. He kissed her – they had been married so recently – but she struggled from his arms in a preoccupied way, like a cat, and hurried away to blow dust off a fern."

"The chocolate gates were streaked a bright green from neglect and opened reluctantly, leaving green dust on the hands. In autumn when the new tenants arrived the drive was matted over with lime leaves that sent up a sodden odor, deadening the footsteps."

"The day was featureless, a stock pattern day of late summer, blandly insensitive to their imprints. The yellow sun – slanting in under the blinds on full bosomed silver, hands balancing Worcester, dogs poking up wistfully from under the cloth – seemed old, used, filtering from the surplus of some happy fulfillment; while, unapproachably elsewhere, something went by without them."

"The dining-room was dark red, with a smoky ceiling, and Gerald said afterwards he had felt like a disease in a liver. When the blancmange came in it lay down with a sob and Miss Thompson frowned at it."

"The drawing-room, however, was still rich with strange cigarette-smoke; Cecilia, in black, wandered among the furniture with the air of not having yet readjusted herself to solitude."

"The happy passive nature, locked up with itself like a mirror in an airy room, reflects what goes on but demands not to be approached."

"The importance to the writer of first writing must be out of all proportion of the actual value of what is written."

"The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet - when they do meet, their victims lie strewn all round."

"The news crept down streets from door to door like a dull wind, fingering the nerves, pausing… Mr. Fogarty dropped his glass and stood bent some time like an animal, chin on the mantelpiece. Philosophy did not help; in his thickening brain actuality turned like a mill-wheel. His wife, magnificent in her disbelief, ran out, wisps blowing, round the square and through the vindictively silent town."

"The parrot ambled slowly through the air, with, as it were the jog of a fat pony translated into flight."

"The restaurant was waning, indifferently relaxing its illusion: for the late-comers a private illusion took its place. Their table seemed to stand on their own carpet; they had a sensation of custom, sedateness, of being inside small walls, as though dining at home again after her journey. She told him about her Mount Morris solitary suppers, in the middle of the library, the rim of the tray just not touching the base of the lamp... the fire behind her back softly falling in on its own ash-no it had not been possible to feel lonely among those feeling things."

"The slight sense of degeneracy induced by reading novels before luncheon"

"The straight sunny tombstones looked sociable, fresh wreaths were laid on the breasts of the graves. You could almost see the dead sitting up holding their flowers, like invalids on a visiting-day, waiting to hear the music. Only the very new dead, under raw earth with no tombstones, lay flat in despair…"

"The third day was nearly all wet, though it cleared towards evening and a fine sunset crimsoned the canal. Today it had come on about lunch time, a different rain; finer, gentler, more inexorable, that made the air woolly, left a muddy taste in one’s mouth and dulled everything."

"The wish to lead out one's lover must be a tribal feeling; the wish to be seen as loved is part of one's self-respect."

"Their hands, swinging, touched lightly now and then; their nearness was as natural as the June day."

"There must be something she wanted; and that therefore she was no lady."

"There was something so very experienced about the tip of her nose that Lois felt went flat. She felt that she herself must be like a cake in which the flour had been forgotten."

"They met the white stare of a cottage, stared and turned."

"They none of them wanted Terry to feel how his movements were sneaking movements: when they met him creeping about by himself they would either ignore him or say: Where are you off to? jocosely and loudly, to hide the fact of their knowing he didn’t know."

"They swerved north a little at Uxbridge and spun into London by the great empty bye-pass of Western Avenue. Small new shops stood distracted among the buttercups; in the distance aërial glassy white factories were beginning to go up among forlorn may trees, branch lines and rusty girders: here and there one was starting to build Jerusalem. Emmeline smiled at London, where her friends still slept under the haze of shining smoke."

"They were fawn kid, very clean inside (so probably new), low at the insteps, with slim red heels and a pattern in scarlet leather across the strap and over the toe-cap. They were tiny (size three or three-and-a-half) and looked capable solely of an ineffectual, somehow alluring totter."

"This first phase of autumn was lovely; decay first made itself felt as an extreme sweetness: with just such a touch of delicious morbidity a lover might contemplate the idea of death… His hand with the twitching pen went rushing from line to line at a fever-high pace. He did not once pause. The pen rushed the hand along under some terrific compulsion, as though something, not thought, vital, were being drained out o him through the point of the pen. Words sprang to their places with deadly complicity, knowing each other too well . . . Once or twice when a clinker fell in the stove, or the outside staircase unaccountably creaked as though a foot were upon it, he looked up, the tyrannic pen staggered, he looked round the room with its immutable fixtures as though he were a ghost –"

"This is very nice, said Mr. Barlow, looking at the Contessina. She had on a dress of heliotrope organdie, with a fichu folded across the bosom with that best discretion for the display of pretty curves. Her skin was very dark against the heliotrope, as fresh as a young petal, as brown as old, old ivory."

"Thomas proceeded conversationally like the impeccable dentist with an infinitesimally fine instrument, choosing his area, tapping within it nearer and nearer, withdrawing at a suggestion before there had been time for a wince. He specialized in a particular kind of friendship with that eight-limbed, inscrutable, treacherous creature, the happily-married couple; adapting himself closely and lightly to the composite personality. An indifference to, an apparent unconsciousness of, life in some aspects armored him against embarrassments. As Janet said, he would follow one into one’s bedroom without noticing. Yet the too obvious ‘tact’, she said, was the literal word for his quality. Thomas was all finger-tips."

"To-day the houses seemed taller and farther apart; the street wider and full of bright, clear light that cast no shadows and was never sunshine. Under archways and between the houses the distances had a curious transparency, as though they had been painted upon glass. Against the luminous and indeterminate sky the Abbey tower rose distinct and delicate."

"Towards the end of April, a breath from the north blew cold down Milan platforms to meet the returning traveler. Uncertain thoughts of home filled the station restaurant where the English sat lunching uneasily, facing the clock."

"Visitors took form gradually in his household, coming out of a haze of rumor, and seemed but lightly, pleasantly superimposed on the vital pattern till a departure tore great shreds from the season’s texture… There was to be no opportunity for what he must not say to be rather painfully not said."

"Was she now to be clapped down under an adjective, to crawl round life-long inside some quality like a fly in a tumbler?"

"When her head fell back in despair, while the man devoured her face horribly, one watched her forgotten arm hang down over his shoulder: the tips of the fingers twitched. What was she thinking about, what did women think about – then?"

"Who is ever adequate? We all create situations each other can't live up to, then break our hearts at them because they don't."

"With all that Miss Selby scarcely ever went out: wasn’t it funny? She had not ‘done’ any of the places; she was ‘keeping’ Rome. For when, for whom, was she keeping it? One didn’t like to ask. That was Miss Selby’s secret, which, like a soap-bubble at the end of a pipe, would bulge, subside, waver, wobble iridescently, and subside again. Later, among the trees of the Pincio it transpired that she was keeping Rome for Somebody. Ah, really? Miss Phelps found this beautiful. Miss Selby interrupted her sight to confess that she allowed herself daily small rations; she would stand looking, for instance, through the railings of the Forum without going in."

"Writers do not find subjects; subjects find them."

"You must show him your monkey: I am sure he will like that."