50 Quotes from 50 Classics

50 Quotes from 50 Classics

I spent a lot of time in December amassing, and then culling, unforgettable quotes from 50 classics that appear on the List of 100 Greatest Books of All Time. Here is the result:

50 Quotes from 50 Classics” (Headstuff)

Some of these quotes were easy to select. For example, the Wuthering Heights quote I chose is practically a cliché at this point, but it is literally the only line I liked out of the entire book. Others were much more difficult to judge the “best” out of all the pretty things that particular author wrote at us in his or her most famous work. Dante comes to mind, as do Gabriel García Márquez and Jane Austen. They’re just too Great to make life any easier for the rest of us.

Enjoy the quotes at your leisure. Be warned, though: some of them are not representative samples. In other words, the merit of a specific quote is not necessarily indicative of the quality you’ll see in the rest of the book—like my Wuthering Heights example above. Another example: I may have perked up for a minute or two reading The Aeneid, but I yawned the rest of the way. Don’t let those tricky tricksters trick you with their shiny word traps.

Oh—and happy reading!

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6 thoughts on “50 Quotes from 50 Classics

  1. The Madame Bovary quote always amazes me – whenever it appears it’s worded so differently. It’s my favourite quote, but I know it as…

    “Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

    I still love that wording best. One day I must look at the original French and see what exactly it says… but I’d be afraid of being disappointed.

    • Yes! I was going to say this in the post, but the quotes from the French novels were some of the hardest to choose! I had completely different quotes selected, but they sounded silly in English. The original French of the Madame Bovary quote (if you can bear to read it!) is “La parole humaine est comme un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies à faire danser les ours, quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles.” So the translators seem to be in disagreement mainly over the sense of “attendrir.”

      • Indeed! And I can see why now! Really it could be translated to mean almost anything in that context.

        I once did a comparison of a sentence from Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, using three well-known translations – the differences were amazing! The meaning was the same in all three but the flow was totally different in each. That’s what makes reading translations so tricky – you can never be sure how much of what you’re loving/hating is down to the author or the translator…

      • Do you have the Stendhal comparison written up on your blog? I’d be really interested to read it!

        I try to research different translations ahead of time and usually pick the one most often described as “faithful but readable.” It worked really well for Anna Karenina (Pevear & Volokhonsky) and Don Quixote (Edith Grossman).

      • Yes, I did a post about it way back… https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/lost-in-translation/

        It’s a bit easier when the books are on Kindle – at least you can look at the samples. Or of course read a bit of the paper version if you’re in a bookshop. But buying paperbacks online is a bit of a leap in the dark. And in my post, I was mentioning modern books too, where usually only one translation is available, so it’s impossible to know how good it is really, unless you can also read the original – in which case why would you be reading a translation??

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