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P.D. James

  • Theology was his main, almost his sole, intellectual interest and if his parishioners could not always understand his sermons they were happy enough to accept this as sure evidence of their vicar's erudition.

  • ... we live in a society which salves its conscience more by helping the interestingly unfortunate than the dull deserving ...

  • We English are good at forgiving our enemies; it releases us from the obligation of liking our friends.

  • If you are proposing to commit a sin it is as well to commit it with intelligence. Otherwise you are insulting God as well as defying Him, don't you think?

  • He was too reticent himself to have any stomach for the emotional prying which gives to many people the comforting illusion that they care.

  • Her clothes were beautifully made but so dateless that they were never actually in fashion ...

  • If all power corrupts, then a doctor, who literally holds life and death in his hands, must be at particular risk.

    • P.D. James,
    • "A Fictional Prognosis," in Dilys Winn, Murder Ink ()
  • All these problems [deciding cases] are easier for people who believe in God. Those of us who don't or can't have to do the best we can. That's what the law is, the best we can do. Human justice is imperfect, but it's the only justice we have.

  • His sleep was a sensuous gluttony of oblivion.

  • Death ... obliterates family resemblance as it does personality: there is no affinity between the living and the dead.

  • Jealousy, he thought, was as physical as fear; the same dryness of the mouth, the thudding heart, the restlessness which destroyed appetite and peace.

  • It was not ... that she was unaware of the frayed and ragged edges of life. She would merely iron them out with a firm hand and neatly hem them down.

  • Metaphysical speculation is about as pointless as a discussion on the meaning of one's lungs. They're for breathing.

  • ... the unforgivable was usually the most easily forgiven.

  • ... she only knew what she didn't want. Her needs had seemed to him reassuringly modest, her unwants had all the force of strong desire.

  • They were filled with the barely suppressed anger of those who have grabbed for themselves sufficient privilege to know just how little privilege they would ever achieve.

  • The box sanctified, conferred identity. The more familiar the face, the more to be trusted.

    • P.D. James,
    • on television's role in politics, Innocent Blood ()
  • Childhood is the one prison from which there's no escape, the one sentence from which there's no appeal. We all serve our time.

  • ... Gabriel has a personality like a hexagon. People need touch only one side for an illusion of closeness.

  • What was so terrible about grief was not grief itself, but that one got over it.

  • ... we can forgive anything as long as it isn't done to us.

  • As he resigned himself to the acidiae of mortal illness, he was beginning to acquire the foibles of old age: a liking for a small treat, a fussiness about routine, a reluctance to bother with even his oldest acquaintances, an indolence which makes even dressing and bathing a burden, a preoccupation with his bodily functions. He despised the half-man he had become, but even this self-disgust had the querulous resentment of senility.

  • They are, after all, one of the most graceful of life's fragile diversions.

    • P.D. James,
    • on birds, The Skull Beneath the Skin ()
  • [My father and his friends] believed in equality for women without troubling to acquire the basic domestic skills which would have made that equality possible.

  • ... I knew the facts of death before I knew the facts of life. There never was a time when I didn't see the skull beneath the skin.

  • A nation that can't remember its dead will soon cease to be worth dying for.

  • That's all one asks of a sermon. No possible relevance to anything but itself.

  • Of all the things that human beings did together, the sexual act was the one with the most various of reasons.

  • A politician is required to listen to humbug, talk humbug, condone humbug. The most we can hope for is that we don't actually believe it.

  • [He] offered to make a cup of tea, the British specific against disaster, grief and shock.

  • Old age makes caricatures of us all.

  • Suicide is the most private and mysterious of acts, inexplicable because the chief actor is never there to explain it.

  • ... he marveled anew at the infinite variety of marriage, that relationship at once so private and public, so hedged with convention and yet so anarchical.

  • ... gossip ... was like any other commodity in the marketplace. You received it only if you had something of value to give.

  • ... that was one of the things he deplored about the loss of religion, it meant that people elevated politics into a religious faith and that was dangerous.

  • Ambition, if it were to be savored, let alone achieved, had to be rooted in possibility.

  • The world is full of people who have lost faith: politicians who have lost faith in politics, social workers who have lost faith in social work, schoolteachers who have lost faith in teaching and, for all I know, policemen who have lost faith in policing and poets who have lost faith in poetry. It's a condition of faith that it gets lost from time to time, or at least mislaid.

  • Wars may be fought by decent men, but they're not won by them.

  • That's another aspect of the revolutionary struggle, getting to know people's decencies and using them against them.

  • It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.

  • What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.

    • P.D. James,
    • in Face ()
  • His main problem was apparently whether to wear his belt above or below his paunch. Above was said to indicate optimism, below a sign of depression.

  • ... solitude was still essential to him. He couldn't tolerate twenty-four hours in which the greater part wasn't spent entirely alone.

  • ... all refugees carry with them a small burden of guilt.

  • It's possible to fight intolerance, stupidity and fanaticism when they come separately. When you get all three together it's probably wiser to get out, if only to preserve your sanity.

  • For me, the dead remain dead. If I couldn't believe that, I don't think I could go on living.

  • Youth goes caparisoned in immortality.

  • Human kindness is like a defective tap: the first gush may be impressive, but the stream soon dries up.

  • There comes a time when every scientist, even God, has to write off an experiment.

  • Can we ever break free of the devices and desires of our own hearts? Might not our conscience be telling us what we most want to hear?

  • If from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.

  • Charm is often despised but I can never see why. No one has it who isn't capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn't false.

  • ... if our sex life were determined by our first youthful experiments, most of the world would be doomed to celibacy. In no area of human experience are human beings more convinced that something better can be had if only they persevere.

  • ... Christmas, that annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed.

  • Rosie is the latest and most successful of the television performers who sell salvation and do very well out of a commodity which is always in demand and which costs them nothing to supply.

  • No government can act in advance of the moral will of the people.

  • Generosity is a virtue for individuals, not governments. When governments are generous it is with other people's money, other people's safety, other people's future.

  • No literary form is more revealing, more spontaneous or more individual than a letter.

    • P.D. James,
    • in Olga Kenyon, 800 Years of Women's Letters ()
  • Once you have discovered what is happening, you can't pretend not to know, you can't abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility.

    • P.D. James,
    • in Molly Ivins, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead ()
  • I thought of inviting you to my other club but you know how it is. Lunching there is a useful way of reminding people that you're still alive, but the members will come up and congratulate you on the fact.

  • The tragedy of loss is not that we grieve, but that we cease to grieve, and then perhaps the dead are dead at last.

  • It's easy to get a reputation for wisdom. It's only necessary to live long, speak little and do less.

  • Work did bestow dignity, status, meaning. Wasn't that why people dreaded unemployment, why some men found retirement so traumatic?

  • Authors always take rejection badly. They equate it with infanticide.

  • She drew people to her like a lighted doorway.

  • I had an interest in death from an early age. It fascinated me. When I heard 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,' I thought, 'Did he fall or was he pushed?'

    • P.D. James,
    • in Paris Review ()
  • ... to look back on one's life is to experience the capriciousness of memory. ... the past is not static. It can be relived only in memory, and memory is a device for forgetting as well as remembering. It, too, is not immutable. It rediscovers, reinvents, reorganizes. Like a passage of prose it can be revised and repunctuated. To that extent, every autobiography is a work of fiction and every work of fiction an autobiography.

  • Children live in occupied territory. The brave and the foolhardy openly rebel against authority, whether harsh or benign. But most tread warily, outwardly accommodating themselves to alien mores and edicts while living in secret their iconoclastic and subversive lives.

  • There is no point in regretting any part of the past. The past can't now be altered, the future has yet to be lived, and consciously to experience every moment of the present is the only way to gain at least the illusion of immortality.

  • Perfect love may cast our fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love.

  • There are two options for any society: total prohibition as in a totalitarian state, or total license. Both avoid the ardours of decision. Both have the attraction of certainty. The difficult option is to decide where the line should be drawn and this, surely, is the responsiblity of any civilized and democratic country.

  • Books of quotations ... afford me one of the most undemanding but satisfying forms of reading pleasure.

  • A letter is paradoxically the most revealing and the most deceptive of confessional revelations. We all have our inconsistencies, prejudices, irrationalities which, although strongly felt at the time, may be transitory. A letter captures the mood of the moment. The transitory becomes immutably fixed, part of the evidence for the prosecution or the defence.

  • Murder is the unique crime, the only one for which we can never make reparation to the victim.

  • First-class travel, provided one hasn't to pay for it oneself, is the most insidiously addictive of life's luxuries.

  • ... however long we have to live, there are never enough springs.

  • ... read widely, not in order to copy someone else's style, but to learn to appreciate and recognize good writing and to see how the best writers have achieved their result. Poor writing is, unfortunately, infectious and should be avoided.

  • She was totally without religious faith but said that there was no point in being afraid of death since she wouldn't be there when it happened. None of us, of course, will be there when it happens, but it's being there before it happens that is the worrying part and whether we shall be there with mind intact or imprisoned in some limbo of pain, degradation and dependence.

  • The great tragedy of Alzheimer's disease, and the reason why we dread it, is that it leaves us with no defence, not even against those who love us.

  • What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give.

  • Creativity doesn't flourish in an atmosphere of despotism, coercion and fear.

    • P.D. James,
    • in The Sunday Times ()
  • ... he was a man whose absence was usually preferable to his presence.

  • ... the most successful marriages were always based on both partners feeling that they had done rather well for themselves.

  • How odd that sex should be so simple and love such a complication.

  • You never forget the people who were kind to you in childhood, do you, sir?

  • He wasn't a man who could tolerate being liked.

  • If you decide to do without a personal god it's illogical to saddle yourself with a legacy of Judeo-Christian sin. That way you suffer the psychological consequences of guilt without the consolation of absolution.

  • ... you'd like the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That must be the most futile oath anyone ever swears.

  • She had always found it difficult to believe what experience had taught her, that men and women could be physically beautiful without also possessing some comparable qualities of mind and spirit, that beauty could be wasted on the mundane, the ignorant or the stupid.

  • Whatever place she called home had to be immaculate before she left, as if this punctiliousness could guarantee that she would return safely.

  • Detective fiction ... confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe.

  • Publishers don't nurse you; they buy and sell you.

    • P.D. James
  • A picnic may well be a metaphor for life. The essentials for happiness are the right company, moderate if sanguine expectations and a reasonable standard of physical sustenance and comfort, the whole being bedeviled by the belief that there is always something better to be had if only one presses on.

    • P.D. James
  • Every island to a child is a treasure island.

  • God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.

  • Bereavement is like a serious illness. One dies or one survives, and the medicine is time ...

    • P.D. James,
    • title story, The Mistletoe Murder ()
  • All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.

    • P.D. James

P.D. James, English writer, civil servant

(1920)

Full name: Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James Whyte