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Ellen Glasgow

  • Miss Gavin was emancipated, or believed herself to be, which amounts to the same thing.

  • Cynicism is a sure sign of youth.

  • Theories have nothing to do with life ...

  • [Reformers] might be classified as a distinct species having eyes in the back of their heads.

  • Too much principle is often more harmful than too little.

  • ... convictions ... are always getting in the way of opportunities.

  • There is no state of satisfaction, because to himself no man is a success.

  • ... it is wiser to be conventionally immoral than unconventionally moral. It isn't the immorality they object to, but the originality.

  • In her abhorrrence of a vacuum, Nature, for the furtherance of her favorite hobby, has often to resort to strange devices. If she could but understand that vacuity is sometimes better than superfluity!

  • First, I was an idealist (that was early — fools are born, not made, you know); next I was a realist; now I am a pessimist, and, by Jove! if things get much worse I'll become a humorist.

  • Given two tempers and the time, the ordinary marriage produces anarchy ...

  • A doctrine of endurance flows easily from our lips when we are enduring jam and our neighbors dry bread, and it is still possible for us to become resigned to the afflictions of our brother.

  • Borrowed illusions are better than none ...

  • ... idealism, that gaudy coloring matter of passion, fades when it is brought beneath the trenchant white light of knowledge. Ideals, like mountains, are best at a distance.

  • Conscience represents a fetich to which good people sacrifice their own happiness, bad people their neighbors'.

  • If I eat lobster, and if I don't eat lobster, I shall regret it.

  • Pessimism is the affectation of youth, the reality of age.

  • He had not made an uncivil remark since the close of the war — a line of conduct resulting less from what he felt to be due to others than from what he believed to be becoming in himself.

  • It was not the matter of the work, but the mind that went into it, that counted — and the man who was not content to do small things well would leave great things undone.

  • And where was happiness if it sprung not from the soil? Where contentment if it dwelt not near to Nature?

  • A farmer's got to be born, same as a fool. You can't make a corn pone out of flour dough by the twistin' of it.

  • What a man marries for's hard to tell ... an' what a woman marries for's past findin' out.

  • ... he who demands little gets it ...

  • I ain't never seen no head so level that it could bear the lettin' in of politics.

  • The government's like a mule, it's slow and it's sure; it's slow to turn, and it's sure to turn the way you don't want it.

  • Brain don't grow on blackberry vines.

  • ... a successful politician does not have convictions; he has emotions.

  • Ever since her childhood she had always begun to work at her chest of drawers when any sudden shock unnerved her. After a great happiness she took up her trowel and dug among the flowers of the garden; but when her heart was heavy within her, she shut her door and put her clothes to rights.

  • ... it is easy to convince a man who already thinks as you do ...

  • For what he saw was that behind the new wrongs were the old ones, and that the sinners of to-day were, perhaps, the sinned against of yesterday.

  • ... youth is always an enemy to the old ...

  • ... henceforth she must face her grief where the struggle is always hardest — in the place where each trivial object is attended by pleasant memories.

  • He's at the age when a man knows everything on earth an' generally knows it wrong.

  • ... it was Sarah's fate that an excess of virtue should have wrought all the evil of a positive vice. From the days of her infancy, when she had displayed in the cradle a power of self-denial at which her pastor had marveled, she had continued to sacrifice her inclinations in a manner which had rendered unendurable the lives around her. Her parents had succumbed to it; her husband had died of it; her children had resigned themselves to it or rebelled against it according to the quality of their moral fiber. All her life she had labored to make people happy, and the result of this exalted determination was a cowed and resentful family.

  • Her strength lay in the fact that never in her life had she admitted even to herself, that she had been in the wrong.

  • ... marriage is mostly puttin' up with things, I reckon, when it ain't makin' believe.

  • Spring, which germinated in the earth, moved also, with a strange restlessness, in the hearts of men and women. As the weeks passed, that inextinguishable hope, which mounts always with the rising sap, looked from their faces.

  • There is a terrible loneliness in the spring ...

  • I've liked life well enough, but I reckon I'll like death even better as soon as I've gotten used to the feel of it. ... I shouldn't be amazed to find it less lonely than life after I'm once safely settled.

  • Sorrow had sweetened in his soul until it had turned at last into sympathy.

  • ... you can't fit the same religion to every man any mo' than you can the same pair of breeches. The big man takes the big breeches an' the little man takes the small ones, an' it's jest the same with religion. It may be cut after one pattern, but it's might apt to get its shape from the wearer inside. Why, thar ain't any text so peaceable that it ain't drawn blood from somebody.

  • It was a perfect spring afternoon, and the air was filled with vague, roving scents, as if the earth exhaled the sweetness of hidden flowers.

  • Youth is the period of harsh judgments, and a man seldom learns until he reaches thirty that human nature is made up not of simples, but of compounds.

  • Like all born politicians, their eye was for the main chance rather than for the argument, and they found it easier to forswear a conviction than to forego a comfort.

  • ... Molly was in the mood when the need to talk — to let oneself go — is so great that the choice of a listener is little more than an accident.

  • ... I never saw the man yet that came out of politics as clean as he went into 'em ...

  • No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way you take it.

  • That was one of the worst things about suffering; it made one indifferent and insincere.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • "The Difference," The Shadowy Third ()
  • ... women love with their imagination and men with their senses.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • "The Difference," The Shadowy Third ()
  • ... there is no support so strong as the strength that enables one to stand alone.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • "The Difference," The Shadowy Third ()
  • For me, the novel is experience illumined by imagination ...

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • 1933 preface, Barren Ground ()
  • To a thrifty theologian, bent on redemption with economy, there are few points of ethics too fine-spun for splitting.

  • The nearer she came to death, the more, by some perversity of nature, did she enjoy living.

  • She had worked so hard for so many years that the habit had degenerated into a disease, and thrift had become a tyrant instead of a slave in her life.

  • The transcendental point of view, the habit of thought bred by communion with earth and sky, had refined the grain while it had roughened the husk.

  • [Her] spirit of fortitude has triumphed over the sense of futility.

  • Since her childhood it had seemed to her that the movement of all laws, even natural ones, was either suspended or accelerated on the Sabbath.

  • She was a pink, flabby, irresponsible person, adjusting comfortably the physical burden of too much flesh to the spiritual repose of too little mind. All the virtues and the vices of the 'poor white' had come to flower in her. ... As the mother of children so numerous that their father could not be trusted to remember their names, she still welcomed the yearly addition to her family with the moral serenity of a rabbit.

  • He went on endlessly, overcome by the facile volubility of a weak nature.

  • Though her capacity for emotion was dead, some diabolical sense of humor had sprung up like fireweed from the ruins. She could laugh at everything now, but it was ironic laughter.

  • Evidently, whatever else marriage might prevent, it was not a remedy for isolation of spirit.

  • The surest way of winning love is to look as if you didn't need it.

  • To the land, she had given her mind and heart with the abandonment that she had found disastrous in any human relation.

  • And she saw now that the strong impulses which had once wrecked her happiness were the forces that had enabled her to rebuild her life out of the ruins.

  • The pathos of life is worse than the tragedy.

  • Youth can never know the worst, she understood, because the worst that one can know is the end of expectancy.

  • The truth is I've got the land on my back, an' it's drivin' me. Land is a hard driver.

  • The hardest thing to believe when you're young is that people wil fight to stay in a rut, but not to get out of it.

  • To mourn was distressing, but to endeavor to mourn and fail was worse than distress.

  • ... the only difference between a rut and a grave, as someone had observed before him, is in their dimensions.

  • Where else on earth, he sighed, could people know as little and yet know it so fluently?

  • Mrs. Bredalbane ... laughed with the genial insolence which, it seemed to him, Nature had reserved for twin sisters.

  • It is human nature to overestimate the thing you've never had.

  • 'She says herself that all romantic feeling is dead in her,' Mrs. Upchurch resumed, after a moment of hard thinking. 'She isn't in the least like other girls of her age. I mean, you know, that the kind of things they enjoy seem silly to her. You wouldn't suspect this if you were talking to her because, as I've said, she is so shy, but she has determined that she will make something of her life now that romance is all over. That is why she has taken up landscape gardening. I think it is splendid of her, don't you?'

  • ... her ideas were so correct that it was sometimes difficult for her to make conversation. Talking must be easier and topics more plentiful, she imagined, when one is slightly unsound either in one's mind or in one's opinions.

  • ... audacity is of all qualities the most youthful.

  • But youth isn't happy. Youth is sadder than age.

  • It is difficult to deal successfully, he decided, with a woman whose feelings cannot be hurt.

  • You look as if you had lived on duty and it hadn't agreed with you.

  • ... Annabel, who frequently confused her dramatic instinct with her emotion, derived not a little pleasure from making a scene.

  • ... though pleasure may be purchasable, happiness cannot be bought for a price.

  • The suitable is the last thing we ever want.

  • ... you could have forgiven my committing a sin if you hadn't feared that I had a committed a pleasure as well.

  • Some women enjoy unhappy love affairs, you know, though I have always felt that they are greatly overrated.

  • For it seemed to him that the actual boundary between youth and age is the moment when one realizes that one cannot change life.

  • Though he had lost the fire of youth, he saw that the comfortable embers of age were still warm.

  • Women like to sit down with trouble as if it were knitting.

  • It is only by knowing how little life has in store for us that we are able to look on the bright side and avoid disappointment.

  • What was time itself but the bloom, the sheath enfolding experience? Within time, and with time alone, there was life — the gleam, the quiver, the heartbeat, the immeasurable joy and anguish of being ...

  • 1. Always wait between books for the springs to fill up and flow over. 2. Always preserve within a wild sanctuary, an inaccessible valley of reveries. 3. Always, and as far as it is possible, endeavor to touch life on every side; but keep the central vision of the mind, the inmost light, untouched and untouchable.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • "One Way to Write Novels," in The Saturday Review ()
  • Energy had fastened upon her like a disease.

  • ... a self-made martyr is a poor thing.

  • Nothing is more trying than nerves to people who have none.

  • Happiness is a hardy annual.

  • By our moral code, my dear, an appearance of error is punished more severely than error itself.

  • Nobody, not even the old, not even the despairing, wished to come to an end in time or in eternity.

  • If broken hearts could kill, the earth would be as dead as the moon.

  • What fools people are when they think they can make two lives belong together by saying words over them.

  • It is only in the heart that anything really happens.

  • Life may take away happiness. But it can't take away having had it.

  • True goodness is an inward grace, not an outward necessity.

  • ... I have little faith in the theory that organized killing is the best prelude to peace.

  • ... anger and jealousy are spasms of the nerves, not of the heart.

  • To drink for pleasure may be a distraction, but to drink from misery is always a danger.

  • No, one couldn't make a revolution, one couldn't even start a riot, with sheep that asked only for better browsing.

  • There is only one force stronger than selfishness, and that is stupidity.

  • ... there are times when life surprises one, and anything may happen, even what one had hoped for.

  • Give the young half a chance and they will create their own future, they will even create their own heaven and earth.

  • ... he was a rather commonplace youth at bottom, with more behavior than brains. In a democracy, and perhaps anywhere else, it was safer to be average.

  • Spring was running in a thin green flame over the Valley.

  • No idea is so antiquated that it was not once modern. No idea is so modern that it will not someday be antiquated.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • address to the Modern Language Association ()
  • To seize the flying thought before it escapes us is our only touch with reality.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • address to the Modern Language Association ()
  • Grandpa says we've got everything to make us happy but happiness.

  • Dignity is an anachronism.

  • His wife could observe his thoughts as plainly as if they were exotic goldfish swimming in a glass bowl; but she continued to regard him with the serene tolerance of the completely disillusioned.

  • ... in her sensible way she was really attached to him, as one becomes attached to a bed, however uncomfortable, in which one has slept, or tried vainly to sleep, for more than fifty years.

  • Passion alone could destroy passion. All the thinking in the world could not make so much as a dent in its surface.

  • We didn't talk so much about happiness in my day. When it came, we were grateful for it, and, I suppose, a little went farther than it does nowadays. We may have been all wrong in our ideas, but we were brought up to think other things more important than happiness.

  • It's amazing, Asa said to himself, that hardness and sentimentality, as close as streaks of fat and lean, can run through a character.

  • ... it was a bitter truth of experience, she perceived with sudden insight, that the shape of things returns again and again in the same pattern.

  • No matter how vital experience might be while you lived it, no sooner was it ended and dead than it became as lifeless as the piles of dry dust in a school history book.

  • Words, like acts, become stale when they are repeated.

  • ... nations decay from within more often than they surrender to outward assault.

  • It would appear, from the best examples, that the proper way of beginning a preface to one's work is with a humble apology for having written at all.

  • ... for my own purpose, I defined the art of fiction as experience illuminated.

  • ... irony is an indispensable ingredient of the critical vision; it is the safest antidote to sentimental decay.

  • ... to be honest and yet popular is almost as difficult in literature as it is in life.

  • There is in every human being, I think, a native country of the mind, where, protected by inaccessible barriers, the sensitive dream life may exist safely.

  • ... the old alone have finality. What is true of the young today may be false tomorrow. They are enveloped in emotion; and emotion as a state of being is fluent and evanescent.

  • I have written chiefly because, though I have often dreaded the necessity, I have found it more painful, in the end, not to write.

  • It is no exaggeration to say that I feel younger at sixty than I felt at twenty ...

  • ... the great novels have marched with the years. They are the contemporaries of time.

  • Nothing, except the weather report or a general maxim of conduct, is so unsafe to rely upon as a theory of fiction.

  • All change is not growth; all movement is not forward.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • in Barbara Jean Ringheim, Ellen Glasgow's Interpretation of Human Action and Ethics As Reflected in Her Novels and Essays ()
  • But not until I was seven or more, did I begin to pray every night, 'O God, let me write books! Please, God, let me write books!'

  • To teach one's self is to be forced to learn twice.

  • I liked human beings, but I did not love human nature.

  • I revolted from sentimentality, less because it was false than because it was cruel.

  • Surely the novel should be a form of art — but art was not enough. It must contain not only the perfection of art, but the imperfection of nature.

  • Of one thing alone I am very sure: it is a law of our nature that the memory of longing should survive the more fugitive memory of fulfillment.

  • ... the life of the mind is reality, and love without romantic illumination is a spiritless matter.

  • A tragic irony of life is that we so often achieve success or financial independence after the chief reason for which we sought it has passed away.

  • But there is, I have learned, no permanent escape from the past. It may be an unrecognized law of our nature that we should be drawn back, inevitably, to the place where we have suffered most.

  • The worst thing about war is that so many people enjoy it.

  • ... America has enjoyed the doubtful blessing of a single-track mind.

  • Nothing is more consuming, or more illogical, than the desire for remembrance.

  • Youth is the season of tragedy and despair. Youth is the time when one's whole life is entangled in a web of identity, in a perpetual maze of seeking and of finding, of passion and of disillusion, of vague longings and of nameless griefs, of pity that is a blade in the heart, and of 'all the little emptiness of love.'

  • Only on the surface of things have I ever trod the beaten path. So long as I could keep from hurting anyone else, I have lived, as completely as it was possible, the life of my choice. I have been free. ... I have done the work I wished to do for the sake of that work alone.

  • The hardest thing for me is the sense of impermanence. All passes; nothing returns.

  • Last night the stars were magnificent — Pegasus and Andromeda faced me brilliantly when I lifted my shade, so I went down and had a friendly reunion with the constellations ... I get a wonderful peace and the most exquisite pleasure from my friendship with the stars.

  • And I am simply delighted that you have a Springer spaniel. That is the perfect final touch to our friendship. Do you know there is always a barrier between me and any man or woman who does not like dogs ...

  • It seems to me that this is the true test for poetry: — that it should go beneath experience, as prose can never do, and awaken an apprehension of things we have never, and can never, know in the actuality.

  • Did you ever stop to think that a writer will spend three years, or many more, on a book that the average reader will skim through in a few hours?

  • Life has taught me that the greatest tragedy is not to die too soon but to live too long.

  • Few forms of life are so engaging as birds.

  • There is no monster more destructive than the inventive mind that has outstripped philosophy.

  • I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.

  • It is lovely, when I forget all birthdays, including my own, to find that somebody remembers me.

  • Violence commands both literature and life, and violence is always crude and distorted.

  • But, of course only morons would ever think or speak of themselves as intellectuals. That's why they all look so sad.

  • Experience has taught me that the only cruelties people condemn are those with which they do not happen to be familiar.

  • So long as one is able to pose one has still much to learn about suffering.

  • Knowledge, like experience, is valid in fiction only after it has dissolved and filtered down through the imagination into reality.

  • What depresses me is the inevitable way the second rate forges ahead and the deserving is left behind.

  • I shouldn't mind it if I saw the admirable sweep on to success, or immortality, but always it seems to be the ordinary, the vulgar, and the average, or the lower average, that triumphs. Nothing would astonish me, after all these years, except to be understood.

  • ... the older I grow the more earnestly I feel that the few intense joys of childhood are the best that life has to give.

  • The share of the sympathetic publisher in the author's success — the true success so different from the ephemeral — is apt to be overlooked in these blatant days, so it is just as well that some of us should keep it in mind.

  • Yes, I learned long ago that the only satisfaction of authorship lies in finding the very few who understand what we mean. As for outside rewards, there is not one that I have ever discovered.

  • One cannot lay a foundation by scattering stones, nor is a reputation for good work to be got by strewing volumes about the world ...

  • Cruelty, I truly believe, is the one and only sin.

  • The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg — not by smashing it.

    • Ellen Glasgow

Ellen Glasgow, U.S. novelist

(1873 - 1945)

Full name: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow.