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Iris Origo


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  • I believe, not theoretically, but from direct personal experience, that very few of the things that happen to us are purposeless or accidental (and this includes suffering and grief — even that of others), and that sometimes one catches a glimpse of the link between these happenings. I believe — even when I am myself blind and deaf, or even indifferent — in the existence of a mystery ...

    • Iris Origo
  • [On writing biography:] ... every human life is at once so complex and so simple, so perplexing and so clear, so superficial and so profound, that any attempt to present it as a unified, consistent whole, to enclose it within a rigid frame, inevitably tempts one to cheat or to falsify.

  • ... whereas in childhood ... it was the parents' judgement that mattered to the child, later on the situation becomes reversed: it is then that the opinions of one's grown-up children become what matters, as well as their kindness.

  • ... I do not think that one is likely to write a good biography unless one feels some sympathy with its subject ...

  • I write because, exacting as it may be to do so, it is still more difficult to refrain, and because — however conscious of one's limitations one may be — there is always at the back of one's mind an irrational hope that this next book will be different: it will be the rounded achievement, the complete fulfilment. It never has been: yet I am still writing.

  • [On writing biography:] If you wish to see a person you must not start by seeing through him.

  • ... while it is certainly the biographer's business to describe the foibles, passions and idiosyncrasies which make his subject a person, his work will be very meagre if these individual traits are not also seen as part of a universal drama — for each man's life is also the story of Everyman.

  • Behind each biography there should always be a rich treasury of unformulated knowledge, a tapestry that has not been unrolled.

  • The biographer's real business — if it is not too arrogant to say so — is simply this: to bring the dead to life.

  • Just as, in travel, one may miss seeing the sunset because one cannot find the ticket-office or is afraid of missing the train, so in even the closest human relationships a vast amount of time and of affection is drained away in minor misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and failures in consideration or understanding.

Iris Origo, English-Irish writer, biographer

(1902 - 1998)

Full name: Iris Margaret Cutting Origo, Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, DBE.