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Catherine Drinker Bowen

  • What the writer needs is an empty day ahead.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen
  • [Note posted in her study:] Will the reader turn the page?

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen
  • Chamber music — a conversation between friends.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in Kathleen Kimball, Robin Petersen, Kathleen Johnson, eds., The Music Lover's Quotation Book ()
  • ... one quality music, alone among the arts, possesses — a warm, a satisfying friendliness. All the other arts are lonely. We paint alone — my picture, my interpretation of the sky. My poem, my novel. But in music — ensemble music, not soloism — we share. No altruism this, for we receive tenfold what we give.

  • ... your concert-goer, though he feed upon symphony as a lamb upon milk, is no true lover if he play no instrument. Your true lover does more than admire the muse; he sweats a little in her service.

  • For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.

  • In early days, I tried not to give librarians any trouble, which was where I made my primary mistake. Librarians like to be given trouble; they exist for it, they are geared to it. For the location of a mislaid volume, an uncatalogued item, your good librarian has a ferret's nose. Give her a scent and she jumps the leash, her eye bright with battle.

  • History is, in its essence, exciting; to present it as dull is, to my mind, stark and unforgivable misrepresentation.

  • Writers seldom choose as friends those self-contained characters who are never in trouble, never unhappy or ill, never make mistakes, and always count their change when it is handed to them.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • In writing biography, fact and fiction shouldn't be mixed. And if they are, the fiction parts should be printed in red ink, the fact parts in black ink.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in Publishers Weekly ()
  • Biographers, by their very nature, want to know everything about everybody, dead or alive.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • Great artists treasure their time with a bitter and snarling miserliness.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • Artists often think they are going to die before their time. They seem to possess a heightened sense of the passing of the hours.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • One of the marks of true genius is a quality of abundance. A rich, rollicking abundance, enough to give indigestion to ordinary people. Great artists turn it out in rolls, in swatches. They cover whole ceilings with paintings, they chip out a mountainside in stone, they write not one novel but a shelf full. It follows that some of their work is better than other. As much as a third of it may be pretty bad. Shall we say this unevenness is the mark of their humanity — of their proud mortality as well as of their immortality?

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more, as I grow older.

  • A woman's biography — with about eight famous historical exceptions — so often turns out to be the story of a man and the woman who helped his career.

    • Catherine Drinker Bowen,
    • in Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green, eds., Notable American Women: The Modern Period ()
  • They [great individuals] accept old age, and thereby deepen the narrowed channel that remains open to them.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, U.S. historian, biographer, essayist

(1897 - 1973)