An apt quotation is like a lamp which flings its light over the whole sentence.
–Letitia Elizabeth Landon
I love quotations, maxims, aphorisms, adages, sayings – poetry, prose or proverb, any set of well-chosen words will do. In my personal library I have a well-worn copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and my email inbox overflows every day with entries from various quote-a-day websites. My favorite books invariably have characters that are able to produce the appropriate quotation for any given occasion from memory, and some will cite the author and the source for good measure.
I think this love of quotations may have started when I was a child, reading L.M. Montgomery’s books. While I certainly never wanted to live the same lives as her heroines, seeing as those girls also had to study geometry and Latin, and do recitations in front of strangers, I was always secretly envious of their ability to summon an apt quotation for most of the situations they found themselves in.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is generally found in the children’s fiction section, but it’s definitely something that I appreciated more when I re-read it as an adult. Mrs. Who, one of the characters in the book finds it difficult to use words of her own, so she invariably speaks in quotations, sometimes in the original Latin or Greek. Fortunately, she does offer English translations.
For those occasions when, like Mrs. Who, I find it impossible to express what I mean in my own words, I’ll usually turn to The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations. This amazing book has helped me to personalize many a generic greeting card. It’s organized by theme, but you can also look up keywords and authors, in case you can’t remember exactly who said what.
Louise Penny’s character Inspector Gamache, along with everyone who lives in the village of Three Pines, are among the latest characters to go on my list of Book People I Want to Meet in Real Life. Not only do they all seem to always be enjoying some form of delicious food or drink, they effortlessly toss intriguing and appropriate quotations into everyday conversation.
I take a lot of pleasure in looking up quotations while I’m reading, to track down who wrote them. I like to tell myself that I’ll go back and read the entire poem or play that was the original source of the quotation. This hasn’t happened yet but perhaps someday….Good old Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is a handy tool for this purpose, but for those times when I’m away from home, or just too lazy to get up off the couch, I reach for my phone and use the Columbia Granger’s Poetry Database. It’s easy to access from the Library website, and it satisfies my need for accurate, reliable information as to who really said what.
As an alternative to accurate quoting, there’s They Never Said It: A book of fake quotes, misquotes and misleading attributions. This highly informative and entertaining book debunks some of the more well-known and frequently (mis)quoted statements that were never made.
While I know that I may never be one of those effortlessly witty individuals who has an appropriate turn of phrase for every occasion, I can and do revel in the words of others. And then I’ll quote them.