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diavolobella's avatar

What are some of your favorite literary passages and why?

Asked by diavolobella (7925points) October 5th, 2010

I find that there are certain literary passages I enjoy reading repeatedly, even if I do not re-read the entire work. Sometimes this is because they are amusing, particularly well written or comforting in some way.

For example, when I’m feeling ill or have insomnia I find that reading the first portion of Chapter One of “Murder on the Orient Express” always makes me feel better and ready to drop off to sleep. There is something about the description of Hercule Poirot waiting on the freezing cold train platform in the wee hours of morning and then finally boarding to nod off in his warm compartment that relaxes me. I like the subject matter and the way that Agatha Christie so deftly describes the scene and the small details.

What are your most beloved literary passages and why? Are there particular ones you turn to when you are feeling a certain way or want to evoke a specific emotion?

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17 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Hmm, I don’t usually reread certain passages, but I do have comforting books that I will reread.

diavolobella's avatar

@marinelife. Even if you don’t re-read specific passages individually, are there parts of those books you like the best?

marinelife's avatar

@diavolobella Yes, I do have certain favorite parts.

mammal's avatar

Although it is a popular one, one passage that sticks in my mind are from the opening lines to Lolita;

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
My sin, my soul.
the tip of the tongue taking a trip
of three steps down the palate
to tap, at three, on the teeth.
Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning,
standing four feet ten in one sock.
She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school.
She was Dolores on the dotted line.
But in my arms _she was always Lolita._

mammal's avatar

Recently i read Down and Out in Paris and London George Orwell and this passage was particularly memorable;

fullness of my experience I will discourse to you of love. I will explain
to you what is the true meaning of love—what is the true sensibility,
the higher, more refined pleasure which is known to civilized men alone. I
will tell you of the happiest day of my life. Alas, but I am past the time
when I could know such happiness as that. It is gone for ever—the very
possibility, even the desire for it, are gone.

‘Listen, then. It was two years ago; my brother was in Paris—he is
a lawyer—and my parents had told him to find me and take me out to
dinner. We hate each other, my brother and I, but we preferred not to
disobey my parents. We dined, and at dinner he grew very drunk upon three
bottles of Bordeaux. I took him back to his hotel, and on the way I bought
a bottle of brandy, and when we had arrived I made my brother drink a
tumblerful of it—I told him it was something to make him sober. He drank
it, and immediately he fell down like somebody in a fit, dead drunk. I
lifted him up and propped his back against the bed; then I went through his
pockets. I found eleven hundred francs, and with that I hurried down the
stairs, jumped into a taxi, and escaped. My brother did not know my address
—I was safe.

‘Where does a man go when he has money? To the BORDELS, naturally. But
you do not suppose that I was going to waste my time on some vulgar
debauchery fit only for navvies? Confound it, one is a civilized man! I was
fastidious, exigeant, you understand, with a thousand francs in my pocket.
It was midnight before I found what I was looking for. I had fallen in with
a very smart youth of eighteen, dressed EN SMOKING and with his hair cut A
L’AMERICAINE, and we were talking in a quiet BISTRO away from the
boulevards. We understood one another well, that youth and I. We talked of
this and that, and discussed ways of diverting oneself. Presently we took a
taxi together and were driven away.

‘The taxi stopped in a narrow, solitary street with a single gas-lamp
flaring at the end. There were dark puddles among the stones. Down one side
ran the high, blank wall of a convent. My guide led me to a tall, ruinous
house with shuttered windows, and knocked several times at the door.
Presently there was a sound of footsteps and a shooting of bolts, and the
door opened a little. A hand came round the edge of it; it was a large,
crooked hand, that held itself palm upwards under our noses, demanding

‘My guide put his foot between the door and the step. “How much do you
want?” he said.

’“A thousand francs,” said a woman’s voice. “Pay up at once or you
don’t come in.”

‘I put a thousand francs into the hand and gave the remaining hundred
to my guide: he said good night and left me. I could hear the voice inside
counting the notes, and then a thin old crow of a woman in a black dress
put her nose out and regarded me suspiciously before letting me in. It was
very dark inside: I could see nothing except a flaring gas-jet that
illuminated a patch of plaster wall, throwing everything else into deeper
shadow. There was a smell of rats and dust. Without speaking, the old woman
lighted a candle at the gas-jet, then hobbled in front of me down a stone
passage to the top of a flight of stone steps.

’“VOILA!” she said; “go down into the cellar there and do what you
like. I shall see nothing, hear nothing, know nothing. You are free, you
understand—perfectly free.”

‘Ha, MESSIEURS, need I describe to YOU—FORCEMENT, you know it
yourselves—that shiver, half of terror and half of joy, that goes
through one at these moments? I crept down, feeling my way; I could hear my
breathing and the scraping of my shoes on the stones, otherwise all was
silence. At the bottom of the stairs my hand met an electric switch. I
turned it, and a great electrolier of twelve red globes flooded the cellar
with a red light. And behold, I was not in a cellar, but in a bedroom, a
great, rich, garish bedroom, coloured blood red from top to bottom. Figure
it to yourselves, MESSIEURS ET DAMES! Red carpet on the floor, red paper on
the walls, red plush on the chairs, even the ceiling red; everywhere red,
burning into the eyes. It was a heavy, stifling red, as though the light
were shining through bowls of blood. At the far end stood a huge, square
bed, with quilts red like the rest, and on it a girl was lying, dressed in
a frock of red velvet. At the sight of me she shrank away and tried to hide
her knees under the short dress.

‘I had halted by the door. “Come here, my chicken,” I called to her.

‘She gave a whimper of fright. With a bound I was beside the bed; she
tried to elude me, but I seized her by the throat—like this, do you see?
—tight! She struggled, she began to cry out for mercy, but I held her
fast, forcing back her head and staring down into her face. She was twenty
years old, perhaps; her face was the broad, dull face of a stupid child,
but it was coated with paint and powder, and her blue, stupid eyes, shining
in the red light, wore that shocked, distorted look that one sees nowhere
save in the eyes of these women. She was some peasant girl, doubtless, whom
her parents had sold into slavery.

‘Without another word I pulled her off the bed and threw her on to the
floor. And then I fell upon her like a tiger! Ah, the joy, the incomparable
rapture of that time! There, MESSIEURS ET DAMES, is what I would expound to
you; VOILA L’AMOUR! There is the true love, there is the only thing in the
world worth striving for; there is the thing beside which all your arts and
ideals, all your philosophies and creeds, all your fine words and high
attitudes, are as pale and profitless as ashes. When one has experienced
love—the true love—what is there in the world that seems more than a
mere ghost of joy?

‘More and more savagely I renewed the attack. Again and again the girl
tried to escape; she cried out for mercy anew, but I laughed at her.

’“Mercy!” I said, “do you suppose I have come here to show mercy? Do
you suppose I have paid a thousand francs for that?” I swear to you,
MESSIEURS ET DAMES, that if it were not for that accursed law that robs us
of our liberty, I would have murdered her at that moment.

‘Ah, how she screamed, with what bitter cries of agony. But there was
no one to hear them; down there under the streets of Paris we were as
secure as at the heart of a pyramid. Tears streamed down the girl’s face,
washing away the powder in long, dirty smears. Ah, that irrecoverable time!
You, MESSIEURS ET DAMES, you who have not cultivated the finer
sensibilities of love, for you such pleasure is almost beyond conception.
And I too, now that my youth is gone—ah, youth!—shall never again see
life so beautiful as that. It is finished.

‘Ah yes, it is gone—gone for ever. Ah, the poverty, the shortness,
the disappointment of human joy! For in reality—CAR EN REALITE, what is
the duration of the supreme moment of love. It is nothing, an instant, a
second perhaps. A second of ecstasy, and after that—dust, ashes,

‘And so, just for one instant, I captured the supreme happiness, the
highest and most refined emotion to which human beings can attain. And in
the same moment it was finished, and I was left—to what? All my
savagery, my passion, were scattered like the petals of a rose. I was left
cold and languid, full of vain regrets; in my revulsion I even felt a kind
of pity for the weeping girl on the floor. Is it not nauseous, that we
should be the prey of such mean emotions? I did not look at the girl again;
my sole thought was to get away. I hastened up the steps of the vault and
out into the street. It was dark and bitterly cold, the streets were empty,
the stones echoed under my heels with a hollow, lonely ring. All my money
was gone, I had not even the price of a taxi fare. I walked back alone to
my cold, solitary room.

‘But there, MESSIEURS ET DAMES, that is what I promised to expound to
you. That is Love. That was the happiest day of my life.’

mammal's avatar

Last one from the Alex Garland’s – The Beach;

All the excitement of arrival had given me something to think about, but it wasn’t enough to displace my major preoccupation. You can go to the most beautiful place in the world, but the sunlight shall not bleach they passion, nor the tide wash away thy desire. :)

BoBo1946's avatar

“One gets a bad habit of being unhappy.” George Eliot

diavolobella's avatar

There is also a passage in the book “September” by Rosamunde Pilcher, in which a man closely watches a woman effortlessly make him a delicious meal. He can’t cook himself and is not accustomed to being with someone who enjoys cooking, plus his encounter with her is entirely by accident. He is fascinated both by how delicious the food is and by her ease in creating it. He’s tired and jet lagged and the sense of comfort he gets from quietly watching her is very beautifully expressed. It reminds him of his childhood home. It so well written with a very pleasant sense of quietness and gentleness. I believe he describes the encounter as being somewhat like encountering an oasis in the desert. Every time I read it it reminds me of wonderfully prepared meals I’ve had in the past, mostly made by my Mom. It also makes me exceedingly hungry.

flutherother's avatar

We knew that soon we should come to Mandaroon. We made a meal, and Mandaroon appeared. Then the captain commanded, and the sailors loosed again the greater sails, and the ship turned and left the stream of Yann and came into a harbour beneath the ruddy walls of Mandaroon. Then while the sailors went and gathered fruits I came alone to the gate of Mandaroon. A few huts were outside it, in which lived the guard. A sentinel with a long white beard was standing in the gate, armed with a rusty pike. He wore large spectacles, which were covered with dust. Through the gate I saw the city. A deathly stillness was over all of it. The ways seemed untrodden, and moss was thick on doorsteps; in the market-place huddled figures lay asleep. A scent of incense came wafted through the gateway, of incense and burned poppies, and there was a hum of the echoes of distant bells. I said to the sentinel in the tongue of the region of Yann, ‘Why are they all asleep in this still city?’

From ‘Idle Days on the Yann’
By Lord Dunsany

This is a sample of Lord Dunsany’s writing which I love. It takes the imagination somewhere unexpected, full of colour, wistful beauty, humour and occasional fear.

Rarebear's avatar

The opening monologue from Richard III. “Now is the winter of our discontent…” I love it because it shows the depths of human deceit.

fundevogel's avatar

I love the bit at the beginning of Catch-22 about the Texan.

Then there was the educated Texan from Texas who looked like someone in Technicolor and felt, patriotically, that people of means—decent folk—should be given more votes than drifters, whores, criminals, degenerates, atheists and indecent folk—people without means.

Yossarian was unspringing rhythms in the letters the day they brought the Texan in. It was another quiet hot, untroubled day. The heat pressed heavily on the roof, stifling sound. Dunbar was lying motionless on his back again with his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a doll’s. he was working very hard at increasing his life span. He did it by cultivating boredom. Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his life span that Yossarian thought he was dead. They put the Texan in a bed in the middle of the ward, and it wasn’t long before he donated his views.

Dunbar sat up like a shot. “That’s it,” he cried excitedly. “There was something missing—all the time I knew there was something missing—and now I know what it is.” He banged his fist down into his palm. “No patriotism,” he declared.

“You’re right,” Yossarian shot back. “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for the decent folk? Who’s fighting for more votes for decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, either.”

The warrant officer on Yossarian’s left was unimpressed. “Who gives a shit?” He asked tiredly, and turned over on his side to go to sleep.

The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.

muppetish's avatar

I knew I had to grab these two books from my shelf for this post: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (chapter 2 “Seeing”) by Annie Dillard, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, respectively.

On the other hand, many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision. . . . a twenty-two-year-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’”

One of the assistants went up to Tereza; he was holding a dark blue ribbon.

She realized he had come to blindfold her. “No,” she said, shaking her head, “I want to watch.”

But that was not the real reason why she refused to be blindfolded. She was not one of those heroic types who are determiend to stare down the firing squad. She simply wanted to postpone death. Once her eyes were covered, she would be in death’s antechamber, from which there was no return.

The man did not force her; he merely took her arm. But as they walked across the open lawn, Tereza was unable to choose a tree. No one forced her to hurry, but she knew that in the end, she would not escape. Seeing a flowering chestnut ahead of her, she walked up and stopped in front of it. She leaned her back against its trunk and looked up. She saw the leaves resplendent in the sun; she heard the sounds of the city, faint and sweet, like thousands of distant violins.

The man raised his rifle.

Tereza felt her courage slipping away. Her weakness drove her to despair, but she could do nothing to counteract it. “But it wasn’t my choice,” she said.

He immediately lowered the barrel of his rifle and said in a gentle voice, “If it wasn’t your choice, we can’t do it. We haven’t the right.”

He said it kindly, as if apologizing to Tereza for not being able to shoot her if it was not her choice. His kindness tore at her heartstrings, and she turned her face to the bark of the tree and burst into tears.

diavolobella's avatar

These are all wonderful! So many new books I’m going to have to read! Thank you!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@fundevogel I’m hard-pressed to find passages in Catch-22 that I don’t fall in love with. The book was a masterpiece.

But I think my favorite part was the old Italian man at the whorehouse who argues with Yossarian about how Italy won the war!

If you haven’t already read it, you should check out Heller’s God Knows. I love that one, too. Maybe more, sometimes.

flutherother's avatar

“What needest with thy tribe’s black tents, Who hast the red pavilions of my heart”

Arab Love-Song
By Francis Thompson

fundevogel's avatar

@CyanoticWasp It is great. I remember the old man, but not that particular exchange. I was probably too distracted by Nately’s whore. I need to reread it so I’ll look forward to that part.

I started God Knows way back high school but didn’t get very far. I was still Christian and didn’t know what to think of it. Now that I have a proper appreciation for that sort of thing I’ll have to track down a copy.

Rhodentette's avatar

There’s a passage in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things about familiar stories that you can enter anywhere and inhabit them comfortably. I love that passage, it’s wonderfully evocative; wistful and happy at the same time.

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