Sunday, February 01, 2015


Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, about a housewife suffering vague existential unease, begins with a Walt Whitman quote:  But where is what I started for so long ago? / And why is it yet unfound?

A Matisse illustration for Charles d'Orleans
The companion novel Mr. Bridge begins with a quote from Wallace Stevens’s “Tea At the Palaz of Hoon:”
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina begins with an epigraph from James Baldwin: “People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.”

I love the Thomas de Quincey quote Billy Collins chose for Nine Horses: “See, then, that bronze equestrian statue. The cruel rider has kept the bit in the horse’s mouth for two centuries. Unbridle him for a minute, if you please, and wash his mouth with water.”

The epigraph to Collins’s Horoscopes for the Dead is also terrific - from Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader: “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.” 

Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas starts with an epigraph from short story writer Augusto Monterroso: “If the flow is slow enough and you have a good bicycle, or a horse, it is possible to bathe twice (or even three times, should your personal hygiene so require) in the same river.”

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq uses an epigraph from medieval poet and duke Charles d’Orleans, who wrote most of his poems while a prisoner:
“The world is weary of me, / And I am weary of it.”

The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about the German poet Novalis, starts with a quote from Novalis himself: “Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.” 

Edna O’Brien’s Down By the River starts with an epigraph from James Joyce’s Ulysses that makes me think I need to take another crack at Ulysses:
Darkness is our souls do you not think?
Flutier. Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins.

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