Doors opening wherever she turned

Alan Bennett was born in Leeds and I liked this quotation chalked on a board in a café there.   It's how I feel most days. 'What she was finding also was how one book lead to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the...

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Visit to the Leeds Library

By luck, a short visit to Leeds coincided with a monthly guided tour of the Leeds Library, one of the oldest subscription libraries in Britain.  Founded in 1768, it soon outgrew its rented premises, and in 1808 built its own elegant, neoclassical building in what was...

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A beautiful reading room

When visiting Leeds, my original university town, I decided to drop in on a few libraries, including the hulking Victorian Central Library with its splendid tiled hall which is now a café.  In wandering randomly from floor to floor, I came across a reading room on the...

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A visit to the Brontes

When I read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth I had a yearning to visit the Wordsworth homes in the Lake District, and by extension, the Bronte home in Haworth, Yorkshire. When invited to Leeds to speak at my old university, I set aside a day, taking the bus from...

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A real craving of nature

Branwell Bronte, the sister-eclipsed son in a family of six, caused them and his father great heartache through alcoholism and opium addiction, dying young.  However, in a saner moment, he wrote to Wordsworth of another, healthier craving. 'I read for the same reason...

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The Wuthering Heights manuscript

While visiting the Bronte Parsonage, I was touched by a project led by the artist Clare Twomey, to celebrate the 200th anniversary next year of Emily Bronte's birth. The manuscript of Wuthering Heights having been lost, the project seeks to recreate it sentence by...

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A quote to note

Drawing on thousands of sparkling, moving and inspiring quotations amassed during decades of attentive reading. These will be added in the days and months ahead, to delight the mind and spirit, take care of your gift-giving needs, and improve the world’s Powerpoint presentations beyond belief. And coming soon, in searchable form.

A thousand years of history

On the centenary of the October Revolution, I wonder how Russians today would feel about this terse statement by Grossman. 'Russia has seen many things during the one thousand years of its history. There is only one thing that Russia has not seen in one thousand years...

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Communing with the cosmos

Glorious moment in this splendid, human novel: an army officer camped somewhere on the steppe enjoys a moment of embracing the magnificence of the night sky even while attending to more basic needs.  I liked the naturalness and philosophic communing with the cosmos in...

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Good versus kind

The 800 pages of Grossman's splendid Life and Fate is occasionally interlarded with heartfelt asides by the author, including pleas for simple, spontaneous kindness as opposed to state-sponsored, ideologically gift-wrapped 'good' with a capital 'G'.  Sometimes he...

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Like atoms of radium

A fine metaphor for dots of kindness shining through darkness; Grossman's hope for the future is largely vested in the fact that the great machinery of totalitarian brutality has failed to extinguish these random sparks of human warmth. 'Even at the most terrible...

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Metaphorically speaking

More marvelous metaphors on Mondays … Monday, metaphor day.

Thought like a risen moon

This one puzzles me a little - the moon a sheet of silver calm yet the water turbulent, which would discombobulate the image of the moon on the water. 'And whenever she thought of him, the thought spread round it, like the risen moon on turbulent waters, a sheet of...

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Bright as lamps, haggard as …

Never thought of dawn as being haggard, though an insomniac crawling into it after a restless night might be.  'Bright as lamps' is obvious but we never use it. May your eyes be bright and may you never feel haggard as dawn. See also examples of lamps as luminous...

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Like a housemaid’s fancies

A delightful way to convey disorderly thoughts, and I like that 'languishing and ogling'. '... she could scarcely keep her ideas in order.  They were languishing and ogling like a housemaid's fancies.' Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an...

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Genius as lighthouse beams

An interesting metaphor to describe the haphazard workings of genius, appearing like a beam illuminating the surrounding darkness at intervals, but without the pulsing regularity of the lighthouse.  And in between their dazzling flashes, the genius withdraws into...

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Bringing you pithy, evocative imagery in the form of three-legged microcosms of meaning. Updated on Tuesdays … Tuesday, triologism day!  You’ll never see this day of the week in the same way again.

Cream-coloured ponies

These ponies trot up to Orlando's front door within days of the many court cases arrayed against her over a century or so being settled in her favour.  This gives her formal recognition as a living being, as opposed to a dead one, of which she had been accused,...

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Spectre-pale beech

Orlando has a candid relationship with her often absent husband Bonthrop.  He visits when he can, and sometimes when he's needed, which is to say when the wind doesn't allow him to persist in his endless quest to sail around a treacherous cape. Here she is overwhelmed...

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Slow-falling arrow

A name tumbling from the sky like a 'slow-falling arrow', belonging to and bringing with it her husband whose visits coincide with dead calms at sea allowing him no headway in his cape-conquering quest. And always the steel-blue feather, perhaps the same that Orlando...

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Dust-choked gullet

A grasshopper's whirr, trilled from his 'dust-choked gullet', being interpreted by the hearer, as the green creature builds and reinforces his straw home. Grasshoppers are one of my favourite insects and I choose to see them as augurs of happiness and positive...

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Spider-thin boats

What a delicate detail, to describe these boats on the Serpentine as 'spider-thin'. It makes me think of those hair-limbed creatures which are so light they appear to walk on water. '(She stood on the banks of the Serpentine. It was a bronze colour; spider-thin boats...

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Tent-shaped sides

This tent-like landscape reminds me of the Costa Rican volcano in Arenal which also looks as if a volcanic shake could make the coating of forest slide down like a crow surfing down a steel hand-rail. 'Here the landscape ... shook itself, heaped itself, let all this...

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Sharing words that sparkle, appeal, intrigue or otherwise grab me, including those in other languages.  And adoring alliteration, new words will be added on Wednesdays… Wednesday, word day.   See you back here then.

The valley of Tempe

The valley of Tempe in Greece is often used in Latin poetry to denote a beautiful place. '... now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall...' Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando, ed. Rachel Bowlby, Oxford: World's Classics, 1992, p. 79 and...


One of those things you've probably seen on a hundred old buildings and never noticed.  I think I recently saw - and noticed - some rather ornate wall-mounted versions in the old town of Geneva. 'Iron containers for grease or oil to burn as lamps; usually mounted on...


A rarely used word (at least in the circles in which I move) referring to the area near or surrounding a place, or to one's usual haunts.  Hard to imagine using it nowadays except in jest. 'The street lanterns in these purlieus were few at most... ' '... the irregular...


An unforgettable name for a small vessel carrying goods for sale to ships in port.  The dictionary assures me that 'bum' is in the sense of a 'vagrant' not a part of the British anatomy.  It seems to be of late 17th century origin, and original referred to a boat...


Though this clearly derives from the French orgueil, I had never seen it in this anglicised version.  No wonder, according to the dictionary it had become rare by the 16th century until it was revived by the Victorian writers Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott as a...


The handle of a weapon or tool.  Such a simple word, how come I never came across it before?  Did you?

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  1. Jess

    Submitting one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes:

    “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different”

    • beatriceotto

      Wonderful quotation indeed, many thanks for sharing. At last, the meaning of life.

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