Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Theodore Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt.

Excuse the "misspellings" and "incorrect grammar" - these quotes are taken directly from my copy of the book and today's grammar/spelling has changed drastically (and regrettably) since this book was originally published.

"...her heart might be lonely, but her lips continued to sing."

"Color was not lost upon her. That wonderful radiance which fills the western sky at evening touched and unburdened her heart."

"...if all beauty were passing, and you were given these things to hold in your arms before the world slipped away, would you give them up?"

"It is not often that the minds of men retain the perceptions of their younger days. The marvel is not that one should thus retain but that any should ever lose them. Go the world over, and after you have put away the wonder and tenderness of youth what is there left? The few sprigs of green that sometimes invade the barrenness of your materialism, the few glimpses of summer which flash past the eye of the wintery soul, the half-hours off during the long, tedium of burrowing, these reveal to the hardened earth-seeker the universe which the youthful mind has with it always. No fear and no favor; the open fields and the light upon the hills; morning, noon, night, stars, the bird-calls, the water's purl - these are the natural inheritance of the mind of the child. Men call it poetic, those who hardened fanciful. In the days of their youth it was natural, but the receptiveness of youth has departed, and they cannot see."

"Virtue is that quality of generousity which offers itself willingly for another's service, and, being this, it is held by society to be nearly worthless. Sell yourself cheaply and you shall be used lightly and trampled under foot. Hold yourself dearly, however unworthily, and you will be respected. Society, in the mass, lacks woefully in the matter of discrimination. Its one criterion is the opinion of others."

"Nature is not ungenerous. Its winds and stars are fellows with you. Let the soul be but gentle and receptive, and this vast truth will come home - not in set phrases, perhaps, but as a feeling, a comfort, which after all, is the last essence of knowledge. In the universe peace is wisdom."

"Although the whole earth, not we alone, is moved by passions hymeneal, and everything terrestrial has come into being by the one common road, yet there is that ridiculous tendency to close the eyes and turn away the head as if there were something unclean in nature itself."

"Always she [Jennie] was content to face the future with a serene and unfaltering courage. It is not so with all women. Nature is unkind in permitting the minor type to bear a child at all."

"Life at worst or best was beautiful - had always been so."

"We live in an age in which the impact of materialized forces is well-nigh irresistible; the spiritual nature is overwhelmed by shock."

"The white light of publicity is too white. We are weighed upon by too many things. It is as if the wisdom of the infinite were struggling to beat itself into finite and cup-big minds."

"She [Jenny] felt as though life were tentatively loaning her something which would be taken away after a time."

Mr. Gerhardt, at the death of his wife: "I should have gone first! he cried. "I should have gone first."

"So it is! So it is!" he [Mr. Gerhardt] repeated. "They all leave me. All my life goes to pieces."

"...in the light of a late dawn she was still sitting there pondering, her state far too urgent for idle tears."

"It was a shame that life could not be more decently organized."

"What was this thing - life? What did it all come to after the struggle, and the worry, and the grieving? Where does it all go to? People die; you hear nothing more from them. His [Mr. Gerhardt] wife, now, she had gone. Where had her spirit taken its flight?"

"Such waste! No good can come of anything like that. It will mean want one of these days."

"These Americans know nothing of economy." {My thoughts: How very friggin' true.}

"People turn so quickly from weakness of the shadow of it. To get away from failure - even the mere suspicion of it - that seems to be a subconscious feeling with the average man and woman; we all avoid non-success as though we fear that it may prove contagious."

"Why couldn't the world help her, instead of seeking to push her down?"

"It is an exceptional thing to find beauty, youth, compatibility, intelligence, your own point of view - softened and charmingly emotionalized in another."

"Never try to make a think look different from what it is to you. It's the breath of life - truth - it's the basis of real worth..."

"He [Lester] saw through the illusions that are so often and so noisily labeled pleasure."

"For the first time in her life Jennie gained a clear idea of how vast the world is. Now from the point of view - of decayed Greece, of fallen home, of forgotten Egypt, she saw how pointless are our minor difficulties, our minor beliefs."

"They would be dead after a little while, she and Lester and all these people. Did anything matter except goodness - goodness of heart? What else was there that was real?"

"...an omnivorous reader..." {My thoughts: I really like that description!}

"You never can tell what life will do. We sometimes find ourselves right when we thought we were all wrong."

"Life isn't as bad as she [Jennie] makes out with her sensitive feelings. We all have our troubles, and we all have to stand them, some more, some less. We can't assume that anyone is so much better or worse off than any one else. We all have our share of troubles."

"Like this world of ours, which seems so solid and persistent solely because we have no knowledge of the power which creates it, Lester's world seemed solid and persistent and real enough to him."

"It isn't myself that's important in this transaction apparently; the individual doesn't count much in the situation...all of us are more or less pawns. We're moved about like chessmen by circumstances over which we have no control."

"The best we can do is to hold our personality intact. It doesn't appear that integrity has much to do with it."

"She [Jennie] was not, like so many, endeavoring to put the ocean into a tea-cup, or to tie up the shifting universe in a mess of strings called law."

"Man, on his part, composed as he was of self-organizing cells, was pushing himself forward into comfort and different aspects of existence by means of the union and organization with other men. Why? Heaven only knew."

"...the world was going steadily forward of its own volition, whether he would or no."

"Apparently no one knew clearly what it was all about. People were born and died. Some believed that the world had been made six thousand years before; some that it was millions of years old. Was it all blind chance, or was there some guiding intelligence - a God?"

"Life, in most of its aspects, was a silly show...He [Lester] admitted that it was mostly illusion...That it might all be one he sometimes suspected. It was very much like a very bad dream...He refused to be frightened. He refused to budge from his beliefs and feelings, and usually had to be pushed away from them, still believing, if he were gotten away at all. He refused to do anything save as he always said, "Look the facts in the fact" and fight."

"You have as much democracy as I have religion and that's none at all."

"Don't you throw rocks at my glass house, Mister Master. Yours is so transparent I can see every move you make inside."

"Age doesn't count. We are all in that boat. It's how we feel about life."

"Is there a superior wisdom? Are its signs and monuments in evidence? Of whom, then, have we life and all good things - and why?"

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