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49 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In British Literature

Curiouser and curiouser.

Posted on

I asked ~book twitter~ for their favourite literary quotes from British authors. Here are some of the best responses, mixed in with some of my favourites...

Suggested by @marinedebray

“And into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgul came shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Suggested by @illucifer

"The sense of being absolutely in the right and longed-for place is fixed and guaranteed by every ray in the universe"

– Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

Suggested by @WELBooks

"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe"

– Lewis Carroll, The Jabberwocky

Suggested by @HannahBurden

"The tree of nonsense is watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster."

– Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

Suggested by @sassthat


Suggested by @acaseforbooks

“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”

– George Orwell, 1984

Suggested by @TomJamesBrook

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme

Suggested by @marinedebray

"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief."

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Suggested by @EliotAnderson

“Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In adamantine chains and penal fire,

Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.”

– John Milton, Paradise Lost

Suggested by @Anna_Mazz


“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

– Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Suggested by @elizabethmoya

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

– Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Suggested by @SometimesKaren

“Her heart was heavy because it was open, and so things filled it, and so things rushed out of it, but still the heart kept beating, tough and frighteningly powerful and meaning to shrug off the rest of her and continue on its own.”

― Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox

"Her hands were resting on his glossy fur. Somewhere in the garden a nightingale was singing, and a little breeze touched her hair and stirred the leaves overhead. All the different bells of the city chimed, once each, this one high, that one low, some close by, others farther off, one cracked a peevish, another grave and sonorous, but agreeing in all their different voices on what the time was, even if some of them got to it a little more slowly than others.”

– Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Suggested by @allygolightly94

"It was the day my grandmother exploded"

– Iain Banks, The Crow Road

Suggested by @fords42 and others


"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Suggested by @eileencumisky

“You’re just in time for a little smackerel of something.”

– A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

Suggested by @Imelda_Evans

Suggested by @whydoanything

“The important thing was to love rather than be loved”

– W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

“Fortitude. … It means fixity of purpose. It means endurance. It means having the strength to live with what constrains you.”

― Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Suggested by @Holly_BourneYA

“I shall also take you forth and carve our names together in a yew tree, haloed with stars…”

– Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes

“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts— not to hurt others.”

― George Eliot, Middlemarch

Suggested by @Bridgend6

“She wasn’t a person to whom things happen. She did all the happenings.”

– Muriel Spark, Aiding and Abetting

“But surely to tell these tall tales and others like them would be to speed the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.”

– Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Suggested by @acaseforbooks

"He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.”

― A.S. Byatt, Possession

“But time given to wishing for what can’t be is not only spent, but wasted, and for all that we waste we shall be accountable.”

– Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower

“What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”

– Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

“And so they entwined their lives to drink from the pools of each other’s sadness. From these special watering holes, each man drew strength.”

― Monica Ali, Brick Lane

Suggested by @acaseforbooks

“If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.”

— W. H. Auden, The More Loving One

“There must be more to man than that, surely? That we are not just one, but a multitude.”

– Marcus Sedgwick, Midwinterblood

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”

– Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

“To live in Wales is to be conscious

At dusk of the spilled blood

That went into the making of the wild sky,

Dyeing the immaculate rivers

In all their courses.”

– R.S. Thomas

Suggested by @JoBarrow

Suggested by @Miss_Annie_Rose

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

– Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Suggested by @Cotchabamba

“You play you win, you play you lose. What you risk reveals what you value"

– Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

Suggested by @TV_Kicks

Suggested by @10n6inthisstyle

“We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.”

― Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk

"Exit pursued by a bear."

– William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

Suggested by Carlie_Dawn

I am but one slow-reading man in a library of unread books, so this is not a definitive list, by any means. If there is a sentence by a British author that makes your heart soar, add it below so others may fly.