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The 45 most powerful literary quotes of all time

The best memorable, inspiring and impactful passages of prose.

The 45 most powerful literary quotes of all time
Becca Caddy
11 September 2023

The most powerful literary quotes from famous books, poems and plays have the ability to stop you in your tracks. Whether you're hunting for the perfect sentiment to use in a speech or hoping to discover a bit of inspiration to get you through a difficult time, we highly recommend leafing through some of the greatest creative works of art.

Tense, thrilling page-turners are exciting to read. But hiding in the pages of some of the best novels of all time there are sentences that are so impactful, so powerful, that you stop reading and simply live in the beautiful prose for a moment.

In this guide we honour 45 of the most powerful sentences ever written. The most powerful, beautiful and heart-wrenching literary quotes that we hope you'll want to use and refer to or just contemplatively stare at again and again. We've included words spun from the minds of some of the best authors of all time, including Toni Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Stephen King.

If you love a literary quote that isn't on this list that hits you right in the feels every time you see it, then head to the comments – and upvote your faves!

Most powerful literary quotes

Most powerful literary quotes

1. The Picture Of Dorian Gray

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Author: Oscar Wilde

Year: 1890

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

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Author: Cormac McCarthy

Year: 2006

“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

3. In A Free State

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Author: V.S. Naipaul

Year: 1971

"The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves."

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Most powerful literary quotes

4. Anna Karenina

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Author: Leo Tolstoy

Year: 1877

"It's much better to do good in a way that no one knows anything about it."

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Most powerful literary quotes

5. Breakfast At Tiffany's

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Author: Truman Capote

Year: 1958

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

6. The Time Machine

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Author: H.G. Wells

Year: 1895

“It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

7. Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption

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Author: Stephen King

Year: 1982

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

8. Great Expectations

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Author: Charles Dickens

Year: 1890

“We need never be ashamed of our tears.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

9. Revolutionary Road

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Author: Richard Yates

Year: 1961

"No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying."

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Most powerful literary quotes

10. The Scarlet Letter

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Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Year: 1850

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

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Author: Philip K. Dick

Year: 1981

"It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane."

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Most powerful literary quotes

12. Jane Eyre

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Author: Charlotte Brontë

Year: 1847

"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs."

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Most powerful literary quotes

13. Frankenstein

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Author: Mary Shelley

Year: 1818

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

14. The Witches

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Author: Roald Dahl

Year: 1983

"It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you."

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Most powerful literary quotes

15. Kafka On The Shore

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Author: Haruki Murakami

Year: 2002

"Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart."

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Most powerful literary quotes

16. Invisible Man

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Author: Ralph Ellison

Year: 1952

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

17. The Children Of Men

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Author: P.D. James

Year: 1992

“We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

18. On The Road

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Author: Jack Kerouac

Year: 1957

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

19. The Handmaid's Tale

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Author: Margaret Atwood

Year: 1985

"We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories."

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Most powerful literary quotes

20. Moby Dick

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Author: Herman Melville

Year: 1851

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

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Author: George Orwell

Year: 1949

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

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Author: James Joyce

Year: 1922

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

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Most powerful literary quotes

23. Of Mice And Men

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Author: John Steinbeck

Year: 1937

"Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."

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Most powerful literary quotes

24. Middlemarch

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Author: George Eliot

Year: 1874

“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.”

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Author: Toni Morrison

Year: 1987

“You are your best thing”

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Most powerful literary quotes

26. Don Quixote

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Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Year: 1605

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

27. London Fields

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Author: Martin Amis

Year: 1989

"And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit."

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Most powerful literary quotes

28. A Room With A View

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Author: E.M. Forster

Year: 1908

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm - yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

29. Snow Falling On Cedars

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Author: David Guterson

Year: 1994

“None of those other things makes a difference. Love is the strongest thing in the world, you know. Nothing can touch it. Nothing comes close. If we love each other we’re safe from it all. Love is the biggest thing there is.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

30. Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Year: 1937

"She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her."

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Most powerful literary quotes

31. The Sound And The Fury

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Author: William Faulkner

Year: 1929

“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

32. The Mysterious Island

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Author: Jules Verne

Year: 1874

"It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason."

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Most powerful literary quotes

33. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

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Author: Mark Haddon

Year: 2003

“Sometimes we get sad about things and we don’t like to tell other people that we are sad about them. We like to keep it a secret. Or sometimes, we are sad but we really don’t know why we are sad, so we say we aren’t sad but we really are.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

34. Wuthering Heights

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Author: Emily Brontë

Year: 1847

"Terror made me cruel"

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Most powerful literary quotes

35. Stardust

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Author: Neil Gaiman

Year: 1999

“She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

36. Birdsong

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Author: Sebastian Faulks

Year: 1993

"I know. I was there. I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine."

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Most powerful literary quotes

37. American Psycho

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Author: Bret Easton Ellis

Year: 1991

"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there."

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38. L.A. Confidential

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Author: James Ellroy

Year: 1990

“Some men get the world, some men get ex-hookers and a trip to Arizona. You’re in with the former, but my God I don’t envy the blood on your conscience.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

39. The Price Of Salt

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Author: Patricia Highsmith

Year: 1952

“Perhaps it was freedom itself that choked her.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

40. Little Women

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Author: Louisa May Alcott

Year: 1868

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

41. The Wizard of Oz

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Author: L. Frank Baum

Year: 1900

“You had the power all along my dear.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

42. Half of a Yellow Sun

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Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Year: 2006

“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?’ Aunty Ifeka said. ‘Your life belongs to you and you alone.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

43. Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea

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Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Year: 1990

“Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

44. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza

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Author: Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Year: 1987

“I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

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Most powerful literary quotes

45. The Good Soldier

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Author: Ford Madox Ford

Year: 1915

"Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing."

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