The 45 most powerful literary quotes of all time
The best memorable, inspiring and impactful passages of prose.
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!
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Most powerful literary quotes
1. The Picture Of Dorian GrayBuy now from Amazon
Author: Oscar Wilde
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
2. The RoadBuy now from Amazon
Author: Cormac McCarthy
“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
3. In A Free StateBuy now from Amazon
Author: V.S. Naipaul
"The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves."
4. Anna KareninaBuy now from Amazon
Author: Leo Tolstoy
"It's much better to do good in a way that no one knows anything about it."
5. Breakfast At Tiffany'sBuy now from Amazon
Author: Truman Capote
“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”
6. The Time MachineBuy now from Amazon
Author: H.G. Wells
“It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.”
7. Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank RedemptionBuy now from Amazon
Author: Stephen King
“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.”
8. Revolutionary RoadBut now from Amazon
Author: Richard Yates
"No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying."
9. Great ExpectationsBuy now from Amazon
Author: Charles Dickens
“We need never be ashamed of our tears.”
10. The Scarlet LetterBuy now from Amazon
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
“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.”
11. ValisBuy now from Amazon
Author: Philip K. Dick
"It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane."
12. Jane EyreBuy now from Amazon
Author: Charlotte Brontë
"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs."
13. FrankensteinBuy now from Amazon
Author: Mary Shelley
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
14. The WitchesBuy now from Amazon
Author: Roald Dahl
"It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you."
15. Kafka On The ShoreBuy now from Amazon
Author: Haruki Murakami
"Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart."
16. Invisible ManBuy now from Amazon
Author: Ralph Ellison
“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”
17. The Children Of MenBuy now from Amazon
Author: P.D. James
“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.”
18. On The RoadBuy now from Amazon
Author: Jack Kerouac
“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.”
19. Moby DickBuy now from Amazon
Author: Herman Melville
“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
20. The Handmaid's TaleBuy now from Amazon
Author: Margaret Atwood
"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."
21. 1984Buy now from Amazon
Author: George Orwell
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
22. UlyssesBuy now from Amazon
Author: James Joyce
"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."
23. Of Mice And MenBuy now from Amazon
Author: John Steinbeck
"Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."
24. MiddlemarchBuy now from Amazon
Author: George Eliot
“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.”
25. BelovedBuy now from Amazon
Author: Toni Morrison
“You are your best thing”
26. Don QuixoteBuy now from Amazon
Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
27. London FieldsBuy now from Amazon
Author: Martin Amis
"And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit."
28. A Room With A ViewBuy now from Amazon
Author: E.M. Forster
“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.”
29. Snow Falling On CedarsBuy now from Amazon
Author: David Guterson
“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.”
30. Their Eyes Were Watching GodBuy now from Amazon
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
"She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her."
31. The Sound And The FuryBuy now from Amazon
Author: William Faulkner
“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.”
32. The Mysterious IslandBuy now from Amazon
Author: Jules Verne
"It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason."
33. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-TimeBuy now from Amazon
Author: Mark Haddon
“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.”
34. Wuthering HeightsBuy now from Amazon
Author: Emily Brontë
"Terror made me cruel"
35. StardustBuy now from Amazon
Author: Neil Gaiman
“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.”
36. BirdsongBuy now from Amazon
Author: Sebastian Faulks
"I know. I was there. I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine."
37. American PsychoBuy now from Amazon
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
"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."
38. L.A. ConfidentialBuy now from Amzon
Author: James Ellroy
“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.”
39. The Price Of SaltBuy now from Amazon
Author: Patricia Highsmith
“Perhaps it was freedom itself that choked her.”
40. Little WomenBuy now from Amazon
Author: Louisa May Alcott
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
41. The Wizard of OzBuy now from Amazon
Author: L. Frank Baum
“You had the power all along my dear.”
42. Half of a Yellow SunBuy now from Amazon
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“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.”
43. Tehanu: The Last Book of EarthseaBuy from Amazon
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
“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.”
44. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New MestizaBuy now from Amazon
Author: Gloria E. Anzaldúa
“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.”
45. The Good SoldierBuy now from Amazon
Author: Ford Madox Ford
"Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing."