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The 40 most powerful literary quotes

Memorable, inspiring and impactful passages of prose

The 40 most powerful literary quotes

An irresistible page-turner is a wonderful thing, but the very greatest novels pack sentences so prevailing that you stop reading, lower the book and simply live in the words for a moment.

Here we pay tribute to our 40 most powerful sentences in novels.

See out list of Best Dystopian Novels

Of Mice And Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Year: 1937

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

Invisible Man

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.”

Wuthering Heights

Author: Emily Brontë

Year: 1847

"Terror made me cruel"

L.A. Confidential

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.”

On The Road

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.”


Author: George Orwell

Year: 1949

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

The Handmaid's Tale

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."

The Time Machine

Author: H.G. Wells

Year: 1895

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

Anna Karenina

Author: Leo Tolstoy

Year: 1877

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

Jane Eyre

Author: Charlotte Brontë

Year: 1847

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

The Road

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Year: 2006

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

American Psycho

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."

Don Quixote

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.”

A Room With A View

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.”

Kafka on the Shore

Author: Haruki Murakami

Year: 2002

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


Author: James Joyce

Year: 1922

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

The Mysterious Island

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."

London Fields

Author: Martin Amis

Year: 1989

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

The Scarlet Letter

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.”

The Picture Of Dorian Gray

Author: Oscar Wilde

Year: 1890

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

The Children of Men

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.”

Revolutionary Road

Author: Richard Yates

Year: 1961

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

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Year: 1937

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

Great Expectations

Author: Charles Dickens

Year: 1890

“We need never be ashamed of our tears.”


Author: Mary Shelley

Year: 1818

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


Author: Philip K. Dick

Year: 1981

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

The Witches

Author: Roald Dahl

Year: 1983

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


Author: Sebastian Faulks

Year: 1993

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


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.”

The Price of Salt

Author: Patricia Highsmith

Year: 1952

“Perhaps it was freedom itself that choked her.”

The Good Soldier

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."


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.”


Author: Toni Morrison

Year: 1987

“You are your best thing”

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Author: Truman Capote

Year: 1958

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

The Sound and the Fury

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.”

Snow Falling on Cedars

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.”

In a Free State

Author: V.S. Naipaul

Year: 1971

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

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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.”

Moby Dick

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.”

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Different Seasons)

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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