Rules of Civility: Epigraphary

Below are passages from various books in my library that were published in the 1930s.

How much better is silence; the coffee-cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee-cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself. Do not come and worry me with your hints that it is time to shut the shop and be gone. I would willingly give all my money that you should not disturb me but let me sit on and on, silent, alone.
—Virginia Woolf: The Waves (1931)

“In a woman I prefer charm of manner, of speech, of carriage, of dancing, to merely classic beauty. Classic beauty can be very stupid, outside of a museum. A pretty face can be very inaccurate on the state within. I like a face that says something, that is simply and accurately informative of the personality. Of course, if you can be all these things, and beautiful as well, you have been the objective of divine dispensation.”
Djuna Barnes (quoting Coco Chanel): “Nothing Amuses Coco Chanel After Midnight” (1931)

Still I can’t get it out of my mind what a discrepancy there is between ideas and living. A permanent dislocation, though we try to cover the two with a bright awning. And it won’t go. Ideas have to be wedded to action; if there is no sex, no vitality in them, there is no action. Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. Ideas are related to living: liver ideas, kidney ideas, interstitial ideas, etc. If it were only for the sake of an idea Copernicus would have smashed the existent macrocosm and Columbus would have foundered in the Sargasso Sea.
Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer (1934)

That is the substance of remembering—sense, sight, smell: the muscles with which we see and hear and feel—not mind, not thought: there is no such thing as memory: the brain recalls just what the muscles grope for: no more, no less: and its resultant sum is usually incorrect and false and worthy only of the name of dream.
William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

America is a great country. Hopeless cities and cities of hope at the same time. What an idea of the action between these two poles is thus expressed, what a battlefield is spread out between these two feelings which exist in the gasping heart of every man of action, of every man who believes enough in something to dare to attempt it… All the French people whom I met on the ship going to New York, all those on this ship taking us back to Paris, resolve the question thus: ‘Once you have opened the door on America you cannot close it again.’
Le Corbusier: “Cities of the World” (1936)

There is one all-important law of human conduct… Always make the other person feel important. John Dewey, as we have already noted, said that the desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature; and William James said: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” As I have already pointed out, it is this urge that differentiates us from the animals. It is this urge that has been responsible for civilization itself.
Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends & Influence People (1936)

When the pollen again gilded the sun and sifted down on the world she began to stand around the gate and expect things. What things? She didn’t know exactly. Her breath was gusty and short. She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance the words of the trees and the wind… She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making. The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off.
Zora Neal Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Our century appears in history under the sign of revolution and disintegration. The revolutions have spared nothing in the edifice of culture which had been built up by the past ages. They had already begun at the end of the last century and proceeded in ours with unusual speed until there was no stable point left in either the material or the ideal structure of our life… It is innocent to hope that this process of disintegration will stop at the time and in the place where we want it to. Historical processes of this kind generally go their own way.
Naum Gabo: “The Constructive Idea in Art” (1937)

All that each person is, and experiences, and shall never experience, in body and in mind, all these things are differing expressions of himself and of one root, and are identical: and not one of these things nor one of these persons is ever quite to be duplicated, nor replaced, nor has it ever quite had precedent: but each is a new and incommunicably tender life, wounded in every breath, and almost as hardly killed as easily wounded: sustaining, for a while, without defense, the  enormous assaults of the universe:
James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939-40)

One must not forget that the earth seen from an airplane is more splendid than the earth seen from an automobile. The automobile is the end of progress on the earth, it goes quicker but essentially the landscapes seen from an automobile are the same as the landscapes seen from a carriage, a train, a waggon or in walking. But the earth seen from an airplane is something else. So the twentieth century is not the same as the nineteenth century and it is very interesting knowing that Picasso has never seen the earth from an airplane, that being of the twentieth century he inevitably knew that the earth is not the same as in the nineteenth century, he knew it, he made it, inevitably he made it different and what he made is a thing that now all the world can see.
Gertrude Stein: Picasso (1939)

For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments. This you may say of man—when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it.
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

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NEWS & NOTEWORTHY

New York Times Book Review

A Count Becomes a Waiter in a Novel of Soviet Supremacy

"Beyond the door of the luxurious ­Hotel Metropol lies Theater Square and the rest of Moscow, and beyond its city limits the tumultuous landscape of 20th-century Russia. The year 1922 is a good starting point for a Russian epic, but for the purposes of his sly and winning second ­novel, Amor Towles forgoes descriptions of icy roads and wintry dachas and instead retreats into the warm hotel lobby. The Metropol, with its customs and routines, is a world unto itself..."

You can read the full review here.

Washington Post Review

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is a charming reminder of what it means to be classy

September 19
How delightful that in an era as crude as ours this finely composed new novel by Amor Towles stretches out with old-World elegance. “A Gentleman in Moscow” offers a chance to sink back into a lost attitude of aristocracy — equal parts urbane and humane — just what we might expect from the author of that 2011 bestseller “Rules of Civility.” But if Towles’s story is an escape we crave, it is also, ironically, a story of imprisonment...
You can read the full review here.