There are a few niggles I have about Downton Abbey and I’ve blogged about these before. However, there is one attribute of the characters in the programme I envy greatly. Namely, their ability to throw literary quotes into everyday conversation. Last night, the Dowager said ‘Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war’. She was referring to the suggestion of inviting the Minister for Health (Neville Chamberlain) over for dinner. If we were to invite Jeremy Hunt for dinner this weekend, I’d like to be able to respond similarly. But sadly, I wouldn’t be able to due to my ignorance.
There is an article on wikipedia about the meaning of the Dowager’s phrase. I’m not so interested in the meaning of this particular phrase here, I’m interested in her talent to drop a Shakespearean quote in general chit chat and for it to have a strong resonance to everyone present (and of course the viewers). I want to be able to do that. It doesn’t have to be exclusive to Shakespeare’s great works, I want to be able to do that with any book. I’m quite a well-read member of the human race. I’ve read 78 of the 100 BBC ‘top reads’. Most people, the page states, have only read around 6 of them. Yet I can’t quote from any of them. I’ve even read 93 of the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge list of 339 books referenced in the Gilmore Girls. However, can I quote from Charles Dickens? No.
I’m not sure whether this is a skill I can cultivate. Could I practice on my children and husband perhaps? Then move on to friends? And eventually use some choice, witty quotes in school governor meetings and work conference calls?
I could use this one from Jayne Eyre during a phone meeting about things going wrong: ‘It is a pity that doing one’s best does not always the answer.’
To my children as they leave their mess in the kitchen, I’d like to use this quote by Balzac: ‘Such is life. It is no cleaner than a kitchen; it reeks like a kitchen; and if you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again, and therein lies the whole morality of our epoch.’
And another one for the children, when they moan about their homework: ‘I dare you to work harder than your dream demands.’
Some advice from Oscar Wilde for all those people on Facebook who talk about betrayal and enemies: ‘Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.’
And finally, this one, another Oscar Wildeism, for anyone suffering from paranoia: ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.’
I think I need to keep a literary quote journal so I can pull on these out as and when needed. So again I ask: are there really people, beyond the fictional world of Downton Abbey, who can drop quotes with ease? I’d like to meet them and eventually, be one of them. Perhaps it’ll only come to me when I’m as old as Maggie Smith.