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IMMORTAL MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE

By H. P. Oliver

If the truth be told, there is not a writer among us who doesn't secretly long to pen just one of those magic passages that live forever as immortal moments of literary brilliance. I'm talking about words like those of Poe ("Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary . . .") and Louisa May Alcott ("Love is a great beautifier.").

After all, what are those immortal moments but words strung together in just the right way to express a thought or a feeling with more clarity and insight than such a thought or feeling has ever been expressed before? This should be easy for dedicated wordsmiths such as we, right?

The truth be told again, the odds of any of us attaining such literary immortality are slim, but it certainly doesn't hurt to try. Besides, striving for brilliance cannot help but improve everything else we write, even if our words aren't destined to be chiseled in marble.

One activity that might help us on our way to enshrinement in the literary hall of fame is studying already immortal words--not to copy them, but to understand what makes them moments of literary brilliance. To that end here are a few selected passages worthy of such study.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

~Jane Austin/Pride and Prejudice--Published as a novel in 1813.


A vivid and blinding light flashed from the whirling, inky clouds above. The deep cannonade of roaring thunder belched forth its fearsome challenge. The deluge came--all hell broke loose upon the jungle.

~Edger Rice Burroughs/Tarzan of the Apes--first published in All--Story Magazine, 1912.


The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed "Off with her head!"

~Lewis Carroll/Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--Published as a novel in 1865.


"This affair must all be unraveled from within." He tapped his forehead. "These little gray cells. It is 'up to them'--as you say over here."

~Agatha Christie/The Mysterious Affair at Styles--Christie's first novel, introduced Hercule Poirot, 1920.


I don't want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.

~F. Scott Fitzgerald/This Side of Paradise--Fitzgerald's first published novel, 1920.


Love of man for woman--love of woman for man. That's the nature, the meaning, the best of life itself.

~Zane Gray/Riders of the Purple Sage--Published as a novel in 1912.


In the world of ideas everything was clear; in life all was obscure, embroiled.

~Aldous Huxley/Chrome Yellow--Huxley's first published novel, 1921.


An angry skipper makes an unhappy crew.

~Rudyard Kipling/Captains Courageous--Published as a novel in 1897.


Being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the sound of his own vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue.

~Sinclair Lewis/Babbitt--Published as a novel in 1922.


And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolf-like, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing noses at stars and howling down through the centuries and through him.

~Jack London/The Call of the Wild--Published as a novella in 1903.


Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.

~George Bernard Shaw/Pygmalion--Produced as a play in 1912.