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“Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn't that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying -- valiantly, fruitlessly -- to eradicate.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“It's the strangest thing about being human: to know so much, to communicate so much, and yet always to fall so drastically short of clarity, to be, in the end, so isolate and inadequate. Even when people try to say things, they say them poorly or obliquely, or they outright lie, sometimes because they're lying to you, but as often because they're lying to themselves.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“I'm a good girl. I'm a nice girl. I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and brother's shit and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fucking years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died,after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone -- every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a big muggy too? It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "Such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“I always thought I'd get farther. I'd like to blame the world for what I've failed to do, but the failure - the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger, makes me so angry I could spit - is all mine, in the end. What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity, is me, just me. I thought for so long, forever, that I was strong enough -- or I misunderstood what strength was.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“I've discovered over the years that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one; and that hunger of one kind or another - desire, by another name - is the source of almost every sorrow.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Don't all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We're all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish, and my worry now is that we're brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean? I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get to my classroom, to the third grad, they're well and truly gone -- they're full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks! In the third grade. They care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics. How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good? Even worse on your tombstone than "dutiful daughter" is "looking good"; everyone used to know that. But we're lost in a world of appearances now.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“But do you know this idea of the imaginary homeland? Once you set out from shore on your little boat, once you embark, you'll never truly be at home again. What you've left behind exists only in your memory, and your ideal place becomes some strange imaginary concoction of all you've left behind at every stop.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theatre or the fire escape in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn't as a kid, that the body you inhabited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified. On TV, in the papers, in books and movies, it isn't ever men being raped or kidnapped or bludgeoned or dismembered or burned with acid. But in stories and crime shows and TV series and movies and in life too, it's going on all the time, all around you. So you learn, in your mind, that your body needs to be protected. It's both precious and totally dispensable, depending on whom you encounter.”
Claire Messud, The Burning Girl
“Life's funny. You have to find a way to keep going, to keep laughing, even after you realize that none of your dreams will come true. When you realize that, there's still so much of a life to get through.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Life is about deciding what matters. It's about the fantasy that determines the reality.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Who is he who walks always beside you? No-fucking-body, thank you very much. I walk alone.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Geniuses have the shortest biographies.”
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children
“If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘Is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘Is this character alive?' ”
Claire Messud
“The apartment was entirely, was only, for her: a wall of books, both read and unread, all of them dear to her not only in themselves, their tender spines, but in the moments or periods they evoked. She had kept some books since college that she had acquired for courses and never read—Fredric Jameson, for example, and Kant’s Critique of Judgment—but which suggested to her that she was, or might be, a person of seriousness, a thinker in some seeping, ubiquitous way; and she had kept, too, a handful of children’s books taken fro her now-dismantled girlhood room, like Charlotte’s Web and the Harriet the Spy novels, that conjured for her an earlier, passionately earnest self, the sober child who read constantly in the back of her parents’ Buick, oblivious to her brother punching her knee, oblivious to her parents’ squabbling, oblivious to the traffic and landscapes pressing upon her from outside the window.

She had, in addition to her books, a modest shelf of tapes and CDs that served a similar, though narrower, function…she was aware that her collection was comprised largely of mainstream choices that reflected—whether popular or classical—not so much an individual spirit as the generic tastes of her times: Madonna, the Eurythmics, Tracy Chapman from her adolescence; Cecilia Bartoli, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Mitsuko Uchida; more recently Moby and the posthumously celebrated folk-singing woman from Washington, DC, who had died of a melanoma in her early thirties, and whose tragic tale attracted Danielle more than her familiar songs.

Her self, then, was represented in her books; her times in her records; and the rest of the room she thought of as a pure, blank slate.”
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children
“Nobody would know me from my own description of myself; which is why, when called upon (rarely, I grant) to provide an account, I tailor it, I adapt, I try to provide an outline that can, in some way, correlate to the outline that people understand me to have -- that, I suppose, I actually have, at this point. But who I am in my head, very few people really get to see that. Almost none. It's the most precious gift I can give, to bring her out of hiding.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“It's the strangest thing about being human: to know so much, to communicate so much, and yet always to fall so drastically short of clarity, to be, in the end, so isolate and inadequate.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.

I'm a good girl, I'm a nice girl, I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and my brother's shit, and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fucking years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone -- every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“Once aware of my isolation, I was afraid not of it but of its interruption.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“That's so her. You know, torn between Big Ideas and a party. She's always been that way.”
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children
“But we're lost in a world of appearances now.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“It was one of those moments when life's disguises are stripped away, when you see clearly what is real, and all you can say to yourself is "useful to get that learned.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“I was crazy. I was crazy in the way a child is crazy, in the way of someone who believes, with rash fervor, that life can be—that it will yet be, and most certainly—as you would wish it. How could I have been so foolish?”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“But to be furious, murderously furious, is to be alive. No longer young, no longer pretty, no longer loved, or sweet, or lovable, unmasked, writhing on the ground for all to see in my utter ingloriousness, there's no telling what I might do”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“As my wise friend Didi has more than once observed about life's passages, every departure entails an arrival elsewhere, every arrival implies a departure from afar.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“The apartment was entirely, was only, for her: a wall of books, both read and unread, all of them dear to her not only in themselves, their tender spines, but in the moments or periods they evoked… Her self, then, was represented in her books; her times in her records; and the rest of the room she thought of as a pure, blank slate.”
Claire Messud
“Just because something is invisible doesn't mean it isn't there. At any given time, there are a host of invisibles floating among us. There are clairvoyants to see ghosts; but who sees the invisible emotions, the unrecorded events? Who is that sees love, more evanescent than any ghost, let alone can catch it? Who are you tell me that I don't know what love is?”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“When you are the woman upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you “best of all.” It’s a small thing, you might think, and maybe it depends on your temperament, maybe for some people it’s a small thing, but for me […]”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“When you’re a girl, you never let on that you are proud, or that you know you’re better at history, or biology, or French, than the girl who sits beside you and is eighteen months older. Instead you gush about how good she is at putting on nail polish or at talking to boys, and you roll your eyes at the vaunted difficulty of the history/​biology/​French test and say, “Oh my God, it’s going to be such a disaster! I’m so scared!” and you put yourself down whenever you can so that people won’t feel threatened by you, so they’ll like you, because you wouldn’t want them to know that in your heart, you are proud, and maybe even haughty, and are riven by thoughts the revelation of which would show everyone how deeply Not Nice you are. You learn a whole other polite way of speaking to the people who mustn’t see you clearly, and you know—you get told by others—that they think you’re really sweet, and you feel a thrill of triumph: “Yes, I’m good at history/​biology/​French, and I’m good at this, too.” It doesn’t ever occur to you, as you fashion your mask so carefully, that it will grow into your skin and graft itself, come to seem irremovable.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“I was aware of doing only a so-so job on the grown-up career front, but I didn't really care, because there were two big exam questions I wanted to be sure I answered fully: the question of art, and the question of love.”
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
“But can I say, now that she is dead, long dead that I only half believed in her. I wanted, I needed her to revolt. I know, revolutions take vast energy like volcanic eruptions. I know. And the sick must husband their resources even as they are resourceful for their husbands. But I couldn't help wanting for her, couldn't help the feeling that she'd given in, that she had measured out with coffee spoons what it was that she might ask of life and having found it lacking, tragically, gapingly lacking, had decided none-the-less to accept her modest share. I wanted her ignoble, irresponsible, unreasonable, petty, grasping, fucking greedy for the lot of it, jostling and spitting and clawing for every grain of life.”
Claire Messud - The Woman Upstairs, The Woman Upstairs

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