Stacy Schiff Quotes

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As always, an educated woman was a dangerous woman.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
And in the absence of facts, myth rushes in, the kudzu of history.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
When a woman teams up with a snake a moral storm threatens somewhere.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
[Cleopatra's] power has been made to derive from her sexuality, for obvious reason; as one of Caesar's murderers had noted, 'How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!' It has always been preferable to attribute a woman's success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
Cleopatra stood at one of the most dangerous intersections in history; that of women and power. Clever women, Euripides had warned hundreds of years earlier, were dangerous.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
It has always been preferable to attribute a woman's success to her beauty rather to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
Ancient history is oddly short on incorrect omens.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
No one dances while he is sober. Unless he happens to be a lunatic. -Cicero
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
The vanity extended most of all to his library, arguably the real love of Cicero's life. It is difficult to name anything in which he took more pleasure, aside possibly evasion of the sumptuary laws. Cicero liked to believe himself wealthy. He prided himself on his books. He needed no further reason to dislike Cleopatra: intelligent women who had better libraries than he did offended him on three counts.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
Apollodorus came, Caesar saw, Cleopatra conquered,
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
One loyal friend,” Euripides reminds us, “is worth ten thousand relatives.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Faith aside, witchcraft served an eminently useful purpose. The aggravating, the confounding, the humiliating all dissolved in its cauldron. It made sense of the unfortunate and the eerie, the sick child and the rancid butter along with the killer cat. What else, shrugged one husband, could have caused the black and blue marks on his wife’s arm?
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
We all apologize, or fail to, in our own ways.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
We all subscribe to preposterous beliefs; we just don’t know yet which ones they are. We too have been known to prefer plot to truth; to deny the evidence before us in favor of the ideas behind us; to do insane things in the name of reason; to take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous; to drown our private guilts in a public well; to indulge in a little delusion.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
As Dio observed later, democracy sounded very well and good, “but its results are seen not to agree at all with its title. Monarchy, on the contrary, has an unpleasant sound, but is a most practical form of government to live under. For it is easier to find a single excellent man than many of them.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
As incandescent as was her personality, Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a coolheaded, clear-eyed pragmatist, though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
Her palace shimered with onyx, garnet, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
Power has for so long been a male construct that it distorted the shape of the first women who tried it on, only to find themselves in a sort of straitjacket.
Stacy Schiff
Women play the villains in fairy tales—what are you saying when you place the very emblem of lowly domestic duty between your legs and ride off, defying the bounds of community and laws of gravity?
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Things disturb us in the night. Sometimes they are our consciences. Sometimes they are our secrets. Sometimes they are our fears, translated from one idiom to another.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Salem is in part a story of what happens when a set of unanswerable questions meets a set of unquestioned answers.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The Ptolemies were in fact Macedonian Greek, which makes Cleopatra approximately as Egyptian as Elizabeth Taylor.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
The witch hunt stands as a cobwebbed, crowd-sourced cautionary tale, a reminder that—as a minister at odds with the crisis noted—extreme right can blunder into extreme wrong.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
History is written not only by posterity, but for posterity as well.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Politics have long been defined as “the systematic organization of hatreds.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Blind passion was one thing, all-knowing intimacy a rarer commodity.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
It is notable that when she is not condemned for being too bold and masculine, Cleopatra is taken to task for being unduly frail and feminine.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
It used to be that the longest unprotected border in the world was that between the United States and Canada. Today it's the one between fact and fiction. If the two cozy up any closer together The National Enquirer will be out of business.
Stacy Schiff
To the punishing study of Egyptian, however, Cleopatra applied herself. She was allegedly the first and only Ptolemy to bother to learn the language of the 7 million people over whom she ruled.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Cleopatra descended from a long line of murderers and faithfully upheld the family tradition but was, for her time and place, remarkably well behaved.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
IN 1692 THE Massachusetts Bay Colony executed fourteen women, five men, and two dogs for witchcraft.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Yet what difference does it make whether the women rule or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same.” —ARISTOTLE
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Disdain is a natural condition of the mind in exile;
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
We will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything. —ANTON CHEKHOV
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
He was universally charming, as only a writer in pursuit of a publisher can be.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
The personal inevitably trumps the political, and the erotic trumps all: We will remember that Cleopatra slept with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony long after we have forgotten what she accomplished in doing so, that she sustained a vast, rich, densely populated empire in its troubled twilight in the name of a proud and cultivated dynasty. She remains on the map for having seduced two of the greatest men of her time, while her crime was to have entered into those same "wily and suspicious" marital partnerships that every man in power enjoyed. She did so in reverse and in her own name; this made her a deviant, socially disruptive, an unnatural woman. To these she added a few other offenses. She made Rome feel uncouth, insecure, and poor, sufficient cause for anxiety without adding sexuality into the mix.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
It was in Alexandria that the circumference of the earth was first measured, the sun fixed at the center of the solar system, the workings of the brain and the pulse illuminated, the foundations of anatomy and physiology established, the definitive editions of Homer produced. It was in Alexandria that Euclid had codified geometry.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
She nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, not the last time a genuinely powerful woman has been transmuted into a shamelessly seductive one.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
It was rare to find a member of the family who did not liquidate a relative or two, Cleopatra VII included.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Romans marveled that in Egypt female children were not left to die; a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
He was the type of person who believed he alone could do the job adequately and afterward complained that no one had helped.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Briefly (Vladimir Nabokov) caught the (Superman) fever too, composing a poem, now lost, on the the Man of Steel's wedding night.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
Like any oppressed people, they defined themselves by what offended them, which would give New England its gritty flavor and, it has been argued, America its independence.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Men blamed sins for corrupting their souls. Women blamed their souls, which is to say themselves.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
there were days you felt like waging war, and days when you just needed to go home.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Helvétius’s maxims: “It is worth being wise only so long as one can also be foolhardy.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
What is optimism? Alas, it is the mania for pretending that all is right, when in fact everything is wrong. —Voltaire, Candide
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Dioscorides, an expert on medicinal plants, had ample material on which to base a pioneering treatise on bubonic plague.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Puberty,” it has been said, “is everyone’s first experience of a sentient madness.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
It is a dangerous thing to have the same men in both the prophecy and the history business.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
History existed to be retold, with more panache but not necessarily greater accuracy.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
A woman who is generous with her money is to be praised; not so, if she is generous with her person.” —QUINTILIAN
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
When you predicted an apocalypse, you needed sooner or later to produce one.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
It has forever been preferable to attribute a woman’s success to her beauty rather than to her brains. —STACY SCHIFF,
Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra)
A capable, clear-eyed sovereign, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, alleviate a famine. An eminent Roman general vouched for her grasp of military affairs. Even at a time when women rulers were no rarity she stood out, the sole female of the ancient world to rule alone and to play a role in Western affairs. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the Mediterranean. And she enjoyed greater prestige than any other woman of her age..... Cleopatra descended from a long line of murderers and faithfully upheld the family tradition but was, for her time and place, remarkably well behaved. She nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, not the last time a genuinely powerful woman has been transmuted into a shamelessly seductive one.
Stacy Schiff
Plutarch gave her nine languages, including Hebrew and Troglodyte, an Ethiopian tongue that—if Herodotus can be believed—was “unlike that of any other people; it sounds like the screeching of bats.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
A commanding woman versed in politics, diplomacy, and governance; fluent in nine languages; silver-tongued and charismatic, Cleopatra nonetheless seems the joint creation of Roman propagandists and Hollywood directors.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Cleopatra moreover came of age in a country that entertained a singular definition of women’s roles. Well before her and centuries before the arrival of the Ptolemies, Egyptian women enjoyed the right to make their own marriages. Over time their liberties had increased, to levels unprecedented in the ancient world. They inherited equally and held property independently. Married women did not submit to their husbands’ control. They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce. Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice. Her property remained hers; it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband. The law sided with the wife and children if a husband acted against their interests. Romans marveled that in Egypt female children were not left to die; a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter. Egyptian women married later than did their neighbors as well, only about half of them by Cleopatra’s age. They loaned money and operated barges. They served as priests in the native temples. They initiated lawsuits and hired flute players. As wives, widows, or divorcées, they owned vineyards, wineries, papyrus marshes, ships, perfume businesses, milling equipment, slaves, homes, camels. As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
It turns out to be eminently useful to have a disgrace in your past; Salem endures not only as a metaphor but as a vaccine and a taunt. It glares at us when fear paralyzes reason, when we overreact or overcorrect, when we hunt down or deliver up the alien or seditious.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The sky over New England was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location or that you might find yourself pursued after nightfall by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home, bloody and disoriented, on all fours.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
It did what a foreign adventure is supposed to do-it made the mundane thrilling.
Stacy Schiff
The best that can be said of the Alexandrian War is that Caesar acquitted himself brilliantly in a situation in which he stupidly found himself.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Nor was there a Greek word for “incest.” The Ptolemies carried the practice to an extreme. Of the fifteen or so family marriages, at least ten were full brother-sister unions.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
For ten generations her family had styled themselves pharaohs. The Ptolemies were in fact Macedonian Greek, which makes Cleopatra approximately as Egyptian as Elizabeth Taylor.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
No text more thoroughly penetrated Cleopatra’s world. In an age infatuated with history and calibrated in glory, Homer’s work was the Bible of the day.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
For all its erudition, Cleopatra’s Egypt produced no fine historian.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
But the standouts in the generations immediately preceding Cleopatra’s were—for vision, ambition, intellect—universally female.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
You could not really bargain away your soul before it was established that you had one.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
everything that lifts people above their fellows arouses both emulation and jealousy.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
There was nothing to be gained by making a man feel unkind for having to refuse a favor, or weak in revealing his inability to do so.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Everyone has a captivity narrative; today we call it memoir.
Stacy Schiff
The Ptolemaic system has been compared to that of Soviet Russia; it stands among the most closely controlled economies in history.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
There are people whose defects become them, and others who are ill served by their good qualities. —La Rochefoucauld
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
There was good reason why Cleopatra’s subjects viewed time as a coil of endless repetitions.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
And if you take away my life,” she threatened, “God will give you blood to drink.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
So it was that when a fiery wisp of a girl presented herself before an adroit, much older man of the world, credit for the seduction fell to her.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Like any oppressed people, they defined themselves by what offended them, which
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The art of speaking,” it was later said, “depends on much effort, continual study, varied kinds of exercise, long experience, profound wisdom, and unfailing strategic sense.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Without mystery, there was no faith.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
When Witches assaulted their first victims in Salem village, it was 1691 in North America, 1692 in Europe.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
A few months since the idea of witches riding through the air upon a broomstick, and that of philosophers upon a bag of smoke, would have appeared equally impossible and ridiculous,
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
...but from an early age she would have known literarily what she at twenty-one discovered empirically: there were days you felt like waging war, and days when you just needed to go home.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
As a teenager he had observed that success bred presumption and that presumption bred inattention. On the other hand misfortune fostered care and vigilance, by which losses might be reversed.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Until well into the evening, when the vermillion sun plunged precipitously into the harbor, Alexandria remained a swirl of reds and yellows, a swelling kaleidoscope of music, chaos, and color.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
It’s easy. Pretend to know what you don’t, and pretend not to know when you do. Hear what you don’t understand and don’t hear what you do. Promise what you cannot deliver, what you have no intention of delivering. Make a great secret of hiding what isn’t there. Plead you’re busy as you spend your time sharpening pencils. Speak profoundly to cover up your emptiness, encourage spies, reward traitors, tamper with seals, intercept letters, hide the ineptitude of your goals by speaking of them glowingly—that’s all there is to politics, I swear. —Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
We all subscribe to preposterous beliefs; we just don't know yet which ones they are. We too have been known to prefer plot to truth; to deny the evidence before us in favor of the ideas behind us; to do insane things in the name of reason; to take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous; to drown our private guilt in a public well; to indulge in a little delusion.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
And from an early age she enjoyed the best education available in the Hellenistic world, at the hands of the most gifted scholars, in what was incontestably the greatest center of learning in existence:
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
For talk is evil: It is light to raise up quite easily, but it is difficult to bear, and hard to put down. No talk is ever entirely gotten rid of, once many people talk it up: It too is some god.” —HESIOD
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Learning was a serious business, involving endless drills, infinite rules, long hours. There was no such thing as a weekend; one studied on all save for festival days, which came with merciful regularity in Alexandria.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
The Ptolemies were in fact Macedonian Greek, which makes Cleopatra approximately as Egyptian as Elizabeth Taylor. The word ‘honey skinned’ recurs in descriptions of her relatives and would presumably applied to hers as well, despite the inexactitudes surrounding her mother and paternal grandmother. There was certainly Persian blood in the family, but even an Egyptian mistress is a rarity among the Ptolemies. She was not dark skinned.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
America’s tiny reign of terror, Salem represents one of the rare moments in our enlightened past when the candles are knocked out and everyone seems to be groping about in the dark, the place where all good stories begin.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
For three months of the year they could not be certain what year they were living in. Because the pope approved the Gregorian calendar, New England rejected it, stubbornly continuing to date the start of the new year to March 25.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The stranger acted no differently from the fortune-teller who intuits that you have recently suffered a setback; she is unfailingly correct. Witchcraft merely supplied the culprit, sometimes in advance of her crime, often many years later.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
She knew neither that she was living in the first century BC nor in the Hellenistic Age, both of them later constructs. (The Hellenistic Age begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends in 30 BC, with the death of Cleopatra.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
We have ample testimony to her sense of humor; Cleopatra was a wit and a prankster. There is no cause to question how she read Herodotus’s further assertion that Egypt was a country in which “the women urinate standing up, the men sitting down.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
What good were these experiments?” went the skeptic’s question. To which Franklin replied, “What good is a new-born babe?” In some versions he continued: “He may be an imbecile, or a man of great intelligence. Let us wait for him to complete his studies before judging him.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
It was in Alexandria that the circumference of the earth was first measured, the sun fixed at the center of the solar system, the workings of the brain and the pulse illuminated, the foundations of anatomy and physiology established, the definitive editions of Homer produced.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
He wrote Véra sheepishly: “Something has happened (only don’t be angry). I can’t remember (for God’s sake, don’t be angry!) I can’t remember (promise that you won’t be angry), I can’t remember your telephone number.” He knew it had a seven in it, but the rest had entirely escaped him.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
While Egyptian speakers learned Greek, it was rare that anyone ventured in the opposite direction. To the punishing study of Egyptian, however, Cleopatra applied herself. She was allegedly the first and only Ptolemy to bother to learn the language of the 7 million people over whom she ruled.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
For some of the things that plagued the seventeenth-century New Englander we have modern-day explanations. For others we do not. We have believed in any number of things—the tooth fairy, cold fusion, the benefits of smoking, the free lunch—that turn out not to exist. We all subscribe to preposterous beliefs; we just don’t know yet which ones they are. We too have been known to prefer plot to truth; to deny the evidence before us in favor of the ideas behind us; to do insane things in the name of reason; to take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous; to drown our private guilts in a public well; to indulge in a little delusion. We have all believed that someone had nothing better to do than spend his day plotting against us. The seventeenth-century world appeared full of inexplicables, not unlike the automated, mind-reading, algorithmically enhanced modern one.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Plutarch clearly notes that her beauty “was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it”. It was rather the “contact of her presence, if you lived with her, that was irresistible”. Her personality and manner, he insists, were no less than “bewitching”. Time has done better than fail to wither Cleopatra’s case; it has improved upon her allure. She came into her looks only years later. By the third century AD she would be described as “striking”, exquisite in appearance. By the Middle Ages, she was “famous for nothing but her beauty”.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
He had never been a believer in systems—his was an overweening faith that life lay in the contradictions, not in the formulae, in the doubting, not the certainties, the needs rather than the riches—and political parties seemed to him little more than artificial structures designed to save man from his loneliness.
Stacy Schiff (Saint-Exupery: A Biography)
Aikhenvald saw Véra as a fearless guide to Vladimir on “the poetic path.” She was on every count his champion. The wife of another émigré writer phrased it differently: “Everyone in the Russian community knew who and what you meant when you said ‘Verochka.’ It meant a boxer who went into the fight and hit and hit.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
The most reckless volume on the subject, the Malleus Maleficarum, or Witch Hammer, summoned a shelf of classical authorities to prove its point: “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” As is often the case with questions of women and power, elucidations here verged on the paranormal. Weak as she was to devilish temptations, a woman could emerge dangerously, insatiably commanding. According to the indispensable Malleus, even in the absence of occult power, women constituted “a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment.” The
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
We know that Antony pined for Cleopatra months later, though she wound up with all the credit for the affair. As one of her sworn enemies asserted, she did not fall in love with Antony but “brought him to fall in love with her.” In the ancient world too women schemed while men strategized; there was a great gulf, elemental and eternal, between the adventurer and the adventuress. There was one too between virility and promiscuity: Caesar left Cleopatra in Alexandria to sleep with the wife of the king of Mauretania. Antony arrived in Tarsus fresh from an affair with the queen of Cappadocia. The consort of two men of voracious sexual appetite and innumerable sexual conquests, Cleopatra would go down in history as the snare, the delusion, the seductress. Citing her sexual prowess was evidently less discomfiting than acknowledging her intellectual gifts. In the same way it is easier to ascribe her power to magic than to love. We have evidence of neither, but the first can at least be explained; with magic one forfeits rather than loses the game. So Cleopatra has Antony under her thumb, poised to obey her every wish, “not only because of his intimacy with her,” as Josephus has it, “but also because of being under the influence of drugs.” To claim as much is to acknowledge her power, also to insult her intelligence.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
When Cleopatra was nine or ten, a visiting official had accidentally killed a cat, an animal held sacred in Egypt.* A furious mob assembled, with whom Auletes’ representative attempted to reason. While this was a crime for an Egyptian, surely a foreigner merited a special exemption? He could not save the visitor from the bloodthirsty crowd.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
The Massachusetts elite had read everything in sight, some of it too closely. As would be said of logic-loving Ipswich minister John Wise, those men were not so much the masters as the victims of learning. They had read and reread bushels of witchcraft texts. They parsed legal code. They knew their history. They worked in the sterling name of reason.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Evsei Slonim would have seen himself as a member of the intelligentsia, a classless class whose features Nabokov described as""the spirit of self-sacrifice, intense participation in political causes or political thought, intense sympathy for the underdog of any nationality, fanatical integrity, tragic inability to sink to compromise, true spirit of international responsibility.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
Our appetite for the miraculous endures; we continue to want there to be something beyond our ken. We hope to locate the secret powers we didn't know we had, like the ruby slippers Dorothy finds on her feet and that Glinda has to tell her how to work. Where women are concerned, it is preferable that those powers manifest only when crisis strikes; the best heroine is the accidental one.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
She did not believe Fate as painstaking as her husband; she was more inclined to take matters into her own hands. She had ample reason for doing so. For a Jew in Russia to be a fatalist was tantamount to inviting disaster. Nabokov trusted in a thematic design which could not have looked quite so dazzling, so sure-handed, to someone who was in the habit of gingerly tiptoeing one step ahead of destiny.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
What was said of an earlier tribune was more true of Antony: “He was a spendthrift of money and chastity—his own and other people’s.” The brilliant cavalry officer had all of Caesar’s charm and none of his self-control. In 44 the conspirators had deemed him too inconsistent to be dangerous. After the Ides Mark Antony was in his glory, entirely the man of the hour—at least until Octavian arrived. Cleopatra
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Young Goodman Brown,” The Scarlet Letter, or his 1851 bestseller, The House of the Seven Gables, but Hawthorne proved that territory still radioactive. Guilt and blame have grown up lushly on the scene, attracting writers from Walt Whitman to John Updike. Arthur Miller read the court papers under the spell of McCarthyism. He discovered, as New England itself had, that events must be absorbed before monuments can be raised. The Crucible
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The first known prosecution took place in Egypt around 1300 BC, for a crime that would today constitute practicing medicine without a license. (That supernatural medic was male.) Descended from Celtic horned gods and Teutonic folklore, Pan's distant ancestor the devil was not yet on the scene. He arrived with the New Testament, a volume notably free of witches. Nothing in the Bible connects the two, a job that fell, much later, to the church.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
In her adult life Cleopatra would have met few people she considered her equal. To the Romans she was a stubborn, supreme exception to every rule. She remains largely incomparable: She had plenty of predecessors, few successors. With her, the age of empresses essentially came to an end. In two thousand years only one or two other women could be said to have wielded unrestricted authority over so vast a realm. Cleopatra remains nearly alone at the all-male table, in possession of a hand both flush and flawed. She got a very good deal right, and one crucial thing wrong.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Caesar’s civic reforms were promising, but how and when would he put the Republic back together again? Over years of war it had been turned upside down, the constitution trampled, appointments made on whim and against the law. Caesar took few steps toward restoring traditional rights and regulations. Meanwhile his powers expanded. He took charge of most elections and decided most court cases. He spent a great deal of time settling scores, rewarding supporters, auctioning off his opponents’ properties. The Senate appeared increasingly irrelevant. Some groused that they lived in a monarchy masquerading as a republic. There were three possibilities for the future, predicted an exasperated Cicero, “endless armed conflict, eventual revival after a peace, and complete annihilation.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
More Wonders of the Invisible World,
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Not long thereafter Lawson committed an indiscretion that left him issuing solemn apologies to the London ministry. He acknowledged having dishonored his profession with his “uneven and unwary conversation.” He battled for several years to clear his name.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Not long thereafter Lawson committed an indiscretion that left him issuing solemn apologies to the London ministry. He acknowledged having dishonored his profession with his “uneven and unwary conversation.” He battled for several years to clear his name. The offense may have had nothing to do with sensationalistic witchcraft pronouncements; he may simply have drunk too much. He had however spoken carelessly, as he could be said to have done in 1692. By 1714 he lived in abject poverty, his family starving, his three young children infected with smallpox, his wife debilitated.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Witchcraft localized anxiety at a dislocated time, as atomic war powered McCarthy rumors in the 1950s.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
the Nurses had raised a Quaker orphan;
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Rebecca Nurse’s, Mary Esty’s, Elizabeth Procter’s, and Mary English’s mothers had been rumored to be witches.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The irony that they had come to the New World to escape an interfering civil authority was lost on the colonists, who unleashed on one another the kind of abuse they had deplored in royal officials.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
They had contracted a kind of autoimmune disorder, deploying against themselves the very furies they so feared.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Charcot’s drawings of convulsing hysterics agree in every detail with the scenes that left Deodat Lawson reeling.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Few were innocent aside from those who had been hanged.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Among all the freewheeling accusations in 1692, not once had a father accused a son or a son implicated a father.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
John Willard’s widow, who had cowered under the stairs after his beatings, married a Towne in 1694.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Mary Walcott’s April wedding ceremony,
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
All too often dissenters wound up named or fined. Fifty-two-year-old Samuel Willard, Increase Mather’s only equal among ministers, had sounded notes of caution all along. He assisted the Englishes in their escape; he participated in the private fast for John Alden. In exchange, he met with “unkindness, abuse, and reproach”—and with a witchcraft accusation.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Samuel Willard
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Magnalia,
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
John Willard
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Cases of Conscience,
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
With less exactitude but much relish, Puritan enemies marveled at the Massachusetts frenzy. They were eagerly “hanging one another” for precisely the crime, noted two Quaker merchants who visited Salem that fall, of which they liked to accuse their supposedly devil-worshipping sect. Indeed they were “hotly and madly, mauling one another in the dark,” as Cotton Mather wailed. Witch-hunting seemed to encourage you to act like the very creatures—Catholics, Frenchmen, wizards—you abhorred.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Mary Glover, hanged four years earlier on Boston Common for having bewitched the Goodwin children
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. —VOLTAIRE
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
He muscled words into deeds,
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
By unanimous vote, some fourteen hundred Bostonians, the minority of them merchants, dispatched Greenleaf to inform the acting governor that they were “determined to keep consciences void of offense towards God and towards man.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
Adams left the floor to Virginia, proud men from the most populous colony, one that shared New England’s views but not its reputation for fire-breathing fanaticism. (John Adams would later claim that this was the reason Washington commanded the army, Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and Richard Henry Lee proposed it.)
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
The matter of voting settled, Cushing moved that Congress open their deliberations with a prayer. New York and South Carolina objected. Their ranks included Episcopalians and Quakers, Baptists and Presbyterians. How could they conceivably worship together? It was the larger question writ small: How to reconcile the diversity of convictions? On September 6, Adams rose for his first congressional speech. Personally he had no trouble with “a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
The people owed it to themselves to monitor those who governed.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
the mob and the militia — officially every man between the ages of sixteen and sixty — were one and the same.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
It was an odd thing about Boston, Crown officials observed. A confidential, early-morning insinuation could blossom into common knowledge by evening. Yet when 342 crates of tea immersed themselves in water, no one had seen a thing.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
Were taxes to be levied, Franklin warned, pandemonium would result. Especially when it came to imposing burdens on people, he observed, it was wise to consider what they were inclined to think as well as how they ought to think.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
History’s what people are trying to hide from you, not what they’re trying to show you. You search for it in the same way you sift through landfill: for evidence of what people want to bury.  — HILARY MANTEL “I
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
I will stand alone. I will oppose tyranny at the threshold, though the fabric of liberty fall and I perish in its ruins.
Stacy Schiff (The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams)
superior in its ways, splendid in its luxuries, the place to go to spend your fortune, write your poetry, find (or forget) a romance, restore your health, reinvent yourself, or regroup after having conquered vast swaths of Italy, Spain, and Greece over the course of a Herculean decade.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Offering his own scalding stream of accusations, he terrified the opposition into silence. “By certain documents,” Octavian promised to demonstrate that Antony constituted a threat to Rome. He fixed a date on which he would present his evidence. The opposing consuls had seen the daggers; they knew better than to await that session, and secretly fled the city. Nearly four hundred senators followed, sailing to Ephesus,
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
in the absence of facts, myth rushes in,
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
The irresistible locked room mystery of the matter is what keeps us coming back to it. In 300 years, we have not adequately penetrated 9 months of Massachusetts history. If we knew more about Salem, we might attend to it less, a conundrum that touches on something of what propelled the witch panic in the first place. Things disturb us in the night. Sometimes they are our consciences. Sometimes they are our secrets. Sometimes they are our fears, translated from one idiom to another. Often what pinches and pricks, Nas, claws, stabs, and suffocates, like a 17th century which, is the irritatingly unsolved puzzle in the next room.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
her history written by her enemies,
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
To restore Cleopatra is as much to salvage the few facts as to peel away the encrusted myth and the hoary propaganda.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Few places favor meditation more than the desert
Stacy Schiff (Saint-Exupéry)
She took the Saturday Review’s 1962 test, “Your Literary I.Q.,” and outscored VN by a long shot;
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Mandelstam wrote of the Jewish tutor who first introduced him to the concept of Jewish pride and whom he failed to believe, as he could see the tutor put that pride away as soon as he set foot again in the street.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
honesty very nearly constituted a religious principle for her.* She believed in full candor, which was not the same as full disclosure.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Proust fared better. “I cannot even begin to tell you how much pleasure we both derive from the mere presence of LA RECHERCHE in our dwelling,” Véra thanked her husband’s Gallimard editor, but this before she had begun the Maurois-edited volume, into which she was appalled to see that a great number of slips and misprints had crept. She could not help it; hers was the kind of eye to which typos positively leapt.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Mostly they had no place to go. Berberova’s description of the face of the continent at the time goes some way toward explaining their inertia: “On the map of Europe were England, France, Germany, and Russia. In the first, imbeciles reigned, in the second living corpses, in the third villains, and in the fourth villains and bureaucrats.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Much of the rest of the summer and fall were devoted to the transcription of Invitation to a Beheading, a first draft of which Vladimir had written in a lightning two weeks, on Véra’s return from the clinic. To his dismay the typing seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time; in November an exhausted Véra was at the machine night and day. From outside the third-floor apartment, recalled Nabokov, “we heard Hitler’s voice from rooftop loudspeakers.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Véra expressed a desire even to hurry it along. “I wish it would go all white,” she sighed in 1948, when it was very nearly there. “People will think I married an older woman,” her husband protested, to which, without blinking, Véra replied, “Not if they look at you.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
He and Véra were perfectly exhausted, though continually delighted by Dmitri, whom they were deceiving into walking on his own. He would do so only by grasping at trees and bushes as he moved; they fixed a branch in his hand, and off he went.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Eventually the receptionist went to lunch, leaving him alone. An hour after the agreed-upon meeting time he wandered back to where he assumed Gallimard’s office to be; the publisher too had left for lunch. Twenty years later—after Gallimard had published Despair but rejected Invitation to a Beheading, Bend Sinister, and Speak, Memory—the firm again became Nabokov’s publisher. The reception would be dramatically different.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
In their wake the bite of incense lingered in the sultry air.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
the border between the human and divine was fluid for Cleopatra.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Nicholas Nabokov’s first wife did all in her power to make the new arrivals comfortable, arranging for them to occupy the flat across the hall in her East Sixty-first Street brownstone until the Tolstoy Foundation located a summer sublet on upper Madison Avenue.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
It would be difficult to write about Véra without mentioning Vladimir. But it would be impossible to write about Vladimir without mentioning Véra.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
You came into my life and not the way a casual visitor might (you know, ‘without removing one’s hat’) but as one enters a kingdom, where all the rivers have waited for your reflection, all the roads for your footfall.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Russia was in any event a country in which, well in advance of the rest of Europe, girls were educated, none more so than three daughters of a successful Petersburg lawyer, in particular one without a son on whom to settle the mantle of intellectual heir.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Young women routinely went to law school; half the medical faculty in prerevolutionary times were women, as were a quarter of economics students. Oddly, even when the anti-Semitic decrees had made legal careers inaccessible to Jews, government schools for girls remained open to Jewish girls.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
There was every reason, however, why she would have a natural ear for a narrative technique later described as a “system wherein a second (main) story is woven into, or placed behind, the superficial semitransparent one.
Stacy Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
It is not difficult to understand why Caesar became history, Cleopatra a legend.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
A good-sized Ptolemaic vessel could carry three hundred tons of wheat down the river. At least two such ships made the trip daily—with wheat, barley, lentils—to feed Alexandria alone.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Dimitri had driven his mother back to Montreux from the Lausanne hospital at dusk on July 2, in his blue Ferrari, on the last day of his father's life. Véra had sat silently for a few minutes and then uttered the one desperate line Dimitri ever heard escape her lips, "Let's rent an airplane and crash.
Stacy Schiff (Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov))
Confronted afterward, she claimed no knowledge of that bedroom tryst; she did not intend to be held responsible for men's dreams.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
Things disturb us in the night. Sometimes they are our consciences. Sometimes they are our secrets. Sometimes they are our fears, translated from one idiom to another. Often what pinches and pricks, gnaws, claws, stabs, and suffocates, like a seventeenth-century witch, is the irritatingly unsolved puzzle in the next room. The
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
We have believed in any number of things - the tooth fairy, cold fusion, and benefits of smoking, the free lunch - that turn out not to exist. We all subscribe to preposterous beliefs; we just don't know yet which ones they are.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge which they may apply usefully for their country; but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret; their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects; and they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. —Thomas Jefferson
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
In Europe pedigree might be all, “but it is a commodity that cannot be carried to a worse market than to that of America, where people do not enquire concerning a stranger, what is he? but what can he do?
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Judging by the edicts passed to regulate commerce alone, Franklin stood ready to conclude that “an assembly of wise men is the greatest fool upon earth.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
In this world,” he reminded a French friend, “it is not faith that saves us, but defiance.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
He argued—in a line for which Jefferson would get the dubious credit, speaking of a different revolution—that “civil wars in the political systems, like bleeding to the human body, or thunderstorms in due season, are salutary.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Hutton and Franklin spent all of January 3 together, in the course of which Franklin evidently informed his old friend, “You have only left us the option of perishing by you or with you: we have chosen the latter alternative.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
We most often understand the value of time only when we are in a position of having to regret its loss,
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
In the only letter he wrote that Christmas, Franklin conceded that he no longer coveted the Brillon house as once he had. His feelings for his neighbor’s wife remained constant, however. If in her travels she was to meet the Holy Father, he hoped she might petition him for a repeal of the Ten Commandments. They were miserably inconvenient.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Resentment is a passion, implanted by nature for the preservation of the individual. Injury is the object which excites it. Injustice, wrong, injury excites the feeling of resentment, as naturally and necessarily as frost and ice excite the feeling of cold, as fire excites heat, and as both excite pain. A man may have the faculty of concealing his resentment, or suppressing it, but he must and ought to feel it. Nay he ought to indulge it, to cultivate it. It is a duty. —John Adams
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
He had come a long way since his conviction, as a twenty-year-old, that honesty could not be counterfeited.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Franklin was perfectly philosophical on the subject: “For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
Apollodorus came, Caesar saw, Cleopatra conquered.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life)
To one visitor Alexandrian life was “just one continuous revel, not a sweet or gentle revel either, but savage and harsh, a revel of dancers, whistlers, and murderers all combined.
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
diadem, Cleopatra took part throughout the trip in religious
Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra)
Witchcraft tied up loose ends, accounting for the arbitrary, the eerie, and the unneighborly.
Stacy Schiff (The Witches: Salem, 1692)
The majority of the guns fired on the British at Saratoga were French. Four years later, when the British set down their muskets at Yorktown, they surrendered to forces that were nearly equal parts French and American, all of them fed and clothed and paid by France, and protected by de Grasse’s fleet. Without French funds the Revolution would have collapsed; by a conservative estimate, America’s independence cost France more than 1.3 billion livres, the equivalent of $13 billion today.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
He was the world-renowned tamer of lightning, the man who had disarmed the heavens, who had vanquished superstition with reason.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
In John Adams’s worst nightmare, the story of the American Revolution assumed a different formulation: “The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod—and thence forward these two conducted all the policy, negotiation, legislatures, and war.
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
If something foreign arrives at Paris, they either think they invented it, or that it has always been there. —Horace Walpole
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
The First Mistake in Public Business Is the Going into It
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)
He is drunk at least 22 hours of every 24 and never without one or two whores in company.”)
Stacy Schiff (A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America)