A Love For Epigraphs

An epigraph is 'a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme'. Epigraphs are fleeting and flowery things, though draped – nevertheless – with heavy meaning.  After all, they immerse the reader in the author's world before the author's words have even begun. And I'll admit that I'm susceptible to the allure of a good epigraph, for anything that encapsulates hundreds of pages (in only the inked strokes and absences of a few words) is enticing indeed. So, here are a few of my favourite epigraphs I've picked out:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
"What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more'… Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine." – Nietzche

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
"And you may ask yourself, 
Well, how did I get here? 
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful house.
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife." – Talking Heads

"I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them." – Maurice Sendak

How to be Both by Ali Smith
"Although the living is subject to the ruin of time, the process of decay is at the same time a process of crystallisation, that in the depth of the sea, into which sinks and is dissolved what once was alive, some things 'suffer a sea-change' and survive in new crystallised forms and shapes that remain immune to the elements, as though they waited only for the pearl diver who one day will come down to them and bring them up in the world of the living." – Hannah Arendt

"Just like a character in a novel, he disappeared suddenly, without leaving the slightest trace behind." – Giorgio Bassani / Jamie McKendrick

"If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." – Juan Ramón Jiménez

This quotation for Life After Life is so lyrically and thematically apt in unlocking the very heart of Atkinson's tale – it brings forwards innumerable ideas about loneliness and rebirth. And I've always loved this epigraph from The Marriage Plot due to its delicate uncertainty. It just seems so fitting for the novel and, in particular, the mindset of its characters. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of naivety, fragility and the terrors of childhood – so, needless to say, this epigraph is wonderful in expressing the genuine and haunting side of being a child. In terms of How to Be Both, this novel has several epigraphs, though these two are my favourites. They're fantastically ambiguous and pave the way for what will be an incredibly thoughtful novel.

Though, in terms of the epigraph for Fahrenheit 451, I don't know what to say about it, other than it just feels right. For me, it's the perfect epigraph.

Have you ever paid particular attention to epigraphs?
I said this last post, but I'll reiterate; I'm pretty confident i'll be setting up a second blog sometime in the near future. This won't affect this blog, but I thought it was worth noting. :)


  1. I've never paid attention to Epigraphs before! This post has definitely opened my eyes to them, and I'll be sure to pay more attention to them in the future. I love the one for Fahrenheit 451.
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

    1. I used to always skip straight to the beginning of the book, but now I always read the dedications & epigraphs (just in case there are any hidden gems, like the ones above!)

  2. I always read epigraphs but haven't come across one that stuck with me like these did with you! But I do love reading acknowledgments at the end, it's a little window into the life of the author (especially if I liked the book)!

  3. Oh, goodness, I think epigraphs are one of my favourite aspects of the reading experience - second only to a very good dedication. I think the fundamental difference between them is that, when done well, the former encompasses the story within the pages, but the latter offers a new story altogether. They are both a sort of art, I think - different, but equally important.

    1. Yes, definitely. And when a book has both a good epigraph and a good dedication, it's a delight indeed. :)

  4. Love, love, love this post! Epigraphs are beautiful & I love the ones you shared. Especially the ones from How to Be Both!

  5. Ooh I really like the epigraph in Neil Gaiman's book. I don't really remember a specific epigraph that I like...I guess next time I'll pay more attention to them!

  6. Love it! I am in love with epigraphs. Some of my favourites which spring to mind:

    Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

    To a Young Poet by Edna St Vincent Millay

    Time cannot break the bird's wing from the bird.
    Bird and wing together
    Go down -- one feather.

    No thing that ever flew,
    Not the lark, not you,
    Can die as others do.

    RUF is about a poet and pilot, so this poem is PERFECT. I loved it from the moment I read it, last summer, and immediately learnt it by heart!

    The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling

    A Dirge by Christina Rosetti

    Why were you born when the snow was falling?
    You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
    Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
    Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
    For their far off flying
    From summer dying.

    Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
    You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
    When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
    And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
    And all winds go sighing
    For sweet things dying.

    Absolutely love this poem, and I love how the novel's title references it.

    The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

    What if you slept ...
    What if you slept
    And what if
    In your sleep
    You dreamed
    And what if
    In your dream
    You went to heaven
    And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
    And what if
    When you awoke
    You had that flower in you hand
    Ah, what then?

    I love the ones you've picked, too. I remember picking up The Ocean at the End of the Lane and being struck by that very epigram. I NEED to read some Gaiman. And also Life After Life, I've heard it's very, very good.

    1. Oh wow I LOVE these ones! I especially love the Christina Rosetti (I'm studying her next year for A-level English and I'm so excited for it!)

      As always, thank you for sharing Emily. :)


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