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The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women.

"I hate quotations," Ralph Waldo Emerson confided to his diary. Yet, that very statement, along with scores more by the sage of Concord, was collected by John Bartlett in his famous anthology of familiar quotations. Familiarity breeds contempt--to quote Publius Syrus--but it also keeps editors of quotation books away from honest labor.

Emerson is absent from Rosalie Maggio's new collection, and so, too, are Shakespeare, Lincoln, Churchill, Jesus, and every other man who ever said anything worth remembering. The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women excludes the unfair sex, the half of the species that has been dominating conversation since Adam began to name the fowl of the air and the beasts of the field. Women's sounds barely have registered. Although he acknowledged Louisa May Alcott and Queen Victoria, Bartlett was partial to tenor, bass, and baritone.

The Beacon Book buzzes with the voices of more than 1,300 women, most from 20th-century Britain or the U.S. Maggio explains her selection of 5,700 entries "for their memorability, their original use of language, their brevity, their ability to shatter conventional patterns of speech or thought and their potential usefulness to readers needing quotations for speaking and writing."

Political reputations often are nourished by media bites, and Maggio quotes utterances by Phyllis Schlafly, Margaret Chase Smith, and Barbara Jordan, while omitting Sharon Pratt Kelly, Peggy Noonan, and Anita Hill. Is it too soon to include Hillary Clinton, Carol Mosley Braun, or Barbara Boxer? Benazir Bhutto, Shulamit Aloni, Helen Suzman, and Petra Kelly have made important noises in their respective countries, but not loudly enough to be recorded in The Beacon Book.

"There is more difference in the sexes than between them," noted Ivy Compton-Burnett. Except for eloquence, Maggio's 1,300 women have little in common. Many are sardonic about men ("It's a matter of opinion," replied actress Hermione Gingold when asked whether her husband was still living), but The Beacon Book pursues no feminist agenda other than to rescue women's words from silence. While it offers a single statement on suffrage and is mum about abortion, it features four on chocolate.

"Sweet words are like honey," wrote Anne Bradstreet. "A little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach." Designed to be savored, not swallowed, The Beacon Book best is scanned slowly. "By men's words we know them," wrote Marie de France eight centuries ago. By their words, we know 1,300 quotable women. After pondering their pronouncements, a reader might cite the dying words of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: "It has all been very interesting."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kellman, Steven G.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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