November 22, 2013

“The past is a foreign country...”


L.P. HARTLEY’S OFT-QUOTED APHORISM:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
       Leslie P. Hartley (1895-1972)
       British novelist and short story writer
       The first sentence in his novel The Go-Between (1953)
       This is one of the most famous opening lines in modern literary history. It sets the stage for a story about class differences, sexual mores and love in England during the early Twentieth Century. The novel is written as the reminiscence of Leo Colston, a British man in his sixties. In looking through some of his old possessions, Colston comes across a diary he wrote in 1900 when he was thirteen. This sparks memories of the role he played as a fairly clueless “go-between” who carried messages back and forth for an older, upper class girl who was having a socially taboo affair with a “lower class” tenant farmer.
       The opening words of the novel have essentially become a modern proverbial saying.


THE NOSTALGIC VIEWPOINT:

“The past may be a foreign country where they do things differently as the L. P. Hartley line has it, but it is one to which many would readily immigrate given the opportunity.”
       Michael Sacasas
       American writer and theologian
       In a post about the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris (2011) on his blog “The Fairest Thing”


ANTI-NOSTALGIA VIEWPOINT #1:

“It’s easy to get washed along in nostalgia, to end up overshadowed by the past, because the past is a perfect country, a place we’ve made better in our heads through selective amnesia.”
       Todd VanDerWerff
       American TV reviewer and critic 
       Reflecting on the HBO series about mobsters, The Sopranos, in a post on the AV Club website


ANTI-NOSTALGIA VIEWPOINT #2:

“If the past is a foreign country, it is a shockingly violent one. It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence. Cultural memory pacifies the past, leaving us with pale souvenirs whose bloody origins have been bleached away. A woman donning a cross seldom reflects that this instrument of torture was a common punishment in the ancient world; nor does a person who speaks of a whipping boy ponder the old practice of flogging an innocent child in place of a misbehaving prince. We are surrounded by signs of the depravity of our ancestors’ way of life, but we are barely aware of them. Just as travel broadens the mind, a literal-minded tour of our cultural heritage can awaken us to how differently they did things in the past.”
       Steven Pinker
       Canadian-born Harvard psychologist and author
       From his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2013)


THE BEAT WRITER’S VIEWPOINT:

“All of life is a foreign country.”
       Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)
       American writer and founding father of the Beat movement in literature
       In a letter he wrote on June 24, 1949, cited in the book The Beat Vision: A Primary Sourcebook

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading and viewing…

Copyrights, Disclaimers & Privacy Policy


Creative Commons License
Copyright © Subtropic Productions LLC

The Quote/Counterquote blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Any duplicative or remixed use of the original text written for this blog and any exact duplications the specific sets of quotations collected for the posts shown here must include an attribution to QuoteCounterquote.com and, if online, a link to http://www.quotecounterquote.com/

To the best of our knowledge, the non-original content posted here is used in a way that is allowed under the fair use doctrine. If you own the copyright to something we've posted and think we may have violated fair use standards, please let me know.

Subtropic Productions LLC and QuoteCounterquote.com are committed to protecting your privacy. We will not sell your email address, etc. For more details, read this blog's full Privacy Policy.