Wednesday 12 July 2017

Epigraph Philosophy

I love a good epigraph.

A well-chosen, thoughtfully considered epigraph can set just the right tone for the book journey you are about to embark on. However so many authors spend much time and effort on finding a fitting epigraph only for it to be skimmed over by most readers.

For the reader who does consider the epigraph, its true significance may not become apparent until the end of the book, by which time it has been long forgotten.

I want to rectify this sad, sad wrong, here today.

I'm currently reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way. 
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart. 
Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.
Perry begins her tale with an epigraph from Michel de Montaigne, On Friendship.

Straight away I had a personal connect to this quote. It sums up beautifully how Mr Books and I feel about each other (although, apparently, Montaigne himself didn't believe that women were capable of this level of emotion, but that's another story!)

Montaigne's quote also gives me another clue about the romance that is at the centre of this story.

Furthermore, on the blurb for Montaingne's book, On Friendship, it says,
Michel de Montaigne was the originator of the modern essay form; in these diverse pieces he expresses his views on relationships, contemplates the idea that man is no different from any animal, argues that all cultures should be respected, and attempts, by an exploration of himself, to understand the nature of humanity.

Not only the epigraph, but the author of the epigraph, highlight Perry's intentions in The Essex Serpent. In this case, the pertinence of the epigraph is apparent from the beginning.

This post is now beginning to feel rather meme-ish to me.

Have you come across a particularly meaningful, insightful or startling epigraph in your recent reading?

I'd love to know what it is and why it took your fancy.

Did you connect to it personally?
Did it put you off or lead you into the story?
Did the quote only make sense once you got into the story? Or at the end?
What does a little bit of googling reveal about your epigraph?

If you'd like to write your own #epigraphphilosophy post please add you link in the comments below.
Use <a href="URL">word</a> to make your link hyper.

If this becomes a thing, I would happily consider another name/hashtag, if any of you have a talent in naming memes!

To finish, I leave you with another Montaigne quote,
I quote others only in order the better to express myself.


  1. I tend to not remember epigraphs but often will pause over the, or revisit them after finishing the book.
    But I do recall a few book dedications. So the funniest book dedications I have ever run into are
    1. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. The dedicaiton reads: "For Woody"...which, of course, has a double meaning. "Woody" be slang for male genitalia. I wonder how many people have seen that and thought nothing of it. Me, I laughed my head off.
    2. Land of Stories by Chris Colfer he dedicated to his grandmother with these words "To Grandmother who gave me the best writing advice I've ever received, 'Christopher, I think you should wait until you are done with elementary school before worrying about being a failed writer.'
    I know this isn't what you were asking for but I though I'd share anyway.

    1. They're great Anne!

      The dedications can be just as revealing or relevant as the epigraphs - as you've just highlighted so beautifully. Thanks for sharing :-)


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.