Look, you could open any one of the four books in the Neapolitan quartet, scan your eyes down a random page, and find a line Ferrante has written that will knock your socks off. They are endlessly quotable books, beautifully translated into English by Ann Goldstein. If forced, however, we could narrow it down to these best quotes from the Neapolitan novels.
Best Quotes from My Brilliant Friend (Book One: Neapolitan Novels)
Some of the very best quotes from the Neapolitan novels are to be found in the first installment, My Brilliant Friend, which follows Lena and Lila through their tumultuous childhood in Naples.
“While men were always getting furious, they calmed down in the end; women, who appeared to be silent, acquiescent, when they were angry flew into a rage that had no end.”My Brilliant Friend
“Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don’t want to think about the rest. Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”My Brilliant Friend
“Our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life.”My Brilliant Friend
“She was struggling to find, from inside the cage in which she was enclosed, a way of being all her own, that was still obscure to her.”My Brilliant Friend
“I wanted, that day, to feel calm, tranquil, despite my glasses, the modest dress made by my mother, my old shoes and at the same time think: I have everything a sixteen year old girl should have, I don’t need anyone or anything.”My Brilliant Friend
“Would she always do the things I was supposed to do, before and better than me? She eluded me when I followed her and meanwhile stayed close on my heels in order to pass me by.”My Brilliant Friend
“There is a poverty that makes us all cruel.”My Brilliant Friend
Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.
Best Quotes from The Story Of A New Name (Book Two: Neapolitan Novels)
The second book in the Neapolitan quartet, The Story Of A New Name, is just as brilliant as the first. It depicts Lena and Lila’s late adolescence and entry into adulthood, and has some of the best quotes from the Neapolitan novels.
“Words: with them you can do and undo as you please.”The Story of A New Name
“If nothing could save us, not money, not a male body, and not even studying, we might as well destroy everything immediately.”The Story Of A New Name
“Is it possible that even happy moments of pleasure never stand up to a rigorous examination? Possible.”The Story Of A New Name
“I understood that I had arrived there full of pride and realized that—in good faith, certainly, with affection—I had made that whole journey mainly to show her what she had lost and what I had won. But she had known from the moment I appeared, and now, risking tensions with her workmates, and fines, she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied and foolish adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.”The Story Of A New Name
“I gave in continuously, with painful pleasure, to waves of unhappiness.”The Story Of A New Name
“We had grown up thinking that a stranger must not even touch us, but that our father, our boyfriend, and our husband could hit us when they liked, out of love, to educate us, to reeducate us.”The Story of A New Name
“I wasn’t capable of entrusting myself to true feelings. I didn’t know how to be drawn beyond limits. I didn’t possess that emotional power that had driven Lila to do all she could to enjoy that day and that night. I stayed behind, waiting. She, on the other hand, seized things, truly wanted them, was passionate about them, played for all or nothing, and wasn’t afraid of contempt, mockery, spitting, beatings. She deserved Nino, in other words, because she thought that to love him meant to try to have him, not hope that he would want her.”The Story Of A New Name
“But the condition of wife had enclosed her in a sort of glass container, like a sailboat sailing with sails unfurled in an inaccessible place, without the sea.”The Story of A New Name
“What have I done, she thought, dazed by wine, and what is this gold circle, this glittering zero I’ve stuck my finger in.”The Story of A New Name
“I saw clearly the mothers of the old neighborhood. They were nervous, they were acquiescent. They were silent, with tight lips and stooping shoulders, or they yelled terrible insults at the children who harassed them. Extremely thin, with hollow eyes and cheeks, or with broad behinds, swollen ankles, heavy chests, they lugged shopping bags and small children who clung to their skirts and wanted to be picked up. And, good God, they were ten, at most twenty years older than me.”The Story Of A New Name
“For her whole life she would sacrifice to him every quality of her own, and he wouldn’t even be aware of the sacrifice, he would be surrounded by the wealth of feeling, intelligence, imagination that were hers, without knowing what to do with them, he would ruin them.”The Story Of A New Name
“My return to Naples was like having a defective umbrella that suddenly closes over your head in a gust of wind.”The Story of A New Name
“We were, in short, on the side of the violation, but only because it reaffirmed the value of the rule.”The Story Of A New Name
Read my full review of The Story Of A New Name here.
Best Quotes from Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Book Three: Neapolitan Novels)
I’ll happily admit that Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay is not my favourite book of the quartet, but it still has some of the best quotes from the Neapolitan novels. Lena and Lila progress into adulthood, as the tumultuous politics of Italy impacts their daily lives.
“Each of us narrates our life as it suits us.”Those Who Leave And Those WHo Stay
“In the fairy tales one does as one wants, and in reality one does what one can.”Those WHo Leave And Those Who Stay
“Become. It was a verb that had always obsessed me…I wanted to become, even though I had never known what. And I had become, that was certain, but without an object, without a real passion, without a determined ambition.”Those WHo Leave And Those Who Stay
“People died of carelessness, of corruption, of abuse, and yet, in every round of voting, gave their enthusiastic approval to the politicians who made their life unbearable.”Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay
“And no one knew better than I did what it meant to make your own head masculine so that it would be accepted by the culture of men; I had done it, I was doing it.”Those Who Leave And Those Who stay
“When the task we give ourselves has the urgency of passion, there’s nothing that can keep us from completing it.”Those Who Leave And Those WHo Stay
“All that struggle, all that time spent camouflaging myself when I could be doing something else. The colors that suited me, the ones that didn’t, the styles that made me look thinner, those that made me fatter, the cut that flattered me, the one that didn’t. A lengthy, costly preparation. Reducing myself to a table set for the sexual appetite of the male, to a well-cooked dish to make his mouth water.”Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay
“Maybe, I thought, I’ve given too much weight to the cultivated use of reason, to good reading, to well controlled language, to political affiliation; maybe, in the face of abandonment, we are all the same; maybe not even a very orderly mind can endure the discovery of not being loved.”Those Who Leave And Those WHo Stay
“I feel like the knight in an ancient romance as, wrapped in his shining armor, after performing a thousand astonishing feats throughout the world, he meets a ragged, starving herdsman, who, never leaving his pasture, subdues and controls horrible beasts with his bare hands, and with prodigious courage.”Those Who Leave And Those WHo Stay
“The new living flesh was replicating the old in a game, we were a chain of shadows who had always been on the stage with the same burden of love, hatred, desire, and violence.”Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay
Read my full review of Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay here.
Best Quotes from The Story Of The Lost Child (Book Four: Neapolitan Novels)
Ferrante, of course, saved the best for last! The rest of the best quotes from the Neapolitan novels come from The Story Of A Lost Child, the final installment in the quartet that follows Lena and Lila through maturity and into old age.
“Where is it written that lives should have a meaning?”The Story Of The Lost Child
“To be born in that city is useful for only one thing: to have always known, almost instinctively, what today, with endless fine distinctions, everyone is beginning to claim: that the dream of unlimited progress is in reality a nightmare of savagery and death.”The Story of The Lost Child
“Only in bad novels people always think the right thing, always say the right thing, every effect has its cause, there are the likable ones and the unlikable, the good and the bad, everything in the end consoles.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“What a fuss for a name: famous or not, it’s only a ribbon tied around a sack randomly filled with blood, flesh, words, shit, and petty thoughts.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“A book, an article, could make noise, but ancient warriors before the battle also made noise, and if it wasn’t accompanied by real force and immeasurable violence it was only theater.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“It was a good rule not to expect the ideal but to enjoy what is possible.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“For a person who is no one to become someone is more important than anything else.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“There are moments when what exists on the edges of our lives, and which, it seems, will be in the background forever—an empire, a political party, a faith, a monument, but also simply the people who are part of our daily existence—collapses in an utterly unexpected way, and right when countless other things are pressing upon us.”The Story Of The Lost Child
“So much fuss about the greatness of this one and that one, but what virtue is there in being born with certain qualities, it’s like admiring the bingo basket when you shake it and good numbers come out.”The Story Of The Lost Child
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