I finished reading MonkeyTown about 24 hours after I posted "epigraphs are a snore".
Of course, epigraphs are used to excellent effect in the book. They start the sections (three) not each chapter; they are excerpts from articles in the Baltimore Evening Sun written by H.L. Mencken, who is a character in the book; the third person voice is a marked contrast to the first person narration.

Ok, I didn't snore when I read them.
And I like Mary Stewart's chapter headings too.

"Leave the snoring to me"
----Killer Yapp


Anonymous said...

Ah ha! The MS bandwagon about epigraphs just got a lot lighter. -JTC

Termagant 2 said...

Now, see, I'm always the salmon swimming upstream. I like epigraphs & always have. There's a book called DIAMONDS that deals with minor league baseball, and every chapter is a quote by some baseball luminary or other, many quite funny, all relating to the chapter content. Hats off to anyone who knows where to find that many fun baseball quotes, say I.


Anonymous said...

That's the spirit, JTC.

When I want to read a good book, I write one. - Disraeli


nice anonymous said...

The epigraphs in two other books also impressed me as being integral to the story.

In "The French Lieutenant's Woman," John Fowles employs epigraphs from Victorian poetry or facts from reports about Victorian England that offer insight into what happens in each chapter. (He also footnoted his research, way before the current brigade of footnote-using novelists.)

In "Possession," A.S. Byatt uses excerpts from poetry written by the two fictional poets whose lives are being researched. Each excerpt seems like a clue into what the poets' relationship really was.

Cynthia Bronco said...

The epigraph I've always wanted to use, and one day will:
"A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."
-Jebediah Springfield

Sue said...

I don't know the book you are referencing, but those epigraphs sound more like mini prologues than the usual quotations we see. Prologues are fine, they are long enough to offer meaningful content, whereas the usual quotations are often best understand after reading the chapter, if at all. (I can understand using some proverbial quote, but most are obscure references that would better serve as "meditations for an essay.")

Katrina Stonoff said...

You mentioned Mary Stewart! I knew I adored you, but oh, Miss Snark, I am *yours.* Hopelessly a fan, forever.

MS is my all-time favorite escape reading. I have worn out several copies of more than one of her books. But most people seem to have missed her (unless they're really into King Arthur).

M. G. Tarquini said...

"The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing with new eyes."

— Marcel Proust

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

The best use of epigraphs, in my nearly worthless opinion, is by Frank Herbert in Dune.

Mostly, I don't read them.

B. Dagger Lee said...

My Dear Miss S:

"Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

I excerpted this from Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," public domain e-text from www.gutenberg.org, a marvelous place I shall shuffle in and out of as I am shackled--SHACKLED, I say!--by your wise copyright strictures.

Still, the advice is good, I think, to leave the epigraph out of the ten pages that goes with the query letter.

I am, yr humble and obedient servant,
B. Dagger Lee

Bernita said...

Like Mary Stewart's use of epigraphs.
Thought Robert Asprin's use of false ones was hilarious.
Could have saved a lot of exposition in a book-under-the-bed, if I had used epigraphs from Beowulf.

Kanani said...

I like epigrams as well.

"Sex: what puts you in contact with people you might otherwise never know."

"Remarriage, he noted, led to remodeling."

"Not his fault: an autodidact: he had a bad teacher."

"His problem is that his soul looks like his body."

From The Price Of The Ride, by Thomas Farber. Rather than post an epigraph at the beginning of a book, he published a whole book of epigrams and premortems.

sarahsbooks said...

Favorite Mary Stewart novels - "This Rough Magic" and "Nine Coaches Waiting" and a runner-up, "The Ivy Tree" - which I just blogged about myself, in a different context. Her prose is a pleasure to read and re-read, and she was indeed a master at choosing appropriate epigraphs.

Anonymous said...

OK, a question for you:

Why don't agents reply to e-mails from clients? Why do they take forevvvverrrrr and make us think that we did something wrong? Sometimes we just wanna know if they got our latest MS! We're not trying to be obnoxious; it's just that our entire writing career is on the line.

Jude Hardin said...

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

--The Gospel According to Luke

Better run through the jungle.

--The Gospel According to John (Fogerty)

These are a couple of the epigraphs in my WIP. :)

mark said...

More good epigraphs (old school department):

T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" opens with an epigraph from Heart of Darkness: "Mistah Kurtz--he dead." Perfect.

Every chapter in George Eliot's Middlemarch opens with an epigraph. They're always carefully chosen and a propos, and usually pretty interesting.

I guess that's the thing: they need to fit. They shouldn't just be sitting there, or be chosen for the purpose of having an epigram. It's better if they actually shed light on the story, and best of all when they're what inspired the story in the first place.

proxymoron said...

how 'bout?

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

--walt whitman

i reckon large enough in her own esteem is large enough.

which brings me to a point (for certain prior posters): fan is a 'w' away from 'fawn'-- the same 'w,' in fact, that can be found at the end of 'eeww.'

i think this blog is terrific but sometimes, the comments...

Chumplet said...

I LUUUURRRRRVE Mary Stewart. I've read her Arthurian stories several times. Also Airs Above the Ground. And will again. And again.

Jenny Haddon said...

Glad you've softened a bit to epigraphs, Ms S. I didn't see the point of Annie Proux's knots in The Shipping News, for example, but have always felt that Mary Stewart's epigraphs are fabulously evocative and mysterious ...

The pleasures of the palace, secured ease and state,
Nine coaches waiting, hurry, hurry, hurry . . .

Still sends chills up my spine.

Great stories, truthful characters, wonderful sense of place and time and, by golly, you can actually taste the food. Of course, several of her early romantic suspense novels were written during rationing in the UK. May have focused the mind, one feels.

And she's got lots of fans still,Katrina - like just about everyone in the Romantic Novelists' Asociation (UK). In fact, we're having a lifetime achievement lunch for her, along with Rosamunde Pilcher and Lucilla Andrews in Edinburgh next week.

God, if I could write like that . . .

a certain sinclair said...

I learn something every day. I always thought epiGRAPHS were those words written on gravestones, memorials and the like, and epiGRAMS were witty,or pithy, or pungent sayings, or short poems usually (though not exclusively)with a sting in the tail.
Well I never....

Miss Snark said...

yo, certain sinclair, wanna borrow my red Websters sans spine? (overuse I fear)

Epigraph (page 384) 1. an engraved inscription 2. a quotation set at the beginning of of a literary work or a division of it to suggest its theme.

Epigram: 1. a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought 2. a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying 3. epigrammatic expressionism.

Cynthia Bronco said...

...or be completely original and include sonograms at the beginning of each chapter. I have some great ones of my son, especially the "it's a boy" Larry Flint sonogram picture.

kis said...


Here lies Lester Moore
Four shots from a 44
No Les, no more..

Jeb said...

Ooh, I too love Mary Stewart's epigraphs (and her stories; Nine Coaches Waiting is masterful in its enduring tension).

I love Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, too, but the epigraphs there, though fascinating, are beyond my meager North American education to parse for meaning.

Exception: "illegal after screaming" from 'Queen's Play', which is quite comprehensible from the chapter to which it is attached, and which resonates through the next four books of the series.

a certain sinclair said...

thanks for coming back to us on the epiwotnotthang. But I meant it, I was sincere, it's the main reason I visit your site....I really do learn something everyday - and thanks for it. May it continue so. (My Webster's is brand, spanking new, but my OED has no spine - and Fowler's confirmed it) Thanks.

nice anonymous said...

A Certain Sinclair is thinking of "epitaphs" as opposed to "epigraphs."

nb said...

Re Dunnett: the epigraphs in Game of Kings are taken from a late-medieval treatise on chess (translated into English and published by William Caxton in 1474). The epigraphs in Queen's Play come from a medieval Irish compilation of law, the Brehon Laws.

I like epigraphs, myself.

a certain sinclair said...

re nice anonymous: no, I was not: I do know what an epitaph is. I'm not stupid.

Kanani said...

Her future was predicted by an epigraph
Her present could be described with an epigram
Her past was summed up by an epitaph