Top 28 Great Literature Quotes

Great words stand the test of time. In this article, we explore twenty-eight great literature quotes.

Whether you’re an author or just beginning to explore writing, it’s fun to pull inspiration from well-known authors to guide your creativity. Many inspirational quotes are a part of stories passed down through the ages, often from people who found meaning to those who feel they could benefit from a story or allegory that contains valuable life lessons.

Authors rarely set out to create passages that will stand the test of time, and it can be challenging for writers to know what will resonate with readers as their stories unfold. Literature quotes can be a fun way to source inspiration for your own writing and help you connect with truths about your own life that can inform the way you communicate with others through your writing.

Buckle up for inspiration—from Stephen King to Leo Tolstoy, and we’ve collected some of the best, most inspirational literary quotes of all time. And, if you are still struggling with ideas, read our article on how to overcome a lack of creativity.

Best Literature Quotes

1. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird sings is Maya Angelou’s autobiography that both the trauma of her upbringing and the strength she found in literature to rise above her circumstances. Published in 1969, this book has inspired many, helping people through tough challenges despite feeling like the odds are stacked against them. The book shares both joy and pain, and the classic is now loved worldwide.

2. “Family not only needs to consist of merely those whom we share blood but also of those whom we’d give blood.”

Mugby Junction, Charles Dickens

Dickens created many of the fictional characters that are well-known today. Regarded as a literary genius, Dickens understood the difficulty of growing up in the school of hard knocks and believed in the importance of creating one’s own family.

3. “It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of many generations of a Colombian family working to emigrate to a new city. The main character develops a fantastical city but is forced back to reality as his creation falls from grace. Full of symbolism and metaphors, One Hundred Years of Solitude offers truths that are understood worldwide, showing the stark contrast between promises of a new world after immigration and the reality of creating a life in a new place.

4. “I would always rather be happy than dignified.”

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Known for her literary prowess and quick wit, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was well-received commercially and was regarded as a bright spot in the literary world, showing how a person could rise above difficulty. The author believed that personal stories make the best novels and worked to develop her own experiences into a tale of triumph. Initially, the book was accredited to the author’s pen name, Currer Bell, as Charlotte Brontë (rightly) believed she’d experience a higher level of commercial success if she marketed herself to publishing houses as a man.

Great literature quotes from The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Studio photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The seemingly-ever-popular Great Gatsby was a failure at first, but F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the love story of Jay and Daisy is now considered one of the best American novels of all time. Throughout the book, readers get to see a world of opulence and luxury through Gatsby’s eyes, all while wondering whether he’ll ever be able to form a lasting connection with Daisy.

6. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s great American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, tells tales of truth, empathy, racism, and justice. Published in 1960, the book was an immediate success, and its lessons are still studied in many American English classrooms today.

7. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

Emma, Jane Austen

Known for her razor-sharp wit and irony, Austen authored Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and many more. Most of Austen’s work surrounds love and the drama that comes with it. Like many authors, Austen constantly wrote letters to others. Many of the letters were burned by her older sister upon Austen’s death, as she noted that Austen could be biting in her comments on others and didn’t want to hurt neighbors, friends, and family members with her sister’s often harsh words.

8. “All great and precious things are lonely.”

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

The old cliche that it’s lonely at the top is often true, not just of people but of ideas as well. Both ideas and people become great due to rising above the standard, and by definition, people and things that are great are not surrounded by others on the same level. Steinbeck often made observations about life through symbolism, both within the structure of his stories and the traits of his characters.

9. “In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”

Essays, Letters, and Miscellanies, Leo Tolstoy

It can be hard to remember to pause and appreciate life, and Russian author Leo Tolstoy worked to remind people to stop, slow down, and experience life. Eventually becoming a pacifist after his experiences with war, Tolstoy believed in the importance of exposing injustice and leading as happy a life as possible.

10. “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

It’s easy to fall victim to emotions, especially when love, fear, or anger are involved. Oscar Wilde’s philosophical novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, tells the story of a hedonistic protagonist who believes that beauty and sensual pursuits are the only parts of life that make it worth living.

11. “Sometimes, you read a book, and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

The Fault in our Stars, John Green

We’ve all been there: telling everyone about a book that they have to read. In this heart-wrenching tale of teen love, Green also touches on the beauty of literature, describing how enticing it can be to imagine how the world would change if only everyone would read the same book.

12. “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë had an incredible way of putting words to feelings like her sisters. In Wuthering Heights, Brontë weaves a tale of love, mystery, and revenge as protagonist Heathcliff works to rise above his station on the Yorkshire Moors.

Great literature quotes from Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

13. “Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed.”

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Soul searching doesn’t always result in happiness—sometimes, we discover truths that are better left buried. Tolstoy recognized the struggles that can come with searching for peace and happiness and understood that learning more about oneself often comes at a price.

14. “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

This classic novel brings up the question of what it means to be human. Shelley’s classic explores many themes that continue to be relevant in today’s world, including man versus nature, life, and death.

15. “I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up in a little world of one’s own, with pictures and music and everything beautiful.”

The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s 1915 novel, The Voyage Out, tells the story of Rachel Vinrace as she sails across the ocean on her father’s ship on a journey of self-discovery. Throughout her journey, Rachel learns about the joy of solitude and knows how to enjoy moments with herself rather than relying on others to bring her entertainment and happiness.

16. “What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”

Adam Bede, George Eliot

Many people pine for a partner, as described by Eliot in Adam Bede. While finding a partner who acts as a pillar of strength can feel challenging, Eliot clarifies that it’s worth the time and energy required.

17. “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings fans know that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth fantasy world is filled with adventure, excitement, and feats of courage. It can be hard when a fantastical story comes to a close, and Tolkien reassures readers that the lessons learned can carry on throughout life, even when the adventure story ends.

18. “That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

In his timeless wisdom, Vonnegut describes what so many people wish they could do in life: focus on only the good while letting go of the bad. The otherworldly aspect of the story provides an outsider’s perspective on how different life could be if only humans could learn to shift their foci—easier said than done, sadly.

19. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

1984, George Orwell

Many people feel that Orwell’s words are all too poignant in today’s world, given the feeling of constant surveillance due to technology, cell phones, and the internet. According to Orwell, with such a dominant influence on our view of the past, it can be easier for our perspective to be swayed by half-truths.

20. “Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? Or would you take it?”

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

The soul-touching words of Toni Morrison delve deep into the core of human emotion and relationships, often making readers consider new truths. This 1977 novel describes racial genocide, birth, death, religion, etc.

21. “When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say. Most people never listen.”

Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s reminder to take a step back from constantly preparing rebuttals and instead truly listen to what another person has to say is all-too-poignant in today’s world, where many are quick to argue.

22. “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

It can be difficult to fall into the trap of living with others’ needs in mind, but as Shakespeare reminds us, it’s essential to stay true to our own thoughts, beliefs, and ideals, even when they stand in the way of the wants of others.

Great literature quotes from The Shining, Stephen King
Stephanie Lawton, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

23. “Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

The Shining, Stephen King

Known for his horror and thriller writings, Stephen King also has a unique take on human nature and often discusses how evil lies within everyone. The author’s stories work to tell tales behind the villains, helping readers to understand how characters grew into their personas.

24. “All you have to do is pay attention: lessons always arrive when you are ready.”

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Often, we spend our time searching for life lessons when they already exist—we simply aren’t ready to receive them. Coelho’s 1988 story about life, growth, and creating the life one wants holds timeless lessons about embracing the good, letting go of the bad, and working toward the great.

25. “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Mitchell’s 1936 novel is widely regarded as one of the best romances of all time. The historical fiction novel won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and Mitchell was paid $50,000 (a record high at the time) for the film rights to her novel.

26. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Describing the feeling of being suffocated by mental illness, The Bell Jar describes a close parallel to Sylvia Plath’s own struggles with her mental health.

27. “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

Protagonist Holden Caulfield is brutally honest in this coming-of-age tale, discussing themes including depression, connection, and belonging. The story follows Holden’s intense self-doubt and self-criticism as he works to overcome guilt and build a life of happiness.

28. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

Potterheads around the world love the Harry Potter series not just for its ability to welcome them into a fantasy world but also for its life lessons that allow readers to relate to the characters on a deep level. Readers love reading how Ron, Harry, and Hermione learn to deal with the ups and downs of wizardry, similar to how today’s children deal with issues at home and school. 

The Final Word On The Top 28 Great Literature Quotes

Reading famous literature quotes can help you get the inspiration you need as a writer and can inspire you to pick up a new book to get your creative juices moving. Spruce up your writing space by adding one of your favorite literary quotes in a whimsical font to give you a dose of inspiration every time you sit down to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard). In the meantime, find out how you can harness the power of creativity.

FAQs on The 28 Best Book Quotes of All Time

Who is the most widely-read author of all time?

William Shakespeare is the best-selling author of all time, second only to the Bible.

How is the literary world different today for female writers?

While many issues in the writing world have changed for the better in recent years, research still shows that it’s easier for men to succeed in writing than it is for women. Thankfully, many women feel more comfortable writing under their names today instead of submitting manuscripts under a male pen name.


  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.