[Vwoolf] Misquotations and misattributions: squares, circles, triangles
Brenda S. Helt
helt0010 at umn.edu
Tue Jun 26 12:44:29 EDT 2018
It is true that the “lived in squares, painted in circles, loved in triangles” quote and variations of it are misattributed to Dorothy Parker. In her article for Queer Bloomsbury, Regina Marler, who has done extensive research on this question, thanks several members of the Dorothy Parker Society for helping her to confirm that Parker is not the origin of the quote, and notes that “it was probably the work of Kingsley Martin” (Queer Bloomsbury 148), who was a friend of Keynes and became editor of the New Statesman in 1930. However, Garson O’Toole of Quote Investigator, in his online article “All the Couples Were Triangles and Lived in Squares: Dorothy Parker? Margaret Irwin? Kingsley Martin? Anonymous?” quotes Kingsley Martin in 1941 thus: “ ‘I wonder what people mean by “Bloomsbury”? I asked myself as I looked at the dismantled flat. Certainly it is no longer what Margaret Irwin used to describe in the ‘twenties as the place where “all the couples were triangles and lived in squares”. Whatever it was once, it is gone now.’ ” This does indeed suggest that Martin’s source was Irwin writing in the 1920s, and her novel Fire Down Below was published 1928, but importantly, the word “loved,” as well as the stated reference to painting that now immediately connects the phrase specifically to the Bloomsbury Group, are missing from these early quotations. So it’s a “quote” that has an active evolutionary life still today.
Personally, I love the quote, and love its mutable and seemingly untraceable nature, which is why it graces my artwork on the back cover of Queer Bloomsbury in yet another evolved form I’ve taken artistic license with.
Co-editor Queer Bloomsbury (with Madelyn Detloff)
From: Vwoolf [mailto:vwoolf-bounces+helt0010=umn.edu at lists.osu.edu] On Behalf Of Sarah M. Hall via Vwoolf
Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 4:34 AM
To: vwoolf at lists.osu.edu; Jeremy Hawthorn
Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] Misquotations and misattributions
Another common Bloomsbury-related example is that they 'lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles', most often attributed to Dorothy Parker. Those who read their Virginia Woolf Bulletin assiduously will know better (No. 57, Jan 2018). Stuart N. Clarke, researching a tip from Vara Neverow, discovered a novel by the largely unsung Margaret Irwin called Fire Down Below (now there's a title to conjure with), in which a character describes 'Gloomsbury' with the line:
'It is a circle [ ... ] composed of a few squares where all the couples are triangles.'
Although I've given away the punchline, the article is a lovely read. The journey is as interesting as the destination (with apologies to Montaigne, and L Woolf).
On Tuesday, 26 June 2018, 09:45:42 BST, Jeremy Hawthorn via Vwoolf <vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote:
There are various web pages that list misattributed, misunderstood, or just plain false quotations. But they are generally popular, and not open to submissions or reliably monitored. What is needed is something of the reach and reliability of Snopes, a place where false quotations can be reported.
And rather than a soundbite, a virus would perhaps be a more appropriate analogy, as such falsities spread, as the saying has it, like the plague. My own recent encounter with a similar fake quotation came in connection with writing an introduction to a reissue of Ernest Bramah's What Might Have Been (1907, reissued in 1909 as The Secret of the League). Every bookseller advertising a copy of this book seems to have to include the claim that George Orwell acknowledged the book as a source or inspiration for 1984. Even Bramah's biographer Aubrey Wilson, repeats the claim, asserting that "in his letters" Orwell made this acknowledgement. None of these claims is backed up by evidence from the letters or elsewhere, although there is evidence that Orwell was familiar with a number of Bramah's books. For those interested, the next number of Notes and Queries will have a short piece by me questioning the claim.
All this confirms that when we impress upon students the need to check sources and to provide full references, we are doing something important.
On 26.06.2018 09:44, Sarah M. Hall via Vwoolf wrote:
This is the most common Woolf misquotation, it seems. Googling just now gave 51,600 results for the fake and 5,190 for the real one. It looks as though truth is a casualty not just of war*, but of the soundbite.
*Which itself is a contested quotation; see https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-21510,00.html. Some think the original of this is Samuel Johnson's 'Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' But you may prefer to believe that Aeschylus had already come up with a snappier version.
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