P. D. James

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P. D. James in 2013

Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park OBE FRSA FRSL (3 August 192027 November 2014), commonly known as P. D. James, was an English crime writer and Conservative life peer in the House of Lords.


  • I always had a sceptical and slightly morbid caste of mind, so my first response to Humpty Dumpty was "Did he fall or was he pushed?" I was drawn to the macabre, and for some reason I was very interested, from earliest childhood, in death. I seemed to think about it a great deal. It may have been something to do with the war, which overshadowed my childhood. My father talked about it a lot. It was like a great universal pain.
    • Interview with Victoria McKee, quoted in Victoria McKee, 'P.D. James', The Times Magazine (22 May 1993), p. 43
  • One of my earliest loves was the Book of Common Prayer. I was seduced by it, by its beautiful words and the sense of history.
    • Interview with Victoria McKee, quoted in Victoria McKee, 'P.D. James', The Times Magazine (22 May 1993), p. 43
  • My English teacher, Miss Daisy Dalgliesh, really made Shakespeare live for me, although I didn't see it on stage until I was an adult. I named my detective after her. It was years later that I found out her father was called Adam Dalgliesh.
    • Interview with Victoria McKee, quoted in Victoria McKee, 'P.D. James', The Times Magazine (22 May 1993), p. 43
  • Unless the young can use language effectively, both to express their own minds and to understand the minds of others, it is difficult to see how we can have a vigorous democracy in which ideas and policies can be intelligently presented, considered and criticised or achieve that understanding with other countries which nations enjoy through access to each other's language and literature.
    • 'English must be saved', The Times (14 June 1993), p. 14
  • Because English is spoken and written in so many forms for a variety of purposes throughout the world it is surely important that English in its highest form should be taught, spoken and valued in this country. Yet few would deny that standards of written and spoken English are in decline among all sections of the community and that we are in real danger of becoming an illiterate society.
    • 'English must be saved', The Times (14 June 1993), p. 14
  • We also had the inestimable advantage of beginning each school day with an act of worship which included a reading from the King James Bible which, with the Book of Common Prayer, has had more influence on our language, literature, history and culture than any other book, but which today a majority of our children will never encounter.
    • 'English must be saved', The Times (14 June 1993), p. 14
  • We cannot aspire to a "classless society", whatever that may mean, if some children are disadvantaged the moment they open their mouths, or if we arrogantly assume that only the young from certain backgrounds are capable of enjoying Shakespeare. Language and literature are not static. They change, develop, grow from the past and feed on the past. If we simply cease to care, if we debase, abuse, neglect our language and our literature, the time will come when reading will be the pursuit of a privileged élite and we shall no longer produce books worth reading or have a language and literature worth preserving.
    • 'English must be saved', The Times (14 June 1993), p. 14
  • I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism.
    • Paris Review (1995), as cited in The Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations (2011), ed. Susan Ratcliffe, Oxford University Press, p. 250 : ISBN 0199609128
  • I don't think writers choose the genre, the genre chooses us. I wrote out of the wish to create order out of disorder, the liking of a pattern.
    • Interview with Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph, 26 Sep 2009 [1].

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)[edit]

  • Cordelia was fumbling in her shoulder bag for her own key. As usual the object most required had fallen to the bottom of the bag.
    • Ch.1 - at p.11 [Page numbers per the Sphere Books Limited 1974 paperback edition (second 1981 reprint).]
  • Invited by Major Markland to sit, Cordelia perched on the edge of the sofa, half expecting the smooth cushion to let out a rude noise as it subsided beneath her. She found it, however, unexpectedly hard.
    • Ch.2 - p.44
  • It was only in fiction that the people one wanted to interview were sitting ready at home or in their office, with time, energy and interest to spare. In real life they were about their own business and one waited on their convenience.
    • Ch.2 - p.62
  • "It isn't what you suspect, it's what you can prove that counts."
    • Ch.2 - p.70
  • "If there's any sort of existence after death we shall all know it soon enough. If there isn't, we shan't exist to complain that we've been cheated."
    • Ch.3 - p.84
  • To enjoy the sole attention of one agreeable man and no attention at all from anyone else was all she ever hoped from a party.
    • Ch.3 - p.97
  • Cordelia read the inscription carved deep on the headstone. "At rest": the commonest epitaph of a generation to whom rest must have seemed the ultimate luxury, the supreme benediction.
    "It's a nice stone, isn't it?"
    "Yes, it is. I was admiring the lettering."
    "Cut deep, that is. It cost a mint of money but it was worth it. That'll last, you see. Half the lettering here won't, it's that shallow. It takes the pleasure out of a cemetery. I like to read the grave stones, like to know who people were and when they died and how long the women lived after they buried their men. It sets you wondering how they managed and whether they were lonely. There's no use in a stone if you can't read the lettering."
    • Ch.4 - p.114
  • "My mother used to say, 'Don't marry for money, but marry where money is! ' There's no harm in looking for money as long as there's kindness as well."
    • Ch.4 - p.117
  • "But what is the use of making the world more beautiful if the people who live in it can't love one another?"
    • Ch.6 - p.162
  • There were moments, usually on a sunny Easter morning, when she wished that she could with sincerity call herself a Christian; but for the rest of the year she knew herself to be what she was - incurably agnostic but prone to unpredictable relapses into faith.
    • Ch.6 - p.177
  • "Are you sorry about Isabelle leaving?"
    "I am rather. Beauty is intellectually confusing; it sabotages common sense. I could never quite accept that Isabelle was what she is: a generous, indolent, over-affectionate and stupid young woman. I thought that any woman as beautiful as she must have an instinct about life, access to some secret wisdom which is beyond cleverness. Every time she opened that delicious mouth I was expecting her to illumine life. I think I could have spent all my life just looking at her and waiting for the oracle. And all she could talk about was clothes."
    • Ch.6 - p.182
  • She remembered what Bernie had told her: "In this country, if people won't talk, there's nothing you can do to make them, more's the pity. Luckily for the police most people just can't keep their mouths shut. The intelligent ones are the worst. They just have to show how clever they are, and once you've got them discussing the case, even discussing it generally, then you've got them."
    • Ch.6 - p.195
  • "Hunch is a good servant but a poor master."
    • Ch.7 - p.203

A Taste for Death (1986)[edit]

  • It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.
    • p. 373
  • I can understand the poor and stupid voting for Marxism or one of its fashionable variants. If you've no hope of being other than a slave, you may as well opt for the most efficient form of slavery.
    • p. 412

The Children of Men (1992)[edit]

  • If from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.
    • Chapter 1.
  • I knew that what I had felt was envy or regret, not for something lost but for something never achieved.
  • Use some reverence. Remember what he was only a minute ago. You wouldn't have dared laid a hand on him.
    • Dr. Theodore Faron About Xan.
  • We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.
  • Darling, you can't promise that...but I like to hear you say it.
  • I didn't love him, but I liked him being in love with me.
  • When my turn comes I propose to take my lethal capsule comfortably in bed at home and preferably on my own.
  • Generosity is a virtue for individuals, not Governments. When governments are generous it is with other people's money, other people's safety, other people's future.
  • Whatever else I am now, I'm never bored.
  • I'm not a tyrant, but I can't afford to be merciful. Whatever it is necessary to do, I will do it.
  • Perhaps His experiment went spectacularly wrong, sir. Perhaps He's just baffled. Seeing the mess, not knowing how to put it right. Perhaps not wanting to put it right. Perhaps He only had enough power left for one final intervention. So He made it. Whoever He is, whatever He is, I hope he burns in His own Hell.
    • A driver upon being asked if he believed in God.
  • We all die alone. We shall endure death as once we enjoyed birth. You can't share either experience.
    • Woolvington.
  • The Man Penal settlement. Do you know whats happening there? The murders, the starvation, the complete breakdown of law and order.
  • We do. The question is, how do you?
  • I don't want to kill you.
  • You're going to have to, Xan. You may have to kill her, too.
  • I don't think God bargains.
  • Oh yes he does. I may not be religious but I know my Bible. My mother saw to that. He bargains all right. But He's supposed to be just. If he wants belief He'd better provide some evidence.
  • That He exists?
  • That he cares.
    • Chapter 27, P. 186.

A Certain Justice (1997)[edit]

  • How odd, he thought, that one could get used to beauty [i.e. in one's wife]. Once he had thought that any price would be worth paying if he could possess it, know it to be exclusively his, feed on it, be comforted, exalted, even sanctified by it. But you couldn't possess beauty any more than you could possess another human being.
    • Ch.8 - at p.99 [Page numbers per the Penguin Books 1998 paperback edition.]
  • They had been married for thirty-two years. Did he really know so little about her?
    • Ch.11 - p.125
  • Was there a place for him in this modern world, where systems mattered more than people?
    • Ch.11 - p.126
  • His face was a mask betraying nothing.
    • Ch.11 - p.135
  • No one was about, yet he seemed to sense the presence of watching eyes behind blank windows.
    • Ch.13 - p.155
  • The street and the houses had a perfection which was almost intimidating. No weed, thought Kate, would surely dare to push its unsanctified tendrils through these carefully tended small lawns and flower beds.
    • Ch.14 - p.163
  • Mrs Buckley was revealed as a slight, nervous-looking woman with a small precisely formed mouth between bulging cheeks, which gave her the appearance of a hamster.
    • Ch.14 - p.164
  • He looked more like a professional rugger player than a lawyer, though not when he wore his wig. Then the face became an impressive mask of judicial gravitas. But, thought Langton, wigs metamorphose us all; perhaps that's why we're so unwilling to get rid of them.
    • Ch.16 - p.181
  • "...We have a reputation for being difficult. Chambers is a collection of intelligent, highly independent, idiosyncratic, critical and overworked men and women whose profession is argument. It's a dull set which doesn't contain its share of eccentrics and personalities who could be described as difficult. ..."
    • Ch.16 - p.190
  • Violent death, like most disasters, afforded its satisfactions to those who were neither victim nor suspect.
    • Ch.17 - p.198
  • He had learned to be as wary of intuition as he was of superficial judgements, but it was hardly possible to be a long-serving detective officer and not know when a witness was lying. It wasn't always suspicious or even significant. Nearly everyone had something to hide. And it was optimistic to expect the whole truth at a first interview. A wise suspect answered questions and kept his counsel; only the naïve confused a police officer with a social worker.
    • Ch.17 - p.199
  • It had been the good-looking young detective and the woman officer who had interviewed her, and she had sensed that they were quietly sympathetic. But that of course had been deliberate. They had set out to get her confidence and they had succeeded. She was amazed now how much she had confided to them.
    • Ch.19 - p.214, 216
  • But of course she knew it. Chambers was a hotbed of gossip. People spoke in front of her. Gossip permeated the very air as if by a mysterious process of osmosis.
    • Ch.19 - p.215
  • A career which had begun so full of promise but which, like a stream with too feeble a spring, had spent itself with a sad inevitability among the sandy shallows of unrealised ambition.
    • Ch.20 - p.229
  • How fragile was that elegant, complicated bridge of order and reason which the law had constructed down the centuries over the abyss of social and psychological chaos.
    • Ch.20 - p.229
  • What condemned a man [in a police investigation] was the inability to keep his mouth shut.
    • Ch.23 - p.246
  • Over the tea Enid said: "You know who controls this estate, don't you?"
    "Yes, the children."
    "The kids, the bloody kids. Complain to the police or the council and you get a brick through your window. Tell 'em off and like as not you get an earful of foul language and burning rags through the letter-box next day. And if they catch the little bastards and take them to youth court, what happens? Bloody nothing. They come home laughing. They're in gangs now by the time they're eight."
    Of course they are, thought Kate. How else can they survive?
    • Ch.24 - p.261, 262
  • "I was glad to give up teaching, at least in London, glad to be rid of noise and violence and staff-room politics, and the constant fight to keep order."
    • Ch.27 - p.307
  • "Old age can be very frightening, Commander. A lawyer whose mind is apt to go blank isn't just inefficient, he's dangerous."
    • Ch.30 - p.329
  • He had disciplined his mind not to speculate; speculation in advance of the facts was always futile and could be dangerous.
    • Ch.32 - p.342
  • She couldn't remember when her interest in him, in his mysteriousness, his silences, his power, had grown into fascination, but she knew the precise moment when fascination had sharpened into desire.
    • Ch.39 - p.425
  • "You need to decide what you're interested in."
    • Ch.46 - p.469
  • If that was what she wanted to believe, why not let her?
    • Ch.46 - p.472

Time to be Earnest – a Fragment of Biography (1999)[edit]

  • I don't see why escapist literature should not also be a work of art.
  • The intention of any novelist must surely be to make that straight avenue to the human heart.
  • Every novelist write what he or she needs to write, a subconscious compulsion to express and explain his unique view of reality.
    • Time to be Earnest - a Fragment of Biography Faber & Faber, London 1999.

Sleep no more: Six Murderous Tales, published posthumously in 2017[edit]

  • Marriage is both the most public and the most secret of institutions, its miseries as irritatingly insistent as a hacking cough, its private malaise less easily diagnosed. And nothing is so destructive as unhappiness to social life. No one wants to sit in embarrassed silence while his host and hostess demonstrate their mutual incompatibility and dislike.
    • Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2017, p. 133

Quotes about P. D. James[edit]

  • the lesbian community is under siege, we always try to present to the heterosexual community the idealized version, but I do not think that's a good way to do it, even though I can understand where it's coming from. ("Valerie Miner talked about the kinds of self-censorship she finds in her work when she starts thinking she should present only positive images of lesbians or working-class people.") Yes. In that poem and also in the poem "Night Voice" I do that. There's this whole controversy now over media images of lesbians and gays and bisexuals. It's brought out in movies like Basic Instinct and Silence of the Lambs where they are presented as killers. It comes up in the novels of P. D. James, where she has these criminals who are lesbians or gay men. And I hate that. But, at the same time, I want the dirty laundry to be out there, whether it's on the Mexican culture or the lesbian culture or the bisexual. And I'm not sure how you do that.

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