It is a truth universally acknowledged that classic literature offers wisdom (and some epic romance). Surprisingly, everyone’s favorite literary superstars seemed to know a lot about college, too — even if they never attended. From Dickens to Dickinson, here are ten quotes from classic novels (via Goodreads) that apply to life at college, with campus context for those who might have snoozed through their last English lecture.
Disclaimer: some authors are here more than once, just to enhance the knowledge they can impart.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
College in one sentence or less, courtesy of Dickens’ English class favorite. Sometimes you get a 95 percent on that test, sometimes you have to walk in the blinding rain to class without an umbrella.
“Forever is composed of nows.”
“Forever — is composed of Nows” by Emily Dickinson
Quite possibly the unofficial motto of college, Dickinson’s eponymous poem captures that feeling of those 3 a.m. french fry runs with friends and when your most serious professor finally cracks a joke.
“Angry people are not always wise.”
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Austen speaks the truth here, particularly about midterms week, when everyone is so busy figuring out why they have five tests and three presentations — each worth 20 percent of the grade — they don’t actually study for all five tests and complete three presentations.
This quote comes in handy when those midterm grades are released, too: without fail, there will be very little “pride” and very much “prejudice” against whichever class it was.
“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë
Brontë and “Jane Eyre” describe the atmosphere when your friend group finally all gets together and stays up talking until an extremely unwise hour. Though now most college students probably don’t play charades, unlike in 1847.
“If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.
Wilde would obviously not be a fan of 2017’s “wild” college style of sweatpants and hoodies. I have a feeling he would insist “the importance” of college is to dress “earnestly” for class and maybe not go to your 8 a.m. in Uggs.
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Once again, the queen of Victorian-era romance novels sums up every student’s thoughts when the course material takes a sharp turn from “difficult” toward “unendingly incomprehensible.” You thought you were doing great in the class — until now. And then you end up with an 89.45.
“A person who has not done one half his day's work by ten o'clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
The other Brontë must mean 10 p.m. here, because there’s no way most students can get three hours of classwork, two meetings, three lectures and five projects done before the evening.
She’s right, though: after the “height” of your energy is gone and you’re making a study guide at 1 a.m, sometimes half of the assignments wait until morning.
“Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies.”
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
Back again to utter the essential truth of incomprehensible tests, it’s clear that Dickens’ GPA, like most, only sometimes had “great expectations.”
“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
Here, Melville illustrates why Captain Ahab would rather chase after Moby Dick—a giant, murderous white whale — than tackle the last two rules of finals week. After staying up for 36 hours straight, students will assuredly be “thinking not” for their last final and “sleeping when they can” in the HUB and/or sitting upright on a cold, tile floor.
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet” by Emily Dickinson
Despite all the sleep deprivation, lack of money, extreme stress, 1,000 quizzes per week and not nearly enough carbohydrates, college is fun and Dickinson’s eponymous poem is a reminder to enjoy the four years here, because they go by ridiculously fast.