‘He always feels hot, I always feel cold. In the summer when it really is hot he does nothing but complain about how hot he feels. He is irritated if he sees me put a jumper on in the evening.

He speaks several languages well; I do not speak any well. He manages – in his own way – to speak even the languages that he doesn’t know.

He has an excellent sense of direction, I have none at all. After one day in a foreign city he can move about in it as thoughtlessly as a butterfly. I get lost in my own city; I have to ask directions so that I can get back home again.’

– Natalia Ginzburg, He and I, The Little Virtues

‘Everyone looks in his own way for something that will cure the silence, the feeling of guilt, the feeling of panic. Some people travel. In their anxiety to see new countries and new people there is the hope that they will leave behind their own obscure ghosts; there is the secret hope that somewhere on the earth they will find the one person who could talk to them. Some people get drunk in order to forget their own obscure ghosts, and to talk.’

– Natalia Ginzburg, Silence, The Little Virtues

‘In my life there have been interminable, desolate empty Sundays in which I desperately wanted to write something that would console me for my loneliness and boredom, so that I could be calmed and soothed by phrases and words. But I could not write a single line. My vocation has always rejected me, it does not want to know me. Because this vocation is never a consolation or a way of passing the time. It is not a companion. This vocation is a master who is able to beat us till the blood flows, a master who reviles and condemns us.’

– Natalia Ginzburg, My Vocation, The Little Virtues

‘To be honest I don’t know many countries, but I begin to suspect that England is the most melancholy country in the world…

…Every place where the English gather to chat to one another exudes melancholy. Indeed, nothing in the world is sadder than an English conversation, in which everyone is careful to keep to superficialities and never touch on anything essential. In order not to offend your neighbour, not to violate his privacy – which is sacred – an English conversation revolves around subjects that are extremely boring for everyone concerned, but in which there is no danger.’

– Natalia Ginzburg, England: Eulogy and Lament, The Little Virtues

‘Now and again my friend says she is fed up of working and wants to let her life go to pieces. She wants to shut herself in some filthy bar and drink all her life savings, or she will just stay in bed and think of nothing and leave everything to drift, and let them come and cut off the gas and the light.’

– Natalia Ginzburg, Worn-out Shoes, The Little Virtues