Memorable Dialogue

Bitchery reader Amy wrote and asked me a question that I’ve had a ball pondering as I look back over my readering history:

When I was fourteen, I bought my first Harlequin at a yard sale and read it so many times that now, at 40, I can repeat paragraphs of it. (Sara Craven, Solitaire. Last line of dialog: “There is a time in the life of every jeune fille in which the locking of doors is required. Your time is now.”)

I was curious if you two—or if your readers had the same experience—we never forget our first, right? Which book popped our cherries, and how much do we remember?

We’ve definitely discussed this topic before, and I’ve written about the first romance I read, Midsummer Magic by Catherine Coulter. But the dialogue Amy quoted?

That’s kinda hot, right there. Damn.

So I got to thinking – what dialogue do I remember years after reading it? My memory, it is a funky, funky place. I can recite the last paragraph of Great Expectations, probably due to too many viewings of the Beauty and the Beast pilot,  but romance dialogue doesn’t often stick in my brain.

Inner HarborNotable exception: one brother in the Quinn quartet by Nora Roberts, and I want to say it was Philip but not in the novel wherein he was the hero, rants about wanting privacy and says he’s going to go live in a bunker and change his name to “Pierre.” For some reason, I laughed so hard at that I fell off my beach chair, and even now, when I get irritated at too large of a crowd, Hubby will ask me if I’m heading for the bunker.

I don’t know that I’d make a good Pierre.

So what line of dialogue from a romance has rocked your socks to the point that, long after those socks were lost in the dryer, you still remember it?

And anyone got a lead on a really cushy bunker with wifi? Lemme know



Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Suze says:

    It wasn’t my first book, but the piece of dialogue that has stuck with me was in sign language.  I don’t remember the title, author, or characters, but I remember that scene.  Lengthy set-up:

    It was a series romance, late 80’s or early 90’s, the heroine was a fashion designer who ran her small business out of her home, with a large cast of secondary characters, including an older black couple.  The man (Ray?) ran a carpentry crew and the heroine’s life, because he was a take-charge kind of guy and took on all the local misfits. His wife helped with the fashion business and totally intimidated the heroine. The wife was very mysterious, never spoke, and always dressed in that queenly African style of turban and robe (I don’t know what it’s called).

    There’s a scene in which Ray explains to the heroine that his wife isn’t looking down on the peasants, but physically cannot speak. She’d been badly burned in a fire (started by abusive former husband?) and was mostly covered in burn scars, which was why she covered up most of her body. Her face was miraculously spared.

    So, Ray is explaining this to the heroine, and that he had loved his now-wife from afar, and hadn’t been able to save her from her abusive spouse, but had leapt at the chance to rescue her from the fire (that killed her husband?), and he knew that she didn’t love him, but he was content to accept anything she offered him.

    Ray’s wife overhead this, and there’s a scene later (that the heroine sees) in which the wife makes the gesture of opening a door over her heart, and giving her heart to Ray, to show him she loves him.

    It chokes me up even now, all these years later.

  2. 2
    Nadia says:

    Oh, I have a helluva memory for quotes but when I’m on the spot I can’t remember any of them, of course.

    Ashes in the Wind was my first big romance novel.  One line that comes to me immediately is when Cole is trying to tease her out of being sad, and it backfires.  A rant about her wartime travails, ending with “Don’t you see?  There never was any Al! I’ve always been Alaina!” or something similar.  One of those Men are From Mars moments, for sure.

    One of my favorite lines in the history of the written word comes from NR’s Carnal Innocence.  The FBI dude has Tucker in for questioning and asks if he wants to make a statement.  Tucker replies “Like ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’?”  I’ve been waiting for over 15 years for an occasion in real life to use that quote.

  3. 3
    orangehands says:

    I’m a waste of space as a student. Can I remember what the name is of the minister of justice during the Russian Revolution? Of course not. Do I remember WHOLE PASSAGES from books I’ve loved/liked/read? Yes I do. Mostly very funny passages (I laughed at the NR part a lot too; I’m pretty sure it’s the first book, when they’re going to get Seth’s haircut at the mall, but he does that off and on throughout the first three books) or very romantic/sad passages.

    But now something is finally happening in class, so I’ll quote for you later.

  4. 4
    Erin says:

    Not my first romance, but I memorized a poem from a Victoria Holt novel that turns out was actually a Robert Browning poem.

    The year’s at the spring
      And day’s at the morn;
      Morning’s at seven;
      The hillside’s dew-pearled;
      The lark’s on the wing;
      The snail’s on the thorn:
      God’s in His heaven—
      All’s right with the world!

    It’s so pretty *sniff sniff*

  5. 5
    Sarah Frantz says:

    I love one line in JR Ward.  Don’t remember which book, but someone (V?) and Butch are talking about something.  The person talking to Butch gets pissed at him because Butch is needling him about his lovelife, and says to Butch, whose all dressed up to go visit Marissa, “Nice. Fucking. Suit.”  And they have a fight.  Cracks me up EVERY time!  Such a guy thing to say!

  6. 6
    Chicklet says:

    Mine’s not classified as a romance, but the first time I ever wrote in a book (at age fifteen! I was a good girl) was to underline this from Emma by Jane Austen:

    [Knightley to Emma] Perhaps if I loved you less, I could talk about it more.

    No lie: I read that line and clutched the book to my bosoms for several minutes. And then I underlined it. In pencil.

  7. 7
    nadia says:

    Ooh, thought of another one:  Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie

    “She just fucked me six ways to Sunday.”
    “She beat you at pool, too.”

    Love that book.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    YES. And the one where they’ve just seen The Big Bad Guy WhatsHisName and Rhage calls him ‘Bus exhaust or some shit.’


  9. 9
    BevQB says:

    Not really a Romance, but it is the first time I remember a book fully engaging my emotions— Little Women. I was pre-teen, probably between 8 and 10 the first time I read it.

    Oh LAWDY, I SOBBED at Beth’s death scene! Complete blubbering wails! And even with my terrible memory, I can still remember these haunting, yet beautiful words:

    ”…and on the same breast where she had drawn her first breath, she quietly drew her last.”

    Just thinking of that line turns me into a watering pot again.

  10. 10
    TracyS says:

    I always seem to remember the funny stuff.

    Tom Paoletti, one of Suzanne Brockmann’s SEALS is recovering from a head injury and he runs too far and is feeling sick to his stomach. He tries to make it look like it’s because he’s getting too old to run that fast, not because he’s hurt.  His great-uncle (in his 80’s and sick) looks at his friend and says, “Should I hit him with my cane or my oxygen tank” or something like that. I laughed so hard I woke up my sleeping husband!

  11. 11
    MaryKate says:

    Why can I tie everything back to The Windflower? I don’t know.

    My all time favorite scene and line from that book is when Merry (the heroine) steals a leaky row boat to try to escape from the Black Joke (a pirate ship). She nearly drowns before being rescued. When confronted about the fact that he’d left the boat there on purpose for Merry to drown in, Rand Morgan, the captain replies, “One must suffer a little adversity to become truly interesting.”

    I lurve Rand Morgan.

  12. 12
    Eunice says:

    Gosh. I have a horrible time remembering exact quotes. I think it comes from the fact that when I read I picture it more as a scene instead of reading them as words (does that make any sense?). So if you said “where was that part where…” I could flip through a book and find it in a heartbeat.

    My first ever romance I don’t remember except I didn’t like it and it put off of them for years. Then I was convinced to give them another try… one or two years ago (there’s that wonky memory again). Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase. And while I remember the whole book and I still love it, I just can’t remember word for word dialogue. I feel terrible, but I’m that way with all books (Except for the Scarlet Pimpernel books, I can always remember passages from those. Like when she describes Sir Percy as “…six foot odd of gorgeousness”).

    In fact, the only line I can think of right now is from Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts when Cam says, “He had to admit it, he’d raised a bunch of wiseasses. It did a man proud.” 1) That’s still probably not right anyway, 2) Because Sarah mentioned the Quinns, 3) I just finished it not that long ago, and 4) It was just one of those things that hit me as really really funny and I just laughed out loud. In the middle of a medical waiting room. Need space in a waiting room? Just start laughing.

  13. 13
    Suze says:

    Oooh, Rand Morgan!

    “It’s not a word, it’s an ejaculation…I seem to have ejaculated prematurely.”

    Windflower is FULL of memorable dialogue, so much of it from my favourite ever pirate.

    Also, Cook: “There’s more to love than two pelvises in a tussle.”

  14. 14
    Eunice says:

    Oh! Chicklet, you’ve reminded me about Jane Austen’s Persuasion: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” That was my dreamy sigh, book clutching moment. It’s so simple and poetic at the same time, I read it over and over.

  15. 15
    Ehren says:

    Passion’s Ransom by Betina Krahn was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. She wasw really into romance novels and I hadn’t given them a single thought other than “ew, whatever, stupid stories”. She said “if you like pirates, you should read this!” Well, I found it at the local used book store with the feeling that if I was going to buy a romance I was going to pay the cheapest I could get for it unless it was guaranteed to be awesome.

    Well, I remember the basic premise of it… rather vividly. It was fine at the time, but I never read through it, mostly because after the main pairing was established and all they were doing was going at it either in fights or in bed then there was little left to read about that interested me in any way. However, like a gateway drug, I got into more of Betina Krahn’s work. I have found the niche I love more than anything else. Medieval. I love knights and I love adventure and I love a good love story with plenty of humor and her Husband Test, Wife Test and Marriage Test are absolutely what I love. Especially Wife Test, in which every plan goes awry and childish behavior ensues between the main girl and guy. (“You liked what you saw, didn’t you.” “No, I didn’t!” “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t!!” “Yes, you did.”) I dunno about Passion’s Ransom popping my cherry for romance books being all that memorable, but the ones I read afterward were definitely more memorable.

  16. 16
    snarkhunter says:

    The line of dialogue that always sticks with me is from one of la Nora’s books—and I’m sorry to say that it sticks with me because I found the whole thing so ridiculous. (In Nora’s defense, I think it was one of her first books.) It was…hm. One of the Irish whatever books…about the horses? With the virgin heroine? The stablehand hero beats the shit out of some guy who tried to grab her or hit her or something, and he’s all, “He put his hands on you.” It’s all he can say. Somehow, that’s stayed with me.

    Weird things stay in my head. Lines of dialogue from random books, lines of poems, etc. I sometimes get lines of dialogue from movies stuck in my head—running on continuous loop, like a song.

  17. 17
    Tara says:

    Also not my first romance, but one of the best bits of dialogue I’ve read is the “Opening the West” scene from Jenny Crusie’s What The Lady Wants. Bits of it always pops into my head whenever the subject of fidelity comes up.

    “…the fact is, men cheat. We have to. It’s a biological imperative….. It’s the reason men crossed the oceans, built the pipeline, opened the West.”

    “Women don’t want to open the West?”

    “No. Women want to stay home and keep the East looking nice…. This is just biology. Men need multiple breasts in their lives. Women need to make a commitment to one penis.”

    “Then why do men get married?”

    “For backup. That way they always have a set of breasts at home.”

    Too funny. Sometimes I grab the book and read just that scene.

  18. 18
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Chicklet, I used that line as the title of one of my academic essays.  It’s in Talk in Jane Austen, the book of the TRULY godawful cover (I want Sarah and Candy to snark THAT one!).  That’s the line, the one line of dialogue, that pretty much started my entire academic career.  That’s the line around which I built the essay I used to get into grad school.  That’s the essay that I turned into my first important conference presentation, and my first published paper.  So that line holds great significance for me—thanks for reminding me!

  19. 19
    June says:

    For as many times as I read Jane Eyre, the one exchange that always comes to mind:

    Rochester: Am I hideous, Jane?
    Jane: Very, sir.  You always were you know.

    I’m sure if I keeping thinking about it there’s some late 70s/early 80s Harlequin dialogue stuck in my head somewhere.

  20. 20
    MaryKate says:

    Ah Suze, a kindred soul, I’m SO glad!

    And when Devon proposes to Merry and she punches him in the face. And then he’s trying to talk her around to marrying him and she finally hollers at him, “Oh do whatever you want, you always don anyway, you certainly don’t need my agreement.”


  21. 21
    Mac says:

    I pretty much adore the poem Jacqueline Carey wrote for Kushiel’s Dart, about a man’s love for his king (yes, like THAT), which went something like: “Let now this breast, upon which you have lain, serve as thy shield.” The poem is longer, and that’s the motif, and mein gott that is hot, and touching, and amazing.

    If I did not have morals, I would steal that thing LIKE MAD.

    (That and “Repose-toi, mon âme, en ce dernier asile” [Rest, my soul, in this last harbor] by Lamartine, which was a motif from Sing to Me of Dreams by Kathryn Lynn Davis.)

  22. 22
    Toni says:

    Connie Brockway’s As You Desire. Harry is describing how he could compliment Dizzy better than his cousin who called her a rose.

    “You are my country Desdamona. My Egypt. My hot harrowing desert and my cool verdant Nile. Infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.

    You’ll never hear old Blake say something like that. Remember my words the next time he calls you a bloody English rose!”

    That whole scene just makes my toes curl, its so wonderful.

  23. 23
    Anna Lawrence says:

    While I shall deny to the death that Georgette Heyer is in any way at all trashy, the final declaration: “Leonie! You are not the first woman in my life!” “Oh, Monsignor – I should so much rather be the last than the first” (I paraphrase, because the book is downstairs, but that’s pretty damn close) has ruined me for real life and its decidedly inferior declarations of love for all time.

  24. 24

    Mac, I love that snippet from Kushiel’s Dart. Le sigh.

    I’m trying to remember specific lines from novels and for some reason I keep drawing blanks, even though there are entire scenes I can remember visualised in my head…

    I do recall the first time I ever read Wuthering Heights and this bit—

    ‘Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.’

    —sent my poor twelve-year-old heart into a state of minor catatonia. That was the one snippet I remembered from that first reading, and it was only rereading it about four years later that I came to love it completely.

    Oh, and Eunice, I too remember certain bits of The Scarlet Pimpernel, though there was one that made me very light-headed—I don’t remember the exact line, but it was the conclusion of the scene in the garden at Richmond after Grenville’s ball, and the description of Percy there still gets me every single time.

  25. 25
    Marcella says:

    Hmm, my first romance novel was a SF/space travel plot where the advanced-civilization heroine ends up on a ass-backwards planet where the alpha males are extra extra alpha-y.

    The memorable scene, for me, is where the hero, to punish the heroine for one of her forward thinking ideas, takes too much of some libido-reducing herb concoction and then “stimulates” the heroine all night without ever giving her “release”, so much so that her screams of “frustration” are heard throughout the complex. 

    The whole book is like one long rape-fantasy and I have no idea how it ended up in my pre-teen hands.  I don’t remember the title or author and I don’t want to, either.

    However, the first romance novel I truly loved was The Duchess by Jude Deveraux.  Secret passages, disguised dukes, sassy heroines, oh my!

  26. 26
    Jane says:

    Mine are rather odd.

    I read Jane Eyre about a million times between the ages …well, about the ages she is in the book.  Rochester shouting “Jane!  Jane!  Jane!” thrilled my little heart.  And, um, I’m a Jane too.

    But here’s one that made me laugh, from The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (yes, the writer of The Secret Garden, and yes she also wrote for adults).  The hero, Lord Mount Dunstan, is telling the herione, Betty Vanderpoel, a story of his remote Saxon ancestor, Red Godwyn:

    “Red Godwyn went forth, and after a bloody fight took his enemy’s castle. …He also took Alys of the Eyes and bore her away captive.”

    “From such incidents developed the germs of the desire for women’s suffrage,” Miss Vanderpoel observed gently.

  27. 27
    chicklitter says:

    From SEP’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine: “I married a damn cereal killer.”

    And even though I’m not usually a big fan of the sappy stuff, I have to say that this line from This Heart of Mine always sticks with me: “It was a kiss made in lonely dreams. A kiss that took its time. A kiss that felt so right she couldn’t remember all the reasons it was wrong.”

  28. 28
    Mac says:

    Marcella!  I know this book!  Sadly it was one of my first romances—I was a SF geek, and it put me off romances for some years.  It still hangs arond at the back of my mind like a terrible aftertaste.  (That was the one where national dress for women was some skirt made out of hanging flaps like some kind of hula skirt cum car wash wheel, yes?  So any false move would leave her half-naked? And on her planet, babies were grown in vitro, but he manfully decided that she would give birth because he said so? And he kept talking about how he could “smell her arousal” so it was no good for her to lie. That stimulation scene was a horror. Any “sex” scene that ends with the heroine crying pitably in a corner is emphatically not my cup of tea.)

  29. 29
    snarkhunter says:

    Dorothy Sayers wrote, in my humble opinion, the greatest proposal of all time at the end of Gaudy Night. I dont’ have it in front of me, so I can’t quote the dialogue tags, which are wonderful, but the actual dialogue is:

    Placetne, magistra?”

    The Latin is apparently what’s said to graduates of Oxford Colleges upon confirmation of their degree. It’s being addressed as a true equal. Best. Proposal. Ever.

    Also Sayers—the first line of Have His Carcase is fully delightful when you’re unhappy: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.” I should very much love to read the romance novel that takes that idea as its tagline.

  30. 30
    Gail Dayton says:

    I can’t remember quotes from books. I barely remember plots, though I can usually recall whether I’ve already read a book or not by the time I get two or three chapters into it. And I have so many favorite books and favorite lines (some of them written by me) that it’s very difficult to pick just one.

    The book that sucked me into romance reading was a Roberta Gellis book. Either Alinor or The English Heiress—I honestly don’t remember which one I read first, but I loved those books. They’re both in my garage somewhere, having been moved from central Texas to the panhandle and now down to the coast. (I need to dig them out before the humidity totally ruins them.)

    I’ve read some absolutely amazing dialogue in Lydia Joyce’s books—the one set in the Balkans had some great lines, but I’d have to pull the book out and hunt to find it.

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