Help me find a title — *please*

You may have noticed that I’m still talking about “the Victorian book,” rather than something with an actual name. This is because, while I have prospects for a title, none of them are quite right — none of them click and make me think, yes, I’ve found it. And while I’ve been speed-reading Victorian literature in a search for The Right One, the Victorians were a wordy bunch of bastards, and I can only get through so much on my own.

So. I’m offering up a complete signed set of the Onyx Court series — Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, an advance copy of A Star Shall Fall, and the Victorian book once I have it — to the person who points me at the right title. Suggestions can be posted in the comments here, or e-mailed to marie [dot] brennan [at] gmail [dot] com.

According to the model set by the previous titles, and arranged in generally descending importance, my criteria are:

  1. The title must be a quote from a work of more-or-less period British literature. (The book takes place circa 1884.) Earlier is better than later; the Romantics are fine, but one Kipling poem I found, dating to 1906, is not.
  2. It must be a short but evocative phrase, along the lines of preceding examples.
  3. It should, if at all possible, contain a verb.
  4. Bonus points if the verb is paired with an interesting noun (a la “midnight,” “ashes,” or “star”).
  5. I vaguely feel like it should come from a novel, because novels are such a characteristic 19c form of literature. This is, however, an optional restriction, which I’ll happily ditch if I find a good title from another source.

And one more thing, which is high in importance, but excluded from the list so I can put details behind a cut. If I keep to the previous pattern, the quote from which the title is drawn should be the epigraph for the final section of the novel. I know what kind of sentiment I want that to convey, and I can even give examples of quotes that come very close but haven’t given me a title. If you want to steer clear of even the vaguest spoilers as to where this book is going, though, don’t look behind the cut; just know that quotes which talk about London or cities are in the right vein.

The closest thing I’ve found is this, from Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Coningsby:

A great city, whose image dwells in the memory of man, is the type of some great idea. Rome represents conquest; Faith hovers over the towers of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique world, Art. In modern ages, Commerce has created London; while Manners, in the most comprehensive sense of the word, have long found a supreme capital in the airy and bright-minded city of the Seine.

But it doesn’t include a phrase that clicks for me — In the Memory of Man and Whose Image Dwells are the foremost contenders, and neither one is right. Next up, we have a Wordsworth quote:

There was a time when whatsoe’er is feigned
Of airy palaces, and gardens built
By Genii of romance; or hath in grave
Authentic history been set forth of Rome,
Alcairo, Babylon, or Persepolis;
Or given upon report by pilgrim friars,
Of golden cities ten months’ journey deep
Among Tartarian wilds–fell short, far short,
Of what my fond simplicity believed
And thought of London–held me by a chain
Less strong of wonder and obscure delight.

From that, And Thought of London is the best prospect, but still not right. (Especially since I’ve been told “And” is a bad word to begin a title with.) In a slightly different vein, we have Dickens, in Martin Chuzzlewit:

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.

What I want — what my subconscious remains convinced is out there, somewhere, in the vast ocean of Victorian literature — is a quote that talks about what London is, or any great city; the way it is composed of many different things, many different kinds of people, and the way it’s home to all of them. Something that evokes wonder in an urban context, might be the simplest way to put it.

Post your ideas here, or e-mail them to me at the address above. At this point I need specific suggestions more than general ones; not authors but individual works, and preferably actual quotes from those works. Toss out as many possibilities as you like. You will have my gratitude forever. And if you know anyone who’s spent a lot of time reading nineteenth-century material, or if you want to signal-boost this in places where such people might see it, please do pass this request along. Not having a title is starting to drive me crazy.

EDITED TO ADD: If you know the literature really well, and don’t mind an honest-to-god spoiler for the plot, e-mail me and I’ll tell you exactly what idea I’m trying to find a quote for. But that will mean knowing how the Victorian book is going to end, so don’t ask if you don’t want to know.

0 Responses to “Help me find a title — *please*”

  1. unforth

    British lit is definitely not my topic. If you’re willing to accept American lit (and I suspect you’re not, for a load of reasonable reasons) I’m currently reading Whitman’s complete works, I’d be happy to look through if it would help – but I won’t bother if American is right out (the one thing I would suggest that it might be okay is that increasingly the two countries were trading literature in the 19th century, it was a major market – but that doesn’t mean it makes any sense for your series. 😉 )

    • Marie Brennan

      I’d prefer to keep it as local as I can. If you want to really get nitpicky, I might take a quote from an American living in London over a Brit living in Scotland, but an American living in America starts getting away from the place-specific mission statement of the series.

      • unforth

        I figured as much. In truth, Whitman is a lousy candidate anyway: he is VERY American, his poetry frequently reflects his devotion to the country of his birth. It’s not like he’s writing for the British, or out of respect for the British, etc. 🙂

        Good luck finding a title!

  2. sartorias

    First thought:

    Milton! thou should’st be living at this hour:
    England hath need of thee: she is a fen
    Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
    Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
    Have forfeited their ancient English dower
    Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
    Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
    And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
    Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
    Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
    Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
    So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
    In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
    The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

    (William Wordsworth, London, 1802)

    • sartorias


      It is not to be thought of that the Flood
      Of British freedom, which, to the open sea
      Of the world’s praise, from dark antiquity
      Hath flowed, “with pomp of waters, unwithstood,”
      Roused though it be full often to a mood
      Which spurns the check of salutary bands,
      That this most famous Stream in bogs and sands
      Should perish; and to evil and to good
      Be lost for ever. In our halls is hung
      Armoury of the invincible Knights of old:
      We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
      That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold
      Which Milton held.–In every thing we are sprung
      Of Earth’s first blood, have titles manifold.

      (William Wordsworth)

      • sartorias

        Another chunk:

        Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
        England hath need of thee: she is a fen
        Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
        Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
        Have forfeited their ancient English dower
        Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
        O raise us up, return to us again,
        And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
        Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
        Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
        Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
        So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
        In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
        The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

        (William Wordsworth, England, 1802 II)

  3. sartorias

    Maybe a touch of Donne?

    I am a little world made cunningly
    Of elements, and an angelic sprite;
    But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
    My worlds both parts, and (oh!) both parts must die.
    You which beyond that heaven which was most high
    Have found new spheres, and of new lands can write,
    Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
    Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
    Or wash it if it must be drowned no more:
    But oh it must be burnt! alas the fire
    Of lust and envy have burnt it heretofore,
    And made it fouler: Let their flames retire,
    And burn me, O Lord, with a fiery zeal
    Of Thee and Thy house, which doth in eating heal.

    (John Donne, Holy Sonnet V)

  4. sartorias

    I fled Him down the nights and down the days
    I fled Him down the arches of the years
    I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
    I hid from him, and under running laughter.
    Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
    Adown titanic glooms of chasmed years
    From those strong feet that followed, followed after
    But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
    They beat, and a Voice beat,
    More instant than the feet:
    All things betray thee who betrayest me.

    (Francis Thompson, from “The Hound of Heaven”)

  5. raisinfish

    Have you checked out Holy Thursday (Songs of Innocence)by William Blake?

    It seems to fit your criteria, (though it was written in 1789, Blake was a Romantic). It talks about the multitudes in London, specifically. I like the phrases “with radiance all their own” and “raising their innocent hands” and “the seats of heaven among,” but they may be a bit long to fit with your other titles.

    The introduction to Blake’s “Songs of Experience contains the line, “fallen light renew,” which is shorter, and more like your other titles. Songs of Experience is heavily based in London, but that particular stanza is not. (I also like “in the evening dew” from that same poem.)

  6. malsperanza

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Hopkins is known for his nature poems, but this is one of the best city poems I know:

    The Alchemist in the City

    My window shews the travelling clouds,
    Leaves spent, new seasons, alter’d sky,
    The making and the melting crowds:
    The whole world passes; I stand by.

    They do not waste their meted hours,
    But men and masters plan and build:
    I see the crowning of their towers,
    And happy promises fulfill’d.

    And I – perhaps if my intent
    Could count on prediluvian age,
    The labours I should then have spent
    Might so attain their heritage,

    But now before the pot can glow
    With not to be discover’d gold,
    At length the bellows shall not blow,
    The furnace shall at last be cold.

    Yet it is now too late to heal
    The incapable and cumbrous shame
    Which makes me when with men I deal
    More powerless than the blind or lame.

    No, I should love the city less
    Even than this my thankless lore;
    But I desire the wilderness
    Or weeded landslips of the shore.

    I walk my breezy belvedere
    To watch the low or levant sun,
    I see the city pigeons veer,
    I mark the tower swallows run

    Between the tower-top and the ground
    Below me in the bearing air;
    Then find in the horizon-round
    One spot and hunger to be there.

    And then I hate the most that lore
    That holds no promise of success;
    Then sweetest seems the houseless shore,
    Then free and kind the wilderness,

    Or ancient mounds that cover bones,
    Or rocks where rockdoves do repair
    And trees of terebinth and stones
    And silence and a gulf of air.

    There on a long and squared height
    After the sunset I would lie,
    And pierce the yellow waxen light
    With free long looking, ere I die.

  7. malsperanza

    The Smokeless Air

    For Wordsworth there’s also “Westminster Bridge,” though perhaps it’s too famous?

    Earth has not anything to show more fair:
    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
    A sight so touching in its majesty:
    This City now doth, like a garment, wear
    The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
    Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
    Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

    Never did sun more beautifully steep
    In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
    Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
    The river glideth at his own sweet will:
    Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
    And all that mighty heart is lying still!

  8. dungeonwriter

    “Let my body dwell in poverty, and my hands be as the hands of the toiler; but let my soul be as a temple of remembrance where the treasures of knowledge enter and the inner sanctuary is hope.”
    — George Eliot (Daniel Deronda)written in 1876

  9. sartorias

    Phoebus’ rays setting?

    From the diary of Mrs. Arbuthnot feb 25th, 1823, at the height of political turmoil

    pertinent quote:
    25th The ferment in Ireland caused by the dismissal of Sir C. Vernon and the measures of the Catholic part of th Government there, namely the Ld Lt. & the Attny Gen., is beyond anything that was ever known.

    Ld W[ellesley] is become more odious than can be expressed to the Orange Party (which, after all, are the Gentry of Ireland) by his conduct. He is surrounded by blackguard people who repeat to him every thing that is said about him in the Society of Doblin, and there is also someone in the Castle who writes anonymous letters to the Chancellor & Mr. Gouburn repeating everything that he says.

    It seems that poor Sir C Vernon was turned out for NOT for the toast upon the exports of Ireland, but for sitting by when Ld W.’s health was drunk in silence. It appears that all former Lds Lt have dined with this club; and this one, tho twice invited, did not even condescend to give any answer. The natural consequence was that his health was drunk in silence. There wre songs also sung, and one, “Phoebus’ rays setting in the West,” Ld. W chose to apply to himself!
    He announced a drawing room the other day (the FIRST he has had) and Lady Rossmore, a very old and very violent Protestant, announced a party for the same evening. He sent to say to her that he thought this most extraordinary & as if she was setting up herself in opposition to the Lord Lieutenancy. She sent for answer that she had only invited three old women who all wore hoops in the reign of George II, and therefore she could not suppose she interfered with his drawing room, more particularly as neither they nor herself could stand.”

    I just love that bit about the hoop skirts.

  10. dyrecorn

    Depending on what you’re looking for, Coleridge is full of fun little three-word bits.


    A good sample piece, Fears In Solitude:

    Aside from the title, it contains:
    Solitude Loves Best
    Dreaming Hears Thee Still (My fav)
    His Soul in Calmness
    A Melancholy Thing
    A Superstitious Instrument
    One Scheme of Perjury
    O Dear England
    A Deep Delusion


  11. akirlu

    Is “Strong of Wonder and Obscure Delight” too long? Because I sure like it as a phrase.

  12. toddalcott

    “London is a modern Babylon” and “London is a roost for every bird.” – Benjamin Disraeli

  13. toddalcott

    You know what I would do? I’d look up my favorite Victorian writers on the internet, all the biggies have complete novels online, which are searchable for research purposes.

    I’d look up a novel like, say, Little Dorrit, then I’d do a search for “London” and scan over the lines that come up. That way you can get through a whole big fat novel in minutes and not bother with the whole “reading a novel” work.

    • Marie Brennan

      Which is pretty much what I’ve been doing with Disraeli and Dickens. 🙂 But it’s also possible that there are ideal quotes which don’t actually hit my target from that angle, so the method does have its flaws.

  14. miintikwa

    John Gay, Trivia, or the art of walking the streets of London.

    An excerpt:

    When rosemary, and bays, the poet’s crown,
    Are bawl’d in frequent cries through all the town,
    Then judge the festival of Christmas near,
    Christmas, the joyous period of the year.
    Now with bright holly all your temples strow,
    With laurel green and sacred mistletoe.
    Now, heav’n-born Charity, thy blessings shed;
    Bid meagre Want uprear her sickly head:
    Bid shiv’ring limbs be warm; let plenty’s bowl
    In humble roofs make glad the needy soul.
    See, see, the heav’n-born maid her blessings shed;
    Lo! meagre Want uprears her sickly head;
    Cloth’d are the naked, and the needy glad,
    While selfish Avarice alone is sad.

    Proud coaches pass, regardless of the moan
    Of infant orphans, and the widow’s groan;
    While Charity still moves the walker’s mind,
    His lib’ral purse relieves the lame and blind.
    Judiciously thy half-pence are bestow’d,
    Where the laborious beggar sweeps the road.
    Whate’er you give, give ever at demand,
    Nor let old age long stretch his palsy’d hand.
    Those who give late are importun’d each day,
    And still are teas’d because they still delay.
    If e’er the miser durst his farthings spare,
    He thinly spreads them through the public square,
    Where, all beside the rail, rang’d beggars lie,
    And from each other catch the doleful cry;
    With heav’n, for two-pence, cheaply wipes his score,
    Lifts up his eyes, and hastes to beggar more.

    Where the brass knocker, wrapt in flannel band,
    Forbids the thunder of the footman’s hand;
    Th’ upholder, rueful harbinger of death,
    Waits with impatience for the dying breath;
    As vulture, o’er a camp, with hov’ring flight,
    Snuff up the future carnage of the fight.
    Here canst thou pass, unmindful of a pray’r,
    That heav’n in mercy may thy brother spare?

  15. dungeonwriter

    Hmmm, what about from Kubla Khan by Coleridge?

    “Caverns measureless to man”

    “walls and towers were girdled round”

    “ceaseless turmoil seething,”

  16. houseboatonstyx

    Run your search for ‘civil’ or ‘civility’?

  17. drydem

    possible titles are bolded within quotes

    Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
    Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

    Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
    When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;

    Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
    Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,

    And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
    Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

    And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
    Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

    Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
    That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

    For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
    Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

    Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
    Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

    Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
    From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
    -Alfred Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall


    Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?
    Read the wide world’s annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

    Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
    Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

    Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise:
    When was age so cramm’d with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?
    -Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After

    • drydem

      Re: possible titles are bolded within quotes

      Given how hard it is to see bolding in white text on black background, here are the titles again
      1. All the Wonder that Would Be

      2. Dream Not that the Hour will Last

      • drydem

        Re: possible titles are bolded within quotes

        Though if you want alternates from similar epigraphs
        1. The Vision of the World

        2. Age so Cramm’d with Menace

  18. houseboatonstyx

    Light of London Flaring?

  19. Anonymous

    Ex-Londoner here and thinking that Dickens *must* be the go-to guy for this… Could the ‘interesting noun’ be something specifically Victorian/industrial (i.e., what makes *this* period different from the preceding ones)? E.g. ‘smoke’ or ‘fog’… would it work to do a text search for either of them in a few likely texts and see what comes up?

    I thought of pointing you towards something like the description of fog in Bleak House, but it doesn’t have the city-ness of the ones you’ve picked out and you probably won’t want a megalosaurus anywhere near it either!

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve read about a quarter of Bleak House so far, and turned nothing up. The problem with Dickens is that he’s very rarely quotable at a length of three to five words; he becomes interesting only when taken in bulk.

      • clodfobble

        A couple short interesting Dickens quotes:

        “The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour.” (I like Spirit to Pour, myself.) – The Pickwick Papers

        “Melancholy streets, in a penitential garb of soot, steeped the souls of the people who were condemned to look at them out of windows, in dire despondency.” – (Steeped the Souls is my favorite from this) Little Dorrit

  20. pathseeker42

    From Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (“Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement”) – maybe some sort of parallel between the conflict within Dr. Jekyll and the industrialization of London?

    My Virtue Slumbered
    Learned to Despair
    Wholly Toward the Worse
    Spirit of Hell Awoke

  21. dynix

    “When the stars threw down their spears,”

    “When the stars threw down their spears,”
    From The Tiger by William Blake


    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder and what art
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And, when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand and what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And watered heaven with their tears,
    Did He smile His work to see?
    Did He who made the lamb make thee?

    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    • dynix

      Re: “When the stars threw down their spears,”

      Or just
      “The stars threw down their spears”

  22. boannan

    From Dickens:

    Our Mutual Friend:

    draw me to fire

    cry for joy

    a path of diamonds in the sun

    Nicholas Nickelby:

    countless treasures of the heart

    David Copperfield:

    glimpses of another shore

    live misfortune down

    the Palace of cold splendour

  23. coraa

    First thought, from Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, pub 1851-53.

    Suggested title: Or a Dancing Light


    “This looks somewhat like pride; but it is true humility, a trust that you have been so created as to enjoy what is fitting for you, and a willingness to be pleased, as it was intended you should be. It is the child’s spirit, which we are then most happy when we most recover; only wiser than children in that we are ready to think it subject of thankfulness that we can still be pleased with a fair color or a dancing light. And, above all, do not try to make all these pleasures reasonable, nor to connect the delight which you take in ornament with that which you take in construction or usefulness. They have no connection; and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty, or confuse it with sensations altogether inferior to it. You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight. Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance; at least I suppose this quill I hold in my hand writes better than a peacock’s would, and the peasants of Vevay, whose fields in spring time are as white with lilies as the Dent du Midi is with its snow, told me the hay was none the better for them.”

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