Study Guide

Life After Life Quotes

  • Mortality

    Darkness fell. (1.14)

    The first chapter ends with a death—the death of our main character in fact. She dies quite a few times over the course of the book, and this line, or some variation thereof, describes each one of her deaths as a fading into darkness before being reborn. There's no white light, like some people say they see.

    "She's gone. Dead before she had a chance to live." (2.12)

    The death of Ursula at birth is tragic, but the irony here is that she has had the chance to live. At this point, we're not sure just how many times, but her life is ever-repeating, which takes some of the edge off her death.

    [Hugh] laughed and said, "What's going on here, then?" picking up Ursula and tossing her casually in the air, only stopping when she started to choke on a sugar lump. (6.48)

    In any other book, this line wouldn't really mean anything. But in Life After Life, we've already seen Ursula die twice. She narrowly avoids death by sugar cube here.

    Pamela said [Sylvie's suicide] was the coward's way out, but Ursula wasn't so sure. She thought it showed a rather admirable clarity of purpose. (18.10)

    This line shows Ursula's feelings toward death (i.e., it's inevitable) and foreshadows her eventual suicide in one of the timelines, an action she commits with clear purpose.

    To Ursula Todd, for good work. It would do for an epitaph too, she supposed. (18.28)

    Ursula thinks a lot about death in this chapter (one of the chapters in which she later dies). This epitaph idea perfectly sums up how Ursula wants to be remembered: for good work.

    "Well, we all get on," Sylvie said, "one way or another. And in the end we all arrive at the same place. I hardly see that it matters how we get there." (21.16)

    Sylvie has a very laissez-faire approach to life—she's all, who cares? We're going to die anyway. That seems awfully defeatist to us (and if she truly believes this, why is she so snooty to Ursula about her life decisions, hmm?).

    [Ursula] had never chosen death over life before and as she was leaving she knew something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed. Then the dark obliterated all thoughts. (24.241)

    This is a major breaking point for Ursula—she kills herself and her daughter, but she does it because she thinks it's for the best. It's important to remember that she is choosing death here, not rebirth. Despite living over and over again and having feelings of déjà vu, it doesn't seem like Ursula ever truly realizes that she is born again and again.

    Ursula wasn't convinced that the dead went anywhere, except into a void, black and infinite. (25.34)

    This quote backs up what we thought about the last one: that Ursula believes she dies, not that she is reborn. While there may not be an afterlife for Ursula, there's no oblivion either.

    "We never know when it will be the last time," [Ursula] said to Izzie. (25.256)

    This is a typical sentiment when it comes to death, but it's ironic coming from Ursula's mouth. Going forward, she will know when it's the last time, thanks to her memories of past lives.

    "He was my boy," Sylvie said vehemently, "don't you dare say he was yours," although she knew, guiltily, that she mourned less for Roland than she would have done for one of her own. (26.54)

    Sylvie uses Roland's death as a way to feel superior to Izzie, as though coping with death is like some sort of grief Olympics.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Such a fine line between living and dying. (4.18)

    Sylvie is a little more likely to write off how fragile life is when people live. We doubt she'd be casually thinking about this "fine line" had this been one of the timelines in which her baby dies.

    "Life must go on," [Sylvie] said. (9.51)

    Sylvie says this because she thinks it's silly to be scared of influenza. She's right in a the show must go on kind of way, but without caution, life won't go on. At least not for the ones who die.

    Life was going on. A think of beauty. (9.67)

    Ursula thinks this as she dies of influenza. Life is going on, but not for her. Everyone else will continue to live, and it's only a thing of beauty in the painful, poetic sense of the word.

    "Thirteen is quite grown-up nowadays. And life can be very short, you know." (20.3)

    The irony drips off this line like snot from a runny nose in allergy season. Ursula, who is being spoken to, knows better than anyone how short life is, having already died at birth, at age four, at five, at eight…

    "Reincarnation," Dr. Kellet had said to her. "Have you heard of that?" Ursula, aged ten, shook her head. She had heard of very little. (20.47)

    It's hard to tell if a psychologist who is discussing reincarnation with a ten-year-old is a genius or a crackpot. In any other book, he might be a kook, but in Life After Life, his diagnoses are spot on.

    "One must nose forward," [Dr. Kellet] said. "Nudge one's way through the chaos of our thoughts. Unite the divided self." (20.49)

    Ursula is made up of many divided selves. In each life, she feels weird echoes of past ones. While she might never be able to unite them all, she eventually becomes able to listen to them and either change them or let them be.

    "Nirvana is the goal. Non-being, as it were." At ten it seemed to Ursula that perhaps being should be the goal. (20.76)

    Ursula's views on life change as she relives her life over and over. As she gets older, she starts to see the circularity of things, so that as she relives life over and over, she becomes a very wise ten-year-old, who even at that tender age starts to yearn for non-being.

    What a world of difference there was between dying and nearly dying. One's whole life, in fact. Ursula felt she had no use for the life she had been saved for. (20.339)

    Sometimes people change the course of their life after a near-death experience. Ursula, however, is able to change the course of future lives if there isn't anything she can do to remedy things in her current one.

    It seemed to Ursula that how you got there was the whole point but there was nothing to be gained from arguing with Sylvie on the days when she was mired in gloom. (21.17)

    Sylvie is fatalistic in an almost apathetic way. Her philosophy seems to be life stinks (sometimes), and then you die. And because people die, she doesn't see any reason to live a good life. Maybe that's why she has no qualms about cheating—she's going to die anyway, and no one will be around to remember it.

    "Life is too precious to be unhappy." (22.31)

    Even if, like Ursula, you have more than one life to live, why not make the best of each and every one?

  • Family

    Maurice poked a finger in the baby's face and she woke up and squawked in alarm. (4.48)

    Maurice is the stereotypical mean older brother, even when he's only five years old. He will never grow out of this kind of bratty behavior, either.

    How do you explain the magnitude of motherhood to someone who has no children? (6.39)

    Sylvie wonders this about her childless friends, but Ursula feels a similar mother-child bond with her younger brother, Teddy, whom she would do anything for. Of course, in parallel lives, Ursula has had children, so maybe those motherly instincts just bleed over from there.

    Hugh always looked vaguely startled to find his children at the same table as him. (6.97)

    Hugh may not be a bad father, but he's kind of an oblivious one. He never associated much with his own parents when he was a child, so he has trouble relating to his own kids when they're really young.

    "Don't write about my children, Isobel," Sylvie said heatedly to Izzie. (20.34)

    Sylvie is very possessive of her children, but we think in this case, it might just be that she doesn't want Izzie to have anything to do with them. She probably wouldn't mind if other people, who weren't shameless hussies in her eyes, wrote about them.

    If Teddy ever cried when he was young, Ursula could never bear it. It seemed to open up a chasm inside, something deep and dreadful and full of sorrow. All she ever wanted was to make sure he never felt like crying again. […] ("That's how motherhood feels every day," Sylvie said.) (20.79)

    Ursula's relationship with Teddy almost feels more like a mother/son relationship than a brother/sister one. She is very protective of him, and in most lives doesn't have kids of her own, so she focuses on giving Teddy the best life she can.

    "After all, woman's highest calling is to be a mother and a wife." (20.245)

    Sylvie has very traditional views, which she tries to foist on her own children. Ursula shrugs this off, but Pamela, who often seems like the more modern thinker, ends up doing exactly that: being a wife and mother.

    "I have money, but of course no husband. Nor do I have a child."

    "Really?" Sylvie said. "Are you sure?"

    Izzie ignored her. "No one to share my good fortune with. So, I was thinking, why don't I adopt Jimmy?" (20.654-656)

    Izzie gave her child away, something that Sylvie never lets her forget. But without wanting to have another one, Izzie wants to acquire a family in some way… so she's willing to ask Sylvie for one of her kids.

    Strange to be thinking of having children at all during a time when the very existence of the future was in doubt. (21.201)

    It is indeed—and it doesn't go well for Freida and Ursula.

    "Love at first sight," [Ursula] wrote giddily to Millie. But of course such feelings weren't "true" love (that was what she would feel for a child one day). (24.81)

    This is the one timeline where Ursula gets married and has a child. That seems to be her priority here, as her mother's values have sunk in this time.

    Being an aunt had helped to seal over the empty cavern in her heart from Teddy's loss. (25.613)

    In one timeline, Teddy dies and Ursula suffers as though she's lost a son. She has to find someone else to focus her affections on, and she chooses one of Pamela's sons.

  • War

    "Austria has declared war on Serbia," Hugh said conversationally and Margaret said, "How silly. I spent a wonderful weekend in Vienna last year." (6.51)

    Before the outbreak of World War I, people in England don't seem to be concerned about the war reaching their shores. They don't think that war in another country could possible affect them.

    "It may be the only adventure I ever have," [Hugh] said. (6.117)

    Hugh enlists to fight in the war not for any political reason, but for "adventure," as though it's Indiana Jones summer camp and not a life-or-death global conflict.

    Izzie never mentioned her baby. He had been adopted in Germany and Sylvie supposed he was a German citizen. How strange that he was only a little younger than Ursula, but, officially, he was the enemy. (6.148)

    War can turn families against one another. This isn't quite American Civil War-caliber stuff, given that Izzie's child was adopted by a German family, but it still makes you wonder what might have happened if the two ever met while their respective nations were at war.

    The Armistice seemed to have made Sylvie even more despondent than the war. ("All those poor boys, gone forever. The peace won't bring them back.") (9.34)

    There's a double irony here: It's peace that makes Sylvie really realize the horrors of war. And, although the Todd family doesn't suffer much during the war, it's Armistice Day that brings death to their doorstep—when Bridget attends, she brings back a virulent flu that wipes out most of the kids. (Ursula later strives to fix this.)

    "It's vile. It makes me so cross. Going to war is madness. Have more cake, why don't you?" (21.101)

    Pamela's quick about-face from war to cake, while not only yummy, also signifies the futility some people feel in the face of war. It's not like there's anything she can do about it, so she might as well try to enjoy life while she can.

    "We didn't used to know where Czechoslovakia was, did we? I wish we still didn't." (22.7)

    How many countries did you learn about the existence of simply because they were at war, either with another country or with your own? Lots of our everyday geographic knowledge comes from war.

    "It promotes peace and understanding between young people. No more wars." (24.11)

    The hindsight irony here is so bright it's blinding. Mrs. Brenner is talking about the youth groups set up by Hitler—yes, that Hitler. Instead of "no more wars," these groups lead to the war to end all wars. If they promote peace and understanding between young people, they also promote hatred and intolerance toward everyone else.

    Pamela, even at a distance, was the voice of [Ursula's] conscience, but then it was easy to have a conscience from a distance. (24.72)

    Although Pamela never crosses into Tumblr armchair slacktivism, she often passes judgment on situations that she hasn't lived through. Ursula gets a different view of Germany when she actually lives there during the war.

    [Ursula] thought she would never get over that first terrible incident, but the memory of it had already been overlaid by many others and now she barely thought about it. (25.36)

    War is one atrocity after another, and whenever Ursula thinks she's seen everything, something worse trumps it.

    War did indeed make strange bedfellows of people. (25.334)

    People meet in strange ways during the war, and they're often looking to forget something traumatic or vent frustration in fear, so they take the term bedfellow literally. War can be a turn on in the weirdest way.

  • Women and Femininity

    Doctors for women should all be women themselves. Little chance of that. (3.11)

    This is Sylvie's thought. She doesn't like the male Dr. Fellowes "pawing and poking […] in her most delicate and secretive places" (3.11), but in 1910, there's no hope of a woman ever becoming a doctor.

    "An honest woman?" Sylvie mused. "Is there such a thing?" (Did she say that out loud?) (4.63)

    Sylvie, despite being female, is almost as far from a feminist as you can get. Sylvie definitely adheres to the rigid gender norms of the day, and encourages her children to do the same thing.

    "I can't teach her—she's a girl!" (6.28)

    Maurice shrieks this while trying to teach Pammy tennis. We'd love to say, oh, what an archaic thought, but people still say similar things today.

    Izzie's column seemed for the most part to be nothing more than a diary of her own hectic personal life with the odd social comment thrown in. Last week it had been "How high they can go?" and was about "the rise of the emancipated female hemline," but consisted mostly of Izzie's tips to acquire the necessary shapely ankles. (20.24)

    Izzie's column is at a weird place between feminism and cankle-shaming, stuck on the fence between obsession with traditional female beauty and moving forward toward women's rights. Just like Izzie herself.

    "Singing about how wretched it is to be a woman," Izzie said. […] "If only one could find someone really filthy rich to marry. A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. Do you know who said that? No? Well you should." (20.105)

    Izzie is quoting Jane Austen's Mansfield Park here. Is Austen being ironic? Is Izzie? Izzie is a woman who ends up making her own fortune, while Sylvie, who loves Jane Austen, seems to take that quote to heart, believing that a woman's value is based on the value of her man.

    "I say, that's grim," Pamela said. "Do you think she has? Been followed down a street by a stranger?" (20.154)

    If this were coming from Sylvie, she'd probably say it as though it were all Izzie's fault. But coming from Pamela, she seems dismayed at the way men act toward women in the city.

    Sylvie, although she never quite came out and said it, thought academia was pointless for girls. (20.245)

    Sylvie thinks that women should be wives and mothers, and there's no room for formal education with either of those two positions. She seems to think this way only because she's supposed to at this time period in history. She's not a stupid woman. Being so well read, she should be more supportive of education—but maybe she knows she'd be happier in life if she were ignorant, and that's why she encourages ignorance in her daughters.

    "And does Derek know you're not intact?" Sylvie asked. […]

    "Intact?" Ursula echoed, staring at Sylvie in the mirror. What did that mean, that she was flawed? Or broken?

    "One's maidenhood," Sylvie said. […] "For someone who is far from innocent you seem remarkably naïve." (20.454-456)

    This is probably one of the nastiest things Sylvie says in the whole book, making Ursula believe that she is less of a person because she's not a virgin, and even worse, because she's a rape victim.

    You couldn't necessarily judge a woman by the man she slept with. (Or could you?) (24.159)

    People judge women by the men they sleep with all the time. And it happens in this era, too. Just look at Sylvie and Izzie.

    "You've helped pave the way for women in senior positions of the civil service." (25.598)

    Ursula wants to make a difference in the world, and in this life she does. She holds a position that no other woman before her has, and it makes a difference that may not seem big in the grand scheme of things, but really is.

  • Sexuality

    [Sylvie] had no idea where babies came from, even on her wedding night she remained baffled. (3.12)

    Sex education isn't a thing in these days, and it seems like some people are taken by surprise on their wedding night. What do you think of this?

    Yet again, Sylvie claimed to be taken by surprise by the newest addition to the family. […] Once, Sylvie had had no idea how children were started, now she seemed uncertain as to how you might stop them. (20.29)

    While sex was surprising for Sylvie as a young woman, now she can't seem to shake it. Although, her fidelity is questionable, so who knows who her kids belong to at times.

    Ursula shuddered at the memory of Howie's "parts" and how they had come together with hers in one vile conjugation. Was this what Sylvie and Hugh did? She couldn't imagine her mother putting up with such a thing. (20.287)

    When Howie rapes Ursula on the stairs, it affects her entire view of sexuality going forward. She wonders if all sex is like this, and her mother's puritan attitude toward the act only reinforces the belief that sex is bad.

    "My life would be so dull without your salacious reports from the front line. What a deal of vicarious excitement I derive from your love life—or whatever you want to call it." (21.57)

    Pamela and Ursula are less prude than their mother, and they have no problem talking about Ursula's love life. In fact, Pammy relishes it, being in a boring ol' monogamous relationship of her own.

    The war made indiscretions easier. (21.56)

    When people are dying all around you, a little extra sex isn't going to hurt anyone. People have no idea when they're going to die, so they have to enjoy life while it lasts.

    Ursula was still a virgin, of course, "intact" as Sylvie would have it. Not for any moral reason, simply because she hadn't yet met anyone that she liked enough. "You don't have to like them," Klara laughed. (24.57)

    In this timeline, Ursula is a little more sexually reserved, and this quote also highlights the difference between Ursula's prim English upbringing and the Germans' different view of sex.

    (Did Eva call [Hitler] mein Führer even in bed? It seemed perfectly possible.) (24.101)

    Yep, thinking about Hitler's sex life is perfectly natural in this book.

    "[The war] seems to be everyone's excuse for bad behavior," Ursula grumbled. "If people believed in eternal damnation they might not be seizing the day quite so much." (25.590)

    Ursula seems to have a different opinion of sex as she gets older, which we see in this scene. What changes her attitude in the days since she was having an affair with Crighton, and sleeping with both Ralph and Fred Smith around the same time?

    "[Jimmy's] a homosexual, you do know that, don't you?" Pamela said. […] It was information, not censure, but there was still a mild prurience in her words and the faintest trace of smugness, as if she were better able to cope with liberal views. Ursula wondered if she knew about Gerald and his "proclivities."

    "Jimmy's just Jimmy," [Ursula] said. (25.617-25.618)

    We're not sure why these details are included about Jimmy and Pammy's son, Gerald, but there they are. Pammy, despite being "liberal," defines Jimmy as a homosexual, but Ursula sees him as simply her brother, no matter what his "proclivities" are.

    [Benjamin] went into a kind of spasm that [Ursula] thought might be a prelude to death by apoplexy. […] "Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to do that." (But what had he done?) (26.172)

    Premature ejaculation probably isn't discussed in Dr. Beatrice Webb's sex-ed book that Ursula reads, but that's what happens here when Benjamin experiences a premature "little death," as the Victorians so lovingly called orgasms.

  • Marriage

    "Can a house be a corner? Isn't it at one?" So this is marriage, Sylvie thought. (4.43-4.44)

    We see early on Sylvie's tendency to take control (naming the house) and kind of rolling her eyes at her husband. She doesn't seem to have much affection for him at all, but maybe that's just how marriage is back in the early 1900s.

    "Of course I am [looking forward to being married], why would I be doing it otherwise? I like the idea of marriage. There is something smooth and round and solid about it." (20.400)

    Pamela has a traditional view of marriage, despite being a somewhat more modern thinker. It's incredible how much her marriage mimics her mother's, except Pammy seems to be faithful.

    "Sometimes," Sylvie said, "one can mistake gratitude for love." (20.436)

    This is wise advice, because this is exactly why Ursula marries Derek: She's grateful that he isn't a total jerkwad like every other man in her life. (Of course, he turns out to be the worst of them all—it helps to get to know someone better before marrying them.)

    [Ursula] was going to belong to someone, safe at last, that was all that counted. Being a bride was nothing, being a wife was everything. (20.443)

    Ursula seems to have bought into Sylvie's belief that being a wife is the most important thing ever. Ursula has given up any sense of personal agency, giving up her entire identity to be married to Derek, in the hope of being "safe," but he takes advantage of her lack of power.

    "Everyone marries a stranger," Hugh said. (20.460)

    This is the truth, especially in these days where courtship doesn't seem to be the same as dating is today. People often let their true natures show after getting married, maybe because divorce is so uncommon.

    [Ursula] had started wearing a wedding ring when not at work, for appearances' sake. (22.59)

    While Ursula is living with Crighton, she has to pretend to be married. Cohabitation isn't a thing at this time.

    "For me, marriage is about freedom," Izzie said. "For [Sylvie] it has always been about the vexations of confinement." (22.107)

    This is a shrewd insult on Izzie's part. Sylvie often buys into norms regarding women and marriage just because they're the norm, and then she seems stifled by them, but accepts them for how things are. But does Izzie do the same thing? What was her motivation for getting married?

    "Marriage is based on a more enduring kind of love," Sylvie cautioned. (24.83)

    Sylvie is warning against marrying after "love at first sight," and we have to admit it's wise advice. Love at first sight is often lust in disguise, and not the best basis for a marriage.

    "No one can understand what goes on in a marriage, every couple is different." (25.237)

    Sounds like someone has been reading Anna Karenina. This reminds us of the first line: "All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Replace family with couple, and you won't be too far off base.

    "What a lovely young wife you have […] It's the best way—getting them young—then you can mold them to how you want them." (26.13)

    A sleazy man says this to Hugh while Hugh is pretending to be his pregnant sister's husband. We're not sure if he's serious or not, but his attitude seems in line with the attitudes of many men at this time.

  • Memories and the Past

    Pamela complained that she had never had a surprise party and Sylvie said, "Of course you have, you just don't remember." Was this true? Pamela frowned at the impossibility of knowing. (9.3)

    It's incredible how many of our memories just disappear. We have to rely on others to remember for us, or risk forgetting certain things entirely.

    "From a more scientific point of view," [Dr. Kellet] said, "perhaps the part of your brain responsible for memory has a little flaw, a neurological problem that leads you to think that you are repeating experiences. As if something had got stuck." (20.84)

    Here, Dr. Kellet attempts to use science, versus his typical method of spirituality meets metaphysics, to explain Ursula's déjà vu, and he seems to arrive at the conclusion that it could be neurological time lag, or something similar.

    Ursula still harbored the feeling that some of her future was also behind her but she had learned not to voice such things. (20.175)

    This is Ursula's way of describing her déjà vu, and the fact that she can somehow remember things that have yet to happen, sometimes.

    "Quite Jamesian, really," she heard Teddy say. (Had he said that?) (22.178)

    In one of her last moments before death, Ursula is "remembering" something that Teddy said in a previous life, the one in which she was beaten to death by her abusive husband at the end of Chapter 20.

    It was like an echo, or rather the opposite of an echo. An echo came afterward, but was there a word for what came before? (23.10)

    It seems like that word would be "déjà vu." Okay, it's two words, but this is a concept often discussed in the book, and we think it fits the feeling Ursula is having here.

    Most people muddled through events and only in retrospect realized their significance. (24.114)

    Ursula is living her whole life in retrospect. With a memory of how past lives went, she can do her best to change things and affect the future.

    "Hindsight is a wonderful thing," Klara said. "If we all had it there would be no history to write about." (24.125)

    Ursula tries to use her somewhat supernatural hindsight to eliminate "history" in other timelines, like when she shoots Hitler. Too bad she doesn't live to see how that might change the world.

    "We cannot turn away," Miss Woolf told [Ursula], "we must get on with our job and we must bear witness." What did that mean? Ursula wondered. "It means," Miss Woolf said, "that we must remember these people when we are safely in the future." (25.28)

    Memories keep people alive, and in times of war, that's about all you can hope to do, because you can't save everyone.

    Ursula tried to think of the meadow at the back of the copse at Fox Corner. Flax and larkspur, corn poppies, red campion, and oxeye daisies. She thought of the smell of new-mown grass and the freshness of summer rain. (25.303)

    Ursula has to rely on her memories during wartime in order to get a little peace and quiet. When bombs are falling on London, about the only thing she can do is try to put herself back into happier times.

    It was a long time ago now. And it was yesterday. (25.601)

    Isn't that how memories often work? You can think of something that happened years and years ago (or, for Ursula, in a past life), and it feels like it just happened.

  • Fate and Free Will

    [Mrs. Glover's] strapping son was a straightforward George. "Tiller of the soil, from the Greek," […] and George was indeed a plowman on the nearby Ettringham Hall estate farm, as if they very naming of him had formed his destiny. Not that Mrs. Glover was much given to thinking about destiny. Or Greeks, for that matter. (4.51)

    If a person's name defines them, we worry about celebrity children like Pilot Inspektor and Moxie Crimefighter. Actually, on second thought, those kids sound kind of awesome.

    Motherhood was [Sylvie's] responsibility, her destiny. It was, lacking anything else (and what else could there be?), her life. (6.47)

    If Sylvie sees herself as a mother by fate, why isn't she a better one? She lets Maurice run wild, for instance, and she disparages Ursula's lack of morals (in her opinion) in the timeline where Ursula gets raped. For someone who defines herself as a mother, Sylvie isn't very nurturing.

    How on earth had [the parcel] got here? There were no trains running and Pamela was almost certainly snowed in. Even more puzzling was how her sister had managed to dig up this wintry harvest when Earth stood hard as iron. (18.8)

    This is a good question: How does Pammy's parcel get all the way from Fox Corner to Kensington? Could it have been delivered by the hand of fate?

    "Fate isn't in your hands. That would be a very heavy burden for a little girl." (20.91)

    Tell that to Buffy, Dr. Kellet. In one of Ursula's later lives, she does take the burden of fate on, and practically crumbles under its weight. Feeling responsible for the future of the world is impossible for anyone to bear, at any age.

    "Amor fati. […] A simple acceptance of what comes to us, regarding it as neither bad nor good." (20.107)

    This might just be the main point of the novel. Ursula isn't happy until she accepts this theory: that what happens, happens. Or, in reality TV show lingo: It is what it is.

    "[Harold] had a scrap with […] Edwina about predestination."

    "She believes in that? I thought she was Anglican."

    "I know. She has no sense of logic though." (21.11-13)

    Fate doesn't follow any sense of logic. It's not logical that Ursula is born and reborn, and can only vaguely remember echoes of certain events—but it's true.

    Was this her fate too, [Ursula] thought, contemplating her bespectacled reflection in the mirror above the fireplace? Would she, too, end up as an old maid? (21.171)

    This is less fate than fear of being single, although perhaps it is her fate to be an old maid. It seems that the only lives she's happy in are the ones in which she remains single.

    A Todd and a Fuchs—a pair of foxes. Had fate intervened in her life? Dr. Kellet might have appreciated the coincidence. (24.79)

    One of Ursula's better relationships happens with a man who has basically the same last name as she does, but it's still not perfect.

    "He's always been a politician. He was born a politician." No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become. (24.158)

    As someone who feels she has control over her own life (lives), Ursula believes in free will, of course. She doesn't think Hitler was born to be evil; she thinks he chose that path.

    "Roland," Sylvie said. "I've always rather liked that name. The Song of Roland—he was a French knight."

    "Died in battle, I expect?" Hugh said.

    "Most knights do, don't they?" (26.26-26.28)

    Could they be dooming the baby to death by naming him after the character in The Song of Roland who blows a trumpet so hard that he dies? Izzie's son doesn't live past the age of five.

  • Prejudice

    "Jews?" Bridget said, screwing up her plain features in distaste. (6.77)

    As someone who is a little bit different (Bridget is an Irish maid in an English household), you'd think she'd be more sympathetic.

    "Jewish," Sylvie said in the same voice she would use for "Catholic"—intrigued, yet unsettled by such exoticism. (6.92)

    Since the Todds don't really have to deal with people of different skin colors or races, they have to find other things to be prejudiced against, like different religions.

    "That the Hun for you. They don't care who they kill. They're wicked, so they are. They eat Belgian babies." (6.137)

    A lot of baby-eating rumors get spread during the war, the result of a general ignorance about other cultures, which leads to an increased fear of them when conflict breaks out.

    "And as for you, Maurice," Bridget continued, "you're little more than a savage." (8.2)

    Bridget would probably be a big fan of the Washington Redskins. Classy.

    Even now, after everything people learned about the camps and so on, anti-Semitism was still rife. (18.31)

    Not even mass genocide can keep some people from being prejudiced against Jewish people. Can anything change a prejudiced person's mind?

    "Gypsies," Mrs. Glover concluded, which was pretty much what she considered all foreigners to be. (20.182)

    Mrs. Glover is the lazy kind of prejudiced person—she can't even be bothered to think of specific things to hate, she just dislikes anything "different."

    "Hey, darkie music," Howie said. (20.202)

    Howie is so charming in many ways, isn't he? He's later revealed to be a Hitler sympathizer, which isn't surprising at all.

    "Jews aren't necessarily foreign, though, are they? The Coles next door are Jewish." (20.669)

    For many of her lives, Ursula doesn't pursue her affection for Benjamin Cole. We have to wonder if it's because of the subtle (well, sometimes not-so-subtle) prejudice her family has against Jewish people… or for anyone different from them.

    In Bridget's romantic novels, Italians were always dashing but untrustworthy. (25.345)

    Not that we should be looking to romance novels as signs of morality, but this kind of stereotyping seems to be common all over the place, not just in genre fiction, at this time.

    "Well, I think your mother would have me killed," Ben said. ("A Jew?" [Ursula] imagined Sylvie saying.) (26.164)

    Maybe Sylvie's prejudice isn't so secret and subtle after all. Even Benjamin Cole knows that Ursula's mother has something against him, even though she seems to be nice to the family to their faces.