I have always been curious about Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance in Hedgehog has in store. It has an unusual title that initially kept me from buying it. But slowly, I was convinced into buying and reading the book which I am glad I did. The Elegance in Hedgehog was brimming with philosophical intersections, in a similar manner as Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek, another book I enjoyed. But while Zorba was rambunctious and abound with zest, Renee Michel was more chaste. Nevertheless, both characters left deep impressions on me. With its take on philosophy and wisdom, The Elegance in Hedgehog was filled with several quotable passages and lines that dealt with different subjects such as language, death, and social hierarchies. I have rounded up some of these memorable lines in this quotable quote post. I hope you enjoy them.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptivley indolent little creature, fiercely solitary and terribly elegant.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve over time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance. Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendours of language.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“In a split second of eternity, everything is changed, transfigured. A few bars of music, rising from an unfamiliar place, a touch of perfection in the flow of human dealings–I lean my head slowly to one side, reflect on the camellia on the moss on the temple, reflect on a cup of tea, while outside the wind is rustling foliage, the forward rush of life is crystalized in a brilliant jewel of a moment that knows neither projects nor future, human destiny is rescued from the pale succession of days, glows with light at last and, surpassing time, warms my tranquil heart. ”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“You know you have reached the bottom of the social food chain when you detect in a rich person’s voice that he is merely addressing himself and that, although the words he is uttering may be, technically destined for you, he does not even begin to imagine that you might be capable of understanding him.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“But many intelligent people have a sort of bug: they think intelligence is an end in itself. They have one idea in mind: to be intelligent, which is really stupid. And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangely: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

” If people could climb higher in the social hierarchy in proportion to their incompetence, I guarantee the world would not go around the way it does. But that’s not even the problem. What his sentence means isn’t that incompetent people have found their place in the sun, but that nothing is harder or more unfair than human reality: humans live in a world where it’s words and not deeds that have power, where the ultimate skill is the mastery of language. This is a terrible thing because we are primates who’ve been programmed to eat, sleep, reproduce, conquer and make our territory safe, and the ones who are most gifted at that, the most animal types among us, always get shafted by the others, the fine talkers, despite these latter being incapable of defending their own garden or bringing a rabbit home for dinner or procreating properly. Humans live in a world where the weak are dominant.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Civilisation is the mastery of violence, the triumph, constantly challenged, over the aggressive nature of the primate. For primates we have been and primates we shall remain, however often we learn to find joy in a camellia on moss. This is the very purpose of education. What does education imply? One must offer camellias on moss, tirelessly, in order to escape the natural impulses of our species because those impulses do not chance, and continuously threaten the fragile equilibrium of survival.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Poverty is a reaper: it harvests everything inside us that might have made us capable of social intercourse with others, and leaves us empty, purged of feeling, so that we may endure all the darkness of the present day.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognise each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realised this, if we were able to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“I don’t really know hwt to explain it, but when we move, we are in a way destructured by our movement towards something: we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean. To stop destructuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you’re no longer whole, or you’re whole and can’t move.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“This morning I understand what it means to die: when we disappear, it is the others who die for us, for here I am, lying on a cold pavement and it is not the dying I care about; it has no more meaning this morning than it did yesterday. But never again will I see those I love, and if that is what dying is about then it really is the tragedy they say it is.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Admiration is born with our first gaze and if subsequently we should discover in the patient obstinacy we apply to flushing out the causes thereof, that all this beauty is the fruit of a virtuosity that can only be detected through close scrutiny of a brush that has been able to tame shadow and light and restore shape and texture, by magnifying them – the transparent jewel of the glass, the tumultuous texture of the shells, the clear velvet of the lemon – this neither dissipates nor explains the mystery of one’s initial dazzled gaze.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Personally I think there is only one thing to do: find the task we have been placed on this Earth to do, and accomplish it as best we can, with all our strength, without making things complicated or thinking there’s anything divine about our animal nature. This is the only way we will ever feel that we have been doing something constructive when death comes to get us. Freedom, choice, will, and so on? Chimeras. We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“We have a knowledge of harmony, anchored deep within. It is this knowledge that enables us, at every instant, to apprehend quality in our lives and, on the rare occasions when everything is in perfect harmony, to appreciate it with the apposite intensity. And I am not referring to the sort of beauty that is the exclusive preserve of Art. Those who feel inspired, as I do, by the greatness of small things will pursue them to the very heart of the inessential where, cloaked in everyday attire, this greatness will emerge from within a certain ordering of ordinary things and from the certainty that all is as it should be, the conviction that it is fine this way.”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“But just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they’re always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn’t think about tomorrow…But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, and when you don’t know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don’t you see?”

~ Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog