There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Brilliant writers are often impelled to share a tale. Keeping an untold story inside can cause agony. The prominent author Zora Neale Hurston said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Zora Neale Hurston published “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography”. She discussed her landmark novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” which she composed “under internal pressure in seven weeks”. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all. It might be better to ask yourself “Why?” afterwards than before. Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you. You have all heard of the Spartan youth with the fox under his cloak.

Hurston’s reference to a fox corresponded to an ancient episode illustrating the culture of Sparta which was recounted within “Plutarch’s Moralia”: 2

. . . when the boys with him had stolen a young fox alive, and given it to him to keep, and those who had lost the fox came in search for it, the boy happened to have slipped the fox under his garment. The beast, however, became savage and ate through his side to the vitals . . .

Sadly, the boy died. This metaphorical framework suggests that one should release the fox, i.e., one should share a tale which one holds inside. This action will allow one to live fully.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1997 “The Gazette” of Montreal, Canada printed the quotation with an attribution to Hurston: 3

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Zora Neale Hurston

In 2000 “Encarta Book of Quotations” included an entry for the statement: 4

Hurston, Zora Neale (1891?-1960) U.S. writer and folklorist

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.
Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)

In conclusion, Zora Neale Hurston deserves credit for the passage she published in 1942. Here memorable remark about the compulsion to tell a story has been placed into quotation references.

Notes:

  1. 1942, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 11: Books and Things, Quote Page 220 and 221, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; facsimile reprinted in 1969 by Arno Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1931, Plutarch’s Moralia, Volume 3 of 14, English Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt (Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut), Series: The Loeb Classical Library, Sayings of the Spartans, Start Page 393, Quote Page 405 and 407, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1997 May 26, The Gazette, (Quotation printed in upper left page header), Section: Woman News, Quote Page E5, Column 1, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 2000, Encarta Book of Quotations, Edited by Bill Swainson, Entry: Zora Neale Hurston, Quote Page 457, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)