Nostalgia Is a Dangerous Emotion Because It Glides So Easily Into Hatred and Resentment

Carolyn G. Heilbrun? Amanda Cross? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Nostalgia is a sentimental emotion that does not seem to be dangerous. Yet, wistful feelings for a bygone era can become a source of hatred and resentment. The mystery author Carolyn G. Heilbrun expressed something similar. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Carolyn G. Heilbrun was an influential English professor and the author of a series of mystery novels under the pen name Amanda Cross. In 1992 she published a review in “The New York Times” examining the volume “Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America”. She discussed the controversy over the evolving literary canon taught at top universities in the U.S.

Heilbrun contended that placing an emphasis on books that were no longer being taught or venerated in classrooms produced resentment. She believed it was impossible to prevent the emergence of new voices and the diminution of some old voices. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Nostalgia is, however, a dangerous emotion, both because it is powerless to act in the real world, and because it glides so easily into hatred and resentment against those who have taken our Eden from us.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Heilbrun’s piece was reprinted in other newspaper such as “The Berkshire Eagle” of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 2 Thus, her comment about nostalgia achieved further circulation.

In 1996 “The International Thesaurus of Quotations” published a slightly altered instance crediting Heilbrun. The word “however” was omitted: 3

Nostalgia is a dangerous emotion, both because it is powerless to act in the real world, and because it glides so easily into hatred and resentment against those who have taken our Eden from us.

CAROLYN G. HEILBRUN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, DEC. 25, 1992

In conclusion, Carolyn G. Heilbrun deserves credit for the words she wrote in 1992. Nowadays, a streamlined instance of the quotation without the word “however” is sometimes reprinted.

Image Notes: Public domain picture depicting books and journals by William Michael Harnett circa 1878. Image has been resized.

(Great thanks to quotation expert Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1992 December 25, The New York Times, In Defense of Cultural Literacy and Once-Taught Masterpieces by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Review of James Atlas’s “Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America”), Quote Page C30, Column 5 and 6, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1993 January 7, The Berkshire Eagle, A gentlemanly plug for the classics (Book review of James Atlas’s “Battle of the Books” by Carolyn G. Heilbrun), Quote Page C6, Column 2, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1996, The International Thesaurus of Quotations, Compiled by Eugene Ehrlich and Marshall DeBruhl, Revised and Updated, Topic: Nostalgia, Quote Page 467, HarperResource: HarperCollins, New York. (Verified on paper)