The History Boys

Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of The History Boys published in 2006.
Act 1 Quotes

I was confusing learning with the smell of cold stone. If I had gone to Oxford I’d probably never have worked out the difference.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 9
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Hate them because these boys and girls against whom you are to compete have been groomed like thoroughbreds for this one particular race.

Related Characters: Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 20
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Dakin’s navel, I remember, was small and hard like an unripe blackberry. Posner’s navel was softer and more like that of the eponymous orange. Posner envied Dakin his navel and all the rest of him. That this envy might amount to love does not yet occur to Posner, as to date it has only caused him misery and dissatisfaction.

Related Characters: Scripps (speaker), Posner, Dakin
Page Number: 21
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You give them an education. I give them the wherewithal to resist it.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Mrs. Lintott
Page Number: 23
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There’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.

Related Characters: Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 25
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With respect, can I stop you? No, with a poem or any work of art we can never say ‘in other words.’ If it is a work of art there are no other words.

Related Characters: Timms (speaker), Irwin
Page Number: 26
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Truth is no more at issue in an examination than thirst at a wine-tasting or fashion at a strip-tease.

Related Characters: Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 26
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TIMMS: Sir, I don’t always understand poetry.
HECTOR: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you’ll understand it whenever.
TIMMS: I don’t see how we can understand it. Most of the stuff poetry’s about hasn’t happened to us yet.
HECTOR: But it will, Timms. It will. And then you will have the antidote ready! Grief. Happiness. Even when you’re dying. We’re making your deathbeds here, boys.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Timms (speaker)
Page Number: 30
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History nowadays is not a matter of conviction. It’s a performance. It’s entertainment. And if it isn’t, make it so.

Related Characters: Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 35
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One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.

Related Characters: Mrs. Lintott (speaker)
Page Number: 42
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I’m a Jew.
I’m small.
I’m homosexual.
And I live in Sheffield.
I’m fucked.

Related Characters: Posner (speaker)
Page Number: 42
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DAKIN: The more you read, though, the more you see that literature is actually about losers.
SCRIPPS: No.
DAKIN: It’s consolation. All literature is consolation.

Related Characters: Dakin (speaker), Scripps (speaker)
Page Number: 46
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I count examinations, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education. Which is not to say that I don’t regard education as the enemy of education, too.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 48
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HECTOR: Codes, spells, runes — call them what you like, but do not call them gobbets.
IRWIN: I just thought it would be useful…
HECTOR: Oh, it would be useful…every answer a Christmas tree hung with the appropriate gobbets. Except that they’re learned by heart. And that is where they belong and like the other components of the heart not to be defiled by being trotted out to order.
IRWIN: So what are they meant to be storing them up for, these boys? Education isn’t something for when they’re old and grey and sitting by the fire. It’s for now. The exam is next month.
HECTOR: And what happens after the exam? Life goes on. Gobbets!

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 48-49
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HECTOR: The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act. In the Renaissance…
HEADMASTER: Fuck the Renaissance. And fuck literature and Plato and Michaelangelo and Oscar Wilde and all the other shrunken violets you people line up. This is a school and it isn’t normal.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Headmaster (speaker)
Page Number: 53
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The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Posner
Page Number: 56
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Act 2 Quotes

It is a sad fact that whatever the sublimity and splendour of the ruins of our great abbeys to the droves of often apathetic visitors the monastic life only comes alive when contemplating its toilet arrangements.

Related Characters: Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 58
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What made me piss my life away in this god-forsaken school? There’s nothing of me left. Go away. Class dismissed. Go.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 65
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Shall I tell you what is wrong with Hector as a teacher? It isn’t that he doesn’t produce results. He does. But they are unpredictable and unquantifiable and in the current educational climate that is no use.

Related Characters: Headmaster (speaker), Hector, Mrs. Lintott
Page Number: 67
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What’s all this learning by heart for, except as some sort of insurance against the boys’ ultimate failure?

Related Characters: Mrs. Lintott (speaker), Hector
Page Number: 69
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I didn’t teach you and Wittgenstein didn’t screw it out of his very guts in order for you to turn it into a dinky formula.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Dakin
Page Number: 72
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What has truth got to do with it? I thought that we’d already decided that for the purposes of this examination truth is, if not an irrelevant, then so relative as just to amount to another point of view.

Related Characters: Scripps (speaker), Irwin
Page Number: 73
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How do I define history? It’s just one fucking thing after another.

Related Characters: Rudge (speaker)
Page Number: 85
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Why are you so bold in argument and talking but when it actually comes to the point, when it’s something that’s actually happening, I mean now, you’re so fucking careful?

Related Characters: Dakin (speaker), Irwin
Page Number: 99-100
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