I was just rereading a bit of How Fiction Works by James Wood and I think my favourite bit in the whole book is this little section on "capturing a central human truth":
"There is such a moment in The Radetzky March, when the old captain visits his dying servant, who is in bed, and the servant tries to click his naked heels together under the sheets... or in The Possessed, when the proud, weak governor, von Lembke, loses his control. Shouting at a group of visitors in his drawing room, he marches out only to trip on the carpet. Standing still, he looks at the carpet, and ridiculously yells, 'have it changed!' - and walks out... or when Charles Bovary returns with his wife from the grand ball at La Vaubyessard, which has so enchanted Emma, rubs his hands together and says: 'It's good to be home'... or in Sentimental Education when Frederic takes his rather humble mistress to Fontainebleau. She is bored but can tell that Frederic is frustrated with her lack of culture. So in one of the galleries, she looks around at the paintings and, trying to say something knowing and impressive, merely exclaims: 'All this brings back memories!'... or when, after his divorce, Anna Karenina's husband, the stiff and joyless civil servant, goes around introducing himself with the line: 'You are acquainted with my grief?'