New York socialite Edith Newbold Jones (1862-1937) married George Wharton in 1885. Their marriage lasted twenty-seven years until 1912, when she divorced him. By then she was living in France, where she remained until her death.
In Stendhal’s 1830 novel The Red and the Black, the red refers to Napoleon’s colors or the military life, the black to the clergy or religious life.
As set forth by scholastic theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the seven deadly sins are: anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, and sloth.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was published in 1932, George Orwell’s 1984 in 1949.
Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature in 1950, for Annie Allen.
The real name of the title character in The Deerslayer (1841) is Nathaniel (Natty) Bumppo. In other James Fenimore Cooper novels, he is also known as Hawkeye, Leather-stocking, La Longue Carabine, and Pathfinder.
They were protesting the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, waged from 431 to 404 B.C. in Aristophanes’ comedy, Lysistrata. In the play, the women of Athens and Sparta refuse to have sex with their husbands until peace is made.
The animal in the 1865 Mark Twain story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is named Dan’l Webster.
Shakespeare’s wife was eight years older than him. They were married in 1582, when he was eighteen.
The Angry Young Men were a group of British playwrights and novelists in the 1950s, including John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, and Alan Sillitoe. Their politics were left-wing; their favorite theme was alienation.
“Stella” was Esther Johnson, a woman Swift once tutored at the household of Sir William Temple in England. Swift’s letters to Johnson and her companion Rebecca Dingley, written from 1710 to 1713, are known as Journal to Stella.
Rene Francois Armand Sully Prudhomme of France in 1901. Who was the first English writer to receive the the Nobel Prize for literature? Rudyard Kipling in 1907. The first American? Sinclair Lewis in 1930.
Thomas Chatterton was the author of several pseudo fifteenth-century poems supposedly written by monk Thomas Rowley. He committed suicide in his London garret by taking arsenic at age seventeen, driven to despair by poverty. He became a hero of native English verse to Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats. Chatterton was the author […]
Emerson’s idea of “the soul of the whole” appeared first in the essay, “The Over-Soul,” included in his First Series (1841).
The title of O. Henry’s short story collection The Four Million refers to two things: it represents the population of New York City at the time, and it is an answer to Ward McAllister, who said “there are only about 400 people in New York society.” The collection contains the 1902 story, “The Gift of […]
Raskolnikov murders the old pawnbroker Alena Ivanovna and her sister, Lizaveta in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Cabaret was based on the play I Am a Camera (1951) by John Van Druten, which was in turn based on Isherwood’s “Sally Bowles,” a story appearing in Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Isherwood lived in Berlin in the early 1930s.
The Mongol emperor Kublai Khan (1215-1294) had a residence in K’ai-p’ing in southeastern Mongolia. Also known as Shang-Tu, this became Xanadu, the site of the emperor’s pleasure garden in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished poem “Kubla Khan” (1797).
The Dublin theater known as the Abbey Theatre dedicated to presenting Irish drama opened in 1904. Its directors included William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory. Destroyed by fire in 1951, the theater reopened in 1966.
The name of the playboy in J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World is Christy Mahon. He’s a young fugitive who thinks he has killed his domineering father and is therefore lionized by villagers, especially women.
Yes, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym (1838) is based upon actual events. The adventures of J. N. Reynolds is about a stowaway who survived a mutiny, cannibalism, and other adventures.
The Trojan priest Laocoon who was killed by sea serpents is a character in Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 19 B.C.).
The transatlantic flier and isolationist won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis. The book was made into a movie starring James Stewart in 1957.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) says “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul” in “Invictus.”
Mr. Dooley’s first name was Martin. The Irish saloon keeper was created by Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne in 1892, and provided the moniker for a series of satirical books by Dunne, including Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War (1898) and Mr. Dooley’s Opinions (1901).
Thomas Shadwell was refer to as “Mac Flecknoe”, a playwright whose work John Dryden despised. Dryden satirized Shadwell as the son of (“Mac”) Richard Flecknoe, another bad contemporary poet.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “Water, Water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink” in his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798). The lines are often misquoted as “and not a drop to drink.”
Henry Fielding summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber to court in 1740 for the murder of the English language. Fielding issued the summons under the pseudonym “Captain Hercules Vinegar.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term “willing suspension of disbelief” in his critical treatise Biographia Literaria (1817). Coleridge used the term to refer to the “poetic faith” of a reader in accepting imaginary elements in a literary work.
The names of the Brothers Grimm were Jacob Ludwig and Wilhelm Carl.
In Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel of the same name, it is the catch that prevents a U.S. Air Force pilot from asking to be grounded on the basis of insanity. A man “would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If […]
The pseudonym Martinus Scriblerus was adopted by several members of the Scriblerus Club, a group formed to ridicule “false tastes in learning.” Members of the club included Jonathan Swift, John Arbuthnot, Alexander Pope, and John Gay. The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, written mainly by Arbuthnot, were issued in 1741.
“Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness is the quotation at the start of T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”.
Shortly after the turn of the century, President Theodore Roosevelt said that the writers of exposes who flourished at the time reminded him of John Bunyan’s Man with the Muckrake. The Man with the Muckrake when offered a heavenly crown, “would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake […]
The source of the title The Catcher in the Rye is a reference to Robert Burns’s poem “Comin’ Through the Rye” (1792), which Holden Caulfield quotes.
T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (1925) says the world ends “Not with a bang but a whimper”.
Percy Shelley’s first wife Harriet Westbrook Shelley committed suicide by drowning in 1816, two years after Shelley left her for Mary Wollstonecraft. Shelley had eloped with the sixteen-year-old Harriet in 1811. Shelley himself died by drowning in a boating accident aboard his schooner, Ariel, in 1822.
The first part of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is recognized as a comic masterpiece, but the second part never saw the light of day. Convinced by the radical priest Father Matthew Konstantinovsky that literature was sinful, Gogol (1809-52) burned the manuscript of Part Two in 1852. He died a few days later.
Scylla, a female six-headed monster, captured sailors and ate them. Charybdis was a whirlpool (or a creator of whirlpools) that swallowed ships. The two creatures lay in wait on either side of the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily. Their story is told in Homer’s Odyssey (ninth century B.C.).
The Charles Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby (1838-390) exposed the “ragged schools” and helped get them abolished.
Will Durant was twelve years older than Ariel Durant. The authors of the multivolume series The Story of Civilization (1935-67) were married in New York City in 1913, when he was twenty-seven and she was fifteen.
Kate Chopin was born Kate O’Flaherty (1851-1904) in St. Louis, Missouri, to an Irish father and French mother. Her married name came from her husband, Oscar Chopin. Her fiction includes the novel The Awakening (1899).
Vladimir Nabokov wrote ten novels in Russian before turning to English, including Laughter in the Dark (1938). His first novel written in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). Nabokov (1899-1977) came to the United States in 1940 and was naturalized in 1945.
The title to the drug-induced stream-of-consciousness narrative Naked Lunch means a “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork” and is repulsed by it. The title was suggested to the author William Burroughs by Jack Kerouac.
In the Italian poem Orlando Furioso by Ariosto (1532), the knight Orlando goes crazy with rage when he learns that Angelica, the woman he loves, has married someone else. Orlando runs around naked, destroying everything in sight. By the poem’s end, he is cured.
Aphra Behn (1640-89), author of the play The Rover (1677) and the novel Oroonoko (1688). She wrote under the pseudonym Astrea.
An American Tragedy was a 1925 novel by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945). It was based on the murder of the pregnant Grace Brown by her boyfriend, social climber Chester Gillette, at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks in 1906.
There were two sets of twins: Bert and Nan and their younger siblings, Freddie and Flossie. The series about them began with The Bobbsey Twins (1904) by Laura Lee Hope.
Jo March married an elderly German professor named Mr. Bhaer in Little Women.
Bluebeard, the title character of Charles Perrault’s story “Barbebleue” (1697) kills his wives for looking into the locked room where he stores the corpses of other disobedient wives. His final wife, however, escapes Bluebeard’s punishment.
Dr. Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle (1963) invented ice-nine. Ice-nine is a form of water that freezes at 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is accidentally released into the ocean, it freezes the entire world. Dr. Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle (1963). Ice-nine is a form of water that freezes at 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. When it […]
The first Augustan Age was in the time of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.), when Latin poets like Vergil, Ovid, and Horace brought about a literary golden age. The second Augustan Age was in the early to mid-eighteenth century in England, when writers such as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Richard Steele ushered […]
The Dr. Seuss book that has sold the most copies is Green Eggs and Ham, published in 1960, it has sold over 6 million copies. Another 1960 book, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, has sold nearly as many.
Milton’s masque Comus was first performed on Michaelmas Night (September 29), 1634, at Ludlow Castle to celebrate the Earl of Bridgewater’s becoming Lord President of Wales and the Marches. The Earl’s children enacted the roles of the Lady and her two brothers in the play.
Virginia Woolf’s maiden name was Adeline Virginia Stephen. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912.
The name of Rochester’s house in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is Thornfield Hall.
A crocodile ate Captain Hook’s hand, then followed him around the seas in search of more of him in James M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan.
George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is based on Porgy (1925), by Du Bose Heyward. Heyward and his wife, Dorothy, won a Pulitzer prize for their dramatic version of the novel. Porgy is a crippled beggar and gambler who lives on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. Bess is his drug-addicted mistress.
Why Marry? by Jesse L. Williams won the first Pulitzer Prize in 1918.
The Greek ships are enumerated in Book II of Homer’s Iliad.