The first line of Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel is “Call me Smitty.” Through his narrator, Word Smith, Roth not only spoofs Melville, but Hawthorne, Twain, Hemingway, and all other writers who pursued the Great American Novel.
Edward King, a college friend from Cambridge who had become a clergyman was commemorated in Milton’s elegy Lycidas. He drowned in 1637.
The name of the minor-league team in Mark Harris’s Bang the Drum Slowly is The New York Mammoths. The novel’s narrator is Henry Wiggen, star pitcher for the Mammoths.
The first national copyright act was passed in England in 1709.
Aeschylus, the “father of Greek tragedy” (525-456 B.c.) wrote some 90 plays, but only 7 have survived. They are: The Suppliants The Oresteia The Persians Seven Against Thebes Prometheus Bound Agamemnon The Libation Bearers
The American Library Association awarded the first Newbery in 1922 to Hendrik Willem Van Loon for The Story of Mankind (1921).
Moliere’s real name was Jean Baptiste Poquelin. Among the French playwright’s works are Tartuffe (1664) and The Misanthrope (1666).
Charles Perrault’s 1697 French version of the tale has Cinderella wearing glass (verre) slippers, but his sources gave her fur (vair) slippers. Perrault’s alteration may have been accidental.
The novel of attempted suicide and recovery The Bell Jail was written by Sylvia Plath, but was first published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in 1963. It did not appear under the author’s name until 1966.
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda just barely lived to see the 1973 coup by right-wing General Pinochet. Neruda died of a heart attack in Chile just twelve days after the coup. Neruda had supported the overthrown President Allende.
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.”
The hero of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has no name. He is a young man from the South who finds his way to a hidden existence in a coal cellar in New York.
While James I granted a pension to Ben Jonson in 1616, it was not until 1668 that the laureateship was created as a royal office. John Dryden (1631-1700) was appointed by Charles II and held the office until 1688, when he was stripped of the laureateship by William and Mary because he had become a […]
John Keats wrote as his own epitaph, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”, he died at the age of twenty-five, believing his art would not be remembered.
William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (1920) contains the line, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”.
Jay Gatsby was supposed to have gone to Oxford. In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) the gangster Wolfsheim said Gatsby was an “Oggsford” man.
The interminable law case in Dickens’s Bleak House was Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, a case stemming from a dispute about distribution of an estate.
Ahab’s harpooneers in Moby Dick were Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo.
Alfonso II, the Duke of Ferrara in the mid-sixteenth century, is the speaker in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”.
Charlotte Bronte, the most famous of the Bronte sisters, wrote Jane Eyre in 1847. Emily Bronte, whose work is notable for its spirit of passion and rebellion, wrote Wuthering Heights in 1848.
Four main collections of English mystery plays based on biblical episodes survive: The York Cycle (early fourteenth century), forty-eight plays The Towneley Cycle (mid-fourteenth—early fifteenth century), thirty-two plays The Chester Cycle (fourteenth century), twenty-four plays The Coventry (or N Town) Cycle (fifteenth century), forty-three plays
What classical writer was the first to record the story about the runner who ran from Marathon to Athens, and then died?
The classical writer who was the first to record the story about the runner who ran from Marathon to Athens, and then died was Lucian of Samosata, a writer of satirical essays of the second century A.D. Where he got the story is unknown. He claimed that Philippides (also known as Pheidippides) ran about twenty-five […]
The source of the title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel (1929) was John Milton’s poem “Lycidas” (1637). Milton asks his dead friend, now an angel, to look back compassionately on his still-living friends: Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth: And, 0 ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
The Koran existed first in oral form as a series of revelations recited by the prophet Muhammad (570-632), founder of Islam. His followers wrote down or committed to memory the individual surahs, or chapters, but these were not collected in authoritative form until about 650.
In 1897, Mark Twain was in seclusion, grieving over a death in the family, when a sensationalistic newspaper reported that he had died impoverished in London. When a reporter appeared at Twain’s home, the writer read a prepared statement containing the famous line “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.
In The Iliad (9th century B.C.), Thetis, a sea nymph is Achilles’ mother.
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.
The hero of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (1855) belonged to the Mohawk tribe, one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois.
A 1939 novel called Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright (1872-1939) was written without using the letter e. The novel runs 267 pages and has about 50,000 words.
Robert Frost won four Pulitzer prizes, for New Hampshire (1924), Collected Poems (1931), A Further Range (1937), and A Witness Tree (1943).
Said’s real name was H. H. Munro (1870-1916). The Scottish fiction writer and playwright was born in Burma and killed by a sniper in France during World War I.
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.
The novel The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker tells the story of a single lunch hour. Much of the book focuses on an escalator ride.
The Lord High Everything in W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado (1885) was first called “Pooh-Bah”.
Frank Stockton wrote the story “The Lady or the Tiger?” in 1882.
The Broadway play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams was drawn from a screenplay called The Gentleman Caller, which Williams wrote while he was under contract as a screenwriter for MGM in the early 1940s.
Who is the psychiatrist to whom Alexander Portnoy tells his story in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)?
Dr. Spielvogel is the psychiatrist to whom Alexander Portnoy tells his story in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
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.
It is generally accepted that the New Testament Gospel of Mark was written before those of Matthew, Luke, and John. The New Testament places them in the order Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Judas received thirty pieces of silver for betraying Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel, Judas throws away the money and hangs himself after the betrayal.
Shakespeare’s wife was eight years older than him. They were married in 1582, when he was eighteen.
Scheherazade is the narrator of the Arabian Nights (c. 1450), who tells stories night after night to keep her husband, the Sultan Schahriah, from strangling her at dawn. Scheherazade tells her stories to her sister Dinarzade in the Sultan’s hearing.
In a letter written in December 1817 to his brothers George and Thomas, poet John Keats first referred to “negative capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Keats considered this quality essential to a “Man of Achievement especially in literature.”
The Hemingway novel The Garden of Eden, was published posthumously by Scribners in 1986.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde didn’t exist, but there was a Scottish cabinetmaker named William Brodie who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s story. Brodie, a respected businessman by day, wore a mask and led a gang of robbers by night. Born in 1741, Brodie was hanged in 1788. The story interested Stevenson and inspired The Strange […]
Ernest Hemingway was married four times.
Considered the oldest full novel in the world, The Tale of Genji was written in Japan toward the start of the eleventh century.
C. S. Lewis married Joy Davidman in 1956. She died of cancer in 1960, three years before Lewis’s own death in 1963. Their story is told in Lewis’s A Grief Observed (1961).
Roland and Orlando are the same character. Roland, knight of Charlemagne’s court, is the hero of The Song of Roland, an eleventh-century French epic. Orlando is the Italian form of Roland’s name; he appears in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1532).
Lolita was twelve when Humbert Humbert first met her.
Jeeves’s boss was Bertie Wooster, a young man-about-town in P. G. Wodehouse’s stories beginning with My Man Jeeves (1919). Jeeves was his valet.
The author of The Red Badge of Courage (1895), Stephen Crane was born in 1871, six years after the end of the Civil War. He died in 1900.
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.
Mexico’s best-known author Carlos Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1962; The Old Gringo, 1985) first began writing in English, but has since switched to his native language, Spanish.
The title of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel “gone with the wind”comes from a poem by Ernest Dowson, a poet of the 1890s, called “Non Sum Qualis Eram,” or “Cynara.”
Philip Pirrip was Pip’s real name in Great Expectations.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three Jews who were thrown into a fiery furnace by order of King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3 of the Old Testament Book of Daniel, as punishment for refusing to worship a golden idol. God saved them, however, allowing them to walk through the fire unharmed.
Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for The Second World War.
The Biltmore Hotel in New York City threw out newlyweds F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre, following their wedding on April 3, 1920. The management asked them to leave because of their unseemly behavior.
The retarded narrator of the first section of the Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury is thirty-three years old. Faulkner asked that Benjy’s stream of consciousness be printed in eight different colors of type to better express the layers of Benjy’s memory. The request was not granted.