“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”.
In Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), Kim’s full name is Kimball O’Hara.
Henry Fielding (1707-54) called the novel a “comic-epic poem in prose”, in the preface to his 1742 novel Joseph Andrews.
Was there an actual Professor Henry Higgins, main character in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913)?
The character Professor Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was based on a British scholar of phonetics and Old English named Henry Sweet. His works included History of English Sounds (1874).
“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.
Jean de Brunhoff created Babar the Elephant, in stories beginning with The Story of Babar (1933). De Brunhoff’s son Laurent continued the series.
Shamela’s last name in Henry Fielding’s parody Shamela was also Andrews. The name was used a third time in Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742), the story of Pamela’s brother, Joseph.
Born in 1266, Beatrice Portinari, wife of Simone de’ Bardi, was Dante’s junior by one year. They were in their youth when Dante (1265-1321) fell in love with her. She died in 1290, leaving Dante in mourning. He wrote about her in the Vita Nuova (1294) and the Divine Comedy (1321).
Considered the oldest full novel in the world, The Tale of Genji was written in Japan toward the start of the eleventh century.
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.
Ernest Hemingway’s first book was Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923); it was published in France in a small edition. His first book published in the United States was In Our Time (1925), an expanded edition of the version published in France in 1924.
The octopus in Frank Norris’s novel is the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad. The railroad dominates the California state government, manipulates other industries, and oppresses struggling wheat farmers.
The phrase “What hath God wrought” comes from the Bible, Numbers 23:23. It is now best known as the first message sent by telegraph, May 28, 1844.
Dylan Thomas died at age thirty-nine in 1953 in New York City after drinking eighteen straight whiskeys in a bar and lapsing into a coma.
The play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams opened in New York in 1947 and ran for 855 performances.
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 people of Blefuscu, an island northeast of Lilliput, were the enemies of the Lilliputians. The people there were as tiny and mean-spirited as the Lilliputians. Swift meant Blefuscu to represent France, while Lilliput represented England.
In the Paradiso (1321), the highest of Dante’s heavens is the Empyrean, the tenth heaven. It contains God’s Court, seen as a many-petaled rose.
The name of Rochester’s house in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is Thornfield Hall.
The Argonauts were the crew of the ship Argo, which sailed in quest of the Golden Fleece.
The author of On the Road (1957) Jack Kerouac died at age forty-seven on October 21, 1969, of a massive gastric hemorrhage associated with alcoholism, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The German word for “overman” or “superperson” first appears in Goethe’s Faust (1808,1833), referring to an extraordinarily gifted person. Nietzsche used the term iibermensch for his transcendent man in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-91). The Nazis adopted the term as part of their doctrine of Aryan supremacy.
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.
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.
“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God Bless us, Every One!’ “
Italian author Carlo Collodi (a.k.a. Carlo Lorenzini) wrote The Adventures of Pinocchio, the popular tale of a puppet who comes to life.
Mr. Yorick narrates Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, a character from Sterne’s earlier novel Tristram Shandy (1767) .
Thoreau lived in his hut at Walden Pond for two years from 1845 to 1847. His account of the experience, Walden, or Life in the Woods, appeared in 1854.
John Donne (1572?-1631) wrote, “Go and catch a falling star,/Get with child a mandrake root”, in the opening lines to the poem, “Song,” which was published posthumously, in 1633.
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.
The full title of Dickens’s David Copperfield is The Personal History, Experience and Observations of David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone Rookery, Which He Never Meant To Be Published On Any Account.
These lines from Section 27, Stanza 4 of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam lament the loss of Tennyson’s close friend Arthur Hallam, who died at twenty-two.
Edward Alleyn played Doctor Faustus in the original production of Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, circa 1589. Alleyn also played the lead in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great (1587).
The author of the novels Song of Solomon (1977) and Beloved (1987) Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford.
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.
These romances about life in Scotland were published anonymously by Sir Walter Scott under the credit “the author of Waverley.” The first book, Waverley, appeared in 1814 and helped to shift Scott’s career from poetry to fiction. The Waverley novels include: Guy Mannering (1815) Old Mortality (1816) Rob Roy (1818) The Heart of Midlothian (1818) […]
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 […]
The first poem of Lyrical Ballads (1798) by Wordsworth and Coleridge in what many consider the founding work of English romanticism is Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
In Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” (1855), Childe Roland is a knight errant in search of the Dark Tower. When he reaches it he blows his horn, the poem ends. The title comes from a piece of a song in Shakespeare’s King Lear (act 3, scene 4).
The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was Edith Wharton (1862-1937) in 1921 for The Age of Innocence.
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 […]
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.
Bo Weinberg, Dutch Schultz’s former henchman is killed at the beginning of E. L. Doctorow’s novel Billy Bathgate. By Schultz’s orders, he is thrown off a ship with his feet encased in cement.
The mixture of Russian with American and British slang in A Clockwork Orange is called “Nadsat.”
Finnegan in Finnegans Wake is an Irish hod carrier who dies after a fall. At his wake, he is momentarily returned to life at the mention of the word “whiskey.” The name also refers to legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool, who is supposed to “wake again” someday to save Ireland.
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 young man Goethe is the protagonist of two novels, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-96) and Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, or The Renunciants (1829).
Wilhelm Carl (1786-1859; Jacob, 1785-1863) was the younger brother. Their book Children’s and Household Tales, now known as Grimm’s Fairy-Tales, first appeared in 1812.
In Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Santiago catches a marlin.
Critics Carl and Mark Van Doren related were brothers. Both were members of the faculty of Columbia University, Carl from 1911 to 1930, Mark from 1920 to 1959.
Norman Mailer has been married six times.
The Oberammergau Passion Play is said to have originated in 1633, when the people of this village in Upper Bavaria vowed to stage it in order to be rescued from the plague. The play depicting Christ’s passion is performed every tenth year. It is said to have originated in 1633, when the people of this […]
The sequel to Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward is Equality (1897).
Ezra Mannon, a New England general returning from the Civil War represents Agamemnon in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. His wife Christine represents Clytemnestra.
P. L. Travers invented Mary Poppins, in a series of books beginning with Mary Poppins in 1934.
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.”
The satire of America, called The Confidence Man, was the last work of Herman Melville published in his lifetime. It was published in 1857 to little public notice. Melville died in 1891.
Literary critic Joel Spingarn invented the term “New Criticism” in 1910 in an address at Columbia University called “The New Criticism.” The term did not come into general use until John Crowe Ransom’s book The New Criticism (1941). New Critics focused on the literary text as a discrete whole rather than on historical or biographical […]
Albany-born Daniel Quinn, the protagonist of Quinn’s Book, is the grandfather of Danny Quinn of Ironweed (1983). Ironweed is part of the Albany Cycle, which also includes Legs (1975), Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game (1978), and Very Old Bones (1992).
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 […]