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).
Charlotte Bronte’s close friend, novelist Elizabeth Gaskell wrote The Life of Charlotte Bronte. The two met in 1850; Bronte died five years later.
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.
Felix Salten’s real name is Siegmund Salzmann. Under the pen name “Salten,” the German author wrote Bambi (1923). The first English translation was published in 1928.
Two hundred and forty-four deceased inhabitants of Spoon River recite their verse epitaphs in Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology.
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 … Read more
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.”
The animal in the 1865 Mark Twain story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is named Dan’l Webster.
It was not Mark Twain who said the phrase. The quote first appeared in an editorial in the Hartford Courant of August 24, 1897, probably written by associate editor Charles Dudley Warner. Warner had collaborated with Twain on The Gilded Age (1873).
The play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw ends with Eliza Doolittle asserting her humanity and rejecting Henry Higgins. But the 1938 movie ending, approved by Shaw, brought the pair together. The musical version, My Fair Lady (1956), also had a happy ending.
The 1941 Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace was written by Joseph Kesselring. The 1946 movie adaptation was directed by Frank Capra.
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.
Henry James created Roderick Hudson, in the 1876 novel of the same name.
Known in English as Remembrance of Things Past, the novel A la recherche du temps perdu is divided as follows: Du cote de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) A l’ombre des jeunes fines en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove) Le Cote de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way) Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain) La Prisonniere (The … Read more
The 1928 play, The Front Page, is about newspapers by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur is set in Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building.
The original title of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was Work in Progress during the seventeen years of its composition (1922-39). Parts of it were published under that title before the work was completed.
The 1981 novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is set in Fingerbone, Montana.
Logocentrism is the habit of assigning truth to words. Deconstructionists seek to combat logocentrism by deconstructing, or taking apart, texts: exposing hidden presuppositions; revealing texts as essentially indeterminate and unreadable.
Odysseus dies in the South Pole in Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel.
None. Hector’s parents, Priam and Hecuba, are both human.
“Jesus H. Christ” is the first line of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and the first of many profanities in Albee’s look into a destructive marriage. A London production changed the first line to “Mary H. Magdalen.” “Jesus H. Christ” is the first line of the play, and the first of many … Read more
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.
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.
Henry James called Death “the Distinguished Thing”. James used the phrase when he said “so it has come at last, the Distinguished Thing” after suffering a stroke on December 2, 1915, two months before his death in 1916.
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 hero of Richard Wright’s Native Son is Bigger Thomas, a black man from Chicago who murders a white woman and is executed for it.
After Rebecca West’s review of H. G. Wells’s book, Marriage, in 1912, they met and began their ten-year relationship. Their son, Anthony West, born in 1914, became a novelist and critic in his own right.
From the Latin for “patchwork,” a cento is a poem or other literary work composed of lines or passages from other, more famous works, with the meaning altered. Centos were a favorite form in late antiquity. An example is the Cento Vergilianus by Proba Falconia (fourth century), which used bits of Vergil to recount sacred … Read more
The glazier Heurtebise (literally “break wind”) aids the poet Orphee in rescuing his wife from Death. Cocteau has written that the name of Heurtebise in the play Orphee was revealed to him in an opium-induced vision. The name obsessed Cocteau to the point that he thought another being was living inside him.
Judy Blume’s first book was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, published in 1970.
The full name of Antonia in Willa Cather’s novel My Antoniais is Antonia Shimerda, eldest daughter of a Bohemian family in Black Hawk, Nebraska.
In Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus at Colonus (c. 406 B.C.), the blinded Oedipus wanders by accident into the sacred grove of the furies at Colonus in Attica, about a mile northwest of Athens.
In the 1886 work by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Henry Jekyll is the London doctor who creates the potion that turns him into Edward Hyde.
The Argonauts were the crew of the ship Argo, which sailed in quest of the Golden Fleece.
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.
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).
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.
Ahab’s harpooneers in Moby Dick were Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo.
Edward King, a college friend from Cambridge who had become a clergyman was commemorated in Milton’s elegy Lycidas. He drowned in 1637.
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 … Read more
Italian author Carlo Collodi (a.k.a. Carlo Lorenzini) wrote The Adventures of Pinocchio, the popular tale of a puppet who comes to life.
Ethan Frome and his beloved, Mattie Silver, drive a sled into a tree in a botched suicide attempt in Edith Wharton’s novel, Ethan Frome.
The Trojan priest Laocoon who was killed by sea serpents is a character in Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 19 B.C.).
Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde was written between 1385-90.
Tauris came first, about 414-412 B.C.; Aulis followed about 405 B.C. In terms of the storyline, however, the order is reversed. Aulis tells of Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in order to free the Greek fleet from the harbor at Aulis. Tauris tells of Iphigenia after the goddess Artemis snatches her to safety, … Read more
Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry George Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford was the model for Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The books of the Pentateuch are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Named from Greek penta (five) and teuchos (book), tradition assigned their authorship to Moses.
The first complete English translation of the Bible was the Bible of 1380, translated into a Midland dialect by Nicholas of Hereford and others. It is often called the Wyclif Bible, though theologian John Wyclif (c. 1320-84) did not work on it.
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.
Dr. Samuel Johnson said it of his dictionary in “Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language” (1747-55).
Colette, the French author of the novel Cheri (1920) was named Sidonie Gabrielle Claudine Colette.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was published in 1932, George Orwell’s 1984 in 1949.
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 … Read more
New Jersey novelist Edward Stratemeyer created the Bobbsey Twins, under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope.
The American Library Association awarded the first Newbery in 1922 to Hendrik Willem Van Loon for The Story of Mankind (1921).
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida was first performed around 1602 and first published in 1609.
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.
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 … Read more
Stradlater was the rich and conceited roommate of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets , (1609) contains 154 sonnets. The poems fall into two main groups: Numbers 1 to 126 are addressed to a young male friend; numbers 127 to 152 are addressed to a mysterious “dark lady.” Sonnets 153 and 154, adaptations of a Greek epigram, don’t fit into either of the two categories.
Michel Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur (1735-1813), also known as J. Hector St. John, was born in France, emigrated to Canada, and in 1759, moved to New York. He settled in Orange County, New York, where his years as a farmer led to his book, Letters from an American Farmer (1787). He fled back to Europe … Read more
The French author of Consuelo (1842), George Sand was born Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin.
The Hemingway novel The Garden of Eden, was published posthumously by Scribners in 1986.
Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors” in the 1914 poem “Mending Wall”: “And he likes having thought of it so well/He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ “
The books in John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy are: The 42nd Parallel (1930) 1919 (1932) The Big Money (1936) The three were first published together in 1937.
The name of the lover in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was Oliver Mellors, gamekeeper for Lady Chatterley’s husband.
Ogden Nash wrote the ditty in 1931. In 1968, he updated it: Candy is dandy But liquor is quicker. Pot is not.
Henry David Thoreau wrote “That government is best which governs least”, in his essay, “Civil Disobedience” (1849).
Jonathan Swift first used the phrase “belles lettres” in Tatler 230 (1710): “The Traders in History and Politics, and the Belles Lettres.” In French the term means “beautiful letters, fine writing.” Swift added the pejorative connotation of light or trivial literature.
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.
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.
Famed for her shrewishness, the wife of the fifth-century B.C. Athenian philosopher Socrates was named Xantippe.
The names of the ghosts in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw are Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, the former valet and governess at the estate called Bly.
Tess’s name before she becomes Tess of the d’Urbervilles is Tess Durbeyfield, daughter of Jack Durbeyfield, a carter. In the 1891 novel by Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, she eventually becomes the kept woman of Alec d’Urbervilles, a member of the well-to-do family for whom she is working.
The story “Wedding Preparations in the Country” (1907) by Franz Kafka seems to directly foreshadow Gregor Samsa’s plight, as a train passenger lying in bed imagines himself as a giant bug.