The Best Literary Facts from the Twitterverse

Last Wednesday, we issued our 50,000 followers on Twitter with a challenge: to tweet us with the best literary fact they know. The reason for this was simple: since last December, the modestly sized research team here at Interesting Literature has been tweeting (as @InterestingLit) little facts, quotations, and links based on all aspects of literature, but one of the joys of literature is that as well as being a solitary experience (reading, writing) it can also be a social and communal interest (blogging, tweeting, discussing). And everyone who is interested in literature knows far more interesting things about it than they probably even realise themselves, so we saw this challenge as a chance for our followers to show us what they’ve got. They didn’t disappoint.

So, here are what our followers tweeted us. The author of each fact is included in brackets after the relevant tweet, placed in bold and with a link to their Twitter profile, should you wish to follow them on Twitter – and because, obviously, these tweeters are the real stars of this blog post. The wording of some of the tweets has been modified to avoid confusion – e.g. substituting ‘university’ for ‘school’ in the first tweet – and we’ve occasionally taken the liberty of adding in a little piece of additional information, but we’ve tried to keep the phrasing as close to the original tweets as we can. In case you’re wondering, the tweets are reproduced here in chronological order, starting with the first tweet that was sent us and ending with the most recent:

Shakespeare wrote all his plays without going to university. (@Its_Pytho)

Bram Stoker’s wife, Florence Balcombe, was previously suitored by Oscar Wilde. (@l0lhey)

Skiing was popularised in Switzerland by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (@ConorHogan)

In 1862, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton was offered the chance to be King of Greece. (@LeighaMcR)

John Steinbeck’s original manuscript for Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog. (@ACJLTD)

You can walk the same route from High Barnet to Angel that Oliver Twist walked with the Artful Dodger. (@twice_ell)

Algernon Charles Swinburne was paranoid that George Eliot was out to get him. (@Cherissonne)

Roald Dahl worked for British intelligence and one of things he was expected to do was seduce powerful women. (@OiskaE)

Milos Crnjanski spent 24 years as a emigrant and “shoe worker” in London because he didn’t want to accept communism in ex Yugoslavia (@baobaobab)

French writer Gerard de Nerval took his pet lobster for walks in the Palais-Royal. (@casspack)

James Joyce was terrified of thunder & lightning. (@llewsah)

Dickens & Poe were friends. 3 letters between them survive (alas, letters don’t mention of the death of Dickens’ pet raven). (@LauraShovan)

Sherlock Holmes was originally going to be called Sherrinford. (@bth_williams)

Aldous Huxley wrote the initial screenplay for Alice in Wonderland. Disney felt it “too literary” of a treatment. (@blueshenlung)

In honour of the Bard, pianist André Tchaikowsky left his own skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company. (@Manganpaper)

Jerome David Salinger had a girlfriend named Oona O’Neill who left him for Charlie Chaplin whom she went on to marry. (@DarrekM)

The Scarlet Pimpernel, written by Baroness Orczy, had originally been written as a successful play before the classic novel. (@CapeWindy)

Norman Mailer stopped writing a column for the Village Voice when his phrase ‘nuances of growth’ was rendered ‘nuisances’. (@Elfiem)

Andrei Makine, a Russian emigree in Paris, who wrote in French, couldn’t get French publishers interested in his novels until he pretended they were translations from the Russian. (Dave Quayle, via Facebook)

According to Michael Meyer’s biography of Ibsen, when Ibsen was living in Dresden in 1870, a near neighbour was Dostoyevsky. They wouldn’t have known of each other, but they are known to ave frequented the same cafes, and walked in the same gardens. I like to imagine they did meet and speak – if only to ask the other to pass the salt. (Himadri Chatterjee, via Facebook)

William Faulkner’s initial title for The Sound and the Fury was “Twilight”! (Himadri Chatterjee)

Victoria Ocampo has had books dedicated to her by Rabindranath Tagore, Jorge Luis Borges, and by Graham Greene. (Himadri Chatterjee)

Ella3Samuel Pepys buried a large stinky cheese in his garden during the great fire of London. (Peter Wharmby, via Facebook)

So there we have it! Thanks to everyone on Twitter and Facebook who contributed. But this is, of course, a continuous enterprise and endeavour, so we’d be delighted to read your additional nuggets, factoids, and literary gems in the comments section below. Don’t worry if you’re not sure whether the fact you’ve heard or read is actually true or not; we’ll go away and try our best to verify it if we’re unsure ourselves. If we get enough, we’ll even do a follow-up blog post! Oh, and while you’re thinking, here’s a picture of the honorary Interesting Literature cat (right).


  1. Mary Shelley, as a child, hid behind a sofa to listen to Coleridge “recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and a stanza from that poem of dark mystery found its way into Frankenstein, just as her recollections of that visitor’s voice contributed to her depictions of the irresistible hold her novel’s storyteller have over their auditors.” (The Norton Anthology, English Literature, Eighth Edition, Vol. 2)

  2. I really enjoyed this list. Having recently discovered this site via Twitter, I am enjoying getting caught up with some of the great content you guys have here. Just wonderful. Thank you.

  3. Great post, and such an intriguing list! I’m excited you’ve included my Swinburne/Eliot suggestion; I find Swinburne’s attitude hilariously petty.
    I also thought of another one: the Victorian fantasy writer George MacDonald acted as a go-between for John Ruskin and Rose LaTouche (I think he saw Ruskin as some sort of chivalrous knight etc).

  4. Pingback: The Best Literary Facts from the Twitterverse | aymaniac

  5. Your honorary Interesting Literature cat has the look of disdain in it’s eyes that a cat gets when it knows it is being used, yet again, to shamelessly draw in the cat fanatics. Seems to have worked in my case, so well done !

    • I know, no wonder I haven’t seen the cat much since I posted her picture up here – first, she isn’t even mine, and then I go and commandeer her picture for a blog post! I hope she’ll forgive me. It’s not every moggy that gets to be the feline face of a blog! Glad it helped to lure you here, and I hope you’ll pull up a chair at the virtual library some time!

  6. Love it. I didn’t know many, many of these. I’m having a wonderful lunch time reading. Thanks.

  7. Thank you for this. Can’t stop smiling at some of these!

  8. It’s completely amazing how we live in this world where we can instantly find awesome things like this! Thank you for filling my quota of intelligence for the day!

  9. Reblogged this on Oily Mud on a Piece of Cloth and commented:
    Cute stuff from Twitter via Interesting Literature blog. ^_^

  10. What interesting facts. I will try and remember some of them.

  11. Another brilliant post. This is why book lovers and literature aficionados keep coming back to savor the delicious literary treats at Interesting Literature. Cheers, Oliver! Alex

    • Thanks for the kind words, Alex – much appreciated! Keep up the excellent work over at Bookshelf: a fine site which all fans of books and interesting info should follow and bookmark. It’s a must-read :)

  12. Roald Dahl?! Really?! He didn’t put that in his autobiographies… :-)

  13. Reblogged this on Crossing Cultures and commented:
    A very nice idea…

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  16. These are great! Cheeky reblog :)

  17. Reblogged this on Looking For Darcy and commented:
    Loving these facts- enjoy!

  18. What’s this lovely tabby’s name (or does kitty prefer to remain anonymous)? Would love to see a post about the relationships between authors and their feline companions.

  19. The cat just adds to the intense joy this blog brings. Is he technically yours then? Are you a cat owner?

    • Alas no (I say ‘alas’, but I’m sure her owners view it differently!). She’s just a visitor but she tends to turn up most days for a visit, a quick rub on our furniture, and a little treat (we draw the line at feeding her properly so she’ll go back to her home willingly!). She seems to go round most of the neighbours, though, so even claiming her as an honorary member of the IL gang is a stretch…

  20. I have reblogged it on my blog :)

  21. Reblogged this on Jyoti Arora and commented:
    Some amazing and very interesting facts about the literary greats.

  22. Awesome. Loved reading all the facts.
    But can’t agree with the statement – “All the books you’ve ever read in English are a combination of just 26 letters.” What about the characters like comma, question mark etc ?
    Besides, books have so much more than just words and characters. Words are just the body, the life in them consists of imagination, fantasies, emotions, psychology, and facts and realities of the world. And lot, lot more…

    • That’s very true. Punctuation is an integral part of much literature – especially when you get to modernism, and it becomes almost an art form in its own right. And in poetry, of course…

      And thanks! Glad you enjoyed the facts from all of these fine people listed above – and ta for the reblog :)

  23. Pingback: The Best Literary Facts from the Twitterverse | Phil Slattery's Art of Horror

  24. Reblogged this on Cadmium Diamond Dreams and commented:
    I am inspired to get a pet lobster and name him “Nuances of Growth”! (or maybe Nuisance?)

  25. How can I fail to ‘like’ a post which will cause a picture of a handsome tabby to appear on the ‘posts I like’ widget on my site. PS it goes without saying that I consider my own tabbies to be even more handsome. But alas, in order to protect their anonymity i won’t post the evidence. the fact my photographic skills leave something to be desired is neither here nor there

  26. My understanding is that Florence Balcombe turned down Oscar Wilde because he was thought to be unreliable, and she married Bram Stoker instead because he had a steady and well-paying civil service job. She and Stoker had known each other since childhood. After they married and moved to London, they were neighbors with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the painter Whistler.

  27. Reblogged this on Cabinet of Curiosities and commented:
    Interesting facts from Interesting Literature! Who knew, William Faulkner’s initial title for The Sound and the Fury was going to be Twilight?!?

  28. I wish I could remember them all but I can’t even remember jokes!


  29. Regarding Steinbeck, we now have one more reason it was “Travels With Charley” rather than Toby. (Not that a 25-year difference between the two books would have any impact.)
    A great list — and a tip of my hat to the cat.

  30. Reblogged this on Rosie Amber and commented:
    Great post from Interesting Literature.