The Twelve Best Facts from a Year of Interesting Literature

Here at Interesting Literature we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend. With that in mind, we wanted to offer the twelve most interesting facts that we’ve uncovered over the last year – one for each month we’ve been up and running – and as a present for all of you who read our posts and interact with what we write. (Consider what follows an early Christmas present!) So, here goes:

Woolf21. In 1910, Virginia Woolf and her friends dressed up in costumes and donned fake beards in order to convince the Royal Navy they were a group of Abyssinian princes. And thus they pulled off what became known in newspapers as the ‘Dreadnought Hoax’, earning a 40-minute guided tour of the ship. Several members of the Bloomsbury Group were involved, but Woolf was the most famous among them. More information can be found in this Guardian article.

2. None of the three most famous tales of the ‘Arabian Nights’ actually comes from the Arabian Nights. The stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor were all later additions to the original corpus of bona fide Arabic ‘1001 Nights’. We’ve discussed this fact in more detail in our previous post on the 1,001 Nights.

3. Nathanael West’s 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character called Homer Simpson. This doesn’t appear to have been the reason why Matt Groening named the father of Bart Simpson Homer (which was Groening’s father’s name). It’s one of those strange coincidences, which we like here at Interesting Literature.

4. Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, was a descendant of one of the Salem witches. It is highly fitting that it was the McCarthy ‘witch hunts’ of the 1950s which inspired Bradbury’s book, given that the other great work of literature to respond to McCarthyism is probably Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, which uses the Salem witch trials of the 1690s as an allegory for the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Bradbury was actually descended from one of the Salem ‘witches’, Mary Perkins Bradbury, who was sentenced to be hanged in 1692 but managed to escape before her execution could take place. We’ve discussed this issue in our previous post on Bradbury’s novel.

5. Ernest Hemingway once took home the urinal from his favourite bar, arguing he’d ‘pissed away’ so much of his money into it that he owned it. Not much to add to this one, except to note that it’s a great story. (We have more interesting Ernest Hemingway facts here.)

6. Sting wrote the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ at the same desk which Ian Fleming used to write his James Bond novels. Specifically, this was at the ‘Fleming Villa’ at GoldenEye on the island of Jamaica.

7. In Russia in 2009, Winnie-the-Pooh was banned because a senior official was found to own a picture of Pooh wearing swastika-covered clothes. This is one of the weirder stories surrounding the banning of classic children’s books in various countries. Another notable ‘banning incident’ occurred when Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham was outlawed in the People’s Republic of China between 1965 and 1991 for portraying ‘early Marxism’.

Fitz18. The earliest recorded use of ‘wicked’ to mean ‘cool, good’ is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of ParadiseOur source for this is the Oxford English Dictionary, but of course there may be an earlier instance of the word which is yet to be discovered. Fitzgerald’s first novel also provides us with the first known uses of the words ‘T-shirt’ and ‘daiquiri’. We’ve got more about Fitzgerald in this special blog post on The Great Gatsby.

9. D. H. Lawrence liked to climb mulberry trees in the nude to stimulate his imagination. Writers have dealt with ‘colygraphia’ or writer’s block and the knotty problem of inspiration (or rather, lack of) in all sorts of weird ways. We’ve taken a look at some of these in our recent post on writer’s block, novelists who write quickly, and deadlines.

10. Before he was famous, author of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, managed America’s first Saab dealership. It failed within a year. Thankfully, things got better for Vonnegut thereafter, and he went on to become a popular novelist. Something which is less well known about Vonnegut is that he shares a lot of characteristics with one of his literary heroes, Mark Twain. Vonnegut named his firstborn son after Twain; both men were born in November; both served in the army; both worked as journalists; both were heavy smokers; both had their books banned.

11. As a schoolboy, Roald Dahl was a taste-tester for Cadbury’s chocolate. This may have been the later inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Probably many a schoolchild’s dream job!

12. Aristophanes’ play Assemblywomen contains the longest word in Greek. It has 171 letters and is the name of a fictional food dish. The longest word in English is often said to be the chemical formula for titin – which is 189,819 letters – although some consider this cheating, as it’s a specialist term rather than a ‘word’ per se. Some may think that James Joyce is responsible for the longest word in all of literature, but the longest he managed was 101 letters long, in Finnegans Wake. (This word, for those who are interested, was Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk, referring to the thunderclap associated with the Fall of Adam and Eve.) But the longest word in ancient Greek, and the longest word in literature, is this word from Aristophanes’ play. Since you’re probably itching to know what this word is, we’ll give Aristophanes the final word: Lopado­­temacho­­selacho­­galeo­­kranio­­leipsano­­drim­­hypo­­trimmato­­silphio­­parao­­melito­­katakechy­­meno­­kichl­­epi­­kossypho­­phatto­­perister­­alektryon­­opte­­kephallio­­kigklo­­peleio­­lagoio­­siraio­­baphe­­tragano­­pterygon.

If you enjoyed these facts, check out our bumper collection of interesting facts about famous authors.

Image (top): The 1910 Dreadnought hoax, © 1910 author believed to be Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936), public domain. Image (middle): Photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald c. 1921, appearing ‘The World’s Work’ (June 1921 issue) © 1921 The World’s Work, public domain.


  1. Really loved this list of trivia, have to say the dreadnaught hoax is probably my favourite…the Bloomsbury group sure knew how to have a good time, you know, when they weren’t writing pensive, contemplative literature!

  2. Really laughed at the Winnie-the-Pooh one :D

  3. I am awarding you the Blog of the Year Award 2013 as an expression of my gratitude for following “The Journal of Wall Grimm” blog. You can see the post here: If you don’t accept awards, that’s no problem at all. Awarding you is my way to thank you and it is of no insult to me if you decline.

  4. Brilliant. DH Lawrence? Naked? In a tree? Who’d have thought.

  5. Reblogged this on easyondeyes and commented:
    This is a great post! So quirky and fun!

  6. This was brilliant! I had to reblog it!

  7. I’m such a nerd for this type of trivia! This has really made my day! I laughed so much at the first one because I could see myself and my friends doing something similar in a moment of madness!

    • Haha it’s a classic prank, isn’t it? Who’d have thought Virginia Woolf was the Punk’d/Jeremy Beadle of her day! Thanks for the comment – glad you enjoyed it :)

      • Haha yeah it is quite odd although I always thought writers lived crazy double lives! Thank you for your post – it really made me smile! Also, thanks for stopping by my blog; I really appreciate it!

  8. Reblogged this on khafidrifai135 and commented:

  9. This is fantastic! Thank you for your research. I’ve got some great trivia now for my Christmas parties. :)

  10. Great stuff, some real gems here. I have to say the Hemingway story sounds apocryphal (?) but i’ll bow to your knowledge.

  11. Reblogged this on professional blogs for all and commented:
    Interesting literature

  12. Great information you have here. These are facts about literature that our younger generation should know, facts that one can’t just pull out of a vending machine.

  13. Interesting stuff! Hemmingway’s eccentricities are well known. Great people with dark shades.

  14. Pingback: The Twelve Best Facts from a Year of Interesting Literature | Riv's Blog

  15. This article is so good, I like this blog, Thank you very much for sharing

  16. Hemingway is my favorite author among writers of “conventional” prose, yet, if I knew of the “urinal” story, I’d forgotten. Laughed so hard. That’s Ernest for you. This is just such a wonderful site. So much to learn. Thanks.

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  18. There’s really not enough literary trivia getting around. Thanks guys for some awesome facts!

  19. Thanks so much for following The Dream Well, and in doing so allowing me to discover such an interesting site! My own love of symbols began with literature, and I do love a good bit of quirky trivia! I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  20. I really enjoy these List posts. I always find something new or something knew once and forgotten. With the advent of the Wikipedia era I’ve found it easy to look up trivia on my favorite authors. Retaining the knowledge is more difficult.

  21. Reblogged this on To Be Continued… Christine and commented:
    Here’s some trivia that might just come in handy….hey, you never know!

  22. The Homer Simpson one is curious indeed. I’ve just finished “Miss Lonelyhearts.” Nathanael seems something of a dark horse…

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  26. Reblogged this on eamesbear.

  27. Hi! Cool interesting facts! And, thanks for visiting my blog.

  28. #5, he should have signed it R.Mutt!

  29. Reblogged this on getyouout and commented:
    Good stuff

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  32. the book shelf

    Love what Virginia Woolf and her friends did.

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  34. Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Ernest Hemingway | Interesting Literature