Literature

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.

149 Comments

  1. I had never heard of the Dreadnought Hoax before! Fascinating! I’ll have to look that up now!

  2. Well done on your first year of bringing us all interesting facts about literature, look forward to next year’s instalment

  3. Happy Anniversary. I look forward to the next year of Interesting Literature.

  4. Happy Birthday! And thank you for a fascinating blog. Keep up the good work: I look forward to each sucessive posting.

  5. Successive! (slip of the finger)

  6. Great stuff, as usual! A much-appreciated early Christmas present.

  7. Great post. Keep them coming!

  8. This is fantastic! Love the Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen. One of the few I’ve been meaning to read and now I know I’ve got Lopado­­temacho­­selacho­­galeo­­kranio­­leipsano­­drim­­hypo­­trimmato­­silphio­­parao­­melito­­katakechy­­meno­­kichl­­epi­­kossypho­­phatto­­perister­­alektryon­­opte­­kephallio­­kigklo­­peleio­­lagoio­­siraio­­baphe­­tragano­­pterygon to look forward to!

  9. Happy anniversary!You’ve kept me good company this year !!

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  11. LIttle do you realize that your literary quick quirks serve as inducements to poke holes in the boredom clouds that occasionally form over my students’ heads. “What literature can be interesting? Authors can be weird?”

  12. Fascinating facts thank you. Hopefully I can remember some of them.

  13. Interesting post and congratulations on your one year anniversary!

  14. I really enjoyed numbers 4, 5 and 12, but all were incredibly interesting and I hope I can remember them!!

  15. Yes, the Virginia Woolf story is delightful: they dressed up as Arab sheiks and spoke in gobbledegook pretending it was Arabic!

    • I know! It shows its age a little (and the Bloomsbury Group’s rather outdated attitudes to other cultures), and it’s hard to imagine the dressing up (and ‘blacking up’) being pulled off so easily (or uncritically) these days. But it’s such a surprising thing to find Woolf doing – I can’t believe it isn’t better known!

  16. Congratulations on one year! I can’t wait to keep reading. :)

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  18. This is such a fascinating blog that I could spend all day reading it, but I don’t get any writing done that way!

    • Thanks very much! Glad you’re enjoying this, and our other posts. Be sure to drop by again (once you’ve done some writing: we’d hate to be responsible for keeping writers from producing more literary works that we can blog about)!

  19. Imagine being the actor in Assemblywomen having to learn the line with that word in it!

  20. Hello there! Just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Award! http://chronicchronicler.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/you-are-my-sunshine-award/

  21. Oliver: Congratulations on the one year anniversary of Interesting Literature (IL). IL is consistently fascinating and compelling; indeed, it is one of the best blogs on literature. IL is a must-read for any book lover or student of literature. Keep up the great work and look forward to many years of reading IL. Cheers, Oliver!

    • Thank you very much, Alex! That means a lot coming from you. Bookshelf is a tremendous site and it’s great to have you as a member of the ‘Cafe’ section on my own site. Keep up the excellent work with yours, too, and if you ever want to write another guest blog post, let me know.

  22. Pingback: Happy Anniversary, Interesting Lit! | The Writing Catalog

  23. Happy Anniversary! May your future years continue to be as interesting as this one :)

  24. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    An early Christmas present from Interesting Literature. And be sure to wish Happy Anniversary to those behind the blog :)

  25. Happy Anniversary! Love the blog and it’s one of those I genuinely look forward to. Many happy returns.

  26. Happy Anniversary!! Its a great blog :)

  27. Pingback: The Twelve Best Facts from a Year of Interesting Literature | The law of news 2

  28. Interesting tidbits! Congrats on your first anniversary!

    I can add to #6. Hemingway brought the urinal home and placed it in the garden as a fountain to “piss off” his wife, Pauline, because she had a much higher sense of “aesthetics.” It’s still there, along with the six-toed cats.

  29. Reblogged this on MikeSight and commented:
    Literature :D

  30. This is really interesting and funny! Congrats on FP!

  31. The strange twists of life are indeed so strange that they boarder the unreal. My father, Bernard Wax, was constantly put into a quandary of being linked to Waxy the Gangster, who was a killer at the time.

  32. Oh, thank you for writing this! I really enjoyed reading your blog.

  33. I just found you and I will be following you. I invite you to visit my blog. Hugs, Barbara

  34. I wonder if the writers of American Horror Story: Coven knew about Ray Bradbury and the Salem connection (it would be great to add that to the show). I get why Russia would ban Winnie the Pooh–everything they do these days is crazy–but how does Green Eggs and Ham display signs of “Early Marxism”?

  35. Very cool. Wicked even…

  36. If Vonnegut failed at dealing cars and went on to become the great author we all know and love, then there’s hope for me! Great post.

    • Thanks! There are some surprising ‘jobs before they were famous’ stories like that about writers, and in fact I’m working on putting them together into a future post. The Vonnegut gem will be the one to beat…

  37. These are awesome! I particularly like the one about Hemingway. Hilarious.

  38. Great facts.

  39. Amazing! I still live in hope that one day I’ll be headhunter to be a chocolate taste tester

  40. So interesting about the Cadbury’s connection! Thanks for the post–interesting indeed.

  41. Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. Congrats on FP–definitely well-deserved, for it was a fascinating post!

  42. As a writer, I’m heading to the Fleming Villa in Jamaica. Can’t get there soon enough. If it worked for Sting and helped birth James Bond, who am I to question? :)

  43. Fascinating!

  44. Thanks for this interesting wrap and best wishes for 2014.

  45. Really fascinating indeed.

  46. Fascinating! Love this sort of literary trivia – thank you :)

  47. 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!

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

  49. 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: http://wp.me/p41c99-hx 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.

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

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

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

  53. 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!

  54. Reblogged this on khafidrifai135 and commented:
    good

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

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

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

  58. 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.

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

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

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

  62. 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.

  63. Pingback: Scurte #180 | Assassin CG

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

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

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

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

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  71. Pingback: Virginia Woolf as Gauguin girl | Blogging Woolf

  72. Reblogged this on eamesbear.

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

  74. #5, he should have signed it R.Mutt!

  75. Reblogged this on getyouout and commented:
    Good stuff

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  78. the book shelf

    Love what Virginia Woolf and her friends did.

  79. Pingback: Surprising Facts about Aladdin and the Arabian Nights | Interesting Literature

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