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:
1. 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’.
8. The earliest recorded use of ‘wicked’ to mean ‘cool, good’ is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise. Our 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.