Seven Surprising Works by Famous Writers
Posted by interestingliterature
What on earth was he doing writing that? In this post, we explore seven books written by authors more famous for penning other sorts of literary works. These works might be considered the anomaly among these writers’ oeuvres, though sometimes a connection can be glimpsed between the unusual text described and the character of its author.
1. T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It is perhaps Eliot’s most famous book, albeit only in an indirect sense (thanks to Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical Cats). The book was published in 1939 and has made Eliot’s publisher, Faber and Faber, a fortune. And as we explored in our post on T. S. Eliot, the influence of Eliot’s cat poems on popular culture goes beyond Lloyd-Webber’s musical.
2. Jonathan Swift, Human Ordure. Although he is best remembered for his work of satirical fantasy, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Swift was also a prolific pamphleteer and seemed to be peculiarly fascinated by the subject of defecation. (See also his poem ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room‘.) Swift appears to have penned this treatise on human waste under the appropriate pseudonym ‘Dr Shit’ (though some deny that he authored the pamphlet). He may also have written a pamphlet on ‘the benefit of farting’.
3. Mark Twain, 1601. We know him best as the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but Twain – real name Samuel Clemens – wrote much else besides. This short piece – known commonly as a ‘squib’ – was a work of pornographic fiction set during the year 1601, in the later part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. (More great Mark Twain facts here.)
4. Anthony Trollope, The Fixed Period. This 1882 novel was Anthony Trollope’s last to be published during his lifetime, and was published when the author was 67 – facts which are particularly apt when we know what the novel is about. It is a work of speculative dystopian fantasy set in the year 1980 on the island of Britannula, and concerns the idea of compulsory euthanasia for all citizens when they reach the age of 67 – the ‘fixed period’ of the title. As such, the novel predates more famous works such as Logan’s Run. It is considerably removed from Trollope’s usual world of nineteenth-century provincial conflicts or contemporary political affairs, and this is perhaps one reason why it is often overlooked – it is not considered sufficiently ‘Trollopian’. David Lodge has championed this neglected novel in a piece he wrote for The Guardian last year.
5. John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. This 1976 novel is surprising because it comes from the pen of the American writer who had, perhaps more completely than any other, captured the feeling of the Depression era in such novels as The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men. The novel relies heavily on Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century Le Morte Darthur, like many modern retellings of the legend. We discuss Steinbeck’s Arthurian work, and his other work, in this post.
6. George Eliot, The Lifted Veil. A short work from 1859 – is it a novella or a short story? – this tale is, in many ways, a world away from the novelist’s major works such as Adam Bede and Middlemarch. The story concerns Latimer, a man who has telepathic abilities which inform him that his wife is plotting to kill him. (More facts about George Eliot here.)
7. John Milton, The History of Britain. Three years after the publication of his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, the poet published a history of Britain in 1670, though he never finished this prose work. Many of his sources were of dubious authenticity and so this ‘history’ is not all that reliable – which may explain why it is not much read, or known about, these days.
What other surprising or unusual works have authors written? Let us know which weird examples we’ve missed off the list…
Image: S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain), 1909, Bain News Service, publisher, public domain.