The Best Facts about Classic Authors

Since we began publishing our occasional series, ‘Five Fascinating Facts‘, a couple of years ago, we’ve covered a range of famous authors across well over 50 posts. What follows are our 15 most popular posts in this ‘Five Fascinating Facts’ series (hence our labelling them the ‘best’ of all our author-related facts posts). Further information (and more interesting facts!) about a particular author can be found by clicking on the links provided, which take you to the full post. For the archive containing all posts in the ‘Five Fascinating Facts’ series, click on the link provided above.

Sylvia Plath: This post looked at The Bed Book, a little-known nonsense book for children that Plath wrote. It also revealed what happened when Plath first met Ted Hughes, and the name of the famous poet who once lived in the apartment where Plath committed suicide. It also looked at the significance of the date on which Plath and Hughes got married – 16 June – otherwise known as Bloomsday, the date on which the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place.

Dr Seuss: Theodor Seuss Geisel’s first book was rejected by over 20 publishers. However, he went on to become one Geoffrey Chaucerof the biggest-selling children’s authors in the world. This post on him also looks at his unusual method for dealing with writer’s block and why Green Eggs and Ham was banned in China.

Geoffrey Chaucer: We love a bit of medieval literature and had great fun compiling this list of fun facts about England’s first great poet. Among our favourites are the fact that Chaucer wrote the first science book for children in the English language, the real reason he was buried in Westminster Abbey (not for his poetry), and the brilliant gift that King Edward III gave to the poet.

Virginia Woolf: This post on the great modernist novelist threw out some interesting little-known facts, including the fact that Woolf and her husband Leonard turned down James Joyce’s Ulysses for publication because they couldn’t print the whole novel on their handpress.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Did you know that the creator of Sherlock Holmes used a bit of Sherlockian ‘deduction’ in an attempt to solve the Jack Ripper case? This fascinating story is included here in our post on Doyle, along with Doyle’s role in the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal and a summary of his surprising cricketing exploits.

William Shakespeare: To mark the 450th birthday of the Bard, we put together some of our favourite titbits from Shakespeare’s life. As well as apparently inventing the girls’ names Jessica and Olivia (among others), Shakespeare was also responsible for the phrase ‘steal my thunder’ coming into being – though his role in the creation of this expression is somewhat surprising…

Thomas Hardy: We debunked a few myths about Hardy’s life in this post, and revealed that he was very nearly pronounced dead upon his arrival in the world in 1840. We also mentioned some of the illustrious pallbearers at Hardy’s funeral in 1928 – they included Rudyard Kipling, J. M. Barrie, and even the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

James Joyce: Joyce’s phobias (which included thunder and lightning) and his coining of the word ‘quark’ are included in this special compendium of Joyce facts. We also looked at how his masterpiece, Ulysses, both was and wasn’t published on Joyce’s 40th birthday – and what happened when Joyce met Marcel Proust for a disastrous dinner.

The Brontë Sisters: Emily Brontë paid £50 to have Wuthering Heights published, and the first volume of poems co-authored by the three siblings sold a grand total of two copies when it first appeared. Not an auspicious start for Bronte2English literature’s greatest family of writers, but this post looked at some of the ways the sisters’ classic novels have had a lasting influence on the world of literature.

Roald Dahl: The original title for James and the Giant Peach was ‘James and the Giant Cherry’, and Dahl planned a third Charlie Bucket book, Charlie in the White House, but he died before he could write it. These facts, and others, are the focus here, where we also discuss the less than encouraging school report a young Dahl received, and the list of great objects he was buried with.

J. R. R. Tolkien: Tolkien’s son described his father’s occupation as ‘wizard’ and C. S. Lewis put his friend forward for the Nobel Prize for Literature. What more could one need to know about the great Tolkien? Well, as it happens, we uncovered several more startling facts about Tolkien in our post about him.

T. S. Eliot: From the pranks T. S. Eliot liked to play (who would have guessed he was such a practical joker?) to his admiration for Groucho Marx, we covered it all. Well, not quite all – so we also wrote a longer biography of Eliot, for those who really want to know about his interesting life.

Charles Dickens: Perhaps our favourite fact about Charles Dickens is that he used to drink rum with fresh cream for breakfast when he was giving his physically exhausting set of public readings. But this post also mentioned the fake bookcase in his house at Gad’s Hill, and the rather unflattering term of endearment (or unendearment) he used in letters to his future wife when they were courting.

Edgar Allan Poe: This is one of two posts we’ve written about Poe (the other can be found here), and in it we looked at how his poem ‘The Raven’ inspired the name for the American football team the Baltimore Ravens, among several other interesting snippets.

John Steinbeck: This has proved our most popular and successful post in the series to date. In it we take a look at the Arthurian novel Steinbeck wrote, and reveal that he used 300 pencils to write East of Eden. We also discuss the odd fate of an early draft of Of Mice and Men.

Image (top): Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (modified, 2012), Wikimedia Commons. Image (bottom): Portrait of Charlotte Bronte by J. H. Thompson, c. 1839, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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