10 Famous Book Titles Taken from Surprising Works of Literature

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Everyone knows that Aldous Huxley ‘borrowed’ the title of his best-known novel Brave New World from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Similarly, it’s well-known that Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls takes its title from a meditation by John Donne.

But sometimes a famous book title can hide a surprising allusion to another, perhaps less well-known, work of literature. Here are ten of our favourites. How many of these titles did you know owed their existence to another literary work?

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

Hemingway’s WWI novel takes its title from a poem of the same name by George Peele, an Elizabethan playwright and poet best remembered for (possibly) collaborating with Shakespeare on Titus Andronicus. The full title of Peele’s poem is A Farewell to Arms (To Queen Elizabeth).

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.

Faulkner borrowed this phrase from an English translation of Homer’s The Odyssey, the classical Greek poem that also gave us the words ‘mentor’ and, of course, ‘odyssey’ itself.

Charles Dickens, The Cricket on the Hearth.

Dickens’s third Christmas book, following hot on the heels of the success of A Christmas Carol, actually takes its title from a phrase in John Milton’s poem Il Penseroso: ‘Far from all resort of mirth, / Save the Cricket on the hearth.’

H. E. Bates, Fair Stood the Wind for France.

Bates’s title comes from Michael Drayton’s ‘Ballad of Agincourt’, celebrating England’s victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

James Jones, From Here to Eternity.

This book – also memorably filmed – is from Rudyard Kipling’s Gentlemen-Rankers.

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Angelou’s celebrated memoir actually took its title from African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose ‘Sympathy’ originated the phrase.

John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle.

One of Steinbeck’s early and less successful novels, In Dubious Battle derives its title from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty.

From William Hogarth’s The Analysis of Beauty.

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel.

Another from John Milton, this time from Lycidas, Milton’s elegy for his university friend.

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India. From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

6 thoughts on “10 Famous Book Titles Taken from Surprising Works of Literature”

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Interesting Literature

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading