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Five Fascinating Facts about Ben Jonson

Fun facts about the poet and playwright

1. Ben Jonson courted controversy on a number of occasions during his writing career. Jonson (c. 1572-1637), the adopted son of a bricklayer, was originally apprenticed to his stepfather’s trade, before going off to enlist in the English army (he later claimed he had killed a Spanish champion in single combat). He started writing for the London theatre in his mid-twenties, and his first play to make a real splash was The Isle of Dogs, in 1597. However, this play – co-authored with Thomas Nashe – made its mark for the wrong reason. The play was suppressed for its seditious content, all copies of it were ordered to be burned, and so it was never printed. Nobody at the time recorded the precise nature of the ‘sedition’ contained in the play, so we can only speculate. In 1598, the following year, Jonson killed an actor, Gabriel Spenser; he escaped execution by pleading ‘benefit of clergy’, i.e. he could read and write so he was allowed to get off with a branding on his thumb rather than a noose round his neck. Jonson landed in trouble again in 1605 for co-writing Eastward Hoe!, a play containing seven lines which King James I appears to have found offensive to the Scots. Read the rest of this entry

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Five Fascinating Facts about John Bunyan

Fun facts about the Christian writer

1. He was nearly shot in the head while on guard duty one night – but fortunately, another soldier had taken his place. This narrow brush with death helped to convince John Bunyan (1628-88) that he was one of the ‘Elect’ – the chosen few – and to start spreading the word. He most famously did this in The Pilgrim’s Progress, which brings us on to our second John Bunyan fact…

2. His most famous book has a claim to being the first English novel. Others have argued that The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Bunyan’s masterpiece, is less a ‘novel’ and more a religious allegory – which it certainly is. Bunyan the book while imprisoned in Bedford gaol (for preaching without a licence and refusing to attend the Anglican church service). Read the rest of this entry

A Very Short Biography of Edith Wharton

The interesting life of a classic American novelist

In his Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives, John Sutherland calls Edith Wharton’s life ‘fascinating’. It certainly is. The novelist best-known for The Age of Innocence led an interesting life, and in this very short biography we aim to cover the most curious aspects of Edith Wharton’s life and work.

Edith Wharton was born Edith Jones in 1862, into the ‘leisure class’ of New York. As Karen Farrington observes in her compelling book of short biographies Great Lives: As heard on Radio 4, Wharton ‘wasn’t so much born with a silver spoon in her mouth as the entire cutlery set.’ Read the rest of this entry