A Literary-Trivia Roundup

I’m away this week, but still wanted to post something new, so I thought I’d offer some highlights from my 2017 literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

Dorothy Parker willed her estate to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who she had never met).

Jane Austen got the title of Pride and Prejudice from a line in Fanny Burney’s novel Cecilia.

The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originally referred to the wealthy family in which Edith Wharton (nee Jones) grew up.

The Starbuck character in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick inspired the name of a certain coffee chain.

O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” (when on the lam in Latin America after being charged with embezzlement).

George Orwell popularized the term “cold war.”

Orwell was briefly Aldous Huxley’s student at England’s Eton school (years before they respectively authored two of the 20th century’s most famous dystopian novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World).

The title of Huxley’s nonfiction book The Doors of Perception inspired the name of The Doors rock band.

Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on nearly the same day in 1616.

The first modern novel? Not Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but perhaps Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. She wrote it 1,000 years ago.

Isaac Asimov wrote and edited more than 500 books!

Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery? She disappeared for 10 days in 1926.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ancestors include Francis Scott Key (writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner” words) and Mary Surratt (who was executed for her part in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln).

Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and Mark Twain were longtime neighbors in Hartford, Conn.

Twain was a huge fan of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, comparing Anne to Alice (of Wonderland fame).

Richard Wright starred as his Native Son novel’s teen protagonist Bigger Thomas in a 1950 movie. Wright was 42 at the time!

Daphne du Maurier may have been the favorite writer of Alfred Hitchcock, who made three films — including The Birds — based on her work.

H.G. Wells and Orson Welles (each of The War of the Worlds fame) appeared together on the same San Antonio radio show in 1940.

The Group author Mary McCarthy’s brother was actor Kevin McCarthy and a cousin was politician Eugene McCarthy.

The Jungle author Upton Sinclair received nearly 900,000 votes when he ran for governor of California in 1934.

Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) worked as an anthropologist with Margaret Mead.

What do Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Beatles have in common? Liverpool! Hawthorne was U.S. consul there.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling is the only YA (young adult) novel to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Patricia Highsmith, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, and Kurt Vonnegut were among the writers who were also cartoonists.

“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s favorite novels included The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina.

Dr. Seuss partly based the look of his Cat in the Hat character on the Uncle Sam he drew for his editorial cartoons about 15 years earlier.

You can read many more facts if you buy the book!

Any interesting literary trivia you’d like to mention?

I might reply to comments more slowly this week (spotty wifi isn’t helping), but I will reply!

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, about rampant overdevelopment in my town, is here.

61 thoughts on “A Literary-Trivia Roundup

    • Thank you, Debra, for your kind comment!

      I saw the description of your trivia book on your blog, and it looks great. Congratulations on writing it! I hope you’re getting/will get many sales! Good (and accurate) trivia is wonderful to read. 🙂


  1. “O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” (when on the lam in Latin America after being charged with embezzlement).”

    For this reason, whenever I see the scene in WC Fields’ The Bank Dick wherein a teller is wearing a hat as he works, I am reminded of O. Henry.

    (I believe the cynical manipulations of the politics of banana-growing Central American republics by the United Fruit Company is the reason behind Henry’s coinage.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, jhNY — O. Henry’s phrase could have been even more a commentary on a U.S. corporation’s vile imperialistic approach than on the Latin American countries themselves.

      Ha! W.C. Fields and O. Henry in the same sentence! (The connection makes sense to me. 🙂 )


  2. Thar She Blows!

    One of my guilty pastimes is looking at the UK’s Daily Mail, which is a vile rightwing tabloid with great pictures of squirrels waterskiing and two-headed snakes and photo sets of Turkish peasant life before World War One and cars worth tens of thousands rusting in old barns, etc.

    Yesterday they printed an article re the real-life inspirations of Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories. A short biographical sketch included this item: Doyle, as a young man, served as a ship’s doctor on a whaling vessel! (But not on the ill-starred Pequod).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fantastic piece of trivia, jhNY! I had no idea. It would probably help if I had read a Doyle biography… 🙂

      I’ve never seen squirrels water-skiing, but I did see a father and child walking leashed emus along the lake near where I’m currently staying. Should of taken a photo…


      • I do like the image of leashed emus, which reminded me of another emu another time.

        Here’s a quote from Bono of U2: “I was telling somebody just the other day, ‘We’re all sissies in comparison to Johnny Cash.’ And he was a zookeeper, too. Did you know he was nearly killed by an emu on his property? He told me, “That emu damn near killed me. I defended myself with a post.” But he was laughing as he told the story.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow! I guess Cash wasn’t in the mood to sing a duet with that emu.

          The emus I saw were definitely an energetic duo pulling VERY hard on those leashes — practically dragging the humans along.


  3. Dave, I just wanted to say hello and to echo everyone wishing you a great vacation! Not much to add from a literary standpoint this week, but I did finish watching “The Civil War,” which seems to sadly resonate with what’s been happening the last few weeks (months?) in our country and our so-called president. I then watched the movie “Gettysburg” and was marveling about how much more literate everyone sounds, even the lowest foot soldier, as opposed to Trump. I pulled out my textbook from the course on the Civil War at UT-Austin and was somewhat daunted by how many pages it is, though it covered more about the pre-secession days, as well as the reconstruction period. It was a used textbook, and I figured that between the previous owner’s green highlighting and my yellow ones, perhaps it would be good enough for an overview of the war and a reminder of all I learned from it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Kat Lib — and thanks for the vacation wishes! 🙂 Visited Provincetown, Mass., today — interesting place.

      Watching “The Civil War” must have been quite an experience; unfortunately, I haven’t seen that mini-series, though I’ve read many fiction and nonfiction books about that war — most recently Geraldine Brooks’ “March,” which focuses on the father from “Little Women.”

      Yes, there was a certain amount of excellent literacy back then — perhaps helped by the fact that more books were read. Trump would be dumb in any era.

      Great that you still have that college textbook!


    • Just before visiting here, I was reading at Daily Kos, and found this quote from WEB Du Bois in 1928– sadly, what it leaves out is in ways worse than what he put in: Lee and his fellows, like John Wilkes Booth, overwhelmingly and sincerely believed in white supremacy, and could not recognize Black people as equals, seeing them as irrevocably and naturally inferior.

      It is my belief that the unexamined beliefs of many of my fellow citizens today are similar.

      “Each year on the 19th of January, there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing–one terrible fact–militates against this, and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like The New York Times may magisterially declare, “Of course, he never fought for slavery.” Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

      No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege, and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame, because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

      Today we can best perpetuate his memory and his nobler traits not by falsifying his moral debacle, but by explaining it to the young white South. What Lee did in 1861, other Lees are doing in 1928. They lack the moral courage to stand up for justice to the Negro because of the overwhelming public opinion of their social environment. Their fathers in the past have condoned lynching and mob violence, just as today they acquiesce in the disfranchisement of educated and worthy black citizens, provide wretchedly inadequate public schools for Negro children and endorse a public treatment of sickness, poverty and crime which disgraces civilization.

      It is the punishment of the South that its Robert Lees and Jefferson Davises will always be tall, handsome and well-born. That their courage will be physical and not moral. That their leadership will be weak compliance with public opinion and never costly and unswerving revolt for justice and right. It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert Lee as the most formidable agency this nation ever raised to make 4 million human beings goods instead of men. Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not. If he did not he was a fool. If he did, Robert Lee was a traitor and a rebel—not indeed to his country, but to humanity and humanity’s God.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • All-too-true words by the great W.E.B. Du Bois (who actually penned a few novels in addition to his magnificent nonfiction writings). Robert E. Lee can burn in hell for all I care. A racist is a racist (or an enabler of racism is an enabler of racism) — whether of aristocratic bearing or not. Any statue of Lee can’t come down soon enough.

        Thanks for posting those words, jhNY.


        • I am related to Washington and Lee on my mother’s side through the Custis family, and my first possession in life (given to me at my birth) was a knife fashioned from a blacksmith file (you can still see the cross-hatching on the flat of the blade) that my uncle Charlie Stone carried in the Battle of Chancellorsville on the side of the Confederacy. The diary my uncle kept as a prisoner of war was once on display at Appomattox Court House. Manly Wade Wellman was a great man in my eyes as a boy, and he was a direct descendant of Wade Hampton, Confederate general of South Carolina. My first identification with anything beyond my family was with the Confederacy.

          But I am alive now for 66 years, and so, have been around long enough to have met a man who began his life as a slave on a plantation belonging to another of my Virginia relatives. I met Uncle Robert, as he was known to all, when I was four, in 1955. He was 104. After he was too old to work, the family built a cabin for him and another for a daughter who took care of him. It was in his cabin we spent about an hour together, he recounting all he could remember from his boyhood and the Civil War– Robert buried the family silver away from the house to keep it from the Union cavalry; he helped hide a preacher with Confederate sympathies under a feather mattress when the Union was searching for him, after which he helped an invalid aunt to lay down on the mattress, thus hiding the preacher till the Yankees rode off and the danger had passed. At the end of the hour we hugged– and the memory of that moment, the warmth of his person, that hug, has been with me ever since.

          It changed me, and all the high romance and nostalgia of the Lost Cause was not enough to make me forget.

          Liked by 1 person

          • GREAT comment/remembrance, jhNY. Gave me the chills.

            Yes, all the romance and nostalgia and other stuff built around the Confederacy can’t hide the fact that the pre-Civil War South was a society of slave-holders (the rich whites, anyway). Slaves and their descendants certainly didn’t/don’t feel the romance and nostalgia.


            • That’s really all I need to consider: the oppressive force of that statuary on people it is meant to oppress– maintained and defended by their taxes, while with meticulous care, their access to the vote is being curtailed.. Enough already, as they say hereabouts. And yet…

              Liked by 1 person

              • Well said, jhNY. There IS a certain fascination with the Antebellum South, given that all that evil was dressed up/sugarcoated in a pseudo-romantic way. I’d almost have more respect for slaveholders if they just admitted they did what they did to get rich (while others did the backbreaking work), to wield power, to act sadistically, to rape black girls and women, etc.


                • I believe it would have been easy enough to find slaveholders who would have admitted precisely what you wish they would have. As for how they acted with regards to what they considered to be their property– they could do, and did with it, whatever they wished to do.

                  What would be harder to find is a general consciousness among whites today as to the degree to which the entire US population before the Civil War, benefited, north and south, from slavery. The US in its early stages, and as individual colonies, prospered and flourished, both government and private banking, mostly on the profits and fees exacted from slave-produced goods. In 1860, the largest category of investment, larger than railroads, larger than factories of all kinds, was in slaves, their labor and the goods that labor produced.

                  Yet it is hardly insignificant that at the dawn of the industrial age that the greatest threat to the labor price of free white men without property was the labor price of Black slaves– Lincoln was the white free man’s champion during his political life, far more than he can be described as a champion of Black civil rights– until he changed his mind out of awe for the deep sacrifices that Black soldiers made during the Civil War. In his debates with Douglas a few years before, he had rather different things to say.

                  After the Civil War, whatever benefits to the price of free white labor the abolition of slavery might have been supposed to produce was destroyed by the influx of European migrants who took terrible jobs for terrible wages in factories built out of the profits of the Civil War.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • MANY great points, jhNY — about the North’s partial culpability in slavery, about Lincoln’s views on race not always being as progressive as some think, about the influx of European migrants, etc.


                    • There is always, surrounding this topic, much to consider, but few who will do so. As I wrote in my first reply, I believe a great many whites here have unexamined notions of white supremacy, or worse. Out of those notions, our long national nightmare was born, and to too great a degree, flourishes today.

                      But the notions must be taken for what they are, not for what we would belittle them to be. As must our national history–as it is, not as it is painted up for our reflexive admiration.

                      The Civil War was fought over slavery, yes, but not, by most of its Union participants, to extend citizenship and civic responsibility to Black Americans. And the whites of the Confederacy did not merely fight to maintain the economic system of their generation’s one per cent, but to defend white supremacy, in which they, like most of their adversaries, fervently believed.

                      Another thing: I do not think it can honestly be said that the representatives of the states who met to write and ratify the US Constitution would have agreed to sign any such document if they accepted the premise that from that day forward, no matter the course of the federal government, there would be no recourse, as states, for signatories to secede.

                      In addition, I do not believe the signers from slave states would have joined the union without Article One, Section One of the Constitution. Its primacy in the document is the tell.

                      Regardless of these controversial and complex matters of yesteryear, we need not, as a nation, be what we have contented ourselves for too long to be. The actual racial and ethnic mix of the actual contemporary United States shows us who we are now, and who must be served, if our democracy is to survive.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thoughtful, thorough, interesting analysis, jhNY. To address one of your points, you’re absolutely right that most mid-19th-century Northerners were also racist, albeit not as directly implicated in slavery as some Southerners of the time. The fact remains that even in that racially unenlightened era, there were some people — such as the Abolitionists — who were not racist, or at least less racist. And, yes, today’s America — despite plenty of overt racism — has become much more multiracial/multi-ethnic than it used to be, including a large increase in “mixed” families (of which mine is one; my younger daughter is of Central American descent). Very heartening that the U.S. has advanced this way, even as it seems to have regressed in certain other ways.


  4. Hi Dave a bit out of topic, I found this book at my public library yesterday and go hooked reading only three pages. I’ll let you know more once I read more of it..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hope you are having a great vacation Dave.
    Rabindranath Tagore was mentioned in your trivia book, this poem was written more than hundred years ago and now it describes today`s particularly Trump`s world .

    Where The Mind Is Without Fear – Poem by Rabindranath Tagore

    Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
    Where knowledge is free
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
    By narrow domestic walls
    Where words come out from the depth of truth
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
    Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
    Where the mind is led forward by thee
    Into ever-widening thought and action
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

    ~Rabindranath Tagore

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Upton Sinclair IS a great name, hopewfaith!

      As you probably know, Sinclair most likely would have gotten even more votes in 1934, but he was smeared continuously by right-wing business bigwigs, right-wing politicians, and the media (including the Los Angeles Times).

      Thanks for the comment!


      • When I was a teenager in Nashvegas TN, the president of one of the local religious institutions of higher learning, David Lipscomb College, was named Athens Clay Pullias, which, as names go, I thought was perfect for the job.

        At my own college, Miller Upton was president. Perhaps the name Upton leads naturally to executive status or at least an attempt to win it.

        But as the topic is Upton Sinclair, I will leave here my favorite of his quotes:

        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Just my luck, I drop in and Dave is on vacation— Today, being a rare event a total Solar eclipse, I think Mr. Twain’s own words serve as literary trivia.

    “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”

    …And by Jove, they did!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jack!

      Well, I’m still trying to reply to comments remotely — and did see the eclipse in Massachusetts with the help of glasses made from the finest cardboard. 🙂

      That is such a great Twain quote and piece of trivia! I wish I had included it in my book! It’s amazing that Twain arrived and departed (1910) around the time of those Halley’s Comet appearances.

      Plus, as you know, an eclipse was a pivotal scene in his hilarious “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” — one of the best antiwar novels ever.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Nice to meet you Dave and fun to read all these pertinent facts. I did notice that Isaac Asimov was a very busy man and that the first novel was written by a woman 🙂 – Murasaki Shikibu.
    Enjoy your break

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Miriam! Nice to meet you, too, and glad you liked the facts in this post!

      Yes, very interesting that what may have been the first novel was written by a woman. The book has its compelling and not so compelling sections, but, overall, it’s pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this point of trivia before, Dave. The Fruitcake Lady from the David Letterman show was Truman Capote’s aunt and she was the character in his stories that he called Sook.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a wonderful piece of trivia, lulabelle! Given, also, that Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was based on Truman Capote (as you know), the Capotes definitely got around on the printed page and TV screens.

      Liked by 1 person

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