An Alliteration Appreciation

Various elements go into a good book title, with alliteration one of them. It helps (alliteration alert) a novel’s name to flow nicely and can make a title much more memorable (additional alliteration).

Before continuing with today’s theme, I want to mention that the end of this post will feature details about a podcast focusing on my cat Misty! ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s a link, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

I thought of writing this alliteration article while reading The Plains of Passage, the fourth installment of Jean M. Auel’s compelling “Earth’s Children” series that began with The Clan of the Cave Bear. Not only is the title mellifluously alliterative, but it’s also informatively descriptive — Ayla and Jondalar take a long journey along Europe’s prehistoric plains as they attempt a passage to where Jondalar’s people live.

Of course, some alliterative titles are the names of the protagonists themselves — with notable examples including George Eliot’s dramatic Daniel Deronda, Sir Walter Scott’s rousing Rob Roy, Herman Melville’s brilliant Billy Budd, and Herman Wouk’s masterful Marjorie Morningstar.

Among ultra-famous examples of catchy title alliteration without full character names are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among others.

Somewhat less famous but still well known are Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and Injured, Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, Fannie Flagg’s The Whole Town’s Talking, Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, etc.

More recent general fiction? A few titles that come to mind are Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Genre fiction (crime, sci-fi, and so on) is in the alliteration mix, too. Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries such as B Is for Burglar. Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax Pursued. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Susan Moore Jordan’s Augusta McKee mysteries starting with The Case of the Slain Soprano. And more.

Any alliterative titles you’d like to name?

About that aforementioned podcast: The great Canadian interviewer/blogger Rebecca Budd, who often comments here under the name Clanmother, talked with me about my cat Misty. That wonderful feline has an interesting history of being walked on a leash every day, living with asthma, etc. The conversation runs about 16 minutes, and is accompanied by a really nice three-minute clip featuring some of the best photos and videos of Misty (outdoors and in) over the years. Put together by Rebecca and her production-wiz husband Don. The link is here.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about my town’s mayor overdoing the raising of campaign money — is here.

115 thoughts on “An Alliteration Appreciation

  1. i’m thinking Picture Pefect by Picoult, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by McCullers. And Lolita by Nabokov. Seems like I’ve wandered into the LMNOP file in my brain. Perhaps I’m suffering from some sort of vertigo, hmm? Ha! Yet another great post . Thanx Dave, Susi

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I looked up alliteration in Goodreads Listopia and I found more titles, The Prince and the Pauper, Black Beauty, Captains Courageous, Of Mice and Men, Heartbreak House etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are not all novels, but some examples of alliteration in literary titles are Love’s Labour’s Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, A Tale of Two Cities, Summer and Smoke, and The Problem of Pain. I’ve just about run out of titles that haven’t been mentioned previously on this blog.

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  4. Wonderful post! I just had to mention an author whom I think exploited alliteration to the maximum and that is M C Beaton. Not classics but her Agatha Raisin mystery series alone blitzed the field, e.g. Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, Murderous Marriage, Terrible Tourist, etc. I could never forget Love, Lies and Liquor!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, ThoughtsBecomeWords! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Wow — it sounds like M.C. Beaton did indeed exploit alliteration to the max! Terrific titles, and “Love, Lies and Liquor” is an absolutely classic name for a book!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Tony! “Tender Is the Night” is indeed an excellent title, and an excellent novel. More sprawling than the almost perfectly written “The Great Gatsby,” but in some ways a more emotionally affecting book.

        And, yes, nice alliteration in the title of that C.S. Lewis classic!

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                • Here we disagree.

                  Taney, before writing that majority opinion, made an exhaustive study of all US and state law passed since the signing of our constitution that touched on slavery, slaves and civil rights protection for slaves. He concluded that the great body of law, the Constitution very much included, did not envisage the possibility of citizenship and civil rights. Therefore there was, he reasoned, no provision or expectation in law that there would, or worse, could ever be US citizenship or civil rights protection for the enslaved, or for runaway slaves, nor generally even for Americans of African descent, because a “perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white race and the one which they had reduced to slavery”. 6 out of the other 9 Justices voted to concur with his opinion, and so, the Dred Scott Decision was made by a vote of 7 to 2.

                  His conclusion,and the overwhelming majority of Justices voting in favor of it, however disgusting, and disgusting it is, has, I think, much more to say about US law before 1857 and the white supremacist foundations of our society and our government, than it says about Taney, per se. He was no more small-minded than the law allowed.

                  “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”– Pogo

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                    • The Decision also comes at the tail-end of decades of Congressional back-and-forth on the topic, to no discernible resolution, no end in sight, and seems to have been made in part out of a judicially exasperated willingness to settle the matter for all time.

                      To me, the Civil War itself demonstrates that our constitution and the political institutions enshrined within, pre-War, were not fit to resolve the slavery issue, an issue more or less institutionally enshrined in Article One, Section 1 of that document.

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                    • No room left in the thread, so: Mary Surratt’s son John, implicated in the Lincoln assassination plot, after his escape to Europe, served for a brief period as a member of a Papal States infantry regiment. I can’t imagine that did much to quell anti-Catholic sentiment here in the US…by the time he was brought to heel, the statute of limitations had run out.

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  5. Among novelists, I noticed a relative profusion of alliteration in the writing of Joseph Conrad, though other, more subtle and less profuse examples have undoubtedly passed my gaze unnoticed.

    The first phrase that came to mind as an example of alliteration was Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism”, but he’s merely a conniving crook, and no sort of literati at all.

    My own damn fault– I wish i had thought first of “In Flanders Field” a WWI (more alliteration–as pronounced: World War Wun) poem by John McRae. The alliteration is right there in the title, and given that somehow it’s the only poem I know end to end, and have known since Eighth Grade, I should have.

    Oh, what a tangled web we weave, my thoughts and I, alliteratively.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! Even Joseph Conrad’s original Polish name — Jรณzef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski — has some alliteration.

      Ah, yes, that phrase out of the mouth of mediocrity Spiro Agnew. If I’m remembering right, the “nattering nabobs of negativism” phrase was coined by then-Nixon administration speechwriter/later New York Times columnist William Safire.

      And nice mention of “In Flanders Field” and nice ending reference to/humorous take on Sir Walter Scott’s famous line!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another early-ish (1750’s) entry: “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle” by Tobias Smollett, a picaresque novel describing the foibles, cruelties and excesses of mid-18th century English society as experienced by its central character. The picaresque novel as a literary form originates in Spain, as does the novel form itself, in the earlier (1610’s) Cervantes novel “Don Quixote”.

    Strikes me as strange/ironic that the Spanish, through literature, managed to have such an influence on English writing, since during that entire period the Spanish were chief among England’s rivals for naval domination and colonization, were largely and loudly abhorred politically there, and the national character of the Spaniard reviled as sneaky and treacherous. One 18th century English world geography I leafed through many decades ago warned its readers to be ever-wary around Spaniards, as they all carried stilettos.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle” — love that title! And interesting to think about Spain’s strong early influence on the novel. I greatly enjoyed reading “Don Quixote” a couple decades ago. Come to think of it, the title of the musical inspired by Cervantes’ work is rather alliterative. That would be “Man of La Mancha,” of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Dave I wanted to add Angela’s Ashes, a book, which I liked very much, despite the fact that is very sad, but I have seen that Shehanne has already mentioned it! Maybe I should mention the Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.! Maybe we could learn something about these animals! Have a good week and may thanks:)

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  8. HI Dave, I loved your post about Misty over at Rebecca’s place. I looked through my books and only found a few with alliteration as follows: Wind in the Willows [I just love the personification in this book] and War of the Worlds [I love the psychology of this book – Martians with huge brains and tiny bodies make me wonder where we are heading with all our technology]. There are a few children’s books with alliteration in their titles including The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton and The Ogre of Oglefort by Ena Ibbotson. Do you know Ena Ibbotson’s books? They are amazing for kids. There was also Which Witch? My absolute favourite.

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    • Thank you, Robbie! Glad you enjoyed Rebecca’s latest masterful podcast!

      I appreciated seeing your excellent examples of alliterative book titles, including those “W” ones. Yes, H.G. Wells definitely was making points in his memorable novels, in addition to entertaining us, scaring us, etc. And you’re right that many children’s-book titles do seem to feature alliteration in their titles; that certainly helps attract young readers’ attention. I’m now remembering the “Danny Dunn” books, including “Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine” — about an early, VERY large computer. I had unfortunately not heard of Eva Ibbotsonโ€™s books until seeing your comment.

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      • I don’t know the Danny Dunn books. I shall look for them. It makes sense to use alliteration and rhyming scheme in books for younger children. It is recommended. Eva Ibbotson has the most incredible imagination. I have all her books as audio books and we listen to them on long car journeys.

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          • As I recall, the Danny Dunn books were sold via “My Weekly Reader”, which was a newspaper for schoolchildren. I remember reading about the Geophysical year in it– 1959?

            Any rate, that homework machine had a twist, in that after Danny and pal were discovered using his scientist father’s computer to do their homework, they were saved from expulsion by the fact that, in order to do the boys’ homework, first, the computer had to be programmed with the right data– which Danny and friend had supplied, after first mastering the subject matter. It seemed they’d done more work avoiding homework than if they’d done the homework only. I believe there was meant to be a lesson in there somewhere.

            In another book in the series, and again this is 60 years later, Danny and a crew go to the moon– by means of an anti-gravity paint, I’m pretty sure.

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            • “My Weekly Reader”! I haven’t seen those three words in years, jhNY. Pretty sure that publication was in my elementary school, too.

              Nice twist to that “Homework Machine” book! There is indeed a lesson in there, as you described. ๐Ÿ™‚

              I think I read that Danny Dunn book about going to the moon. I want some anti-gravity paint for my next birthday!

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              • My favorite book from that Weekly Reader series, “Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan, concerned Norwegian children concealing gold bars undersled and slipping past Nazi noses.

                Be careful with that paint– opening a can indoors to inspect its contents might lead to an abstract-expressionist ceiling, a sort of Pollack in reverse, the drips going the other way. Opening it out-o-doors might lead up to a painted bird, leaving you open to lawsuits by heirs and assigns of the Kosinski estate.

                Liked by 1 person

                • LOL! ๐Ÿ˜‚ Sort of like “Gravity’s Rainbow”? ๐Ÿ™‚

                  “Snow Treasure” sounds great, jhNY! Courage displayed by children can be incredibly inspiring, plus kid readers were learning important history at the same time.

                  Like

  9. Elo Dave,
    Enjoyable yet enthralling observations.
    Titles tend to be alliterations just to grasp the attention. As a child,I heard the stories of the Pied Piper or Beauty and the Beast. And so many others wherein the phonics compel.

    Misty’s marvels make my mood.
    Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. When I perused my bookshelves in desperation to meet Dave’s latest literary challenge, I espied Mark Costello’s collection of short stories, Middle Murphy, the sequel to The Murphy Stories. I must mention that Murphy’s midlife malaise was meh. (Have you spawned a new form of insidious earworm???)

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  11. Meeting Misty was marvellous. Oops sorry. (I am a great fan of alliteration. I’ve used it once or twice in book titles but when it comes to hero and heroine?? I need to stop it! ) Okay so looking along the shelves here…. Nicholas Nickleby, Peter Pan, Gone Girl, Rob Roy, The War of the Worlds, The Wind in the WIllows, I Capture the Castle, Of Mice and Men, A Pin to see the Peepshow and –shutting up now– Angela’s Ashes.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. One of the earliest of English dramas is such a one: “Ralph Roister Doister”, by Nicholas Udall (1550’s). It’s a two-fer, in that you get alliteration and a rhyme!

    If Milton had written “Paradise Past”, I’d have another…

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  13. I had been going to use “The Custom of the Country” by Edith Wharton as my response to your last week’s column about Republicans taking over literary works for their own ends, but the week got away from me. I thought Undine Spragg, the selfish and sly schemer whose goal was to worm her way into the top echelons of NYC society, would be considered a great heroine of any book by one of the despicable and hateful Republicans. After all, the initials of her name are “US” (didn’t we talk about that once before?), and in the last pages of the novel she dreams about becoming an ambassador’s wife. Anyway, this book’s title can be used for this blog post as well!๐Ÿ™‚

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m once again going through a period of reading only mysteries and detective fiction, many of which that pay homage to the Golden Age of Mystery. There are the two that were written by Anthony Horowitz, “The Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders.” Sophie Hannah has written three novels featuring Hercule Poirot that have alliterative titles: “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket,” and “The Killings at Kingfisher Hill.” “M” is obviously a great letter for titles in this genre in that it can stand for both “murder” and “mystery.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! “The Custom of the Country” is a terrific example of an alliterative title, and you’re right that Edith Wharton’s novel is extremely relevant to not only this week’s blog post but last week’s as well. Yes, Undine Spragg’s US initials are VERY telling, and she would indeed be a heroine to many of today’s vile Republicans.

      And I appreciate all the alliterative examples of mystery titles you offered. It’s true that the letter “M” offers the potential title words “Mystery” and “Murder” — not to mention “Mayhem”… ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • “Mayhem” is a great word, Dave. Unfortunately, it also could be used to describe the insurrection at the Capitol. I still feel ill whenever I watch any of the news footage from that day.

        On a happier note, congrats to Misty in starring in a podcast! Best wishes also to my lovely kitty Jessie on International Cat Day — my dog Willow gets most of the attention around here, but Jess seems to be cool with that!

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        • Yes, January 6 was a day of mayhem, no matter how much Republicans try to minimize it. It IS sickening to watch footage of that day, and to read about it.

          Thank you for the Misty congratulations! And a very happy International Cat Day to your kitty Jessie!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Just this week on TCM, they showed an evening’s worth of Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple movies, which you and I know are but passingly similar to Christie plots and characters. One of the movies was titled “Murder Most Foul”, and alliteration of ‘m’s. But this was not Christie’s original title– the story on which the movie was based is titled “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead”, another alliteration of ‘m’s!

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        • jhNY & Dave, Of course I’ve got to add a few more: “The Mysterious Mr. Quinn” and “Murder in Mesopotamia.” To go to a different letter, there’s “Parker Pyne Investigates” and I suppose “Sad Cypress” counts because it’s a soft “C”? I vaguely remember seeing at least one of the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies but apparently I wasn’t too impressed. I loved Joan Hickson as Miss Marple and have watched each episode of that series many times. For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to watch a newer version on BritBox, simply entitled “Marple,” but it’s been rough going. It has a nicer look to it, and I do understand the need to make some plot changes, but in one of them the writers even changed the actual murderer! That simply is not done, or at least it shouldn’t be. At any rate, Joan Hickson will always be Miss Marple, just as Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes and David Suchet is Hercule Poirot!

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          • Thank you for the additional alliterative titles, Kat Lit! Soft C’s coupled with S’s definitely count!

            Yes, some actresses and actors become their characters, while others don’t quite pull it off. And changing the actual murderer in a screen adaptation of a mystery is indeed a terrible idea. A real insult to the book and to the author.

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          • I too recently watched the newer iterations of Miss Marple, and I did enjoy the Geraldine McEwan portrayal, though not in preference to immortal Hickson. Agreed as to Suchet and Brett, as I think we’ve concluded before.

            The Rutherford movies are the toughest going of all, Marple-wise. Not only did Rutherford insist on her real-life husband having a recurring role as a sort of low-key love interest, but the writers took Poirot plots for at least 2 of the movies and made them Marple’s, and the last in the series featured a plot that Christie had nothing whatever to do with!

            On the other hand, those movies made Rutherford among the highest-paid of GB’s film actors, at age 70+.

            I found in the wikipedia entry that “theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once said of her performances: “The unique thing about Margaret Rutherford is that she can act with her chin alone.”

            And her wikipedia biography also sketches out what must have been one of the most trying childhoods on record– her father killed his own father, was committed to an asylum, and when he got free, moved the family to India to start anew. The new start ended in Rutherford’s mother’s suicide by hanging, while pregnant. Rutherford was told her father had killed himself in the aftermath, only to learn years later he had not, but rather, died in an insane asylum. An aunt supported Rutherford’s ambitions in the theater and gave her tuition to attend the Old Vic school. She made her stage debut at 33.

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            • Thanks for that info, jhNY. Goodness, what an an appalling childhood Rutherford had, or perhaps I should say family history. It’s therefore not surprising that as an adult she suffered from bouts of debilitating depression. She was fortunate in her choice of spouse, who took care of her for the rest of her life, even when she developed Alzheimer’s.

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  14. Happy International Cat Day – August 8, 2021, Dave. Iโ€™m celebrating our most remarkable and ancient friends. The Egyptians understood that they were gods – they must have known something that we donโ€™t know. Cats are cool, adventurous, witty and creative. In the spirit of this day, I am reading three books:

    โ€œMisty Morningsโ€ (aka Mistyโ€™s Morning),โ€œCat Capersโ€ and โ€œFeline Filosophyโ€ (yes, that is the way cats spell philosophy).

    Another wonderful post. Thank you so much for joining me on TTT and sharing your wonderful photos and videos. Don and I had so much fun meeting up with Misty!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca! I should have known it was International Cat Day, but didn’t until a few people (including you) mentioned it today. Cats are indeed everything you wonderfully described them as; the ancient Egyptians certainly had the right idea about them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Love those three fictional feline fitles…um…titles you came up with! ๐Ÿ˜‚

      So happy to have participated in another of your superb TTT podcasts! Misty is thrilled, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you very much for inviting us! And, as I’ve mentioned, the video you and Don assembled is absolutely fantastic. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • When we humans began to farm, we began to store grain. When we began to store grain, cats came to us, patrolling the storage places for rodents.

        Dogs became our companions earlier, before farming, when were hunting and gathering our food.

        We’re lucky each of these animal types found something useful in us! Though having such lovely fur to stroke may have diverted early humans from an important task: finding vermin on each other’s person…

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        • Thank you, jhNY! Yes, dogs and humans, and cats and humans, got together for practical reasons — with companionship a wonderful added bonus. (In the Jean M. Auel series I’m reading, Ayla adopts a wolf who’s clearly the ancestor of a devoted dog.)

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Ah, just one (and then I’ll rest), seeing that Yolanda reacted (her blog comes recommended! Here’s just an example: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/119545333/posts/3489087054): August Strindberg’s “Rรถda Rummet” (The Red Room). The alliteration works in both the original Swedish and in the English title, but best in the Swedish original (I think) because of the combination of the (typically Strindbergian) trenchant two-word title and the two syllables in each word. But Yolanda would be the better judge.

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  16. Incidentally, Dave, since you are so extremely well read, and so many ‘trivia’ pass in you wonderful blog, I’ve been wondering (as no doubt are many of your readership) if a follow-up to your “Fascinating Facts…” is underway.

    And I’ve more alliterative titles for you: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Even the austere intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre succumbed to alliteration with Le diable et le bon dieu (to be noted: the alliteration not just in Di-able et Di-eu but in dia-BLe et LE Bon).

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you like the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

      “The Haunting of Hill House” is a GREAT example of an alliterative title! Quite a subtly scary book.

      I’m not writing a follow-up to “Fascinating Facts…” I’ve thought about it, and could certainly find lots more trivia to fill such a book, but I sort of feel “been there, done that.” I have a couple of other book ideas in mind if I can manage to get around to them…

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Very nice theme again. One has to be cautious though. The French title of Zola’s The Drinking Den (which I didn’t know the novel by, as I’ve only read it in French) is L’Assommoir. The alliteration in the title of the English translation is unlikely to be intentional, and in any case not based on an alliterative effect in the French title. Incidentally, L’Assommoir is an extremely poignant part of Les Rougon-Maquart, a 20-something (!) series of novels by Zola. Novels can be read independently. I’ll think of other examples!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Dingenom Potter! Great point about “The Drinking Den” — the original title in French is indeed not alliterative. Heck, the “Lโ€™Assommoir” title has also been translated into “The Dram Shop,” “The Gin Palace,” and “The Drunkard.”

      I’ve read seven of Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart novels, and found them all compelling. “Lโ€™Assommoir” is indeed one of the best, though “Germinal” is my favorite. I also like (English titles) “The Beast in Man,” “The Masterpiece,” “The Ladies’ Delight,” “Nana,” etc.

      Liked by 2 people

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