David Lubar

As those of you who've recently been in a greeting card store probably know, today is Little-Known Literary Facts Day. Amazing how these holidays come along. It seemed like just yesterday it was Send-Your-Pet-Some-Marzipan Day. It's easy to overlook specific one-day events, given all the current excitement of celebrating both Padded Bicycle Seat Week and National Chalk Month, but as friends and fans of the written word we certainly can't let this one pass unnoticed. So, to help get the festivities off on the right foot, here are some little-known literary facts.

Research into the archives reveals that Herman Melville was far ahead of his times. His working title for Moby Dick was actually Whaling for Dummies. His publisher changed it without informing him.

Beside being a master painter and sculptor, Michelangelo was also an aspiring author. It was while waiting to hear from his editor that he carved the statue of David. To quote the master: "Those four years just flew right by like marble dust in a windstorm." An historical side note—the project, a thriller called Chiselers in Florence, was canceled when the editor changed publishers.

In the first draft of that great novel, Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck doesn't have Lenny say, "Tell me about the rabbits, George." Instead, the slow, gentle giant asked, "Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?"

Since its appearance, the Odyssey has sold enough copies to have earned its author nineteen billion dollars in royalties. Unfortunately, Homer was so eager for publication, he leaped at the first offer and signed away all rights for a flat fee. Worse, his contract gave his publisher first refusal rights for his next work, so the Iliad was also snatched up for a song. (Astute readers might wonder whether the above is correct, given that the Iliad takes place before the Odyssey. Actually, there's a simple explanation. It was Homer, and not Tom Clancy, who pioneered the concept of the prequel.)

The day after getting a new pair of glasses, James Joyce was shown copy of Ulysses hot off the presses. According to others present at this historic moment, the author screamed, "That's not what I wrote. Not at all. This doesn't make any sense," and dashed out of his house in such a rage he ran into a lamp post and broke the glasses. He was wearing the old pair when he wrote Finnegan's Wake.

Recent studies of Margaret Mitchell's possessions have uncovered documents that might shed light on the origins of Gone with the Wind. The discovery, found stuffed in the back of a drawer, appears to be a shopping list, with the entry: "Send butler for pansies."

After the stunning reception given to Frankenstein, Mary Shelly wrote seventeen more novels based on her dreams. These included Exposed at a Party, the story of a woman who finds herself standing unclothed at a masked ball where everyone else is dressed, Lost in a Strange Place, which details the efforts of a person to find her way out of a mysterious city, and Animal Heads, where all the people have animal heads. None of these novels achieved any degree of popularity.

Tired of being teased and taunted by local high school students, Gustave Flaubert vowed he'd get revenge on them, and on all other students for all of eternity. The next day, he started writing Madame Bovary.

Though he created works that led to his becoming the world's best-known playwright, William Shakespeare never achieved his greatest ambition. "A pox on these plays," he wrote in his memoirs. "What I really want to do is direct."

A cover letter, apparently prematurely separated from its manuscript, was found in the files of e e cummings publisher. The first paragraph begins with: i apologize for the lack of capital letters but the typewriter broke again i trust your judgement please fix at your discretion

When Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy met for the first time, they immediately got into a bragging match. First, they started comparing facial hair. Then, they got into a vodka-drinking contest. Finally, they began shouting, "Bet I can write a longer book than you," and "Bet you can't," at each other. Millions of innocent readers have suffered the consequences of this rivalry.

"Little-Known Literary Facts" Copyright © 1997 by David Lubar

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