Having written last time about grammar I thought to turn my eyes this week to literature, which makes up one other third of the triumvirate of that with which we English teachers concern ourselves: grammar, writing, and literature. But also interesting tit-bits of information about writers and books. As a teacher I figure my task in life is always to be spreading knowledge and understanding of the triumvirate, so today books and writers get the focus.
Some things you might not know, and probably won’t be any better off for having learned:
- Alfred Jarry, French playwright, author of the Ubu plays, spent a year living in a cardboard box under a staircase. Harry Potter ain’t got nothing on Alfred J.
- The shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels is eunoia.
- The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was terrified of bees.
- Gadsby, a novel of 150+ pages, does not contain the letter “e.” Some people like it, but I wouldn’t call it great.
- Going him four better, the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega wrote five plays, each omitting one of the vowels. Some people just have too much time on their hands. Manos.
- Tolstoy dictated War and Peace to his wife, who wrote as he spoke. He (she) rewrote the thing seven times. Don’t tell me Tolstoy wasn’t a jerk.
- Some people think Joyce’s Ulysses, or maybe Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is the greatest piece of literature ever written. Those people are wrong; it’s Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
- Jeremy Bentham had his body stuffed, and wheeled out during meetings of Britain’s Royal Society so he could “attend.” His head is stored in a box somewhere. That’s made of wax, the thing on his shoulders. When not at the meeting, Bentham is stored in a closet.
- Recent scholarship has established conclusively that Shakespeare did not in fact write the plays that have been attributed to him. He did, however, write the novels of Charles Dickens.
- There may be in the world a more boring book than John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, but it has not yet been discovered.
- Possibly the least used word in the English language is ucalegon; it means “a neighbor whose house is on fire.”
- When the poet Percy Shelley drowned in Greece, his friends – Byron and Keats – decided to burn his body on a funeral pyre, as a famous hero should be treated. They did so. But according to another friend, Edward Trelawny, his heart would not burn. So Trelawny leaped upon the pyre, reached into Shelly’s chest and plucked out his – unburned – heart. He then sent the heart to Shelley’s young wife back in England. So it is that Shelley’s heart is buried in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abby, in London. But the rest of him is in Greece.