Saturday, August 14, 2010

Literary Fact of the Day Round-Up: August 2-15

Gustave Flaubert.
(Not pictured: his mother and his syphilis)
On the Ape's Twitter feed (@readingape), we feature a daily tidbit of literary history, the Literary Fact of the Day (#lfotd). Here's a recap of what ran over the last couple of weeks, in their original, tweetable form:

  • The first 3000-copy printing of MOBY DICK did not sell out in Melville's lifetime and netted him less than $600.
  • Flaubert suffered from multiple venereal diseases and lived with his mother for most of his adult life. Go figure.

  • Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death for his radical ideas + was even lined up before a firing squad before his sentence was commuted.

  • Ralph Ellison used to copy Hemingway's short stories by hand to get a feel for what it meant to write like him.

  • "Un"paralleled: Shakespeare was the first to use "unreal," "uncomfortable," "unaware," "unearthly," "undress" among many others.

  • Whitman paid to have the first 800 copies LEAVES OF GRASS published.

  • Faulkner's most notable screenwriting efforts were adaptations of novels not written by him: TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP.

  • M. Chabon got an 155k advance for MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH, after one of his professors, unbeknownst to Chabon, sent it to an agent.

  • Coleridge wrote all 300 lines of "Kublai Khan" in one sitting after waking from a dream at 4am.

  • At Fitzgerald's funeral, Dorothy Parker reportedly said "the poor son-of-a-bitch," which was also said at the funeral of Jay Gatsby.

  • Reading at JFK's inaugural, Robert Frost was blinded by sunlight and so recited "The Gift Outright" from memory.

  • Allen Ginsberg once stripped naked during a reading of "Howl" as a retort to a heckler.

  • In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks become the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. 


  1. Great stuff! How scary to think that you are lined up waiting for execution only to find it commuted at the last minute

  2. Fitzgerald's "adaptation" of To Have and Have Not is so far from the original that I'm surprised Hemingway allowed the title to be used. The settings, the plot, and even some of the characters are radically different from the book.

  3. I find the factoid about Coleridge even more amazing — as in crazy, unexplainbly weird - than Faulkner's composition of As I Lay Dying. K

  4. I saw Gwendolyn Brooks speak once... not so impressed... she should stick to writing.

  5. Just stopping by to let you know I've given you an award; stop by my blog to see. :)

    Also, I love the ones about Coleridge, Ellison, and Ginsberg. Very interesting.

  6. Ugh ... I meant Faulkner, not Fitzgerald, above. Given that they were both broke screenwriters at the time, it's easy to get them confused.

  7. Robert Frost is probably my favorite poet, and and fact that he did his famous reading of "The Gift Outright" from the heart makes him all the more endearing to me.
    BTW, I just started reading this blog and absolutely love it. Great job!

  8. didn't coleridge actually only write the first 50 or so lines of kublai khan after waking? (according to his story, that is.) the rest he said he wrote after being interrupted and forgetting the remainder of the dream.