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Honored Contributor
Posts: 18,381
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

LITERARY *ANECDOTES*

[ Edited ]

I find these, by and about, various authors so fascinating and revealing of personality...

 

The latest one I read was in a collection of essays by William F. Buckley,  "A Torch Kept Lit--  Great Lives of the Twentieth Century",  edited by James Rosen.

 

Buckley wrote that, upon their first meeting, the very first thing that Ayn Rand said to him, in her distinct Russian accent, was "You are too intelligent to believe in God!"

 

This, to the famously Christian, famously Catholic WFB.  But, sophisticated Buckley was amused, found her to be a curiosity, and kept up the acquaintance, even though he loathed her utilitarian, 'every man for himself' philosophy.

 

His magazine, "National Review" was a frequent critic of her books.  After he assigned the brilliant Whittaker Chambers to write a review of her work, she cut Buckley out completely.  Any hostess of a glittering Manhattan party that included both of them as guests, would be cross examined by Ayn Rand.  They would be informed that should Buckley attend, she would not.  Or, she would only attend after he left, etc. 

 

But there are far more eccentric examples of her behavior than that...

 

Another amusing one is, that Hans Christian Andersen, a big fan of his fellow author, came to visit Charles Dickens, and stayed for WEEKS.  He engaged in kooky behavior, including crying on the lawn over a bad review, among other things.  Dickens and his family were deeply relieved when the other great literary giant finally left.

 

Do you know of any personal anecdotes of authors that tend to make them more vivid and real to you, or shed more light on their work?

 

Later:   Edited to change "gossip" to "anecdotes" in title thread, especially after reading @PickyPicky3 's riveting experience with a poet/friend!   

 

   

Respected Contributor
Posts: 3,031
Registered: ‎10-22-2018

@Oznell   I have a story but I can't disclose the person's name. Should I post it?

Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: LITERARY ANECDOTES

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I love that you are so considerate and discreet, @PickyPicky3 !   For me, it's delicate also.  I don't like putting living people, public figures, in a bad light, (if the story does reflect poorly on them) when I don't really know the incidents to be absolutely true, in every respect.  

 

I think you can rely on your instincts.  Sometimes, you can relate an incident, which is fascinating in and of itself, and keep the identities of the people completely anonymous.  If you can't, and would feel uncomfortable, you should not. 

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@Oznell   We have lots of readers here who are interested in the creative writing process, so here goes:

 

I had the great fortune to have had a friendship with an award-winning poet. Award-winning is just step one: he was a groundbreaking genius. He has passed on, and I miss him.

 

But he had a very strange way of composing his poems. He tested them out on a small group of friends. That meant that any time day or night you could get a phone call like this:

 

"Hey, it's me. Listen to this line. Now listen to this other version. Which one's better?" 

 

He was also sensitive to the difference between poetry spoken aloud and poetry read privately. That meant I'd get a knock on my door at 7:00 am:

 

"I didn't want to come too early. Please read these three versions and rank them."

 

What's ironic is only once did the version I liked end up in a book. Always a bridesmaid; never a bride.

 

Over the years since his death I occasionally get calls or e-mails from a person doing academic research or preparing a talk show on his work. I always tell them they've reached the wrong person.

 

 

Honored Contributor
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Re: LITERARY ANECDOTES

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Wow, @PickyPicky3 ,  thank you for relating your first-hand knowledge of how a great poet worked!

 

Despite being deprived of sleep, and not always having your advice taken, how extremely flattering that he thought so highly of your discernment that he would consult you, pick your brain, sound you out, etc.!

 

Oh, I love this story so much.  I'm going to change the title of this thread to "Literary Anecdotes",  rather than literary gossip.  That's what I meant, rather than "gossip",  and your fascinating experience with him proves that out. 

Respected Contributor
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Registered: ‎10-22-2018

@Oznell   I guess literary gossip/anecdotes is hard to come by. Unless you're always invited to the right parties.

 

My only other offering is not significant but still brings a smile.

 

I was boarding a flight in Alaska and the aisle line was just not moving. Not bad if you're stuck leaning over Erica Jong, one of my favorite authors. I told her I would forever regret it if I didn't take the opportunity to thank her for hours of reading enjoyment.

 

She said thank you. I remained unable to move for another three minutes, but I didn't say anything else. 

 

 

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By far, @PickyPicky3 ,  your anecdotes are the best, in the sense that they are the result of first-hand experiences with the authors themselves.  Probably few of us are lucky enough to have had any of those.

 

I meant, also, the broader category of real life "stories" about the writers, extracted from their lives, and written about.  I wish I could remember all the tidbits I've picked up over the years, just by reading bios and interviews, rats.  

 

Let's see.   Oh-- this always stuck in my mind.  At least one credible biographer of Sylvia Plath, believes that her final suicide attempt, was almost certainly, although sincerely anquished, a cry for help, gone wrong.  In other words, it was reasonable to think that she thought she'd be rescued before she died.  If the timing of visiting nurse, etc., had not gone awry, it's a fairly sure thing she would have been rescued in time.  So heart-breaking to think about-- a tragedy could have been averted, and she might have had many more years of living and creative brilliance...

 

Another tidbit that stopped me in my tracks is that the author of "Pilgrim's Progress",  John Bunyan, as prolific as he was, spent over a decade in prison in the midst of his literary career, and didn't have to.  In Britain in the 1600's,  it was dangerous for "Puritans" and others to depart from the established Church of England creed, and the titanic Bunyan would not be deterred from interpreting the gospel as he knew it. And, he was told he could go home to his family at any time if he would just relent, but he did not.  Such courage.

 

But at least he wasn't executed as so many others were.

 

Another item (that probably others who like Louisa May Alcott already know, but I didn't really, until recently),  is that they've pretty much pinpointed the multi-symptom illness that plagued her for over 20 years and resulted in her early death in her 50's.  She probably had acute mercury poisoning, resulting from a mercury treatment for typhoid, during the period that she nursed Civil War soldiers.  The rashes, the pain, headaches, rheumatism, probably severe hypertension, all the other symptoms that she kept careful track of, can be traced back to that.  There's some suggestion of lupus too.  Ultimate cause of death was stroke.   Anyway, like many Victorians, especially women, she suffered from a daunting array of aliments, yet, again, the vitality of her output astonishes.

 

Those are among the few I can readily remember!  But if you, or anyone else, knows interesting biographical facts about your favorite writers, would enjoy hearing.      

Respected Contributor
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Registered: ‎10-22-2018

@Oznell   Perhaps there's a new literary trivia book in your future? There's a lot of them out there, but always room for one more. 

 

My brain simply doesn't store unrelated facts, even if they're fascinating. My ex's brain stored nothing but.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 18,381
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@PickyPicky3 ,  ha, not I!  I'm like you.  It was hard enough to dredge up those, and I had to double-check online to make sure I was remembering right.  But, if you read enough biographies, and depending on your interest in the author, a few salient facts about them are bound to stick.

 

And it doesn't have to be anything earth-shaking, can be as simple as that Mark Twain once mined for California gold, or something....

 

Or that Jacqueline Susann was once an actress (wasn't she??)

 

   

Super Contributor
Posts: 327
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Re: LITERARY *ANECDOTES*

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My husband said that he'd read that one of the first mentions of baseball was by Jane Austen in "Northanger Abbey".
 
Decades ago I had heard and read that one of Ayn Rand's favorite composers was Rachmaninoff and one of her favorite artists was Jose Manuel Capuletti.  And just learned that a couple of other admirers of Capuletti were Arthur Rubenstein and Gladys Lloyd Robinson (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson).
 
@Oznell  , I remember that you had mentioned Jonah Goldberg before.  You may already know that his mother is Lucianne Goldberg, and you may already know about her.  Also, she has a website which you may already know about:  Lucianne dot com .
 
After reading what you wrote about Louisa May Alcott's diagnosed illness, I looked it up to learn more and read that she was diagnosed by a professor and a colleague who had looked at a portrait of her with a rash on her face 119 years after her death.  Medical diagnosis through art is interesting.  Many years ago I had read an article about a cancer specialist that had visited the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy and diagnosed breast cancer in the Michelangelo marble statue "Night".
 
I read that (among many other famous writers and poets) Mark Twain, Ayn Rand, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, P.D. James, and Ray Bradbury loved cats.