Appeals

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Advertisements in the Sing Sing inmate newspaper Star of Hope, May 19, 1900:

WANTED — A home-like home. Present one, not what it is cracked up to be. Address Clinton 4,320.

WANTED — A good night’s rest. Gallery shouters and instrumentalists take note. Nemo, Star Office.

WANTED — An eraser, (must be mighty sharp) to blot out the past. A stock of experience, (fringed and threadbare) given in exchange. For particulars, Auburn 20,101.

WANTED — That rara avis, the con who does not think he is better able to manage the Star than the present Editor. Applications solicited by Sing Sing 51,094.

WANTED — A few blank pages in the Book of Life, wherein we desire to make some new entries — on the Cr. side. Address Summa Summarum, New York State Prisons.

WANTED — Immediately — an Opportunity. Price no object if goods are fair and in good working order. Anxious, Clinton 4,298.

WANTED — Anno Domini 1902. Will give in exchange one and a quarter yards of warranted genuine, homemade Spring po’ms — just too lovely for every day wear. Samantha, Auburn 595 (W. P.)

LOST — Five days’ ‘short time.’ Finder can have same by arranging with the Powers That Be. Address Nostalgic, Auburn 20,210.

(From Karel Weiss, The Prison Experience, 1976.)

Wild Life

The author of Bambi wrote a pornographic novel. Josephine Mutzenbacher: The Life Story of a Viennese Whore was published anonymously in Vienna in 1906, shortly after Felix Salten moved there. Salten’s authorship has never been proven conclusively, but the consensus of scholars and even the Austrian government supports it.

The book is the fictional memoir of a 50-year-old Viennese prostitute, looking back on her scandalous life. In The Vienna Coffeehouse Wits, Harold B. Segel writes, “For those who knew him it was more in character than Bambi.”

It’s remained in print for more than a century now and sold 3 million copies. A sample in English (NSFW) is here.

Love and Laureates

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

George Hitchings, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1988, proposed to his wife by saying “Incidentally, you’re my fiancée now” as they drove to an event.

John Bardeen, who won the prize in physics in both 1956 and 1972, told his fiancée, “You can be married in the church if you want to, but not to me.”

Hemingway, a Nobelist in literature in 1954, said, “I remember after I got that marriage license I went across from the license bureau to a bar for a drink. The bartender said, ‘What will you have, sir?’ And I said, ‘A glass of hemlock.'”

And Wolfgang Pauli won the Nobel in physics in 1945. Of his ex-wife’s remarriage, he said, “Had she taken a bullfighter I would have understood, but an ordinary chemist!”

The War of the Ring

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Of The Lord of the Rings, W.H. Auden wrote, “I rarely remember a book about which I have had such violent arguments. Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it.”

Among the naysayers, Edmund Wilson wrote, “One is puzzled to know why the author should have supposed he was writing for adults. There are, to be sure, some details that are a little unpleasant for a children’s book, but except when he is being pedantic and also boring the adult reader, there is little in The Lord of the Rings over the head of a seven-year-old child.”

Tolkien seemed philosophical about the difference. He wrote in the foreword to the second edition:

The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving, and for many the guide was inevitably often at fault. Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

He wrote elsewhere:

The Lord of the Rings
is one of those things:
if you like it you do:
if you don’t, then you boo!

“The Cage Without Birds”

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Felix does not understand how people can keep birds in cages.

‘It’s a crime,’ he says, ‘like picking flowers. Personally, I’d rather sniff them on their stems — and birds are meant to fly, the same way.’

Nonethless he buys a cage, hangs it in his window. He puts a cotton-wool nest inside, a saucer of seeds, and a cup of clean, renewable water. He also hangs a swing in the cage, and a little mirror.

And when he is questioned with some surprise:

‘I pride myself on my generosity,’ he says, ‘each time I look at that cage. I could put a bird in there, but I leave it empty. If I wanted to, some brown thrush, some fat bullfinch hopping around outside, or some other bird of all the kinds we have here would be a captive. But thanks to me, at least one of them remains free. There’s always that …’

— Jules Renard, Les Histoires Naturelles, 1896

Application

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Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre-Dame under enormous financial pressure, leaving his table only to eat or sleep.

Finally, his daughter Adèle wrote, “On 14 January, [Notre-Dame] was finished. The bottle of ink that M. Victor Hugo had bought the first day was finished also; he had arrived in the same moment at the last line and at the last drop.

“This gave him, in that moment, the idea of changing his title and calling his novel: What There Is in a Bottle of Ink.”

Character Study

Balzac’s 1829 treatise La physiologie du mariage contains a strange passage:

https://books.google.com/books?id=z7k-AAAAYAAJ

“Four editions of the book, three of them printed in Balzac’s lifetime, in fact contain four different versions,” notes F.L. Bauer in Decrypted Secrets. “The author must have been playing a practical joke on the reader. Nevertheless, [French military cryptanalyst Étienne] Bazeries investigated such a cryptogram in 1901 and found that it did not fit any known scheme; it was une facétie de l’auteur.”

Distant Early Warning

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Alexandre Dumas’ cat knew when he was coming home:

At the time I speak of, I held a situation in the service of the Duc d’Orléans, with a salary of 1500 francs. My work occupied me from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. We had a cat in those days, whose name was Mysouff. This cat had missed his vocation; he ought to have been a dog. Every morning I started for my office at half-past nine, and came back every evening at half-past five. Every morning Mysouff followed me to the corner of a particular street, and every evening I found him in the same street, at the same corner, waiting for me. Now the curious thing was that on the days when I had found some amusement elsewhere, and was not coming home to dinner, it was of no use to open the door for Mysouff to go and meet me. Mysouff, in the attitude of the serpent with its tail in its mouth, refused to stir from his cushion. On the other hand, on the days I did come, Mysouff would scratch at the door until some one opened it for him.

“My mother was very fond of Mysouff,” he wrote. “She used to call him her barometer.”

Overdone Bacon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orville_Ward_Owen

Exponents of the theory that Francis Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare have gone to sometimes elaborate lengths to find messages hidden in the plays. American physician Orville Ward Owen even invented a “cipher wheel” that could pass the texts under his eyes at various speeds as he looked for hidden meanings.

He didn’t find many supporters. Even Owen’s friend Frederick Mann wrote, “We are asked to believe that such peerless creations as Hamlet, The Tempest, and Romeo and Juliet were not prime productions of the transcendent genius who wrote them, but were subsidiary devices which Bacon designed for the purpose of concealing the cipher therein.”

In his 1910 book Bacon Is Shake-speare, Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence argues that the long word honorificabilitudinitatibus in Love’s Labour’s Lost is really an anagram:

HI LUDI F. BACONIS NATI TUITI ORBIS
These plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world.

“It surpasses the wit of man,” he wrote, to produce another sensible anagram from the long word, and he offered a hundred guineas to anyone who could do it. A Mr. Beevor of St. Albans rather promptly sent him this:

ABI INIVIT F. BACON HISTRIO LUDIT
Be off, F. Bacon, the actor has entered and is playing.

Durning-Lawrence was taken aback, but he was a good sport: He paid Beevor his money.

(From John Michell, Who Wrote Shakespeare?, 1996.)

Dead Issues

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In his early handwritten notes for Dracula, Bram Stoker considered giving the vampire these attributes:

  • can banish good thoughts, create evil thoughts and destroy will
  • is affected only by relics that are older than he is
  • cannot be painted, any portrait looks like someone else
  • cannot be photographed, photographs come out black or like a skeleton corpse
  • insensitive to music
  • cannot cross thresholds without assistance, stumbles on threshold
  • can determine and prove if people are sane
  • leeches are attracted to him, then repulsed
  • can pick out murderers
  • despises death and the dead
  • can tell if bodies are dead or alive

Jonathan Harker’s stay at Castle Dracula was originally to include “an encounter with a ‘wehr wolf’,” and at the London zoological gardens “Dracula enrages eagles and lions but intimidates wolves and hyenas.”

The notes also shed some light on a puzzle I’d mentioned earlier: Why does Dracula choose England in the first place? Stoker’s notes include the phrase “English law directory sortes Virgilianae central place marked with point of knife.” Sortes Virgilianae is Latin for Virgilian lots, a form of divination in which advice or predictions are sought by interpreting passages from Virgil. In Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula, Robert Eighteen-Bisang writes, “Did Dracula choose his law firm by a stabbing a knife into a law directory, or decide on the location of his new home by thrusting a knife into a map? The vampire’s use of divination is in keeping with the supposition that he is a sorcerer.” None of this made it into the final novel, but it might still be the explanation that Stoker had in mind.