From Kingsley Amis’ 1966 novel The Anti-Death League:
This is just to show you whose boss around here.
It’ll keep you on your toes, so to speak,
Make you put your best foot forward, so to speak,
And give you something to turn your hand to, so to speak.
You can face up to it like a man,
Or snivvle and blubber like a baby.
That’s up to you. Nothing to do with Me.
If you take it in the right spirit,
You can have a bloody marvelous life,
With the great rewards courage brings,
And the beauty of accepting your LOT.
And think how much good it’ll do your Mum and Dad,
And your Grans and Gramps and the rest of the shower,
To be stopped being complacent.
Make sure they baptise you, though,
In case some murdering bastard
Decides to put you away quick,
Which would send you straight to LIMB-O, ha ha ha.
But just a word in your ear, if you’ve got one.
Mind you DO take this in the right spirit,
And keep a civil tongue in your head about Me.
Because if you DON’T,
I’ve got plenty of other stuff up My sleeve,
Such as Leukemia and polio,
(Which incidentally your welcome to any time,
Whatever spirit you take this in.)
I’ve given you one love-pat, right?
You don’t want another.
So watch it, Jack.
Misspellings in original. In his memoir Experience, Martin Amis says Yevgeny Yevtushenko asked Kingsley in 1962, “You atheist?” He answered, “Well yes, but it’s more that I hate him.”
While training as an engineer, Robert Louis Stevenson dove to the foundation of a breakwater at Wick, accompanied by a worker named Bob Bain. He remembered the day in memorable prose:
“Some twenty rounds below the platform twilight fell. Looking up, I saw a low green heaven mottled with vanishing bells of white; looking around, except for the weedy spokes and shafts of the ladder, nothing but a green gloaming, somewhat opaque but very restful and delicious.”
Bain took his hand and led him through “a world of tumbled stone … pillared with the weedy uprights of the staging; overhead, a flat roof of green; a little in front, the sea wall, like an unfinished rampart.”
Presently Bain motioned him to leap onto a stone six feet high. Stevenson was incredulous at this, encumbered as he was with a heavy helmet and lead boots. “I laughed aloud in my tomb; and to prove to Bob how far he was astray, I gave a little impulse from my toes. Up I soared like a bird, my companion soaring at my side. As high as to the stone, and then higher, I pursued my impotent and empty flight.”
Bain had to restrain him from rising higher, and Stevenson felt it bitter “to return to infancy, to be supported, and directed and perpetually set upon your feet, by the hand of someone else.” He was relieved when the time came to return to the surface. “Of a sudden, my ascending head passed into the trough of a swell. Out of the green, I shot at once into a glory of rosy, almost of sanguine light, the multitudinous seas incarnadined, the heaven above a vault of crimson. And then the glory faded into the hard, ugly daylight of a Caithness autumn, with a low sky, a gray sea, and a whistling wind.”
He called this “one of the best things I got from my education as an engineer.” The article appeared in Scribner’s in 1888.
Edmond Rostand’s hit play Cyrano de Bergerac met an unexpected obstacle in 1898 — a Chicago real estate developer who claimed that it plagiarized his own play. In this week’s podcast we’ll review the strange controversy and the surprising outcome of the lawsuit that followed.
We’ll also hear an update on the German author who popularized an American West that he had never seen and puzzle over a Civil War private who refuses to fight.
Sources for our feature on Cyrano de Bergerac and The Merchant Prince of Cornville:
“Gross-Rostand Controversy,” in George Childs Kohn, New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, 2001.
Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1897.
Samuel Eberly Gross, The Merchant Prince of Cornville, 1896.
Jay Pridmore, “Recalling ‘Merchant Prince’ of the 1880s,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 28, 1992.
“Chronicle and Comment,” The Bookman, November 1910.
The Critic, February 1899, p. 116.
“Samuel Gross’s Cyrano,” New York Times, June 1, 1902.
“Rostand Indignant,” The Pittsburgh Press, June 1, 1902.
“Rostand’s Champion,” The Carroll Herald, June 4, 1902.
“‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ a Plagiarism,” Boston Evening Transcript, May 21, 1902.
“The Law and the Nose,” Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 10, 1902.
“Dollar Is Spent,” The Milwaukee Journal, Sept. 17, 1902.
Wikipedia, Hadschi Halef Omar (retrieved July 8, 2015).
Wikipedia, Emilio Salgari (retrieved July 8, 2015).
This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jackie Speir.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
In Lillian Hellman’s 1973 memoir Pentimento, she describes a childhood friend whom she calls “Julia” who became active in the Austrian underground during World War II. The book was made into the Oscar-winning 1977 film Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.
But after the book appeared, readers noticed something peculiar. Julia strongly resembled a real person, Muriel Gardiner, a psychoanalyst. Both women were millionaires’ daughters who had attended Wellesley and Oxford, moved to Vienna to study with Freud, bore daughters, became socialists, and participated in anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi activities before the war. But where Gardiner sailed for the United States in 1939, Hellman’s Julia was tortured to death by Nazis. Hellman claimed that she flew the body home but had it cremated when she was unable to find Julia’s mother.
Despite all these similarities, Hellman insisted that Julia was a different person and said she had never heard of Gardiner. “She may have been the model for somebody else’s Julia,” she told the New York Times, “but she was certainly not the model for my Julia.” She said she refused to reveal her own Julia’s name for personal and legal reasons.
Gardiner wrote to Hellman in 1976, inquiring about all this, but never received a reply. She had kept silent about her activities for 40 years — but it’s notable that lawyer Wolf Schwabacher had socialized with Hellman in Europe while Gardiner was opposing Fascism in Vienna, and also shared a house with Gardiner after the war.
W.S. Gilbert’s neighbor in the country was a partner in a firm that was famous for its relishes, pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves. He had been made a baronet but “had grown very touchy about the source of his wealth and his title,” recalled DeWolf Hopper, “and was rather a hoity-toity neighbor.”
One day Gilbert’s dogs killed some pheasants on the man’s property, and he wrote a curt note of protest to the author. Gilbert wrote back:
Dear Sir Alfred:
I am extremely sorry about the loss of your pheasants, and I am taking steps to prevent my dogs from trespassing on your preserves in the future.
P.S. You will pardon my use of the word ‘preserves,’ won’t you?
In his 1927 autobiography, Hopper also recalls:
Someone once challenged Gilbert to make up a verse offhand riming the words ‘Timbuctoo’ and ‘cassowary’. He studied for a moment and recited:
If I were a cassowary in Timbuctoo,
I’d eat a missionary and his hymn book too.
From a letter by Lewis Carroll, about 1848:
I have not yet been able to get the second volume Macaulay’s ‘England’ to read. I have seen it however and one passage struck me when seven bishops had signed the invitation to the pretender, and King James sent for Bishop Compton (who was one of the seven) and asked him ‘whether he or any of his ecclesiastical brethren had anything to do with it?’ He replied, after a moment’s thought ‘I am fully persuaded your majesty, that there is not one of my brethren who is not as innocent in the matter as myself.’
“This was certainly no actual lie,” Carroll wrote, “but certainly, as Macaulay says, it was very little different from one.”
Mark Twain boasted both that “I was the first person in the world that ever had a telephone in his house” and that “I was the first person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature.” The latter may be true — Twain began experimenting with a Remington No. 2 typewriter in 1874. He reckoned that the book must have been Tom Sawyer; in fact it was probably Life on the Mississippi.
Other writers have been slower to adopt new technology. “This is a nervous letter,” wrote Flannery O’Connor to Cecil Dawkins in 1959. “I am congratulating you on the electric typewriter. It is very nice but I am not used to it yet. I keep thinking about all the electricity that is being wasted while I think what I am going to say next.”
As Shakespeare couldn’t write his plays
(If Mrs. Gallup’s not mistaken),
I think how wise in many ways
He was to have them done by Bacon;
They might have moldered on the shelf,
Mere minor dramas (and he knew it!),
If he had written them himself
Instead of letting Bacon do it.
And if it’s true, as Brown and Smith
In many learned tomes have stated,
That Homer was an idle myth,
He ought to be congratulated,
Since thus, evading birth, he rose
For men to worship at a distance;
He might have penned inferior prose
Had he achieved a real existence.
To him and Shakespeare men agree
In making very nice allusions;
But no one thinks of praising me,
For I compose my own effusions;
As others wrote their works divine
And they immortal thus today are,
Perhaps had someone written mine
I might have been as great as they are.
— Arthur St. John Adcock
Raymond Chandler’s 10 rules for writing a detective novel:
- It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
- It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
- It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
- It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
- It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
- It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
- The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
- It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
- It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law. … If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
- It must be honest with the reader.
In illustrating his Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling hid messages in the runic characters accompanying some drawings. The tusk above illustrates “How the First Letter Was Written”:
Left side: “This is the stori of Taffimai all ritten out on an old tusk. If u begin at the top left hand corner and go on to the right u can see for urself things as the happened.”
Right side: “The reason that I spell so queerli is becase there are not enough letters in the Runic alphabet for all the ourds that I ouant to use to u o beloved.”
Bottom (barely visible here): “This is the identical tusk on ouich the tale of Taffimai was ritten and etched bi the author.”
The initial “H” at the start of the “Cat That Walked by Himself” hides another message using the same characters: “I, Rudiard Kipling, drew this, but because there was no mutton bone in the house I faked the anatomi from memori.”
“Are these really Runic letters or just an alphabet that Kipling made up for fun?” asked Maj. B.J. Bewley in the Kipling Journal in January 1928. “I think the chief interest lies in the almost boyish pleasure the author plainly took in writing in these strange characters. He must have done it entirely for his own amusement.”