Browsing the archives for the canon category.

Milking the classics dry


In “Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research,” Mark Bauerlein writes:

In a working paper I wrote recently for the American Enterprise Institute, “Professors on the Production Line, Students on Their Own,” I reported that over the past five decades, the “productivity” of scholars in the fields of languages and literature had increased hugely: from approximately 13,000 publications to 72,000 a year. Consider the output in literary studies. From 1950 to 1985, 2,195 items of criticism and scholarship devoted to William Wordsworth appeared. Virginia Woolf garnered 1,307, Walt Whitman 1,986, Faulkner 3,487, Milton 4,274, and Shakespeare at the top, with 16,771.

From 1986 to 2008, Wordsworth collected 2,257 books, chapters, dissertations, etc. Faulkner came in at 2,781, Milton at 3,294, Whitman at 1,509, Woolf at 3,217, and Shakespeare at 18,799.

For decades the performative model obscured a situation that should have been recognized at the time: Vast areas of the humanities had reached a saturation point. Hundreds of literary works have undergone introduction, summation, and analysis many times over. Hamlet alone received 1,824 items of attention from 1950 to 1985, and then 2,406 from 1986 to 2008. What else was to be said?

Bogie and Papa

canon, movies

From the Internet Movie Database’s entry on The Old Man and the Sea (1958):

In 1952, Humphrey Bogart attempted to purchase the film rights to Hemingway’s novel through his production company, Santana Productions. Bogart identified strongly with the character of the old man and wanted to play the fisherman in the film project, with Nicholas Ray as the director. Unfortunately, the actor was unsuccessful in securing the film rights, and the film wasn’t made until the year following his death, with his close friend Spencer Tracy starring.

Nabokov’s papers to be unsealed June 23

archives, canon, writers' lives


UPDATE [6/25/09]: The Library of Congress has posted a press release. [via Maud Newton]


The Library of Congress Manuscripts Division has two 20+ containers of Vladimir Nabokov’s papers under seal. Tomorrow, June 23, 2009, the restrictions set by his son are scheduled to expire, meaning that this set of papers will be completely available to the public.

To see the papers, you must go to the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room. I can give more details to anyone interested. If you peruse these papers and post something about them, please let me know.

A list of restricted collections at the Library is available at my other site, The Memory Hole.

{Thanks to Mike Ravnitzky for the heads-up.}

Harper Lee’s amazing friends

canon, writers' lives

In Who the Hell Is Pansy O’Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books, we find this about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

In 1957 Lee submitted a manuscript to J.B. Lippincott Company. However, the author might never have completed her novel if not for a generous gift of money from friends the year before. Witnessing her dedication to her craft, friends pooled their cash and gave Lee the best Christmas present of her life — a note attached to the envelope read, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

Note to my friends: This is not a hint for you to do the same thing. Really. Don’t even try. Unless you really, really want to. But otherwise, nope.

“Madame Bovary” drafts online

archives, blogs & sites, canon, fiction

From Reuters:

Drafts of “Madame Bovary,” Gustave Flaubert’s classic tale of adultery and thwarted dreams, are being shown online for the first time thanks to a mass effort to transcribe the originals.

Some 650 volunteers from all over the world, including teenagers, an oil worker and a cleaning lady, have transcribed thousands of often hardly legible hand-written manuscripts in a project overseen by a museum in Rouen in northwestern France. …

The decade-long project to prepare the writings for publication on the Internet cost 120,000 euros and was supported by the work of literature fans from 12 countries.

The result can be seen at and is meant to appeal to specialists as well as amateurs.

Jack London’s credo … or is it?

canon, writers' lives

In the house I grew up in, the fridge displayed - among some dog magnets and local pizza-joint numbers - a copy of Jack London’s credo, which I still love:

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

london-jackWhen I went searching for this text online, I noticed that no one was attributing it to a specific work, letter, etc. Red flag. The Jack London Online Collection at Sonoma State has done the detective work.

Bottom line: London informally wrote the first sentence. He might’ve spoken the whole credo, but all we have is an account from one reporter.The full passage has many marks of London’s style–its directness, its rhythm, its diction–to persuade that it is authentic.”

Cinderella: Murderer


cinderellaThe now-forgotten book Lo cunto de li cunti (The Tale of the Tales, 1634-1636), a collection of fairy tale-like stories by Giambattista Basile, served as the basis for several of our culture’s best-known fairy tales, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, and Hanzel and Gretel. Charles Perrault in particular used Basile’s tales as the basis for his famous versions. The kicker is that the original Basile versions were racy and violent, so Perrault and others have bequeathed bowdlerized, sanitized versions to the world.

In Fairy Tales: A New History, Ruth B. Bottigheimer explains:

Basile’s cinder-heroine is a world away [from Perrault's heroine]. Her name, also the story’s title, “The Cinderella Cat” (La Gatta Cenerentola), prepares us for the hiss and scratch that follow: The widowed father of Basile’s Cinderella took a perfect harridan as his second wife, a woman who made our heroine’s life such a misery that little Cinderella Cat complained to her governess. Seeing opportunity, the governess told Cinderella to slam a trunk lid onto her stepmother’s neck to be quit of her for good and all, and then to beg her father to take her (the governess) as his new wife, promising that she would then give Cinderella the best of everything. And thus it happened. It was as a murderess that Basile’s Cinderella Cat began her ascent to the throne.

Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” is nearly as much a part of contemporary narrative culture as is “Cinderella.” The source of his tale was a passing king who had sex with her, with the result that - nine months later and still-sleeping - she gave birth to twins. Only when one of her babies mistakenly sucked on her fingertip and pulled out the sleep-causing splinter did she awaken, amazed at the infant companions she found beside her on the bed. The tale played out with the king’s continued bigamy, an attempted murder, and a comic striptease, after which the bigamous king set everything right. Basile had not invented this tale, but he maintained the essential elements and the spirit of a much longer and far bawdier version - already a few centuries old when Basile took it up - in his reworking.

Williams’ wheelbarrow - opposing views

canon, humor, poetry

Offered at CafePress on tee shirts, mousepads, etc.:


[For those scratching their heads.]

George Orwell’s FBI file

FBI files, canon

orwellAs promised, the second in our series of writers’ FBI files. This time the subject is George Orwell (Eric Blair).

Click here to download the PDF file [84 pages | 2.5 meg]

The FBI’s website notes:

The English political satirist was never investigated by the FBI; however, FBI records contain correspondence in 1949 between Orwell’s publisher and J. Edgar Hoover, as well as miscellaneous information regarding him and his published works.

Really, I should say that the FBI’s site did note that back when it contained Orwell’s file, but, like it’s done with more than 50 documents, the FBI has pulled the file off of its website with no notice or explanation. (You can still see it listed here, but it is no longer linked to the file itself.) Let’s stop to bask in the unbearable levels of irony and chutzpah here: The FBI has quietly deleted its online file on the man who wrote 1984.


On a related note, the website for MI5 (basically, the British FBI) has information on its file on Orwell (though not the file itself), plus his passport photo:


Illo from “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

canon, humor

Quirk Books has posted one of the 20 illustrations that will adorn its much-anticipated title, Pride and Pejudice and Zombies.


NOT “e. e. cummings”

canon, poetry, writers' lives

cummingsNorman Friedman definitively buries “the cutesy-pooh notion” that E. E. Cummings’ name is supposed to be written “e. e. cummings” (or “e.e. cummings” or “e e cummings” or “ee cummings”).

NOT “e. e. cummings”

Not “e. e. cummings” Revisited

Moby Books - gone but not … actually, they are forgotten

art/graphics, canon, out-of-print, publishing


Anybody else remember Moby Books? They put out adaptations of classic lit for kids, and the coolest thing about each chunky little book was that the right-hand page of every single spread was an illustration.


When I Googled “Moby Books,” I expected to find at least one site obsessively devoted to them, with a complete listing of titles, cover scans, interior scans, maybe even interviews with the illustrators, a history of the company (kind of like this site devoted to Big Little Books, or this one that zealously chronicles The War of the Worlds) … but there’s almost nothing. Not even a Wikipedia entry. The only info comes from Book Safari, which sells “vintage series books”:

This paperbound series of adaptions of the classics were similar in style to Whitman’s Big Little Books of the 1930’s and 40’s. These tiny books measure 5.5 inch by 4 inches and feature an illustration on every other page. The artwork depicts the action described on the facing page. At least 41 titles were available in this series during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The books were published under the Moby Books logo by Playmore, under arrangement with Waldman Publishing Corporation. In 2002, selected titles were reissued by Playmore without the Moby Books logo.


I’m cobbling together this little page as placeholder, a reminder … hopefully it’ll spur a fan of the series to put up a full site.

Sources for images:, The Lady Jane Grey Internet Museum, War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection, The Time Machine Project





Dante’s Inferno: the video game


Wired’s Nate Ralph got to play an early build of Dante’s Inferno, an Electronic Arts video game that’s at least a year away from release.

EA’s take still features Dante as the protagonist, but the poet-philosopher is now a hulking veteran of the Crusades. He returns home from war to find Beatrice, the subject of his love and admiration, murdered. When her soul is “kidnapped” by Lucifer himself, Dante dives down to the very depths of hell, armed with Death’s scythe, to win her back.

Hell, as described in The Divine Comedy, is a nasty place. The development team at EA, fresh off their last game, Dead Space, is hard at work re-creating the nine circles in all their glory. The backgrounds are teeming with life (of sorts). Countless souls spew from demonic fountains, or shuffle about through Limbo, waiting to be judged.

Much of the concept art and monster designs are the work of Wayne Barlowe, who is credited with working on the Hellboy and Harry Potter movies. An unannounced Academy Award–winning writer will assist in penning the game’s script, and many of the lines and characters — including cameo appearances by Pontius Pilate and Pope Celestine V — will be lifted directly from The Divine Comedy.

War of the Worlds images motherlode

archives, art/graphics, canon, science fiction

war-of-the-worlds-coverThis site displays the covers of 355 editions of Wells’ War of the Worlds, from 1898 to 2008, in English, German, Hebrew, Catalan, Chinese, Turkish, etc.


Another page on the same site has dozens of images from illustrated editions, graphic novels, and comic adaptaions through the decades.

And don’t miss the third page, showing miscellaneous imagery related to audio, video, models, fan art, etc.

O’Connor on poets

canon, poetry, the "on" series

From the New York Times review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor:

She propelled herself to both the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at times when life at both places was eventful, but she managed to steer clear of trouble. When her friend Robert Lowell began exhibiting extreme behavior at Yaddo, she recalled: “I was too inexperienced to know he was mad, I just thought that was the way poets acted.”

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