Here are the last words spoken by some famous authors:
“How gratifying!” ~ Robert Browning
“The damned doctors have drenched me so that I can scarcely stand. I want to sleep now.” ~ Lord Byron
[As he jumped overboard:]: “Goodbye, everybody!” ~ Hart Crane
“A dying man can do nothing easy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
“More light!” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! When will this end?” ~ Washington Irving
“Sister, you’re trying to keep me alive as an old curiosity, but I’m done, I’m finished, I’m going to die.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
“I am dying as I’ve lived: beyond my means; this wallpaper is killing me; one of us has got to go.” ~ Oscar Wilde
From Strouf, Judie LH: Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile; Prentice Hall; 1998.
With Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe introduced me to the Künstlerroman (German for “artist novel”), and I have been a huge fan of the genre ever since. Some of my favorite novels (eg, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, The Way of All Flesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) are of the Künstlerroman variety, and I even wrote one of my own.
The Künstlerroman is actually a subgenre of the Bildungsroman. A Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, that is, the story’s focus is on the psychological and moral growth of the main character from childhood to adulthood, with maturation as the goal. According to Wikipedia, “The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society.”
When the Bildungsroman’s main character is an artist, the work is a Künstlerroman (Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister is considered to be the first of its type). In other words, every Künstlerroman is a Bildungsroman, but not every Bildungsroman is a Künstlerroman.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Bildungsroman and a Künstlerroman, as illustrated by the list that currently appears on Wikipedia’s Künstlerroman page, but that confusion disappears when you consider the fact that the “artist novel” is a sub-genre of the “coming-of-age novel” and not a separate genre altogether.
According to Wikipedia, Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that every element in a narrative be irreplaceable and that anything else be removed. From Chekhov:
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
These Ulysses playing cards were published by Presage International in 1989. Here’s the description given on one of the spare cards:
The Vau-de-ville of James Joyce’s Ulysses encircles and condenses into a pictorial form the adventures of a single day, June 16, 1904. Each image is part of a puzzle in which past, present, future, naturalism, symbolism, reality, [and] hallucination are superimposed and interwoven.
Mock heroic exaggeration and pomposity explode into laughter through visions, fantasies, and internal monologues.
Hearts are emotional.
Clubs are physical.
Diamonds are spiritual.
Spades are symbolical.
R. Fanto created the drawings and divised the scheme based on many useful hints given by Richard Ellman, Joyce’s biographer.
I have a number of favorites, including Martello Tower, INRI-IHS, Pen, Crossed Mirror and Razor, and Joyce and Nora as the Jokers.
In Pixels of Young Mueller, Klaus Mueller scribbles a small poem in his journal. The words pay tribute to the men who dangle from Chicago’s skyscrapers in an effort to rid the city of dirty windows:
Like spiders the window washers
toward the taxi sea
A few years ago my family and I visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of the settings of Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe’s first novel and one of my favorite novels. The following is from the pamphlet:
Thomas Wolfe was perhaps the most overtly autobiographical of this nation’s major novelists. His boyhood in the boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street colored his work and influenced the rest of his life. His reminiscences were so frank and realistic that Look Homeward, Angel was banned from Asheville’s public library for more than seven years. Today Wolfe is celebrated as one of Asheville’s most famous citizens, and his boyhood home has become a part of the nation’s literary history.
The many exhibits at the visitor center included Wolfe’s hat and Majestic Cabinet Radio (shown below), the folding sofa bed on which slept Julia Wolfe slept while visiting Wolfe in New York City, a ceiling medallion cast by W. O. Wolfe (Wolfe’s father owned a tombstone shop)—even artifacts obtained on excavating the large house’s cistern.
Also on display are items that Fred Wolfe recovered from the Chelsea Hotel at Wolfe’s death in 1938. These include Wolfe’s suit and the typewriter used by his typist as they worked on The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again.
After our tour of the Wolfe home, we stopped briefly at the historic Riverside Cemetery, where Wolfe and his family are buried. William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry, is also buried there. On a separate literary note, it was also in Asheville that Zelda Fitzgerald (who once stayed at Julia Wolfe’s boardinghouse) perished in a fire at a mental hospital.
Sarah Crown posted an interesting bit in The Guardian’s books blog, “Is auto-fiction strictly a boys’ game?” The subject was the phenomenon of authors who insert a character bearing their name into their work. It turns out that a number of books—both new and not so new—have used this device, a fact that interested me greatly, as I used it in my novel, Pixels of Young Mueller. I have compiled this list of books from the article:
- Jonathan Coe (The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim)
- Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room)
- Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi)
- Will Self (Will Self Walking to Hollywood)
- Michel Houellebecq (La Carte et le Territoire)
- Alberto Manguel (All Men Are Liars)
- Philip Roth (Operation Shylock)
- Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated)
- E. L. Doctorow (World’s Fair)
- Frederick Exley (A Fan’s Notes)
- Vladimir Nabokov (Pnin)
- Amelie Nothomb (Une forme de vie)
- Gertrude Stein (Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)
Readers familiar with my novel know that its main character, Klaus Mueller, creates a fictional character named Jerry Schwartz. I knew that I could not have been the first to do this, but I was not aware of any specific instances in which it had been done. Fortunately, Sarah Crown has come to the rescue, and while I don’t agree with her use of “auto-fiction” to describe the literary device itself, I applaud her efforts.
Here’s a list of 20 famous writers who either did not attend or never finished college:
- Hans Christian Andersen
- Maya Angelou
- Ray Bradbury
- Joseph Conrad
- Charles Dickens
- William Faulkner
- Ernest Hemingway
- Jack Kerouac (pictured)
- Rudyard Kipling
- Doris Lessing
- Jack London
- Herman Melville
- George Orwell
- Carl Sandburg
- William Shakespeare
- George Bernard Shaw
- Dylan Thomas
- Mark Twain
- H. G. Wells
- Virginia Woolf
That’s an impressive bunch by anyone’s standards, and I didn’t even include those who only wrote poetry (Robert Frost would have been included here, for instance).