Did You Know . . . ?

It is said that the eccentric British poet, Dame Edith Sitwell (1887 – 1964), would lie in an open coffin each morning before beginning her day’s writing.  “I am,” she once said, “an unpopular electric eel in a pool of catfish.”  Be that as it may, someone named a variety of rhododendron after her.

Soprano Renée Fleming has a variety of Iris named after her.

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Mary Rogers, a young woman who lived in New York City, was murdered in 1841.  She would have been forgotten long ago except that Edgar Allan Poe read the story of her murder in a newspaper and used the incident as the inspiration for “The Mystery of Marie Roget” one of the three short stories that featured French detective C. Auguste Dupin, the predecessor of Sherlock Holmes.  This short story, which appeared in 1842, was the first murder mystery based on a real crime.

Poe originally planned to have a parrot repeat the word “nevermore” in a poem he was writing.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote to Hugh Stewart Boyd, a Greek Scholar, to inform him that her dog Flush spoke Greek “excellently well.”

Her Sonnets from the Portuguese have nothing to do with Portugal or its language.  When she decided to publish these somewhat intimate poems, she decided to represent them as translations.  She decided on “Portuguese” because it was her husband’s pet name for her.  In private Robert Browning often referred to Elizabeth as “my little Portuguese.”

At least one reviewer was unconvinced that the sonnets were translations: “From the Portuguese they may be, but their life and earnestness must prove Mrs. Browning either to be the most perfect of all known translators, or to have quickened with her own spirit the framework of another’s thoughts, and then modestly declined the honor which was really her own.”

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Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick which starred Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.

Mary Perkins Bradbury, one of Bradbury’s ancestors, was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to be hanged in 1692, but escaped.

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Novelist Graham Greene wrote the script for the movie The Third Man and later turned it into a novella.

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Roald Dahl was a taste tester for Cadbury’s chocolate at one point in his life.  That may have been the inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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When you say that a tennis player has a “wicked” serve, that’s a compliment meaning “great” or “cool.”  The first time “wicked” was used in that sense seems to have been in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920).  I say “seems to have been” because we can only date many words back to the first time they were used in print.  If you find an earlier occurrence of “wicked” as used above, let the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) people know.

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Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are was originally intended to be about horses, and was to be titled Where the Wild Horses Are.

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