Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels: 2

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt is unimaginable to think that one of the novels considered as The Great American Novels, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was originally titled Trimalchio in West Egg. (Trimalchio — a wealthy, but very vulgar emancipated slave — is a character from the famous satirical novel, Satyricon, by Petronius written in 1 A.D.) Thankfully Zelda, Fitzgerald’s wife, and legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins, convinced him to select The Great Gatsby as the final title, inspired by Alain-Fournier’s haunting Le Grand Meaulnes (Augustin Meaulnes, the protagonist, searches for his lost love, Yvonne de Galais). Below are some of the surprising original or working titles of famous novels that were changed because the author changed his or her mind or an astute editor stepped in to shape literary history. The original title of the novel is followed by the actual title.

The Last Man in Europe by George Orwell (1984)

Mistress Mary by Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden)

The Mute by Carson McCuller (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)

Nothing New in the West by Erich Maria Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front)

Panasonic by Don DeLillo (White Noise)

Second-Hand Lives by Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead)

Twilight by William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury)

War by Toni Morrison (Paradise)

The Year of the Rose by Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth)

The Undead by Bram Stoker (Dracula)

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For further reading: Brewer’s Curious Titles by Ian Crofton, Cassell (2002)
Now All We Need is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way by Andre Bernard, Norton (1996)

What is an Isoliteral or an Isosyllabic?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBoth the isoliteral and the isosyllabic are rhetorical devices, related to the rhopalic. In rhetoric, a rhopalic is a sentence in which each successive word is one syllable or one letter longer than the previous one. It is derived from the Greek word rhopalikos, meaning “a tapered cudgel or club.” Here are two examples of rhopalics:

A lucid manager organize unregenerate, uncooperative antiphrohibitionists’ incomprehensibility.

I am not sure angry people readily perceive happiness everywhere surrounding unencumbered, unpretentious schoolchildren.

An isoliteral, in contrast to the rhopalic, is a sentence constructed of words that have the same number of letters. Here is an example of an isoliteral:

Three letter words: Mom may run far and buy ham, pea pie, hot tea, and jam, but not rum, gin, rye, egg nog, ale, and pop.

Four letter words: Five very nice tiny cats purr, then meet with four huge, ugly, mean dogs that bark, just when dusk goes dark.

An isosyllabic, as you may have surmised by now, is a sentence constructed of words with the same number of syllables. Here is an example of an isosyllabic:

One syllable words: Sure, I had real work on hand, but it was not that hard. My goal: learn what makes film stars tick — tough job, yes, but you know me — up to the task.

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For further reading: Words Gone Wild by Jim Bernhard

Charles Dickens and the Suspended Quotation

alex atkins bookshelf literatureOne of the distinct characteristics of Charles Dickens’ writing is the use of the suspended quotation. “What is a suspended quotation?” you ask suspensefully. A fine question, dear reader. A suspended quotation is an extended interruption (at least five words) by a narrator of a character’s speech. In the hands of a masterful storyteller, the suspended quotations can serve one of several purposes: (1) describe body language, like gestures and facial contortions; (2) describe demeanor or intonation; (3) describe a character’s physical features; (4) describe a character’s typical behaviors; or (5) reveal the narrator’s strong presence and compelling insights. Here are some examples of suspended quotations (in italic):

From Dombey and Son: “I am proud to see,” said Mr. Carker, with a servile stooping of his neck, which the revelations making by his eyes and teeth proclaim to be a lie, “I am proud to see that my humble offering is graced by Mrs. Dombey’s hand…’

From Our Mutual Friend: “Uncle,” he said daily, laying his hand upon the old man’s shoulder, “what shall I send you home from Barbados?”

From Hard Times: “I certainly, sir,” returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a dignity serenely mournful, “was familiar with the Italian Opera at a very early age.”

From Hard Times: “It is much to be regretted,” said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, “that the united masters allow of any such class-combinations.’

From Hard Times: “You will understand, Mr. Harthouse,” she returned, after some indecision: she had been more or less uncertain, and troubled throughout the conversation, and yet had in the main preserved her self-contained manner; “you will understand…” 

In his study of Dickens’ novels, Dickens and the Suspended Quotation (1981), Mark Lambert counted all the instances of suspended quotations in each of the novels. Lambert discovered that the number of suspended quotations Dickens used decrease over time in his later novels. Here are the number of suspended quotations in each novel:

Barnaby Rudge: 37.2

Old Curiosity Shop: 35.4

Oliver Twist: 31.2

Dombey and Son: 31

Martin Chuzzlewit: 30

Nicholas Nickleby: 28.8

David Copperfield: 25.6

Pickwick Papers: 24.4

Little Dorrit: 21.8

Great Expectations: 21.3

Bleak House: 21

Hard Times: 20

Our Mutual Friend: 19

Tale of Two Cities: 17.4

Edwin Drood: 13.8

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For further reading: Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert
The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics by Michael Burke

There Is No Such Thing as a New Idea

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

American author and humorist Mark Twain (1835-1910). The quote appears in the biography of Mark Twain written by Albert Bigelow Paine (Volume 3, Part 1, 1900-07). Twain was discussing the copyrighting of ideas with some colleagues during a train ride in 1906. Interestingly, Twain was born just two weeks after Halley’s Comet passed near the Earth in 1835, and he died a day after it approached near the Earth again in 1910, when the comet appeared its brightest in its history (the comet appears every 76 years). And what is truly remarkable is that Twain predicted it; sometime in 1909, the famous author stated: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”

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Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA word named after a person (real or fictional) is called an eponym (from the Greek eponumos, meaning “giving one’s name to someone or something”). Some are fairly obvious, such as sandwich (named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich), quixotic (from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), or machiavellian (named after Niccolo Machiavelli). However, some eponyms have become so common, that the connection to the person has been lost over time. Here are some words you may not have realized are named after actual people.

boycott: named after Charles Boycott, a British land agent.

bowdlerize: named after English physician, philanthropist, and prude Thomas Bowdler.

decibel: named after Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the first practical telephone.

diesel: named after German inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel.

dunce cap: named after 13th-century philosopher John Duns Scotus. A follower of Duns was known as a “dunce.”

gerrymandering: named after Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts.

jumbo: named after a huge elephant who lived in the London Zoo for years, purchased by P.T. Barnum for his traveling circus.

masochism: named after Austrian writer, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Furs.

mausoleum: named after Mausolus, a ruler of Caria, a part of the Greek Empire, from 377 to 353 BC. When he died, his widow erected a monumental shrine in his honor, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, that is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

maverick: named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan lawyer, politician, and land baron.

mirandize: named after Ernesto A. Miranda, a laborer convicted (and later overturned, of course) of kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery.

nicotine: named after Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal who sent tobacco and seeds from Portugal to France in the mid 1500s. The intent was for the tobacco plants to be used to ward off the plague.

sadism: named after the Marqui de Sade, a French aristocrat, philosopher, politician, and writer of erotic works.

saxophone: named after Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musical instrument designer.

shrapnel: named after British officer and inventor Major General Henry Shrapnel.

silhouette: named after Etienne de Silhouette, the finance minister of France during the Seven Years’ War.

uzi: named after military weapons designer, Major Uziel Gal of the Israeli Defense Forces following the Arab-Israeli War (1948).

vandal: named after an East Germanic tribe, characterized as barbarians, that sacked and looted Rome in the early 5th century.

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For further reading: Human Words by Robert Hendrickson

The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),” wrote Walter Isaacson, “was the most accomplished American of his age.” If you look up the word polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) — you will find a photo of Franklin. He was a brilliant diplomat and political leader, founding father of the United States, accomplished writer, publisher (Poor Richard’s Almanac), inventor, scientist, and businessman. Over the course of his very rich life, he gained much wisdom. It was in his old age that he observed one of life’s greatest paradoxes: “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Here is some of his timeless wisdom:

The noblest question in the world is: “What good may I do in it?”

There is too much stress today on material things. I try to teach my children not so much the value of cents, but a sense of values.

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is.

Money can help you get medicines but not health. Money can help you to get soft pillows, but not sound sleep. Money can help you get material comforts, but not eternal bliss. Money can help you get ornaments, but not beauty. Money will help you to get an electric earphone, but not natural hearing. Attain the supreme wealth, wisdom, and you will have everything.

In dealings between people, truth, sincerity and integrity are of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a
person in the course of their life.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him.

There are two ways of being happy. We may either diminish our wants or augment our means — either will do — the result is the same. If you are
wise you will do both at the same time; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way.

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For further reading: Benjamin Franklin an American Life by Walter Isaacson


Novels That Are Remakes of Classic Novels

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIf you have ever watched 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a romantic comedy set at Padua High featuring a rebellious, bossy, snarky teenage girl (Kat Stratford) who intimidates most boys, you begin to recognize the plot. Hey, didn’t William Shakespeare write a play like this? And the answer is yes, since this film is a remake or modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, written four centuries earlier (1590-92). Adaptations also happen in the literary world. Here are some modern novels that are remakes of classic novels:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang – Ulysses by James Joyce

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – Snow White by The Brothers Grimm

Dorian, An Imitation by Will SelfThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare

Brazil by John Updike – Tristan and Isolde, a Celtic legend from the 12th Century

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