The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes

ISBN : 9780199543410

John Gross
400 Pages
129 x 195 mm
Pub date
Sep 2008
Oxford Books of Prose & Verse
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  • A unique and vastly entertaining collection of over 700 anecdotes from Chaucer to J. K. Rowling, selected by the supreme man of letters and premier anthologist, John Gross
  • The anecdotalists include some of the best-known recorders of conversation, such as John Aubrey and James Boswell, but in addition there are gems from little-known memoirists and biographers, from interviews and broadcasts, and from writers on writers e.g. Conan Doyle on Oscar Wilde, P. G. Wodehouse on H. G. Wells
  • As well as anecdotes about writers, subjects also include historians, statesmen, philosophers, academics, and theologians
  • Arranged chronologically by date of birth of the subject of the anecdote, the anthology is also a wonderfully engaging informal history of writing and publishing down the centuries
  • Many of the anecdotes offer revealing insights into writers' personalities, their frailties and insecurities: they are by turn poignant, and hilariously funny. Includes brief commentary by John Gross where necessary to explain context, and an introduction discussing the history and nature of the anecdote as a literary form

An unrivalled collection of literary gossip and intimate sidelights on the lives of the authors.
The dictionary defines an anecdote as 'a short account of an entertaining or interesting incident', and the anecdotes in this collection more than live up to that description. Many of them are funny, often explosively so. Others are touching, outrageous, sinister, inspiring, or downright weird. They show writers in the English-speaking world from Chaucer to the present acting both unpredictably, and deeply in character. The range is wide - this is a book which finds room for Milton and Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and P. G. Wodehouse, Chinua Achebe and Ian Fleming, Brendan Behan and Wittgenstein. It is also a book in which you can find out which great historian's face was once mistaken for a baby's bottom, which film star left a haunting account of Virginia Woolf not long before her death, and what Agatha Christie really thought of Hercule Poirot - a book not just for lovers of literature, but for anyone with a taste for the curiosities of human nature.


The subjects of the anecdotes include all the major British, American, and Commonwealth writers, starting with Chaucer, Sir Thomas More and Sir Walter Raleigh, then Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Milton, Johnson, Swift, Pope, Hume, Edmund Burke, Gibbon, Jefferson, the Romantics, Fenimore Cooper, Macaulay, Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thoreau, Douglass, Melville, Whitman, Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Twain, Edith Wharton, Stephen Crane, Cather, Robert Frost, Carson McCuller, Salinger, Mailer, Larkin, Vonnegut, Burroughs, Bellow, Churchill, James Baldwin, Tom Wolfe, Updike, Philip Roth, Wole Soyinka, Les Murray, Margaret Atwood, Stoppard, Coetzee, Chatwin, Bob Dylan, Rushdie, McEwan, Amis, Jeanette Winterson etc
Authors of the anecdotes are equally diverse, from the diarists John Aubrey, John Evelyn and James Boswell to fellow writers e.g. Wodehouse, Auden,Harriet Martineau, Walter Scott, Evelyn Waugh, Vanessa Bell; modern biographers such as Selina Hastings, journals and radio interviews.

About the author: 

Edited by Ian Jack, late Professor of English, University of Cambridge, and Intro and notes by Helen Small, Fellow in English, Pembroke College, Oxford

"There's ...much to enjoy" - Ian Pinder, The Guardian

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