The word “anecdote” (from the Greek “anékdotos”) originally indicated something that was unusual or secret.
Over the centuries this meaning has been partially replaced by a new one, which concerns a piece of information whose character is historical but marginal, concerning events or people. In particular, nowadays we use this term to refer to a little-known episode (often curious and characteristic ), which is related to a particular historical period, a character or an important event.
In this article, you will find a list containing a series of bizarre and strange anecdotes involving some of the most famous writers of the world literary scene, from the most ancient such as Dante Alighieri, to those who are more recent, like Simenon. Happy reading!
1) Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Dante Alighieri or Alighiero (simply known as Dante) was an Italian poet, writer and politician, and is considered the father of the Italian language. He is the author of an epic poem called “Comedìa”, which became famous with the name of “Divine Comedy” and universally regarded as the greatest work written in Italian and one of the most great masterpieces of the whole world of literature.
It is said that Dante had an exceptional memory; when he began to be known in his town, Florence, it was common that while he was walking, a small group of people stopped around him.
One day a stranger asked him without preambles: “What is the most delicious food in the world? ” and almost without noticing the guy Dante replied: “L’uovo” (“The egg.”).
The following year, the same man met Dante again in the same street and asked him: “With what?” Dante immediately replied (without even thinking about the episode happened the year before): “With salt”.
(Anecdote from “Taccuini Storici” (Historical Notebooks))
2) Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
French writer, playwright, literary critic, essayist, journalist and printer, he is considered the main teacher of the French realist novel of the nineteenth century.
He was a very prolific writer and produced a monumental work called “The Human Comedy” which presents a cycle of numerous novels and short stories that are intended to describe, in an almost exhaustive way, the French contemporary society in which the author lived.
Before achieving success with his masterpiece, it is said that the young author had submitted a novel to a publisher called “The Last Fairy” and that he, who felt enthusiastic, decided to purchase the rights offering him 3,000 francs. When he asked for his address and knew that he lived in a popular neighbourhood in the suburbs, he thought that 2,000 would have been enough for a man who lived in those conditions. Finally, as he climbed to the sixth floor, he thought that the author would have been satisfied even for 1,000 francs and so, when he stepped into the apartment of the poor writer, he said: “Mr. Balzac, here are 300 francs for the property of your novel” and Balzac, who was not aware of the original amount the man wanted to offer for his novel, accepted without saying a word.
3) Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Considered as the father of Romanticism in France, his writings came to cover all literary genres, from lyric poetry to drama, from political satire to the social and historical novel, arousing acclaim throughout Europe. Among his major works, we can remember “Notre Dame de Paris” and “Les Misérables”. Regarding the latter, it is said that the author, after having printed the work, was eager to know how it had been accepted by the public; so he sent a letter to the editor with a simple question mark. The editor, to inform him of the great success of the work, sent him a sheet with an exclamation mark.
(Anecdote recovered here)
4) Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
French writer and play writer, master of the historical novel and the Romantic theatre had a son, Alexandre Dumas, who was also a writer. He is known above all for masterpieces such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and the trilogy “The Three Musketeers” .
It is said that being biracial, he had to endure all sorts of taunts and racist insults throughout his life. One of his replies to one of these affronts sounded more or less like this:
“My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather was a monkey. As you can see, sir, my family starts where ends yours.”
(Anecdote recovered here)
5) Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
French writer, essayist and literary critic. Marcel Proust’s most famous work is the monumental novel “In Search of Lost Time” ( “À la recherche du temps perdu”), published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927 . It is said that the author always used to write in bed, in a room with walls covered with cork. It was probably in these conditions that his masterpiece came to light, a work which had a long, complex and unlucky publishing history.
In summer 1912, Proust prepared a typed copy of the first volume of his novel. Firstly, he sent the manuscript to Fasquelle (who was the publisher of other French writers such as Zola and Rostand), but the opinion of the person who had the task to read and evaluate was negative to the extent that he claimed that he had no idea what the novel was about . To obtain a “more artistic presentation,” Proust thought about proposing this to the Nouvelle Revue Française, founded by a group of intellectuals such as André Gide and the administrator Gaston Gallimard . Gide, who was assigned to read, rejected it as soon as he saw it, probably disappointed by the bad reputation of snobbism that Proust had. Nevertheless, the author did not give up and sent the manuscript to another publisher called Ollendorf . He also received in this case a negative opinion, and one sentence of this last reader has become famous:
“I may be very stupid, but I cannot understand how this man can take thirty pages to describe how he tosses and turns in his bed before falling asleep.”
After these failures, in February 1913, Proust turned to the young publisher Bernard Grasset offering to pay the costs himself to publish and advertise his work. Finally, Grasset accepted without having read even one page of the draft of the novel.
(Anecdote taken here)
6) Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
German-born writer, poet, painter and aphorist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.
An anecdote tells that during his adolescence, the author was considered to be “possessed by the Devil” and had to be treated by an exorcist who was in charge of expelling the demon from his body.
(Anecdote taken here)
7) James Joyce (1882-1941)
He was an Irish writer, poet and playwright. Although his literary production was not very large, his role was of fundamental importance for the development of the Modernist literature of the twentieth century.
An anecdote, reported directly by the writer Stephen King, says that one day, a friend who was going to visit the author found him lying on the desk in an attitude of deep despair. “James, what’s wrong ?” asked his friend. “Is it the job?” Joyce didn’t lift his head from the desk and said nothing; of course it was a matter of work.
His friend continued by asking: “How many words did you write today?” and Joyce, in a desperate mood and with the face still resting on the desk said: “Seven.” “Seven? “But that’s good for you, isn’t it?” the friend replied. “Yes,” Joyce said. Finally raising his head, he concluded in this way:
“I suppose so, but I do not know in what order they go in!”.
(Anecdote source, here)
8) Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Kafka was a Czechoslovakian writer who started writing since 1918 and is one of the major figures of German literature of the twentieth century.
It is said that when he was a child, since he hated school so much, he was dragged there by the cook with slaps and threats, because his parents were never at home.
Like all writers, he was equipped with a vivid imagination and a well-established sensitivity. One day, to comfort a little girl who had lost her doll, he began to write letters for her signed by the lost doll. In these letters, the puppet explained why he decided to leave: She had the desire to visit the world.
(Anecdote taken here)
9) Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
American writer, journalist and author of novels and short stories, he had a significant influence on the development of the novel in the twentieth century. He led a turbulent social life: He got married four times and had various relationships. During his life he reached an uncommon popularity and fame, which transformed him into a myth for the new generations.
It is told that a friend, who was aware of the restless life of the writer, sent him a letter adding these lines:
“To Ernest Hemingway, God knows where”. A few days later he received a telegram with the following reply: “God knew it”.
Among his most famous novels, one of the most known is doubtless “The Old Man and the Sea,” inspired by an episode which almost certainly occurred. One day it happened that as Hemingway was fishing with a friend, he bumped into a boat with an old man and a child on it. Worried that they were having difficulties, he offered them some food, but the old man refused and covered him with insults. It seems that from that day the first lines of the story that all of us know started to take shape in his head.
(Source: A. E. Hotchner -“Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir”)
10) Georges Simenon (1903-1989)
A Belgian French-speaking writer and the author of numerous novels; He is especially known for inventing the character of the French police commissioner Jules Maigret.
He has been one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century and was able to produce up to eighty pages per day. He was responsible for hundreds of novels and short stories, many of which were published under various pseudonyms. It is said that he decided to use the typewriter very late and that until then he used to get ready for work sharpening 50 pencils which he lined up on the desk, and if he happened to break the tip of a pencil, he changed it directly without waste of time.
In addition, for many of his later books, he had the ritual to mark the list of characters on a yellow mail envelope to remember their name as the plot went on.
(Anecdotes source: “Simenon: A Biography”)