Literary Masterpieces

james-joyceLiterary Masterpieces

In the miscellany Medley from October 1936 appears this intriguing pronouncement:

‘ It has been found that literary masterpieces of the first rank have been produced most frequently by authors who were from the ages of 40 to 44 inclusive’

Dr Harvey Lehman

We thought we’d test out the good doctor’s theory using, among other sources, the excellent Annals of Literature (1961), which finishes at 1950.

We started with Charles Dickens (1812 – 70). In this five year period he published three memorable novels: Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit. However, most critics regard Great Expectations (1860) as his ‘literary masterpiece. ‘

We then turned to George Eliot (1819 – 80). She was 40 when Adam Bede was published, 41 when The Mill on the Floss appeared, 42 when Silas Marner came out, and 43 when Romola hit the shelves. All wonderful novels, but most critics would class Middlemarch( 1871-72) as her ‘ masterpiece of the first rank’.

Next we looked at James Joyce( 1882 – 1941). Here we hit the mark. His Ulysses, undoubtably a ‘ masterpiece of the first rank ‘, appeared in 1922 ( though it was years in the making ). Joyce was 40 at the time. Continue reading

IMG_0790

The irresistible Samuel Foote

Found- in the The common-place book of literary curiosities, remarkable customs, historical and domestic anecdotes, and etymological scraps by Rev. Dr. Dryasdust, of York. (London: John Bumpus 1825) these amusing anecdotes about Samuel Foote (1720 – 1777) the British dramatist, comic actor and theatre manager. Probably the best known quotation associated with him is a put down of an unnamed ‘law lord’. Foote said of him- ‘What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.’ Dr. Dryasdust provides six anecdotes about Foote. The first concerns Samuel Johnson, who tried very hard not to be amused by him..the last, where he messes up his lines in Hamlet, has the spirit of Tommy Cooper or Stanley Unwin. His Othello was apparently a ‘masterpiece of burlesque..’

1. Life's a poor player.

"Dr Johnshon said, 'The first time I was in company with Foote, was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him; but the dog became so irresistibly comic, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back in my chair, and fairly laugh out. Sir, he was irresistible!"

Continue reading