Tag Archives: literary oddities

Brewer’s Curious Titles: All’s Well that Ends Well

“One of the ‘dark’ comedies (c. 1604) of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The plot is based on a traditional folk tale found in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Helena, enamored of Bertram, count of Rousillon, is given to him in marriage by the king of France, whose life she has saved. However, Bertram spurns her (‘A poor physician’s daughter my wife?’) and leaves for the Italian wars. From there he writes to her:

‘When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father

to then call me husband, but in such a then, I write a never.’ III. iii

However, in disguise, Helena follows him to Italy, where she finds he is in love with a Florentine maid, whose place she takes in the dark, gets the ring, and conceives his child. In the end, she wins his love, after he has believed her dead.

The title All’s Well that Ends Well is from an old English proverb, known from the mid-13th century. It is somewhat ironic given the dark mood of the play, although it also has the suggestion of the ends justifying the means. At the end of the play the king, after all has been resolved, says:

‘All seems well; and if it end so meet,

The bitter past more welcome the sweet.” V. iii

He then adopts the role of epilogue, and, in accordance with theatrical convention, begs the audience’s indulgence for the play:

‘The king’s a beggar, now the play is done.

All is well ended if this suit be won,

That you express content; which we will pay

With strife to please you, day exceeding day.

Ours be your patience then, and yours our parts;

Your gentle hands lead us, and take our hearts.’”       V. iii, Epilogue

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Rotten Rejections: Ironweed

[As this blog probably indicates, or more accurately belabors, I find the folklore of books and publishing endlessly fascinating. I think the choices publishers make, based as often as not on their assessment of the market for a book, says a lot–and much of it not good–about a culture and a society. One of the most famous rejections in publishing history concerns William Kennedy’s magisterial novel Ironweedwhich broke down the barrier to publication of the remainder of his distinguished oeuvre. The serial rejection of Ironweed so exercised Saul Bellow that the Nobel Laureate famously said to Cork Smith, an editor at Viking, that “the author of Billy Phelan should have a manuscript kicking around looking for a publisher is disgraceful.” In the end, Bellow intervened on Kennedy’s behalf at Viking. The rest, of course, is publishing history, as The Albany Cycle as the novels that accompany Ironweed are known, joined the ranks of great American literature.]

“There is much about the novel that is very good and much that I did not like. When I throw in the balance of the book’s unrelenting lack of commerciality, I am afraid I just have to pass.”

“I like William Kennedy but not enough. He’s a very good writer, something no one needs to tell you or him, and his characters are terrific. I cannot explain turning this down.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Ann Beattie

“…Beattie’s admirable eye for the telling detail has unfortunately developed a squint…”

Commonweal

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Brewer’s Curious Titles: All Quiet on the Western Front

“(German title Im Westen nichts neves). A novel (1929) of the First War by the German writer Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970). Brutally realistic, and written in the first person, it is prefaced by a statement:

‘This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have accepted its shells, were destroyed by the war.’

In 1933 the book was publicly burned by the Nazis as being ‘defeatist,’ and Remarque was deprived of his citizenship. The title is ironic. It refers to the fact that a whole generation of his countrymen was destroyed while newspapers reported that there was ‘no news from the west.’ The film version (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone, was a landmark of American cinema.

The title, together with that of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934), is played on in All Quiet on the Orient Express, a novel (1999) by Magnus Mills (b. 1954) about a man who doesn’t take a train to India.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Rotten Rejections: Northanger Abbey

“We are willing to return the manuscript for the same (advance) as we paid for it.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Romeo and Juliet

“March 1st—To the Opera and there saw Romeo and Juliet, the first time it was ever acted; but it is a play of itself the worst that ever I heard in my life, and the worst acted that ever I saw these people do….”

Samuel Pepys, Diary

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Rejections: J.R. Ackerly

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

“not nearly dirty enough, and far too English.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.