Literary One-Liners

Often the best bons mots of famous authors aren’t the ones they publish but the ones they toss off at a party, scribble in a journal, fling at a reporter or even have flung back at them. See if you can identify these literary lights by their throwaways.

1. At the height of his popularity, this writer closely associated with British imperialism commanded a staggering $1-per-word fee. His mere signature was a collector’s item, prompting one enterprising autograph hound to pen this pert note: “I enclose a check for $1. Please send me a sample.” The author (whose poems and fiction have delighted generations of children) replied by unsigned postcard: “Thanks.”

2. Lamenting that loaned books are rarely returned, this Romantic icon (considered the father of the historical novel) quipped: “My friends may not be good in mathematics, but they are excellent book-keepers.”

3. When this modern British novelist showed his first published book to his father, that near-illiterate coal miner asked: “And what dun they gie thee for that, lad?” “Fifty pounds, Father,” he replied. “Fifty pounds!” his father marveled. “An’ tha’s niver done a day’s hard work in thy life!”

4. After a book dealer returned hundreds of unsold copies of this New Englander’s latest opus, the famous essayist, poet, natural philosopher and civil rights advocate made this tongue-in-cheek journal entry: “I now have a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself.”

5. When this Irish dramatist and notorious hedonist passed through customs in New York, he announced: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Bankrupt and moribund in Paris 15 years later, he called for champagne and proclaimed: “I am dying as I have lived, beyond my means.”

6. Legend has it when Abraham Lincoln met this abolitionist novelist in 1862, he joked: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!”

7. This razor-tongued poet, critic and short-story writer once collided with playwright Clare Booth Luce in a narrow doorway. “Age before beauty,” smirked Luce, stepping aside for the older woman. “Pearls before swine,” retorted this Algonquin Round Table founder, gliding through.

8. It’s a pity that rhyme doesn’t pay, but this British poet and classical scholar (famous for his first-person novel about a Roman emperor) put things in perspective when he told BBC’s Huw Wheldon: “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.”

9. “If you are killed because you are a writer that’s the maximum expression of respect,” this still-living Latin American novelist, playwright and unsuccessful presidential candidate told Time magazine in 1984.

10. “If you are killed because you are a writer that’s the maximum expression of respect,” this still-living Latin American novelist, playwright and unsuccessful presidential candidate told Time magazine in 1984.

11. “Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six,” said this great Russian novelist to the priest who hoped to effect his deathbed conversion.

12. This legendary Hollywood auteur who knew first-hand about meteoric rises and humiliating falls wryly told a New York Times reporter in 1962 that “when you are down and out, something always turns up – and it is usually the noses of your friends.”

Illustration By Regan Dunick



Literary One-Liners Answers

Half you Last Worders tossed off our mystery list of bon mots-sayers as effortlessly
as bonbons. The other half, among them a professor of English, choked on the stuff. Quite a few ventured “Charles Dickens” for clue 2. Yes, he was hugely successful, and, yes, he has delighted generations of children, but “closely associated with British imperialism” he was not. The Russian apostate of clue 11 also stumped many. Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Nabokov and even oh-so-British Bertrand Russell were popular nominees, but it was Tolstoy who published four books of theology tearing down much of traditional Christianity. His doctrine of “nonresistance to evil” inspired Gandhi. He was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox church in 1901.
Congratulations to the five throwaway connoisseurs who will received Borders gift certificates. Chosen by lot from correct entries, they are: Nancy Jean Beach ‘72, Robert M. Latas ‘51, MEd ‘57, Claude Zachary, Roy Meador ‘51 and Maureen A. Lyons MS ‘88. To quote Milton, “Enjoy your dear wit, and gay rhetoric.”
The correct answers to “Literary One-Liners” are listed below.

1 Rudyard Kipling
2 Sir Walter Scott
3 D.H. Lawrence
4 Henry David Thoreau
5 Oscar Wilde
6 Harriet Beecher Stowe
7 Dorothy Parker
8 Robert Graves
9 Mario Vargas Llosa
10 Alice B. Toklas
11 Leo Tolstoy
12 Orson Welles

Last Word Solutions - WINTER 2001