5 Bookish Misconceptions: Surprising Facts about Literature

Are you an avid reader? You still might not know some these facts about some very famous books!

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Shakespeare is hard to understand because he wrote Old English.

Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon) was spoken in England until about 1150.  It was followed by Middle English, which was followed by modern English around 1500.  William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote early modern English.  You can easily tell the difference.  This is the start of Beowulf, written in Old English:

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

It makes Shakespeare look quite easy, doesn’t it? He may invert some of his sentences and use some unfamiliar words, but most of us can figure out his text with some practice. Learning Old English, however, is like learning a new language!

All classics are Victorian novels.

When people say they “hate” classics, they usually seem to be thinking of some large, dusty tome full of long sentences.  In other words, they seem to thinking of the Victorian novel or, even more specifically, of Charles Dickens (who was, in his defense, paid by the word).  However, classics span all time periods and genres.  The Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, 1984, and Beloved are all considered classics. And they are all very different.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings was actually written as a single novel.  (This becomes more obvious once you consider that Boromir’s part in the Fellowship is concluded a few pages into The Two Towers–not at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, where Peter Jackson moved it for a more conclusive ending to the first part of the story).  Tolkien’s publishers asked him to split the book up due to a paper shortage caused by World War II.  He conceived of the work as a single volume, however.

The Shakespeare authorship “question” is a real debate.

In pop culture, it is somewhat fashionable to wonder whether William Shakespeare was William Shakespeare.  Perhaps he was really Christopher Marlowe or the Earl of Oxford or even Elizabeth I!  However, almost no serious scholar believes that Shakespeare was anyone other than himself.  Aside from the fact that it’s fairly easy to debunk most Shakespeare contenders (Marlowe, for instance, died in 1593 and Shakespeare mysteriously continued to publish afterwards), the arguments against Shakespeare are typically located in his class.  The idea is that a glove maker’s son could never be such a successful playwright.  Obviously a rich person has to be England’s most famous author!  Today, this argument looks increasingly prejudiced and silly.

Anne Brontë is not as interesting as her sisters.

When it comes to the Brontë sisters, Charlotte and Emily seem to get all the love.  However, Anne wrote two novels before her death–Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall–and presumably would have gone on to cement a place for herself in the canon had she lived.  However, she fell into obscurity shortly after her death, in part because Charlotte prevented the republication of Tenant.  With its depiction of a woman who flees from an abusive husband, it was too realistic and too shocking for its day.  Now, however, Anne’s work is being reevaluated by critics.

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43 thoughts on “5 Bookish Misconceptions: Surprising Facts about Literature

  1. Jheelam says:

    I am reading ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ right now and you’re absolutely right. Anne Bronte had such a progressive voice, way ahead her time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. karathehuman says:

    I love this! Especially the Shakespeare facts. Not many people know those things! I studied Shakespeare a lot in college and developed a hella strong love for him. He was actually the reason I created my first blog, where I discussed/critiqued his plays in a way to get people more interested.

    ramblingsofashakespearenerd.wordpress.com if you’re interested 😉

    It really is a shame more people don’t give him a chance. Sure, his plays might not be the most exciting thing to read when you’re being forced to do it in school, but honestly, plays are meant to be seen, not read. There’s a playhouse near me that devotes itself to Shakespearean works, and I’ve been a number of times, and it’s always amazing. I literally laughed so hard I almost vomited when seeing Twelfth Night — not even kidding!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I had difficulty connecting with Shakespeare in high school because I had poor teachers. (And I really question Romeo and Juliet as a high school reading choice. I find it’s difficult for teens to take it seriously.) But I really connected with Shakespeare first when I saw Branagh’s Hamlet. Hearing how the actors interpreted the lines really helped me understand the play better–and it brought it to life. I think the key really is bringing performance into the classroom.

      It’s cool you dedicated a blog to Shakespeare. I’ll have to check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

      • karathehuman says:

        Same! I didn’t start liking him until I took a Shakespeare class with an incredible professor who actually made it interesting and fun. And yeah, watching actors who are actually good at speaking Shakespeare helps so much. It makes it way harder to understand if the actors don’t understand what they’re saying. Have you seen Tom Hiddleston do Shakespeare? I watched his performances for Henry IV and Coriolanus, and he’s SO good. He totally understands the language and performs it so well!

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          • karathehuman says:

            That’s the Henry IV one I mentioned! I haven’t seen the other “episodes” (would they be considered episodes?), but I looooved his performance in Henry IV. Oh wow, I didn’t realize how much more of The Hollow Crown there was. I’ll have to check it out!

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            • Krysta says:

              Yeah, it is pretty cool to see the arc on the nature of kingship play out. Definitely a great collection for Shakespeare fans! (Tom Hiddleston doesn’t hurt, either!) I thought it was cool to compare Hui’s Henry V with Branagh’s. He is a little quieter, I think, and a little more subtle. I have to say I prefer Branagh’s rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech, but the differences in interpretation are really interesting.

              Liked by 1 person

            • karathehuman says:

              I love comparing performances. I took a Shakespeare on Film class in college that focused on Hamlet, R&J, Macbeth, and Othello. We watched soooo many different variations of each and it was so interesting to see the differences in the actors and directors!

              Like

  3. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Love this! Also, thank you for mentioning that LotR was a single book. I have to explain this too often when people question why I would purchase it in one large title. I am surprised at how many do not realize this is how it was written. It seems with as many Tolkien fans in existence, this would be more common knowledge. Although, my tremors now have me shopping for the reduced 3 series sets 😊

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    • Krysta says:

      It’s weird because it’s common knowledge among Tolkien fans, but still it seems most people, even a lot of Tolkien fans, aren’t aware of this! I always try to refer to LotR as a single book because it is. It secretly drives me a little crazy when people call it a trilogy. 😉 But, yes, it is much easier to read and hold when split up. I have it in three volumes myself.

      Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, it is weird to me sometimes that people aren’t aware because I read a lot of Tolkien criticism and it’s basically considered common knowledge. But I guess not everyone reads extra material about Tolkien and there’s nothing in the books themselves telling people this part of the publication history!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ofmariaantonia says:

    I just had conversation recently with someone who asked my thoughts on Shakespeare’s “ghost writers”. Of course, I’ve been aware of this. But you pointed out something nobody’s ever mentioned to me before (not even my professors who didn’t put much stock in the accusation anyhow)… That the two main suspects BOTH DIED prior to Shakespeare’s own death. Marlowe by 23 years (prior to early-ish works like Romeo and Juliet!) and 12 years for the Earl of Oxford (prior to King Lear and Macbeth). (Same goes for Good Queen Bess, who died 13 years prior to Shakespeare.)

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    • Krysta says:

      I think Marlowe remains a “viable” candidate to some because his death was suspicious and people argue that he didn’t really die. But an argument that convoluted is not convincing. The other theories are pretty much just as convoluted. And it seems in this case that the simplest explanation is the most logical–Shakespeare was Shakespeare!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! I get confused when people say they “don’t like classics.” Maybe they don’t like Dickens, but most people I know like Narnia, LotR, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Anne of Green Gables. Those are classics! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Leigh says:

    Oh, so interesting about Anne Bronte! Of course I knew of her, but I didn’t realize some of the history behind the publishing of her novels. And I love what you mentioned about classics. You’re so right in saying that they’re more than just Victorian Literature! Thanks for your post. Loved it!

    Like

  6. littlebookynook says:

    Brilliant post!! I always learn so much from your posts, I love it!! I had no idea Lord of the Rings wasn’t originally conceived as a trilogy….that is one massive book!!! And the William Shakespeare theory is interesting, and I can see how people would have thought that back in the day due to the divide between rich and poor…pretty sad. I haven’t read anything by Anne Bronte, but will definitely be seeking out her books. Once again, great post 😊😊

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      The weird thing is that, comparatively, LotR now looks like a short fantasy even though it is close to 900 or 1000 pages. Look at Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy series! It seems to me that fantasies are getting increasingly longer!

      I just started The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and it’s pretty gripping so far!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf says:

    I didn’t realize the real difference between Old, Middle and Modern English until I saw what Beowulf looks like. I already had a general dislike for time travel books that went back to 900 or 1200 CE, but it made me consider how more unlikely those would work. How would you ever speak the language?

    I had no idea The Lord of the Rings was supposed to be one book. That puts a new light on it for me. Was Tolkien trying to write a War-&-Peace-length fantasy?

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good question. Maybe time travel also magically gifts the traveller with the ability to speak Old and Middle English! Or at least that must be what readers are supposed to assume. XD

      Haha, maybe? In my imagination, Tolkien just ended up writing a 900-page book because he couldn’t stop himself! 😀

      Like

  8. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I love how you explained the difference between old, middle and early modern English! Nice to get that misconception cleared up! And yeah, I was really surprised to find that LOTR wasn’t written as a trilogy- but it makes a lot of sense when you read it. Oh gosh *THANK YOU* for putting in the misconception about Shakespeare-is-not-Shakespeare- I think we’ve had this discussion before, so you probably already know that I completely agree about how prejudicial the arguments relating to this are- so I’m glad you put that in!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Every time someone criticizes Shakespeare for writing “Old English” I want to groan and tell the person that Shakespeare is nothing compared to learning to read Old English! It really puts his language into perspective! ;b

      I think it would be cool if some editions of LotR talked more about Tolkien’s biography and the writing of the book. I know my editions contain just whatever Tolkien last put into them when they were apparently first issued in the U.S. Why not add some more front matter? I think readers would be interested.

      I guess conspiracy theories will always be popular, but this one seems particularly illogical to me. :/

      Liked by 1 person

        • Krysta says:

          I am so confused by people who skip the notes. And then they ask me questions the notes answer…?? I agree Shakespeare can be difficult, but it really helps if you read the footnotes!

          Though, to be fair, I have met a few people who didn’t understand how the notes worked so maybe schools need to do refreshers on that. I guess we assume it’s obvious, but apparently it’s something we need to teach.

          Liked by 1 person

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