17 Fun Facts About 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler'

This beloved children’s classic—about a girl and her younger brother who run away to New York City, live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and try to solve the mystery of who sculpted its newest statue—is a staple of elementary school reading lists. Here are a few things you might not have known about it.  

1. AUTHOR E. L. KONIGSBURG GOT THE IDEA FOR THE BOOK FROM A VISIT TO THE MET ...

A kernel of the idea for The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler began with a piece of popcorn on a chair. Konigsburg wrote later that she was visiting the Met with her three children, going through the period rooms on the museum’s first floor “when I spotted a single piece of popcorn on the seat of a blue silk chair. There was a velvet rope across the doorway of the room. How had that lonely piece of popcorn arrived on the seat of that blue silk chair? Had someone sneaked in one night—it could not have happened during the day—slipped behind the barrier, sat in that chair, and snacked on popcorn? For a long time after leaving the museum that day, I thought about that piece of popcorn on the blue silk chair and how it got there."

2. … A NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE …

The next important piece of the puzzle came in October of 1965, when Konigsburg read an article in the New York Times about a bust the Museum had bought at an auction, titled “A $225 Sculpture May be a Master’s Worth $500,000.” One dealer guessed that the sculpture, which had come from the estate of Mrs. A. Hamilton Rice, had been created by Leonardo da Vinci or Andrea del Verrocchio. James J. Rorimer, director of the museum, was delighted, according to the article, and said, “I’m overjoyed. It looks to me like a great bargain.” Two other articles about the bust followed, and there was such a media frenzy that, according to John Goldsmith Phillips, Chairman of Western European Arts, the sculpture was brought out of the auction house “in a box labeled by chance ‘musical instruments,’ in this manner passing unnoticed through a group of reporters who were gathered there.”

3. … AND A PICNIC WITH HER KIDS.

The next summer, Konigsburg and her family went on vacation to Yellowstone Park. One day, she suggested a picnic, but they couldn’t find a picnic table, “so when we came to a clearing in the woods, I suggested that we eat there,” she wrote later. “We all crouched slightly above the ground and spread out our meal. Then the complaints began. ... This was hardly roughing it, and yet my small group could think of nothing but the discomfort.” Konigsburg realized her kids could never become uncivilized. If they were ever to run away, “they would never consider a place less civilized than their suburban home. They would want all those conveniences plus a few extra dashes of luxury. Probably, they wouldn’t consider a place even a smidgen less elegant than The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

And that, she said, is when she started thinking about hiding in the Museum:

They could hide there if they found a way to escape the guards and left no traces—no popcorn on chairs—no traces at all. The Museum had everything. … And while they were there—while they were ‘insiders’ in every sense of the word—they could discover the secret of the mysterious statue that the Museum had bought for $225. And then, I thought, while away from home, they could also learn a much more important secret: how to be different inside their suburban crust—that is, different on the inside, where it counts.

4. KONIGSBURG DREW THE ILLUSTRATIONS—AND HER KIDS POSED FOR THE CHARACTERS.

“The illustrations probably come from the kindergartener who lives inside, somewhere inside of me, who says, ‘Silly, don’t you know that it is called show and tell? Hold up and show and then tell,’” Konigsburg said in 1968. “I have to show how Mrs. Frankweiler looks … Besides, I like to draw, and I like to complete things, and doing the illustrations answers these simple needs.”

She used her children as models for the illustrations. Konigsburg’s daughter Laurie, then 12, posed for Claudia, while her son Ross, 11, posed for Jamie. Her son Paul, she wrote in an afterword to the 35th anniversary edition of the book, “is the young man sitting in the front of the bus in the picture facing page 13.” According to the New York Times, Konigsburg “herded the kids upstairs, took pictures of them in various poses, then made drawings from the pictures.”

5. SHE AND THE KIDS MADE MANY RESEARCH TRIPS TO THE MUSEUM.

“Many, many trips,” she wrote later. “And we took pictures. We were allowed to use a Polaroid camera, but we were not allowed to use a flash. Laurie and Ross posed in front of the various objects that we could get close to. However, they did not take a bath in the fountain. I took pictures of the restaurant fountain and pictures of my children at home and combined them in the drawing.”

6. MRS. FRANKWEILER WAS BASED ON TWO WOMEN.

Mrs. Frankweiler’s personality was based on Olga Pratt, the headmistress of Bartram’s School, where Konigsburg taught; the writer said that Pratt was “a matter-of-fact person. Kind, but firm.” The illustrated Mrs. Frankweiler was based on Anita Brougham, who lived in Konigsburg’s apartment building. “One day in the elevator I asked if she would pose for me,” Konigsburg said. “And she did.”

7. THE BOOK WAS ACQUIRED BY THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BECOME KONIGSBURG’S “FOREVER EDITOR.”

Konigsburg was an unpublished mother of three when she submitted the manuscript for her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, to Atheneum Books. She chose the imprint, according to a February 28, 1968, New York Times article, because "a couple of years ago it had [a] Newbery Award winner." While Jennifer, Hecate... was with the publisher, and her son Ross was at school, Konigsburg started, and finished, Mixed-Up Files (she wrote the entire manuscript in longhand). Atheneum editor Jean E. Karl wrote to Konigsburg in July 1966 telling her how much she wanted the book:

Since you came in with FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, I have found myself chuckling over it more than once. I have read it myself only once, but the memory of the incidents comes up every once in awhile.

I really do want this book. I will be sending you a contract very shortly. I have some suggestions that I think will make it even better, but don’t want to make them until I have had a chance to read it through again. You will be hearing from me shortly.

Karl would go on to edit all of Konigsburg’s books; the writer called her “my forever editor.”

8. THE BOOK WON A NEWBERY AWARD.

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, which was also released in 1967, was an honor book, making Konigsburg the only author who received both the medal and an honor book in the same year. In her speech, Konigsburg thanked her editor, Jean Karl, the Newbery committee members, and “All of you, thank you, for giving me something that allows me to go home like Claudia—different on the inside where it counts.”

9. ONE REVIEWER WAS OFFENDED BY THE BOOK'S REFERENCE TO DRUGS…

In one part of Mixed-Up Files, Jamie spots a candy bar on the stairs of the Donnell Library in New York and picks it up; Claudia tells him not to, because “it’s probably poisoned or filled with marijuana, so you’ll eat it and become either dead or a dope addict. … Someone put it there on purpose. Someone who pushes dope.”

In TalkTalk: A Children’s Book Author Speaks to Grown-Ups, Konigsburg writes about a reviewer who didn’t like “a gratuitous reference to drugs in an otherwise pleasing story.” Konisburg then wonders what that reviewer would have thought about a letter she received in 1993 from a reader who wrote,

I liked when Claudia wanted to be a heroine. ... I thought that was only a drug. But now I know it means a girl hero.

“Would the reviewer, who in 1967 was offended by my brief reference to drugs, be equally offended by a young reader who in 1993 needs an explanation for heroine but not heroin?” she wondered. “Or would the same reviewer perhaps have a daughter or granddaughter who in 1993 is a member of the campus feminist group Womyn of Antioch and is offended by Claudia’s thinking of herself as a heroine instead of a hero? For every one of us who says actress or hostess or priestess, there is a word watcher, ready with Wite-Out and caret, who believes that, be they male or female, the correct words are actor, host, and priest. There has always been something to offend someone, and there always will be.”

10. … AND A READER DIDN’T THINK ONE PART OF THE PLOT WAS REALISTIC.

The reader “wrote me a letter scolding me for writing that two kids could live on twenty-four dollars and forty-three cents for a whole week in New York City,” Konigsburg wrote in the 35th anniversary edition of the book. That reader was the only one to complain, though: “Most readers focus on their rent-free accommodation in the museum and recognize that these details—accurate for their time—are the verisimilitude that allow Claudia and Jamie to live beyond the exact details of life in 1967.”

11. ONE PUBLISHER WANTED TO ADAPT SOME OF FROM THE Mixed-Up Files FOR A TEXTBOOK—BUT IT DIDN’T WORK OUT.

At one point, Karl passed along to Konigsburg a request from a textbook publisher to use Chapter Three of Mixed-Up Files in a textbook. Konigsburg published the three-way correspondence between Karl, herself, and the textbook editor in TalkTalk. “I am planning to follow your story with a photo essay/article on a very exciting Children’s Museum in Connecticut,” the textbook editor wrote. “It is my hope that the two pieces together will give children a new, most positive approach to museums, both traditional and experimental.”

Konigsburg was fine with the publisher using a part of the book “if they used the material as I have edited it per the request in their letter,” she wrote back to Karl. “I have cut out as much as they have in the interest of space without destroying the characterization of the two children and without leaving information dangling in the manner they did on pages 3 and 6 of their copy.”

The letter that Karl received back, she wrote to Konigsburg, was “ridiculous. I would like to say to them ‘Go fly a kite.’” The issue? The textbook publisher wasn’t OK with the children standing on the bathroom toilets to evade detection while the Museum was being closed. In a phone call, the editor told Konigsburg that “they were afraid they would get irate letters from people … [and] that some child might read about standing on the toilets and try it and fall in.” Konigsburg said that was nonsense, and that if they wanted to use the chapter, that part had to stay in. Later, she received a letter from Karl:

Dear Elaine:

You will be interested to know that since you will not allow the children not to stand on the toilets [the publisher] has decided not to use the selection. I think they are being absurd and hope it doesn’t bother you too much that they won’t be using it.

Sincerely … etc. Jean Karl

12. THERE WAS A SEQUEL … OF SORTS.

When Mixed-Up Files won the Newbery in 1968, Konigsberg wrote a mini-sequel to hand out to the attendees of the banquet. In it, Jamie is writing a letter (in pencil, to Claudia’s horror, because he’s renting his pen to Bruce) and tells Claudia that he’s writing to Mrs. Frankweiler because she put everything they told her “into a book, and it won the Newbery Medal. … I figure that if the medal is gold, she better cut me in. I’ve been broke ever since we left her place,” he says.

Despite many letters from readers asking for one, this, Konigsburg declared in the 35th anniversary edition of Mixed-Up Files, “is the only sequel I’ll ever write. I won’t write another, for there is no something-more to tell about Claudia Kincaid and Jamie and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. They are as they were, and as I hope they will be for the next thirty-five years.”

13. IT WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Two movies, actually. The 1973 big-screen adaptation starred Ingrid Bergman as Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Sally Prager played Claudia, and Johnny Doran played Jamie. According to a New York Times article about the movie, the Met, which closed for a day to accommodate filming, had “never before given over its premises to a commercial film.” (The title was called The Hideaways for home video.) The book was also adapted in a TV movie in 1995, with Lauren Bacall playing Mrs. Frankweiler.

14. THE MET HAS CHANGED A LOT SINCE Mixed-Up Files

The bed that Claudia and Jamie slept in—where Amy Robsart, wife of Elizabeth I’s favorite, Lord Robert Dudley, was allegedly murdered in 1560—has been dismantled, and the Fountain of Muses, where the kids bathed, is no longer on display. The chapel where Jamie and Claudia said their prayers was closed in 2001. The museum’s entrance has been given a facelift, and it’s no longer free to get in as it was when Jamie and Claudia stayed there (although admission is donation-based).

15. … BUT ITS STAFF STILL GETS ASKED LOTS OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BOOK.

In fact, it gets so many questions that it created a special issue of Museum Kids entirely devoted to Mixed-Up Files [PDF]. After making it very clear that kids can’t camp out in the Met like Jamie and Claudia did, the issue guides kids to spots featured in the book—including the Egyptian galleries—and the Room from the Hotel de Varengeville in Paris, where Konigsburg saw the piece of popcorn on the blue silk chair.

16. THE MUSEUM DOESN’T ACTUALLY OWN A STATUE BY MICHELANGELO.

But it does own some of his drawings, including Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, which he drew to prepare for painting the Sistine Chapel. According to the Mixed-Up Files issue of Museum Kids, “The drawing isn’t on view very often because, over time, light will darken the paper and you wouldn’t be able to see the red chalk that the artist used to draw the picture. The drawing is kept in a black box that keeps out moisture, dust, and air.”

17. AND THE MYSTERY OF ITS BARGAIN SCULPTURE HAS BEEN SOLVED.

The Met’s bargain sculpture was made of plaster with a stucco surface; it is believed to be a cast of one of Verrocchio’s sculptures, The Lady with the Primroses. Curators think it was made by Leonardo da Vinci around 1475, when he was working in Verrocchio’s workshop [PDF].

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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