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11 Eulogies for Writers Written by Writers

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The best most of us can hope for when we die is that someone we knew in life might still be around to give us a passable eulogy. Not so for the epoch-defining author, whose friends and admirers tend to include other epoch-defining authors. Their eulogies become part of a standard liberal arts education, or else get published in prestigious book sections. The literary eulogy is an ancient art form with its own unique pressures; below, we've provided a grab-bag of belletristic mourning in all its forms, from 19th-century poetry to 21st-century magazine writing.

1. "Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats," by Percy Bysshe Shelley

It takes a particular kind of writerly myopia—plus a shaky, 19th-century-era conception of how tuberculosis works—to believe your friend was murdered by a bad review. Such is the implication of Shelley's "Adonais," written shortly after Keats' death from tuberculosis. In it, Shelley spends two stanzas lambasting the anonymous critic (later revealed to be John Wilson Croker) who savaged Keats' "Endymion," in the process proving himself an able and inventive insult comic: Shelley calls the critic a "deaf and murderous viper," a "noteless blot on a remember'd name," and a "beaten hound." Of course, the elegy does much more than shame a critic; it's a classic, wide-ranging tribute to his friend and sometimes rival.

2. "In Memory of WB Yeats," by WH Auden

Auden's elegy for Yeats is in part responding to Milton's "Lycias." Modern irony can't help but compete with 19th-century-style grief: As critic Edward Mendelson points out in his book Later Auden, Auden subverts the traditional English elegy (in which nature itself would mourn for the departed) by depicting, in plain prose, landscapes wholly unaltered by the poet's death ("Far from his illness/The wolves ran on through evergreen forests...").

His elegy also serves as a preemptive defense of Yeats, one Auden would elaborate on shortly after in "The Public vs. the Late William Butler Yeats." Yeats had strange spiritual views and leanings that some contemporary scholars would dub fascistic, but in Auden's view, the power of his language would exonerate him.

3. William Styron on Lillian Hellman

William Styron is today best-known as the author of Sophie's Choice, a novel about the sexual and artistic awakening of a psychotically horny twenty-something Brooklynite and the Holocaust. For decades, the writer alternately enjoyed and endured a difficult friendship with Lillian Hellman, a screenwriter who attempted to sue Mary McCarthy for libel after Mary said, "[E]very word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including `and' and `the.’" Styron's refusal to support her in that instance lead to a rift in their friendship, and in his eulogy, delivered at a Massachusetts funeral attended by such luminaries as Mike Nichols and Norman Mailer, he made no effort to whitewash that history. Instead, he honors the imperative of their shared profession, mingling the good with the bad in the service of something approaching truth: "I think we had more fights per man and woman contact than probably anyone alive." (Notable that another of that day's speakers, Hiroshima author John Hersey, also made a point to highlight Hellman's rage: "Anger was her essence," he wrote.)

4. "Untitled," Henry Van Dyke on Mark Twain

When Mark Twain turned 67, his longtime friend and advisor Henry Van Dyke read a poem for him at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. Its last line was, "Long life to you, Mark Twain." Just seven years later, he'd be delivering the eulogy at Twain's funeral in New York City. In it, he provides a working definition of quality humor that everyone would be wise to remember: "But the mark of this higher humor is that it does not laugh at the weak, the helpless, the true, the innocent; only at the false, the pretentious, the vain, the hypocritical...we may say without doubt that [Twain] used his gift, not for evil, but for good."

A Times report from that day wrote, "Throughout it was evident that the speaker was making a strong effort to keep down his emotion and control his voice."

5. "Life in His Language," Toni Morrison on James Baldwin

Toni Morrison was close friends with James Baldwin, and when Baldwin died of esophageal cancer in 1987 she penned this highly moving tribute for the New York Times. Written as a second-person letter to Baldwin, the piece describes the "three gifts" Baldwin gave to Morrison (and, by extension, world literature): Language, courage, and the ability to cut anger with tenderness.

There's no question Baldwin profoundly influenced Morrison's work, but what gives the piece its enormous power—and what distinguishes it from, say, Auden's eulogy—is that his influence extended not just to her prose style but to the act of writing itself. Auden wouldn't have had to look too hard to find a literary model, someone 'like him'; not so for Morrison, who from Baldwin learned "the courage of one who could go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world."

6. "Flannery O'Connor: A Prose Elegy" by Thomas Merton

Given her work's fixation on Roman Catholicism, it's fitting that one of the most moving eulogies written for Flannery O'Connor was written by Thomas Merton, a Catholic and a Trappist Monk who had long admired her work. First published in Jubilee in November, 1964, the elegy is wholly free of biographical anecdote or recollection; Merton chooses instead to discuss the departed's life exclusively in relation to her work, claiming that when he reads O'Connor he doesn't "think of Hemingway, or Katherine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles."

7. "The Common Reader" by Virginia Woolf (on Joseph Conrad)

In the period of frenzied innovation that was modernism, it would seem no occasion was improper to throw shade on a peer's writing style. Joseph Conrad, author of AP lit perennial Heart of Darkness, died in August 1924. Later that same month, Virginia Woolf's eulogy-cum-critique appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. Her piece is intensely admiring, and opens with a beautiful euphemism: "Suddenly, without giving us time to arrange our thoughts or prepare our phrases, our guest has left us." Still, she doesn't resist seriously critiquing his highly refined style's ability to capture the texture of 20th-century life.

8. "Virginia Woolf: Eulogy," by Christopher Isherwood

In middle age, Virginia Woolf was both friend to and publisher of the young Christopher Isherwood—her publishing house, Hogarth, published his first two novels—and when she died in 1941 Isherwood was asked to write a eulogy. He did, and immediately regretted it. In explaining why, he gets at the heart of what makes eulogies so difficult: "An attempt to speak simultaneously as the public eulogist and the private mourner is almost foredoomed to falseness; all the more so when you feel you are addressing strangers who could never really understand or care."

9. "Novelist Shelved," by Norman Mailer (on Norman Mailer)

Perhaps no 20th-century writer was as concerned with their public image as Normal Mailer, and so it makes sense that the Naked and the Dead novelist and New Journalism pioneer would want to eulogize himself. His satirical self-elegy, written twenty-eight years before his actual death, has fun playing around with the Mailer Persona, positing an old-age Mailer being mourned by eleven of his fifteen ex-wives and paying over two million a year in child support and alimony. (Not that far from reality, as an '80s profile by Martin Amis would reveal.) It goes on: "At the memorial service, passages from his favorite literary works, all penned by himself, were read." You get the sense that Mailer is only kind of kidding.

10. "Susan Sontag, Cosmophage," by Wayne Kostenbaum

In critic Wayne Kostenbaum's infectious tribute to Susan Sontag published shortly after her death, form and content are perfectly integrated. He writes of his hero's fondness for fragments, and structures his essay as a series of them; he writes of her seeking "prose forms that would permit maximum drift and detour" and in his essay does nothing but drift and detour, pinging ecstatically from personal anecdote to close analysis to playful speculation on Sontag's sexuality. He writes of how Sontag's restlessness and artistic "cosmophagy" (defined as "the eating of the world") inspired him—and in the process, he inspires his elegy's reader.

11. "Too Much Information," by John Jeremiah Sullivan (on David Foster Wallace)

You could fill an Infinite Jest-length book with only the very good eulogies written after David Foster Wallace's tragic 2008 suicide, not to mention the decent or straight-up bad ones. John Jeremiah Sullivan's is so good it deserves its own volume, a sentence per page, a la This is Water. His elegy, occasioned by the release of Wallace's posthumous The Pale King, peeled away the layers of received wisdom that had begun to cloud Wallace's work in the years following his death, while elucidating the qualities of perception and description that have earned Wallace his obsessive readership.

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7 Lost and Rediscovered Literary Works by Famous Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
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A number of literary works by famous authors that were once thought lost have recently been rediscovered. Some were found in private collections, others within vast archives, and one was even uncovered in an attic. A few of these works have delighted readers and scholars alike, while others may have gone unpublished for a reason—yet all offer fresh insight into the development of the writers who wrote them.


In July 2015 Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand magazine, was searching through the rare book archive at Princeton University when he uncovered a previously unpublished short story by Princeton alum F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gulli makes something of a habit of searching for lost and unpublished works by famous authors, and in the past has uncovered a story by John Steinbeck, which was also published for the first time in The Strand. Fitzgerald's 8000-word short story, entitled “Temperature” and written in 1939, features a hard-drinking writer with a heart problem. In a sad echo of real life, just a year after he wrote it Fitzgerald himself died of a heart attack.


Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at a desk covered with his books
Library of Congress, Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 2013, the widow of Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) rediscovered a pile of manuscripts and sketches that she had set aside shortly after her husband's death in 1991. The papers contained the words and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get?, which was published by Random House in July 2015. It is thought the book was likely written between 1958 and 1962, since it features the same brother-and-sister characters found in Seuss’ 1960 bestseller One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.


Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden, Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927
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A Sherlock Holmes short story supposedly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uncovered in the attic of historian Walter Elliot in 2015. The strange little story was written by Conan Doyle to be included in a collection of stories entitled The Book o' the Brig, which aimed to raise funds to rebuild a bridge across Ettrick Water, near Selkirk in Scotland, which has been destroyed during floods in 1902.

No sooner had the story been rediscovered, however, than some were expressing doubts about whether it had been written by Conan Doyle himself, especially since the flowery language doesn't seem in keeping with the renowned author's pared-down style. The full text of the story can be read (and puzzled over) here.


Photo of author Edith Wharton, wearing hat with a feather, coat with fur trim, and a fur muff
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Alice Kelly, a researcher from Oxford University, was studying Edith Wharton’s papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in November 2015 when she discovered a previously unpublished short story. The unfinished nine-page story was stuck to the back of another manuscript, and is entitled "The Field of Honor." It centers on the First World War and is critical of the women who only superficially helped with the war effort, perhaps explaining why it was not published at such a sensitive time.


Crayon drawing of poet Percy Shelley circa 1820
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When Percy Bysshe Shelley was in his first year of university at Oxford in 1810/11, he wrote and published a poem critical of the Napoleonic wars under the pseudonym “a gentlemen of the University of Oxford.” The 172-line poem was printed in a 20-page pamphlet entitled “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” and was not attributed to Shelley until 50 years after his death. All copies were thought lost until 2006, when one was found amidst a mysterious private collection and offered for auction. Only scholars had access to the poem until 2015, when it was purchased by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to add to their world-famous collection of Shelley works and papers. The poem became the library’s 12 millionth book to be acquired and is now available online for all to read.


A black-and-white photo of a smiling Truman Capote
Evening Standard/Getty Images

A Swiss publisher poring over Truman Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library several years ago rediscovered a variety of short stories and poems the author had written before the age of 20. While four of the stories had been published in Capote’s school literary magazine, The Green Witch, the majority of the pile was brand-new to the reading public. In October 2015, Penguin books released the stories as The Early Stories of Truman Capote.


While looking through the archives of the city of Regensberg, Germany, researcher Erika Eichenseer uncovered 30 boxes containing more than 500 German fairy tales, which had lain unnoticed for 150 years. The stories had been collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, who traveled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz recording folktales, myths, and legends in order to preserve them. He published the results of his research in three volumes between 1857 and 1859, but his matter-of-fact accounts of the stories were somewhat overshadowed by the more artful stories of his contemporaries the Brothers Grimm, and his book fell into obscurity. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales contains 72 of the lost tales and was published by Penguin in February 2015.

A previous version of this story ran in 2015.

10 Fun Facts About Paddington Bear

Don't tell Winnie the Pooh, but he's not the only big shot on the children's book bear market. Paddington Bear has been charming children and adults alike since 1958. As he readies for his second big-screen outing in Paddington 2, which hits theaters on Friday, here's how Paddington came to be.


Have you ever seen a neglected toy abandoned on a store shelf or tossed aside, unwanted, and felt oddly sorry for it? That's exactly how Paddington Bear came about. Author Michael Bond was roaming Selfridges department store on Christmas Eve in 1956 looking for a gift for his wife when he came across a lonely teddy bear all alone on a shelf.

“I felt sorry for it," Bond said. Though Bond purchased him, the idea of the abandoned bear stuck with the would-be author. He began writing stories about it, mostly for his own amusement, then realized he might have something children would be interested in.


Paddington isn't this beloved bear's real name. He has a Peruvian name, but tells his adoptive family that no one would be able to understand it (we find out much later that it's "Pastuso"). They decide to call him Paddington, which is the name of the railway station where he was discovered. The bear Bond took home from the department store on Christmas Eve received the same name because Bond and his wife lived near Paddington Station at the time.


Originally, Paddington wasn't going to be from Darkest Peru. First drafts had Paddington calling "darkest Africa" home. But after Bond got an agent, the agent informed him no bears exist in Africa. Peru, however, does have spectacled bears.


British author Michael Bond, who wrote the Paddington Bear series of books

It took about seven years from the time the first book was published in 1958, but eventually the sales of Paddington books allowed Bond to retire from his job as a cameraman for the BBC.


Paddington books have sold more than 35 million copies and have been translated into over 40 languages, which surprised Bond. "I am constantly surprised by all the translations because I thought that Paddington was essentially an English character," he once said. "Obviously Paddington-type situations happen all over the world."


There's a little statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station. He's just the size you would expect him to be. When you're done snapping a photo with him, you can march yourself over to the Paddington shop at the station, which sells nothing but Paddington Bear gear.


Poor Paddington faced a rather grown up situation in 2008. When P.B. goes to report his stolen shopping cart, the police discover that he's in London illegally from Darkest Peru and immigration issues ensue. "There is this side of Paddington the Browns don't really understand at all," Bond said. "What it's like to be a refugee, not to be in your own country."


Of course Paddington adores marmalade, and no reason is ever given for that ("Bears love marmalade" is all we get). But in 2007, he decided to give Marmite a try instead. Although he had been enjoying marmalade for the 49 years prior (always keeping an emergency sandwich under his hat, just in case), it was apparently the right time to try something different, and he finds a Marmite and cheese sandwich to be "rather good." But don't expect Paddington's favorite fare to be replaced anytime soon—it was a one-time advertising promotion.


Paddington's famous Wellies weren't that famous until the plush version of him came out in 1972. The owner of a small business called Gabrielle Designs decided to make a Paddington stuffed animal for her children because there wasn't one on the market yet. Although the bear had received a pair of Wellington boots in 1964's Paddington Marches On, he wasn't necessarily known for them. The Wellies were placed on the stuffed bear's feet just to help him stand upright, and he became known for his colorful boots when the toy became a commercial success.


Speaking of Paddington's clothes, here's where the rest of the famous outfit came from: The blue duffle coat was purchased for him by the Browns soon after he came to live with them. The old hat was handed down to him from his uncle, who is still in Darkest Peru with Aunt Lucy. Aunt Lucy is the one who placed the "Please Look After This Bear" tag around his neck.


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