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Varieties of Written Works

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July 28, 2004, 08:00
Varieties of Written Works
Our recent "Art of the Book” theme presented several words about books as physical objects: decoration, illustration, etc. This week we classify books and other writings by their written content.

roman à clef – [romahn-a-KLAY] a novel in which actual persons and events are disguised as fictional characters [plural romans à clef]

The term is commonly applied to movies as well as novels. What well-known novels and movies can our readers identify as being romans à clef?
July 28, 2004, 08:08
these stories tend to be unsatisfying, stuffed with shadowbox celebrities who bonk each other and then fade quickly from the reader’s mind.

Except for the bonking, I thought Mr King was discussing his own œuvre. (My oops.) A science fiction roman à clef I enjoyed was The Starcrossed by Ben Bova. It was about his adventures in being a technical advisor for a TV show called Star Lost. Little Harlan Ellison was easily identifiable.
July 28, 2004, 10:09
Citizen Kane is what I immediately thought of. No explanation should be necessary for this one.

Another example might be the book The Wizard of OZ. Obviously the book is about the silver standard, but I'm not sure if all the characters match up with real persons. I'm sure some of them do, but I don't remember which. Here is a link: http://paws.wcu.edu/mulligan/www/oz.html

It appears that The Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan and The Wizard is President McKinley, so I guess this qualifies.
July 28, 2004, 10:45
Yes, Citizen Kane, a film à clef, is pretty transparently about Wm Randolph Hearst and, as Herman Mankiewicz knew Davies and him rather well, it's pretty good once you know who's who. But, both Citizen Kane and Wizard of Oz have a lot more going for them without the key to who's who.
July 29, 2004, 14:42
Chris J. Strolin
Did anyone see the PBS special "The Fight over the Making of 'Citizen Kane'"? Quite an interesting and in-depth coverage of the whole schmeer.

PLUS they revealed why Orson Wells called the sled "Rosebud." (heh, heh!)
July 30, 2004, 07:22
Did anyone see the PBS special "The Fight over the Making of 'Citizen Kane'"?

No, but I read Paulene Kael's Raising Kane back in the mid-'70s which pretty much went over most of the material. A friend of mine who is a cinematographer used to live in the cottage near Echo Park that Marion Davies lived in before she hooked up with Hearst.
July 31, 2004, 13:30
Re: Oz and oz.

I haven't read the Rockoff article but I've heard the allegory explanation before. The parallels are certainly compelling, but do you know if there is any historical corraboration, like letters from Baum, etc.? Did anybody notice these parallels before 1990?
July 31, 2004, 14:15
I'm not sure I should admit this, but when I was a child, and could quote entire scenes from The Wizard of Oz verbatim (I liked the film!), I suggested to my mum that Baum had got some inspiration from Australia, since Oz is slang for the country, Emerald is a town(?) in the state of Victoria, and Australia is home to 'bizarre' creatures unknown elsewhere on the planet. I suppose coming from a child at primary school it was quite insightful - but then, at around the same time I did ask my mum why the ancient Romans had named their gods after the planets... Roll Eyes
July 31, 2004, 14:50
jerry thomas
The author of "The Wizard of OZ" allegedly decided on "OZ" when his wandering gaze settled on the label of a drawer in his filing cabinet. Presumably the other drawer was labelled "AN" and contained titles in the first half of the alphabet.

The "OZ" / "Aus" connectiion is probably apocryphal, based on co-incidence.

A successful public relations campaign by the State of Kansas promotes the wonders of Kansas with the expletive "Ah! Kansas!" (The Land of Ah's).

This message has been edited. Last edited by: jerry thomas,
August 04, 2004, 12:32
Robert Arvanitis

Not unlike the ketchup slogan, I await more varieties. Here of course for written works, rather than tomato purees...

August 09, 2004, 18:01
Reuters reports:
HOLLYWOOD (Reuters) - They really said it -- notable quotes from the news:
"I love to write. And I thought about an autobiography but everyone was doing that plus I'd rather write fiction. So someone suggested a 'roman a clef' and I was like, who is that?"
--PAMELA ANDERSON, sex symbol and now author of "Star," in the Boston Herald.
It is a revelation to learn of Ms. Anderson's literary talent. Those unfamiliar with her more prominent assets (have you been living in the jungles of Borneo?) can quickly grasp the notion here.
August 10, 2004, 08:33
Continuing our theme classifying books and other writings by their written content.

hagiography – a biography of saints; hence, a worshipful or idealizing biography
August 10, 2004, 09:30
jerry thomas
If we classify written material by its content, can we classify politicians by their speaking behavior?

Here's Anna again.
August 10, 2004, 19:27
Hic et ubique
quote: Ms. Anderson's ... prominent assets

Perhaps her roman à clef should more properly be called a roman à cleft.
August 11, 2004, 08:35
Today's term, though much used, does not appear in any of the many dictionaries that One-Look includes. So I attempt to amalgamate the on-line discussions, which of course vary somewhat

short-short – an extremely brief short-story (Publishers' guidelines vary, some allowing 500 words maximum, some as many as 1,000.)

One source (no longer on the web) says, "A short story, unlike a novel, is expected to be efficient and purposeful; it moves in a straight line. A short-short story compresses the efficiency of a short story. [...I]t's either a shorter straight line or a dotted line that leaves out segments of the line so that the reader has to interpolate."

The term flash fiction often used, either as a synonym for short-short, or as meaning an even more tightly compressed story.
August 11, 2004, 08:39
quote: Ms. Anderson's ... prominent assets

Perhaps her roman à clef should more properly be called a roman à cleft.

[leer]I'd like to see her frontispiece...[/leer]

Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
August 11, 2004, 08:45
Robert Arvanitis
There is a category at the extreme end - the six-word story.

Hemingway was once challenged to write one. His response:

"For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

August 12, 2004, 05:58
Richard English
Quote "It is a revelation to learn of Ms. Anderson's literary talent"

I read recently that Elvis Presley, during a TV interview, said, "...If I were as talented an actor as James Dean..."

That insight and the all too rare use of the subjunctive would seem to show that Elvis, too, was more intelligent than one might have assumed from his public portrayal.

I suspect that our easy dismissal of the intelligence of famous personalities whose talents seem to be unimportant or ephemeral might often be unfair.

Richard English
August 12, 2004, 06:28
jerry thomas
Flash fiction: TV for Super Bowl 2005 will show Ms Anderson in the 2004 role of Michael Jackson's sister. Keeping abreast of the Sports. Tit for tat.
August 12, 2004, 08:14
I believe today's word has a broader meaning than the dictionaries state. I give that broad meaning first, and illustrate it by the first quotation. [The final quotation, from Elmer Gantry, does not really illustrate the word but was too humorous to resist.]

chrestomathy – a collection of literary passages selected to show a subject matter in breadth. More specifically:
1. a sample of literary passages, usually by one author illustrating his thought and style (e.g., the H.L. Mencken book titled "A Mencken Chrestomathy")
2. a selection of passages to be used to help learn a language
[from Gk chrestos useful + mathien to learn]

Here is a form that may be far more useful: chrestomathic – pertaining to useful knowledge

This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
August 13, 2004, 21:04
bildungsroman – a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
[sometimes capitalized; secondary accent is on last syllable, not next-to last. Ger Bildung education, foundation + Roman novel.]

With today's illustrative quotations is a link to an article I found particularly interesting.Bonus Word: entwicklungsroman – synonomous with bildungsroman
Our Bonus Word can claim an odd distinction. Can you spot it?
August 13, 2004, 21:21
Robert Arvanitis
The bonus word, 'entwicklungsroman,' has one each, of the non-occasional vowels.

August 13, 2004, 22:03
I've heard Bildungsroman used as an antonym for In Media Res, but I'm not sure if this is correct. They don't appear to be antonyms, is the standard sense, although the terms describe opposite concepts. Opinions?
August 14, 2004, 07:36

Has a 3-, 3-, and 4-consonant run in it.

German Bildung (cf. English to build) means in this context 'cultivation, education'. Entwicklung means 'development, evolution, formation' (< wickeln 'to wrap, swaddle').
August 14, 2004, 10:04
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
The bonus word, 'entwicklungsroman,' has one each, of the non-occasional vowels.
Precisely - with the caveat that there are a fair number of such words.

Entwicklungsroman is the longest word that has each such vowel once and only once.
Sequoia is the shortest.
August 14, 2004, 22:02
think piece – a piece of writing meant to be thought-provoking and speculative that consists chiefly of background material and personal opinion and analysis

This definition is from MW. Other sources omit the 'speculative' concept and also confine the term to newspaper or magazine writing. But I think MW has stated the meaning correctly.
August 15, 2004, 10:41
Dr. Whom
All five vowel letters (not counting 'y', as Wordcrafter says); each only once; and each in (the written part corresponding to) a separate spoken syllable, unlike "sEqUOIA" or "UnqUEstIOnAblY".

Dr. Whom: Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoepist, and Philological Busybody
August 15, 2004, 13:50
I never really thought of I, Robot as a "think piece". In fact, I've read almost all(all the ones published in collections) of the Robot stories, and think piece doesn't really describe them well. Any other Asimov readers that have an opinion here?
August 15, 2004, 17:06
Welcome, Dr. Whom! So pleased to have you! Smile Big Grin Wink Cool
August 15, 2004, 19:21
Hic et ubique
I am pleased to welcome Dr. Whom, whose maiden post is hereinafter to be known as Whom's-on, first.
August 15, 2004, 20:43
European newspapers often have an area meant to entertain the general reader, with light fiction, reviews, and articles of general entertainment. One typical item is a novel published in installments

feuilleton – 1. a part of a newspaper to entertain the general reader, as above; also, an item printed there 2. a novel printed in installments (also roman feuilleton)

It has been suggested that the soap opera is a type of roman feuilleton, except that it is unending.

Today's last two quotations present interesting thoughts.
August 16, 2004, 02:06
I'd certainly describe many of Asimov's robot stories as "think pieces". Like many SF authors at the time, his stories ask the question "what if...?" and then postulate what would happen. Plot, use of language and characterisation are secondary to finding the answer to the question posed.

Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
August 16, 2004, 10:13
To me that is the definition of Science Fiction. And the current accepted term for Asimov is "hard science fiction". If this entire genre is considered "think pieces", then I suppose I'd agree.
August 16, 2004, 10:24
think pieces ... what if?

Which is why some preferred to call science fiction speculative fiction. (We'll leave out Gernsback's weird scientifiction.)
August 16, 2004, 10:28
Robert Arvanitis
Pace Seanahan, not all science fiction is thoughtful.

I believe we can make sharp contrast between, for example,"Flash Gordon" and the writings of Stanislaw Lem.

"Flash Gordon" says "What if we had death rays?" and then proceeds to lay out a galatic action story. Lem says "what if we could merge man and machine?" and then proceeds to ponder what exactly "human" means.

The latter is the thinking piece.

August 16, 2004, 10:46
SF has many definitions: here's one site that has a page full; since it was last updated in 1996, I'm sure several more have been coined since then.

"What if...?" is a workable definition for much of the SF from the 40s and 50s (often referred to as "the Golden Age of SF" by those who should know better). It is the sort of tale that Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Pohl, and others wrote. However, plenty of others, such as Ray Bradbury, JG Ballard, Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, and Gene Woolfe wrote what was definitely Science Fiction, but it was "soft" by your classification. So no, the entire genre cannot be classed as "think pieces".

Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
August 16, 2004, 10:46
So much of hard SF is device-driven as opposed to character-driven, but the Flash Gordon genre of SF led to the deprecatory label space opera (which George Lucas, perhaps uncritically, has revived as a major strand of SF filmmaking). As for Asimov, in my favorite text of his, i.e., the Foundation Trilogy, there were gadgets a plenty and some attempts at character, too. Rounded out. And S. Lem, of course, is a maître.