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  #1  
Old 05-08-2004, 05:43 PM
Revtim Revtim is offline
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Mistakes in classic literature

What mistakes are there in classic literature that you can think of?

Example: In Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the main character strips naked, swims out to the wrecked boat, and fills his pockets with food.
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  #2  
Old 05-08-2004, 06:12 PM
Nightwatch Trailer Nightwatch Trailer is offline
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In the poem "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats, the poet makes a reference to Cortez "discovering" the Pacific Ocean in America. Balboa was the discoverer, not Cortez.

I've heard that this "mistake" is intentional and adds somehow to the poem's message, but I'm not convinced.
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Old 05-08-2004, 06:19 PM
jackelope jackelope is offline
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Nightwatch Trailer beat me to the Keats bit. And yeah, I don't think it was intentional either, but if I were, say, a Keatsian scholar with a vested interested in making my man Johnny look good, I'd probably look for a way to say it was done on purpose too.

This isn't really a mistake in literature, but rather a bit of widely accepted but shaky scholarship: There's the famous line from Homer about "the wine-dark sea," epi oinopa ponton. Unfortunately, the word oinopa appears only one other time in surviving texts, when it refers to someone's upper arm, so it's pretty unlikely that it was actually intended to mean "wine-dark." Hugh Kenner wrote a great essay on the long train of scholars' shaky assumptions that led to its being generally accepted as "wine-dark" (the first of which being its similarity to oinos, of course).

Joyce makes fun of this in Ulysses when Stephen Dedalus looks at the ocean and thinks, "The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea."
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Old 05-08-2004, 06:22 PM
kellner kellner is offline
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It's not really fair to blame the author for this one:
In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (Perceval) said knight on his quest for the grail unwittingly meets his half brother Feirefiz who is a son of Parzival's (white) father Gachmuret and Belakane, a black African queen. As a consequence he is... well... spotted. In Germany ca. 1200 this must have been the logical conclusion.

PS: I love that book.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:08 PM
The Man With The Golden Gun The Man With The Golden Gun is offline
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My favorite is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn't have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:14 PM
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In one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson's wife forgets Watson's first name.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:36 PM
Sternvogel Sternvogel is offline
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O. Henry's short story The Gift of the Magi begins with this assessment of the character Delia's cash on hand:

Quote:
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.
So what of the other $1.27? You'd have to have at least 2 cents' worth of either additional pennies or half-cent coins. However, the latter were last minted in the USA some fifty years before the story was published in the early twentieth century, and probably could have been sold to a collector for more than face value, thereby ameliorating Delia's poverty a bit.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:37 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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Not at all. His wife calls him James. Now, We know that his name is John H. Watson, and he has Scottish ancestry, so obviously his middle name is Hamish, which is equivalent to James.

Easy.



Now, here's one from another mystery novel, The Nine Taylors By Dorothy Sayers. (This was a set book in my Eng Lit class when I was 16) During a class discussion of the plot I pointed this out... brief pause while they thought about it then they all went 'y-e-a-h'. Nobody could answer this point
SPOILER:
If Thoday didn't know that the bells would kill Deacon, then what was the parrot talking about?
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter morris
Not at all. His wife calls him James. Now, We know that his name is John H. Watson, and he has Scottish ancestry, so obviously his middle name is Hamish, which is equivalent to James.

Easy.
Not easy: elementary.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:48 PM
jackelope jackelope is offline
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Sternvogel, the U.S. Mint produced two-cent coins until 1873. "The Gift of the Magi" was published in 1905, 32 years later. I see coins in circulation from the 1960s fairly often; a 32-year-old coin seems plausible enough for the story.
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Old 05-08-2004, 08:27 PM
Terrifel Terrifel is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Man With The Golden Gun
My favorite is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn't have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.
You might get a kick out of Poul Anderson's book A Midsummer Tempest, then; it's set largely in an alternate universe where all Shakespeare's plays are strictly accurate histories. So you not only get clocks in ancient Rome, you get Bohemia with a seacoast, Oberon and Titania as historical figures, etc. It's a fairly amusing read, as I recall.
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Old 05-08-2004, 08:43 PM
Tentacle Monster Tentacle Monster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Revtim
Example: In Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the main character strips naked, swims out to the wrecked boat, and fills his pockets with food.
Not necessarily. He could have stuffed the food between his buttocks.

It's Nature's pocket.
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:00 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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A Christmas Carol.

So, Scrooge hates Christmas. The ghosts decide to show him the error of his ways.

First they take him back to his chuildhood and show him that he had to work at Christmas while all the other children were having fun.

Then they show him a few years later, the only woman he ever loved ran out on him at Christmas.

Then, they bring him to the present, and show him Bob Cratchett and his family starving to death at Christmas.

Then they take him into the future and show him Tiny Tim dying at Christmas, and himself dead and unmourned.

All of this teaches him that Christmas is really a happy and jolly time after all.

Does this make sense to anyone?
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:18 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Man With The Golden Gun
My favorite is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn't have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.
To sort of hedge my answer, I believe I read about a form of striking waterclock used in eother Greece[Athens?] or Egypt that struck the hours. Will have to look it up and pray there is something about clypedestras online=) If I have luck, I will do a follow up post=)
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:22 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Man With The Golden Gun
My favorite is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn't have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.
Bingo=) found it...of course I misremembered the name but i managed anyway=)
http://physics.nist.gov/GenInt/Time/early.html
More elaborate and impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 BCE and 500 CE by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers. The added complexity was aimed at making the flow more constant by regulating the pressure, and at providing fancier displays of the passage of time. Some water clocks rang bells and gongs; others opened doors and windows to show little figures of people, or moved pointers, dials, and astrological models of the universe.
So we could have a clock strike an hour=)
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:25 PM
Dr. Rieux Dr. Rieux is offline
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Shakespeare also had Caesar & co. wearing doublets.

Speaking of clothing, I read somewhere that in DeFoe's time, the word "clothes" referred only to outer garments like coats and jackets, so Crusoe didn't really strip naked--he was still wearing his pants.
If you think it sounds kind of lame, I agree.
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:28 PM
masonite masonite is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tentacle Monster
Not necessarily. He could have stuffed the food between his buttocks.

It's Nature's pocket.
Really gives new meaning to "What's it got in its nasssty little pocketses?"
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Old 05-08-2004, 09:42 PM
5 time champ 5 time champ is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Man With The Golden Gun
My favorite is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn't have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.
IIRC the other 2 anachronisms in JC are references to the Virgin Mary and chimminies.
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Old 05-08-2004, 10:01 PM
pesch pesch is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Rieux
Shakespeare also had Caesar & co. wearing doublets.

Speaking of clothing, I read somewhere that in DeFoe's time, the word "clothes" referred only to outer garments like coats and jackets, so Crusoe didn't really strip naked--he was still wearing his pants.
If you think it sounds kind of lame, I agree.
Not so fast, there.

This is from a review of "Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in 17th Century England." It's dense in places, but here's the relevant graf:

Quote:
Take nakedness. One may doubt whether early modern English men and women were ever naked. In the mid-17th century Quakers went 'naked for a sign', but they often turn out to have been wearing sackcloth coats - 'naked' here means without shoes, hats or outer garments. Men and women both wore smocks, and you could be 'naked in your smock'. (There was no 'underwear', so everyone was naked under their smocks.) People did not take their clothes off to go to bed, but they did take off their hats (if they were men) and coifs (if they were women); thus a brother and sister were suspected of incest when they were discovered in bed together, 'both bareheaded'. John Donne was exploring a metaphysical extreme of sensuality when he wrote a poem in praise of 'full nakedness': a poem which describes his lover's clothes, but not her body, and in which his hands rove in unexplored places, like those not of a husband, but of a midwife. Whether Donne himself ever saw and touched a fully (or stark) naked body, the point of the poem is surely that his readers will scarcely be able to imagine anything so strange. Renaissance artists had rediscovered the classical nude two centuries before, but Donne was (I suspect) the first Englishman to propose going naked to bed.
So it may be that Defoe didn't make a mistake after all.
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Old 05-08-2004, 10:13 PM
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In King Solomon's Mines, the ceremony of the witch hunt takes place during a full moon. The next day there's a total eclipse of the sun, which can only happen at the new moon. That was a quick fortnight.
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Old 05-08-2004, 10:48 PM
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Martin Gardner wrote an article titled "Literary Science Blunders" in the Jan/Feb 1995 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. It's reprinted in his collection "Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic".

He mentions another error in Julius Caesar that Isaac Asimov pointed out. Caesar says, "But I am constant as the northern star". In Caesar's time, Polaris was farther from the north celestial pole because of precession of the Earth's axis and wasn't described like this.

In Lord of the Flies, Golding describes a thin crescent Moon that rises just after sunset. Only a nearly full moon can rise then. Also, because Piggy was nearsighted, his glasses would spread out the sun's rays, not concentrate them, and thus couldn't be used to start a fire by themselves. However, one of Gardner's correspondents pointed out that if you fill the concave side of such a lens with a little water, it can then be used as a focusing lens.

There are numerous errors in the Sherlock Holmes stories. In "The Speckled Band", a snake is trained by a whistle and drinks milk. Snakes are deaf and don't drink milk. Asimov wrote a short article about some of Doyle's errors in the area of chemistry.
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Old 05-08-2004, 11:11 PM
The Controvert The Controvert is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Revtim
fills his pockets with food.
Actually, it is a little known fact that Robinson Crusoe was, in fact, a kangaroo.
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Old 05-08-2004, 11:19 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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Talking of Shakespeare, the scene where Hamlet meets the ghost of his father starts at midnight, there's a few minutes of dialog, and ends as dawn is breaking.
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Old 05-08-2004, 11:42 PM
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Kipling's Kim has the Lama speaking Chinese prayers. Tibetan buddhist monks and lama's don't learn Buddhist texts and scriptures in Chinese, they learn them in sanskrit or tibetan translations. I love the book and it always makes me cringe when Kipling makes this mistake...
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Old 05-09-2004, 12:30 AM
Krisfer the Cat Krisfer the Cat is offline
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Anne Rice is the Queen of shitty history but she takes the cake in Queen of the Damned. When Maharet tells her story about the beginning of vampirism she has it start at a time before the 1rst dynasty in Egypt. But when she goes home in the story, before becoming immortal, she visits NINEVAH! But Ninevah was a flowering city in the Assyrian period roughly 700BC.. some almost 2000 years after the founding of dynastic Egypt.
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Old 05-09-2004, 12:31 AM
Krisfer the Cat Krisfer the Cat is offline
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Look at me.. I missed the "classic literature" part..


I'll just go to bed now...
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Old 05-09-2004, 03:40 AM
Innanna Innanna is offline
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Well if Ivahoe counts as a classic (), then there is the fact that one of the characters rises from the dead with no explanation. You'd think after they had his funeral, someone would have been a little surprised to see him 100 pages later, but they aren't.*

And I think that Moby Dick has someone coming back from the dead as well, but I refuse to read it, so I can't say for sure.




*It has been a while since I read this, so I may have a detail wrong. Please don't yell.
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Old 05-09-2004, 03:41 AM
Innanna Innanna is offline
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Well, that was an ugly thing. Read a in there where the first smiley is, por favor.
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Old 05-09-2004, 04:00 AM
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I don't have a copy of Crime and Punishment at hand so I may mangle the details, but there was a timeline hiccup during a scene in which Raskolnikov visits the police station. IIRC, the book says he spent a few hours there, but when he leaves it's much later in the day than it should be. Or much earlier. Actually, I only noticed at all because there was a footnote in the edition I was reading pointing out Dostoevsky's mistake.
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Old 05-09-2004, 04:23 AM
Tenebras Tenebras is offline
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In Dracula, Van Helsing's accent is present or not, apparently depending on Mr. Stoker's mood while writing it.
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Old 05-09-2004, 05:56 AM
Snooooopy Snooooopy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rowrrbazzle
In Lord of the Flies ... because Piggy was nearsighted, his glasses would spread out the sun's rays, not concentrate them, and thus couldn't be used to start a fire by themselves. However, one of Gardner's correspondents pointed out that if you fill the concave side of such a lens with a little water, it can then be used as a focusing lens.
Given that they were a bunch of dumbass kids, we can forgive them for not realizing this!
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Old 05-09-2004, 06:52 AM
Lamia Lamia is offline
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Originally Posted by Tenebras
In Dracula, Van Helsing's accent is present or not, apparently depending on Mr. Stoker's mood while writing it.
I don't know that I'd consider this a mistake, since one of the central conceits of Dracula is that it's made up of the collected letters, diaries, and recordings of the main characters. I always found it implausible that the other characters would bother writing down Van Helsing's accent at all (or, in Dr. Seward's case, imitating it), but it would be even less plausible if they all consistently rendered Van Helsing's every line in dialect.
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Old 05-09-2004, 08:50 AM
betenoir betenoir is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter morris
Talking of Shakespeare, the scene where Hamlet meets the ghost of his father starts at midnight, there's a few minutes of dialog, and ends as dawn is breaking.
So the other day I was in the shower thinking about Hamlet's soliloque...as one does ...and I got the part about "that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns", and thought...er....didn't someone do just that in the first act

Kind of undermines the whole thrust of the speech, dunnit ?
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Old 05-09-2004, 09:16 AM
Estilicon Estilicon is offline
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Originally Posted by Innanna
Well if Ivahoe counts as a classic (), then there is the fact that one of the characters rises from the dead with no explanation. You'd think after they had his funeral, someone would have been a little surprised to see him 100 pages later, but they aren't.*


*It has been a while since I read this, so I may have a detail wrong. Please don't yell.
Ok heretic, liste carefully, Ivanhoe is a classic. , no explanation needed, it's an article of faith.
That character, Athelstane, had received a terrible blow in hsi head. He was left unconscious and, considering it was the dark ages, his companions thought he couldn't have survived it. The priest who were in charge of his burial realized he was alive but as they would profit from his death they decide to finish the work.
Incidentally Athelstane resurrection is so funny that it's worth the price of the book.
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Old 05-09-2004, 10:29 AM
Innanna Innanna is offline
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Originally Posted by Estilicon
Ok heretic, liste carefully, Ivanhoe is a classic. , no explanation needed, it's an article of faith.
I thought that because it was enjoyable it might not be a classic. Glad to know I was wrong. And my HS English teacher reccomended it just for the resurrection of Athelstane (and thank you for the character's name. Knew it started with an A, but I couldn't remember anything else).
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Old 05-09-2004, 11:01 AM
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In [u]Lord of the Flies[/b], the kids steal Piggy's glasses and use them to start the fire.

Well, Piggy was nearsighted. That would mean that his glasses would be concave in shape, and would scatter the incident sunlight. You need a convex lens (like a magnifying glass) in order to concentrate the sun's rays in order to start a fire. They really to have brought along a middle-aged guy with reading glasses to make this work....
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Old 05-09-2004, 11:27 AM
hawthorne hawthorne is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter morris
Talking of Shakespeare, the scene where Hamlet meets the ghost of his father starts at midnight, there's a few minutes of dialog, and ends as dawn is breaking.
Well, it is set in Denmark. Perhaps it's high summer (although it is "bitter cold").
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Old 05-09-2004, 11:32 AM
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Since Robinson Crusoe was stripping to swim, I assume it was so his clothes wouldn't get wet. It would have been kind of pointless to leave some on, I think. I'm still leaning towards mistake.

But, I wonder if this Victorian "sort-of" nakedness is actually why he made the mistake. In DeFoe's head, nakedness didn't necessarily preclude pockets.
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Old 05-09-2004, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by rowrrbazzle
There are numerous errors in the Sherlock Holmes stories. In "The Speckled Band", a snake is trained by a whistle and drinks milk. Snakes are deaf and don't drink milk. Asimov wrote a short article about some of Doyle's errors in the area of chemistry.
And a snake cannot climb a rope.
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Old 05-09-2004, 01:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter morris
A Christmas Carol.

So, Scrooge hates Christmas. The ghosts decide to show him the error of his ways.

First they take him back to his chuildhood and show him that he had to work at Christmas while all the other children were having fun.

Then they show him a few years later, the only woman he ever loved ran out on him at Christmas.

Then, they bring him to the present, and show him Bob Cratchett and his family starving to death at Christmas.

Then they take him into the future and show him Tiny Tim dying at Christmas, and himself dead and unmourned.

All of this teaches him that Christmas is really a happy and jolly time after all.

Does this make sense to anyone?
First -- He wasn't working, he was left at boarding school. But his beloved sister came to take him home.

You left out the time in between when they all had such a great time at Fezziwigs.

Then, the woman he loved did not run out on him. He had become corrupted by money and greed, and broke up with her.

Then, they show the Cratchetts having a loving Christmas despite their poverty. Ditto with the nephew and friends.

However: It has been suggested that the Cratchetts were really not all that bad off, for the times. They had several healthy children and only one who was sickly. Not a bad ratio then. Most of all, Mr. C was able to support them all, allowing Mrs. C to be a stay-at-home mom.
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Old 05-09-2004, 01:48 PM
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I wonder if it wasn't more a case of Dickens not wanting to make things look quite as desperate as real life, in a Christmas story at least? Maybe not, I'm no Dickens scholar.

Um. Aren't there lots of inaccuracies in Poe's story... I think it was the Murders at the Rue Morgue... I mean, I don't want to give away who's doing the killings, but I'm pretty sure they don't generally behave like that. I believe the story mentions a lot of abuse, training, etc, but still, it sounds to me like an ignorant world's perception of... um... said murderer's "type".

SPOILER:
Ook. Oh, what a giveaway...
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Old 05-09-2004, 02:19 PM
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Another Shakespearean error pointed out by Asimov (and used to buttress his claim that Bill wrote his own stuff:

Shakespeare made several references to stars moving in their own spheres. However, in the cosmology of the time, while the planets moved, each in its own sphere, the stars were all suspended within a single sphere. (It was the separate spheres that allowed the planets to have separate motions from each other and from the stars, while the stars all moved together.)

Isaac claims that such an elementary error in 16th century astronomy would have been unthinkable in a learned man such as Bacon or de Vere, but was quite possible in a rube from the country that picked up his knowledge without a formal education.

Romeo and Juliet:
Quote:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
Henry IV, part I:
Quote:
Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere;
King John:
Quote:
Now, now, you stars that move in your right spheres, Where be your powers?
Hamlet:
Quote:
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres...
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Old 05-09-2004, 04:42 PM
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I dunno whether Heinlein counts as "classic." But much has been made about the Massive Significance Of Names in "Stranger in a Strange Land."

So why does Secretary-General Douglas' wife's name change from Agnes to Alice halfway through the book?
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Old 05-09-2004, 06:02 PM
DocCathode DocCathode is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Innanna
And I think that Moby Dick has someone coming back from the dead as well, but I refuse to read it, so I can't say for sure.
Not that I recall. I shall try to avoid spoiling anything- One character is near death, then remembers he has important business back home, decides not to die, and gets much better. Another character does die, but his corpse does something important later.

Re Shakespeare

IIRC A Midsummer Nights Dream makes reference to 'birds scattering at the guns' report' and to nuns (some folks claim that this is a reference to the virgin priestesses of Vesta/Hestia).

There are plenty of historical inaccuracies in Henry V, but it's most likely that these are deliberate and were done for added effect.

Gulliver's Travels has some mistakes. Some are obviously intentional (When working on the etymology of Laputa, Gulliver comes up with a few but ignores the obvious Spanish La Puta, The Whore). Others may be actual mistakes on Swift's part.

I can't think of any OTTOMH but there are numerous poems which confuse Hermes Trismigestus, the Greek name of the Egyptian deity Thoth, with the Greek Hermes.
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Old 05-09-2004, 06:11 PM
Horatio Hellpop Horatio Hellpop is offline
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In Frankenstein (First Edition; never did read the more popular Third Edition), Captain Walton (Narrator of the framing sequence) was trying to sail to the North Pole. Not sure how the Polar Ice Caps were percieved by the general public at the time, but I always thought he should have been looking for a Northwest Passage instead.
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  #46  
Old 05-09-2004, 08:24 PM
TJdude825 TJdude825 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sternvogel
O. Henry's short story The Gift of the Magi begins with this assessment of the character Delia's cash on hand:



So what of the other $1.27? You'd have to have at least 2 cents' worth of either additional pennies or half-cent coins. However, the latter were last minted in the USA some fifty years before the story was published in the early twentieth century, and probably could have been sold to a collector for more than face value, thereby ameliorating Delia's poverty a bit.
Maybe it just means "roughly 60 cents".
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Old 05-09-2004, 09:04 PM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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There are plenty of historical inaccuracies in Henry V, but it's most likely that these are deliberate and were done for added effect.
Shakespeare chose drama over accuracy, and he also had to make sure he didn't piss off Queen Elizabeth or King James by insulting one of their ancestors or anything of the sort. The big 'error' that I've heard is that it's in dispute whether Richard III is really responsible for the killing of the princes in the Tower of London. But hey, it's the same with historical movies today.
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Old 05-09-2004, 09:06 PM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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Oh, and I always forget which play it's in - The Winter's Tale, I think - but Shakespeare makes kind of a silly error in having a character talk about taking a boat to some location in Italy that's actually landlocked.
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Old 05-09-2004, 09:18 PM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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John Sutherland, who is professor of English literature at UCL, has published a whole series of entertaining books of short essays around the arch premise that apparent inconsistencies or lacunae in classic works of fiction are actually clever (or unconcious) hints by the writers as to what's actually going on. Often slightly silly, but sometimes genuinely illuminating.
See Is Heathcliff a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre be Happy?, Where was Rebecca Shot? (on more recent works), Henry V, War Criminal? and Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?, most published in the Oxford Classics series.
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Old 05-09-2004, 09:18 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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I'm not sure about this one,it's just something I've heard, but Shakespeare's play about Othello the Moor is a goof - it was based on an earlier story about a white man whose iname was Moore, or something similar.
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