Hey Classics Challengers: What’s in a name?

I haven’t posted in a while, but that doesn’t mean I have been reading any less. I wish there were a way I could sit down and write ten blog posts at once and schedule them to post themselves throughout the coming week. Alas, it doesn’t appear I can do that, so I’ve got so many books to write about, but no time to do it.

This picture's terrible, but it's just something I just stole off the Internet, so I guess I can't complain too much.
This picture’s terrible, but it’s just something I just stole off the Internet, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

Today, I got an email from a Classics Challenger asking what the next category is. I don’t want to be responsible for holding people back from reading, so I’ve chosen the next category: A book whose title is a person’s name.

This was a category my wife suggested, and I liked it right away. I had great ambitions, but if I can’t even post about books I’ve already read, I’m not about to tackle “David Copperfield” at the time of year when there’s school concerts, soccer games, volleyball games, track meets and who the hell knows whatall coming up as school comes to glorious end.

It’s interesting that there are so many classic books with just a name as their title. Interesting because the author created the character out of whole cloth and, chances are, had to do some marketing of the book if even to just a publisher. “It’s a great book, Charlotte, but the title’s gotta go,” I imagine some bottom-line-focused wonk saying. “Call it ‘Mr. Rochester’s Secret,’ we put a picture of some dame with a couple a ginormous hooters spilling out of her ripped bodice on the cover and you won’t be able to print enough of ’em!” Of course, “Jane Eyre” sold pretty well.

Charles Dickens has a large number of books titled after the main character: “Little Dorrit,” “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Barnaby Rudge” and “Martin Chuzzlewit” come to mind without doing much thought. But then Dickens had a way with names — Miss Havisham, Ebenezer Scrooge, Old Fezziwig, Uriah Heep, Madame LaFarge — the list goes on and on, many of them (Scrooge in particular) working their way into everyday language. I’ve never read “Martin Chuzzlewit,” but let’s bring that last name into common use to describe a harmless chucklehead who’s nice enough, but someone you avoid nonetheless. Who’s with me?

Anyway, back to my name dilemma: I could have chosen “Hamlet” or “Macbeth” or “Julius Caesar” or any number of Shakespeare’s plays. I could have chosen “Anna Karenina” but I’ve already been to Siberia. I thought about “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” but my wife and I decided it should be only the name as a title. That left out works like “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” or “The Picture of Dorian Gray” or “Tess of the Durbervilles” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” of “Lord Jim.” Anyway, whichever way I turned, it seemed daunting. Then I found the slim volume that seems to fit my mood, more for the length than for anything else (though the cover’s cute): “Candide.”

Yes, it’s only one name, but that’s all the name the main character has! And even more interesting, its author only has one name, too: Voltaire. So it’s about this girl named Candide who … wait, according to the flyleaf, Candide’s a dude. (Those French!) And he has this girlfriend named Cunili…oh, sorry, it’s Cunegonde, and it’s some sort of vicious satire about the government of France back in the 1700s. Leonard Bernstein turned it into one of the longest, most boring musicals ever, though the overture to it is phenomenal.

I chose the book because it’s 94 pages. Sorry, I wish I could be more intellectual for you, but sometimes you need a quickie. I am a little concerned that there are another 94 pages of Chronology, Introduction, Further Reading, Translator’s Note, A Note on the Text, A Note on Names, appendices and Notes. I kid you not.

So there you have it. Wish me luck — what name novel are you going to dive into? Let me know in the comments below, and happy reading.

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8 thoughts on “Hey Classics Challengers: What’s in a name?

  1. “Person’s name”? Does that rule out Moby Dick? My premeditated plan was to read McTeague, although I do think both author and protagonist have a first name. I don’t think it’s been turned into a musical, but it was transposed into one of the longer movies ever made–Greed–clocking in at something insane like ten or twelve hours, every minute silent, as in silent film. Lucky or unlucky for us, only the 60ish minute, slashed and burned edited version exists, which is actually a pretty great movie.

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    1. The intent was a human’s name, but if you want to read a book named after a whale, I’m here to support you. Of course, that means I’m now rethinking “Candide,” when suddenly “Old Yeller” and “Black Beauty” are on the table.

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