On this date in 1862, Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables was published. The novel, which has been popularized through its numerous musical and film adaptations, took Hugo 17 years to write.
While writing the novel, the French writer struggled with bouts of writer’s block that required him to develop a unique Ulysses contract: he removed all his clothes and locked himself in his room with only pen and paper; he would then order his servants not to bring him his clothes until he had produced a complete chapter (1).
Once the novel was complete and published in 1862, Hugo was anxious to find out how it was selling. One famous anecdote recounts the shortest correspondence in history. Hugo supposedly sent a telegram to his publisher which simply said, “?” The publisher’s reply, by telegram, was just as brief: “!”
Another humorous anecdote related to laconic communications comes from the United States’ 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. Known for his taciturn nature, Coolidge was nicknamed Silent Cal. At a White House dinner one night, Coolidge was accosted by a young female guest who said, “You must talk to me, Mr. President. I made a $10 bet with my husband. He waged that you wouldn’t say three words, but I bet you would.” Coolidge then considered the matter for a moment and replied: “You lose” (2).
Often times anecdotes like the ones above seem almost too funny to be true, and in many cases they are. One excellent source for exploring the veracity of such stories is the blog Quote Investigator, where Garson O’Toole doggedly searches for the truth (2). Some stories and quotations are so old that we just cannot find out definitively whether or not they are true. The term for these types of anecdotes is apocryphal — that is, a story that is widely circulated as true, yet is of doubtful or uncertain authenticity — from the Greek apokryphos, meaning “hidden or obscure.” (See October 11: Apocryphal Anecdote Day).
Today’s Challenge: LOLA: Laugh Out Loud Anecdote
What are some examples of humorous anecdotes — short stories with a funny punchline? Write a version of a humorous anecdote appropriate for all audiences in your own words. It may be a true story, an apocryphal story, or a totally fictional story. Be brief, but also be funny. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. -Victor Hugo