The autobiography of Henry Sibson came to light in 1999. Sibson was a British sculptor who helped in the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the 1820s. While in France, he supposedly worked alongside another sculptor who "was humpbacked" and who "did not like to mix with carvers." This humpbacked sculptor may turn out to be the real-life Quasimodo.
Quasimodo joins a long list of literary characters whose real-life roots have come to the fore. His case also adds to a lengthy catalog of surprising facts about our favorite fictional characters.
1. A Fairy Tale Hero, or Is He?
Fast Facts: Peter Pan was never a hero in the eyes of J. M. Barrie. The author made changes to the original play that, in the end, improved the standing of the boy who wouldn't grow up.
The swashbuckling, devil-may-care Peter is a beloved figure, but Barrie never thought of him as a hero. The playwright actually saw the boy as an amoral, anarchic character affected by sorrow.
Peter knew tragedy at a young age. As a baby, he took off and flew into the night. He stayed away for some time, but he had trouble returning home when he flew back (the house was locked when he arrived). Thinking that his mother had forgotten him, he went away for good. He never saw his family again.
Peter grew up without a care in the world, but he continued to distrust adults in general. So, in manners and in morals, he refused to be anything but a boy. He regarded life as a game, a gun-and-sword adventure. He took killing as a sport, and playacting a solemn exercise. He lured children away from their families whenever he felt doing so.
Peter first appeared on stage only after a major revision. At the last minute, Barrie changed the script to accommodate his real-life relations. (Barrie originally wrote the story as a play. The novel "Peter and Wendy" came seven years later.) Gerald du Maurier, the brother of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, was cast to play Captain Hook. Barrie was close to the du Mauriers, and he supposedly had a thing going on with Llewelyn Davies. So, to give du Maurier more exposure, he made Hook more interesting.
That change, along with du Maurier's strong performance, made Peter look better. Hook was certainly less likeable, and he was clearly the villain of the story, so Peter won everyone over by default. The audience rooted for the boy, and when he defeated the baddie and saved the day, the logic that drives all fairy tales afforded him a flattering yet undeserved position. Everyone forgot that he was a self-centered scoundrel who liked to draw children away from their homes. Everyone ignored the fact that he was a rascal and a bully who liked to boss orphans around. He was a bringer of adventures and happy endings, and in the black-and-white world of Christmas plays, adventures and happy endings are all that matter.
Peter remains much-loved to this day. He continues to give form to our fantasies, even in the face of doubts about his true nature. He remains our favorite parable, our go-to allegory against age and responsibility, in spite of evidence that points to him mirroring many of Barrie's unappealing quirks (including the author's fondness for manipulating children). To this day, the boy who wouldn't grow up remains to us a charming, cheery character in a harmless, timeless classic.
Fast Facts: The play and the novel featuring Peter are in the public domain in the United Kingdom (since 2007, or 70 years after Barrie's death), but London's Great Ormond Street Hospital owns perpetual royalty rights to the works in the UK (thanks to a 1988 law). The hospital also claims exclusive rights to the works in the United States (until 2023), in Spain (up to 2017), and in Mexico (until 2037). Barrie bequeathed the copyright of the works to the hospital, with explicit instructions against financial disclosures (to this day, the hospital refuses to put Barrie's bequest in exact figures).
2. A Nastier Piece of Work
Fast Facts: Mr. Hyde was a lot nastier in Robert Louis Stevenson's original draft. A quick rewrite watered down Dr. Jekyll's alter ego into the monster we now know.
Hyde and his other self Jekyll began as a nightmare. Stevenson saw them in a terrifying dream that left him screaming in his sleep. His wife woke him up, but the interruption only upset him. "Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale."
Still, he had enough of the nightmare to spur him into grabbing a pen. A magazine had just asked him for a ghost story, so Stevenson lost no time in putting his bad dream on paper. Jekyll took form, and the monster in him became Hyde. Stevenson made sure to describe the transformation scene that sat at the heart of his nightmare.
Stevenson finished the story in a few days, but his wife didn't like the first draft. The tale troubled her, according to some historians, but others point to a possible disagreement over the story's form and substance (his wife supposedly wanted an allegory). So, without hesitation, Stevenson threw the manuscript away (his stepson revealed later on that he actually burned the piece).
Stevenson never gave up on the story, though. He got back at it without delay, rewriting feverishly. He ignored misspellings and lapses in grammar as he struggled to keep up with his dark muse. He was bedridden the whole time, according to some biographers, but others point to probable drug use (cocaine or ergot) during the time of the rewrite. Stevenson finished two drafts of the story in about six weeks.
The final version of the tale was considerably less dark than the previous drafts. Sensitive passages were deleted, while Stevenson removed in particular explicit references to Hyde's sexual tendencies (perhaps at the suggestion of his wife, who was thinking about his standing as a children's book author). Stevenson wanted Hyde to represent the monster in all of us, but he also took into account the possible reactions of his readers (as well as the likely criticisms from his publishers). He wanted the character to stand for the duality (and the duplicity) of the human experience, but he also saw the impracticality (at least from a narrative standpoint) of delving into Hyde's secret "appetites." "Into the details of the infamy at which I thus connived (for even now I can scarce grant that I committed it) I have no design of entering," Hyde explained later in the story. In the end, Stevenson wrote in generalities to get his message across.
Fast Facts: In 1909, New York's Morgan Library and Museum purchased Stevenson's edited draft of "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" (the definite article was absent in the original title). The library bought the 1885 manuscript for $1,500.
3. The World-Famous Literary Distraction
Fast Facts: Arthur Conan Doyle thought Sherlock Holmes was a nuisance. He killed off his most famous creation in the story "The Final Problem" so that he can be rid of the detective permanently.
Holmes' success secured Conan Doyle's place in literature, but the author only saw the detective as a distraction. "He takes my mind from better things," he once told his mother.
Conan Doyle was a man of many interests, and so he used and developed an eclectic mix of themes, topics, and characters in his writing. Apart from Holmes, he also created the brutish Professor Challenger. Aside from his work in detective fiction, he also wrote stories with horrific, scientific, and fantastic elements. He wrote about psychic powers in "The Parasite," for example, and about a murderous mummy in "Lot No. 249." He wrote about the city of Atlantis in "The Maracot Deep," and about the popular ship Mary Celeste in "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement." He also liked writing about urban legends and contemporary events, but Conan Doyle loved his historical novels most of all. He was especially fond of the book "The White Company," a knights-and-monks adventure set in the Middle Ages.
Conan Doyle saw his contributions to detective fiction as minor achievements, and he deemed Holmes' commercial and critical successes as small inconveniences. He was certainly glad for the rave reviews and the generous paychecks, but he was really wary of being typed as a mystery writer. He wanted, instead, to be out of the detective game and to focus on his other literary endeavors (particularly his historical novels). So, taking into account his authorial reputation and his other efforts, he decided to be rid of Holmes once and for all.
Originally, Conan Doyle planned on just stopping writing detective fiction, but the circumstances surrounding Holmes prevented him from simply walking away from the genre. He tried many times to price his mystery stories out of The Strand, the home of Holmes since 1891, but the magazine always gave him more money whenever he asked for it. (At one point, his rate jumped from £50 a piece to £1,000 for 12 stories.) He tried many times to give his most loyal readers something else--a ghost story, a Napoleonic tale, or an interesting account grounded on science--but the public always asked for more adventures featuring the great detective. With no other recourse, Conan Doyle finally decided to commit murder (in the metaphorical sense) to escape the clutches of his most famous creation. To borrow his own words in "A Case of Identity," he knew that "the thing to do was clearly to bring the business to an end in such a dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon" everyone that Holmes was really dead.
Holmes met his end in "The Final Problem." The story, which appeared in the December 1893 issue of The Strand, saw the great detective plunge to his death while fighting the criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty. As expected, the story inspired surprise, disappointment, and widespread protests. At once, The Strand lost many of its subscribers. Conan Doyle, meanwhile, had to fend off criticisms from the reading public. "I have been much blamed for doing that gentleman to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me."
Conan Doyle eventually gave in to pressure and brought back Holmes eight years after his supposed death, but even then there was no love lost between the two. "I couldn't revive him if I would, at least not for years, for I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day." He wrote more stories featuring Holmes, but up to the end he considered the detective a literary burden. "If I had never touched Holmes, who has tended to obscure my higher work, my position in literature would at the present moment be a more commanding one."
Fast Facts: All in all, Sherlock Holmes appeared in four novels and 56 short stories. He first figured in "A Study in Scarlet," a novel that was included in the 1887 issue of Beeton's Christmas Annual.
4. Mild Dyslexia Made the Man
Fast Facts: Ebenezer Scrooge was the product of failing light, poor eyesight, and mild dyslexia. Charles Dickens misread the epitaph that inspired him to write "A Christmas Carol."
Dickens based his character Scrooge on a real person. The author, however, was helped along by an honest mistake.
Dickens got his first dose of Scrooge while in Edinburgh. He had some time to kill before a scheduled lecture, so he wondered about the city. He ended up in a graveyard.
While there, he saw a stone marking the grave of Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, who according to the inscription was a meal man. Scroggie was a corn merchant in his time, but the author read the description on his tomb as "mean man." Dickens suffered from mild dyslexia, and he saw the grave marker late in the day.
The novel "A Christmas Carol" came out two years later. Dickens was so moved by Scroogie's epitaph that he worked the whole thing into a book. Scroggie became Scrooge, a mean, heartless man who saw the value of kindness and generosity just in time for Christmas.
Scroggie didn't resemble Scrooge in any way, though. Scroggie was a wild, openhanded fellow who liked loud, rambunctious parties. Once, he grabbed the buttocks of the Countess of Mansfield at the General Assembly of The Church of Scotland (thereby suspending debates on the floor). At another time, he reportedly "ravished" a servant upon a gravestone (which earned him a child out of wedlock and a scathing reprove from his congregation). Apart from the corn business, Scroggie was also in the whisky trade (the Royal Navy was one of his customers).
Fast Facts: "A Christmas Carol" began the Dickensian tradition of annual Christmas tales. Scrooge's story was followed by "The Chimes" in 1844 and by "The Cricket on the Hearth" in 1845. Later on, Dickens worked with other authors to keep this yearly project going. "No Thoroughfare," a novel and stage play written in collaboration with Wilkie Collins, was the last of these annual Yuletide stories. It appeared in the Christmas issue of Dickens' periodical All The Year Round in 1867, or three years before the author's death.
5. A Kid's Request (Down the Rabbit Hole)
Fast Facts: Alice's adventures were put on paper because the real-life Alice asked for it. Lewis Carroll had no real plans for the story before he got the kid's surprising request.
Alice's nonsensical adventures began as an impromptu story told during a particularly happy excursion. Carroll (Charles Dodgson in real life) was on a boat with a small party that included Alice Liddell (then aged 10) and her sisters. Taking it upon himself to entertain the girls (as usual), Carroll whipped up a whimsical story on the spot. The girls loved every bit of it, and young Alice asked Carroll to commit the tale to paper.
Carroll obliged, writing in his spare time. He had written stories before (in his earlier work, he had shown a fondness for humor and satire), but it took him more than two years to deliver on his promise. Alice received her copy of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" in 1864. The manuscript was handwritten. It also included Carroll's own sketches.
At the same time, Carroll submitted the piece to George MacDonald, the author of "The Light Princess" and "The Golden Key." MacDonald (and his children) liked the story, so he encouraged Carroll to look for a publisher.
Carroll did, but even then he never stopped working on the story. He expanded the narrative until the final draft grew to nearly twice as long as the original (the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter's tea party were late additions). John Tenniel was then hired to provide illustrations for the book, and the title was changed, in the end, to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." ("Alice Among the Fairies" and "Alice's Golden Hour" were considered but ultimately rejected.)
Fast Facts: Alice Liddell held on to her copy of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" until she was very old. She was already a widow when she sold her manuscript via Sotheby's for £15,400.