Literary Daybook, March 19

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published March 19, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On March 19, 1753, Reuben Hardale is murdered.
-- "Barnaby Rudge" (1841)
by Charles Dickens

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald enthusiastically wired his editor, Max Perkins, from Paris to tell him that he had finally found a title for his new novel: "CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE ..." Fitzgerald had planned to call his book "Trimalchio" -- already abandoned titles included "The High Bouncing Lover" and "Trimalchio in West Egg" -- but as he reworked the story he also began to rethink his title.

Fitzgerald had taken the name Trimalchio from the first-century Roman story "Satyricon," thought to be written by Petronius. As "director of pleasures" for Nero's imperial court, Petronius would have had dealings with people of Trimalchio's status and style -- rich and vulgar social climbers who, like Fitzgerald's hero, enjoy playing host to an endless supply of partygoers and parasites. After being carried in to dinner by his slaves, Trimalchio reclines on cushions to clean his teeth with a silver toothpick, drink "Opimian Falernia, one hundred years old," and expand:

"Just a hut once, you know -- now a regular temple! It has four dining rooms, twenty bedrooms, two marble porticoes, a set of cells upstairs, my own bedroom, a sitting room for this viper (my wife!) here, a very fine porter's room, and it holds guests to any amount. There are a lot of other things too that I'll show you by and by. Take my word for it, if you have a penny you're worth a penny, you are valued for just what you have. Yesterday your friend was a frog, he's a king today -- that's the way it goes."

Perhaps wanting to allude to the decline and fall of a later empire, Fitzgerald had crossed out "Trimalchio" for "Under the Red, White and Blue." Less crazy than her husband about this one, Zelda (and Perkins) eventually talked him into "The Great Gatsby."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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