Love, Sex, Death & Words, By John Sutherland & Stephen Fender

Beguiled by a literary calendar
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The Independent Culture

Doesn't the Trades Descriptions Act cover book titles? How can Love, Sex, Death & Words be justified for a volume of literary dates, all based on the solitary act of an author sitting down quietly with a quill, pencil, typewriter or keyboard?

In fact, not only the fourth noun but also the first three are mots justes for the entrancing events detailed here: in particular for the 9 June 1865 entry, which narrates Dickens's involvement in a fatal train crash. Together with his mistress (love and sex) and her mother, he was in the only first-class carriage which did not plunge (death) to the riverbed below. A perfect gent, he rescued fellow-passengers before going back for the latest episode (words) of Our Mutual Friend.

Professors Sutherland and Fender have found a literary event for every one of the year's 366 days (including 29 February, the date in 1728 of the first night of The Beggar's Opera, which got this rave review from the Duke of Argyll: "It will do"). They provide not mere dates but intriguing narratives, idiosyncratic expositions and witty essays.

Their calendar runs from the perpetual copyright granted on 1 January 1988 to Peter Pan (all proceeds to Great Ormond Street Hospital), to the publication of Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates's novel, on 31 December 1961. It ranges from 480BC (29 September, Battle of Salamis, subject of Aeschylus's play The Persians) to 2008 (9 April, Bob Dylan awarded the Pulitzer Prize).

Some of their best dates are for events which never happened: Holmes and Moriarty plunging to their apparent deaths over the Reichenbach Falls (4 May 1891), and Mr Charles Pooter commencing his Diary of a Nobody (3 April 1892). Some are engagingly small: on 28 October 1853 Thoreau picked up 703 unsold copies (out of a vanity print run of 1,000) of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. One of their dates is wrong: it was not on 10 November 1960 (the day of publication) that Lady Chatterley's Lover was acquitted of obscenity, but on 2 November. The book was one of seven, not 10, Lawrence titles brought out by Penguin.

Another mistake – not of the authors but the people concerned – was the "modernist dinner party from hell" on 18 May 1922. Proust, Joyce, Stravinsky and Diaghilev got together and up one another's noses. "Roll on post-modernism," they must have thought.

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