The Ghostly Writer

The French writer Guy de Maupassant was famous for approximately two things: one, his brief yet incredibly prolific writing career; and two, his claim that one of his many stories just happened to have been dictated to him by his ghost-double, his doppelganger.

M. de Maupassant was dying of syphilis for the last several years of his life (perhaps we have three things he was famous for), and insanity is one symptom of that terrible disease. In “The Horla,” which he published in 1887, a few years before his death, the narrator is tormented by a demon he can not see, can not prove exists, but who comes to him every night and drinks the water off his night table and makes him ransack his own house, to the consternation of his servants. (I might write a parody of this and call it, “The Santa.”)
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Sentimental Journeys

Laurence Sterne was dying of consumption, the polite yet dramatic term that people used to employ for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis. He had contracted it by 1740, when he was still in his 20s, and he fought for his every breath for his remaining three decades of life.

In 1765, he left England in search of better breathing, and he traveled abroad to France and Italy. He was a surprise best-selling author by this point, a clergyman who had decided on a whim to start telling the life story of a character but by not telling it in a straightforward manner, to comically digress his way through The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. One of the earliest novels in English or any language, “Shandy” was an instant success when its first two volumes started appearing in 1759.

The genre we call “travel writing” was not as common in the 1760s as it is now, and most works in that genre at that time were quite unsentimental: verbal pictures of natural phenomena and wonders of the man-made world and warnings-slash-complaints about the foreignness of foreigners on their strange home turf. In his 1765 journey, Sterne encountered fellow novelist Tobias Smollett, and the stern, dry Smollett left such an impression on the always amused Sterne that in his book, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, he based a character named “Smelfungus” on Smollett. Nice revenge.
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On an Island

Daniel Defoe is officially credited as the author of 28 titles, but it is likely that he was the author of twice that, if one counts the pamphlets, essays, and other works he published under pseudonyms.

One of his titles keeps his name famous almost three centuries after he published it: Robinson Crusoe. Its full title on its publication in 1719 was longer (ahem): The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.
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