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A fascinating look at how writers through the ages have approached death—in both the literary and literal senses.
“Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.” –William Saroyan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
Dying has always been a topic for great novelists, poets, and playwrights to wrestle with—but how did they themselves shuffle off this mortal coil? As this compendium of true stories reveals, they did not always bow out gracefully—but often, they did depart in memorable ways.
Aeschylus was conked on the head by a turtle falling from the sky. Molière collapsed while playing the role of a hypochondriac in one of his plays. Edgar Allan Poe was found semi-comatose in someone else’s clothes before taking his last breath. Sherwood Anderson was felled by a toothpick in a martini. Sir Francis Bacon was poisoned by a raw chicken. And rumor has it that Dylan Thomas expired after eighteen straight whiskeys in a row.
Even after death, some unfortunates still met with indignity: Thomas Hardy’s expunged heart, meant to be interred next to his beloved wife, was eaten by his cat.
Whether they be sad, ironic, ignoble, ghastly, or shocking (literally, in the case of Thomas Merton), here are the stories of more than one hundred writers’ encounters with death, spanning nearly 2,500 years—and what each had to say on the subject, revealing varying degrees of fear, uncertainty, denial, acceptance, and humor. In Final Chapters, “Jim Bernhard gives a respectful nod to the understandable fascination most of us have with death…an often morbid but sometimes merry reminder that all flesh is grass, no matter how talented or rich or famous the bones it cloaks” (Star Tribune)