Four Writers and Their Strange Obsessions

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Honore de Balzac - Caffeine


There are some of us - myself included - who consider themselves addicted to caffeine. I get headaches if I don't have a Diet Coke or coffee early enough in the day, and I definitely get cranky. But that's nothing compared to Honore de Balzac. The famous French author would drink up to fifty cups of coffee every single day. And not stuff watered down with milk and sugar and the like - nope, Balzac liked thick, black, Turkish coffee. If it was unavailable in liquid form, or if he didn't want to wait for it, he simply popped a handful of beans into his mouth and chewed (yuck). It may have kept him up all hours so he could write fantastic and prolific works of literature, but it didn't do him any favors in the health department: he suffered from stomach cramps, high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. Some reports say it was the coffee that killed him - ulcers ate completely through his stomach and he died from a combination of that and caffeine poisoning. Others say it merely contributed to his already not-health-conscious lifestyle: in addition to the coffee, he ate vast quantities of food and had quite the waistline. Either way, he died at the early age of 51 on August 18, 1850.

Charles Dickens - Morgues


Charles Dickens could not get enough of body bags and toe tags. "I am dragged by invisible force to the morgue," he even admitted. He loved to go down to the city morgue and would just hang out there for days on end, watching new dead bodies come in and observing the people there working on them. He referred to the whole ordeal as "the attraction of repulsion." I feel like there's a joke in here somewhere about not being caught dead in a morgue, but I'll go ahead and leave that one alone. Dickens also liked to check out famous murder scenes and try to analyze exactly what happened. Maybe he was just ahead of his time? I'm thinking a new TV series might be in order - CSI: Charles Dickens. I'd totally watch that.

James Joyce - Farts


I've written about his addictions before, but I'm strangely fascinated with his fascination. Although they didn't really diagnose sex addiction at the time, I bet if James Joyce was around today he would be classified as one. He wrote hundreds of letters to his lover, Nora (who later became his wife), and spared no expense in the detail of what he wanted the two of them to do when they were together again. But oddly, he seemed to be most obsessed with her farts. It's a repeated theme in his letters - here's one example: "I think I would know Nora's fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have."

Ummm. Yeah.

Vachel Lindsay - Germs and Cleanliness


Poet Vachel Lindsay grew up listening to his physician dad extol the virtues of avoiding germs and disease by staying clean. Unfortunately, toward the end of his life, the idea started to consume him entirely. He thought his wife was trying to kill him by sleeping with other men and then purposely spreading venereal disease to him, and believed germs were almost certainly the cause of his writer's block. On December 5, 1931, Lindsay rearranged the furniture in the living room after his wife went to bed. He sat in the middle of all of his accolades - newspaper clippings, awards and certificates - and gulped down a mug of Lysol. He ran through the house screaming, "I got them before they got me! Let them try to explain this, if they can."

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I seem to recall that Joyce while walking with Nora or some other female in Dublin one night found the sound of her urinating highly arousing. Any Joyceian types out there that know the true story?
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Seems to be that age 51 is a pretty average age when you die in 1850, coffee addiction or no. A quick Google shows me that the average American lifespan in 1850 was 47: http://www.well.com/~mp/a31.html
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You might want to correct the spelling to 'Vachel Lindsay. btw, what's your source for the info on his germ phobia? I know he wasn't the most stable guy in the world, but this germ thing seems a tiny bit apocryphal. Eh, maybe I'm just naturally suspicious.
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