A Series Of Unfortunate Literary Allusions
A Series of Unfortunate Events is chock full of evil henchmen, evil henchwomen, and harpooned victims. It also contains a series of literary allusions, which here means references to "authors, poets and famous people who are now corpses." Even if you have an ocular tattoo stamped on your ankle, these references may have escaped your eyes the first time around.
The Good Guys:
The Baudelaire Orphans: They are named after the 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire is most famous for his morbid poetry collection, "Les Fleurs du mal" (The Flowers of Evil).
Baudelaire's own life was a series of financial and personal disasters. He was prosecuted on obscenity and blasphemy charges, suffered a stroke, was placed in a sanatorium, contracted syphilis, and became an opium addict. Plus, he was in love with his own mother.
Klaus and Sunny: The two younger Baudelaire siblings bear the names of an unfortunate couple in Rhode Island. Wealthy businessman Claus von Bulow was found guilty of injecting his wife, Sunny, with a deadly insulin cocktail. His verdict was later overturned. The story later became a film: Reversal of Forture.
Violet: Famous nonshrinking violets include the murderer Nozière, the Lindbergh-baby-kidnapping suspect Sharpe and the wretched blueberry in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A violet ray was a popular medical device in the early 20th century, based on the coil technology developed by Nikolas Tesla, Violet Baudelaire's favorite inventor.
Isadora and Duncan Quagmire: The first names of two of the three Quagmire triplets are a reminder of the hazards of being fashionable. Dancer Isadora Duncan died when her fashionable scarf caught in a car wheel and the car kept moving. Also, her children drowned, her love life was disastrous, her husband committed suicide and she repeatedly went into debt.
Beatrice: She is the dedicatee of the Snicket books. Baudelaire actually wrote a poem entitled "La Beatrice." The first four lines:
In charred and ashen fields without a leaf,
While I alone to Nature told my grief,
I sharpened, as I went, like any dart,
My thought upon the grindstone of my heart...
The dedications in each novel also pay homage to Dante's Divine Comedy, in which a woman named Beatrice appears as Dante's guide through heaven. Dante's fictional Beatrice was based on Dante's muse -- also named Beatrice -- who died in 1290 at the age of 24. Tragic.
In addition, 15th-century Italian aristocrat Beatrice Cenci was beheaded after successfully plotting to kill her husband with a nail, Shakespearean Beatrice was an orphan in Much Ado About Nothing and 20th-century Beatrice Straight was the paranormal investigator in Poltergeist.
Mr. Poe: The coughing banker, who has two sons named Edgar and Allan, is most definitely named after the always-hacking-because-he-had-consumption poet, who had a penchant for morbid tales.
The Bad Guys:
Count Olaf: The arch villain of the books could be named after either Olaf Tryggvason, an ancient pillager and murderer in 11th-century Norway, or a character in Theophile Gautier's gothic fantastique Avatar. Of course, the most famous Count in literature is none other than Dracula, based on Vlad the Impaler. Count Olaf does not have fangs but his weapon of choice is an impaling-friendly harpoon.
Stephano: The first of Count Olaf's many disguises takes his name from a drunken character who plots to kill Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Dr. Georgina Orwell: The woman who hypnotizes Klaus most certainly resembles her namesake, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm. Her hypnosis methods are examples of a totalitarian Orwellian regime trying to make everyone think the same way.
Vice Principal Nero: He is a violinist who makes the children sit through six-hour concerts. Roman Emperor Nero supposedly "fiddled while Rome burned."
Esme Squalor: Count Olaf's girlfriend and the 6th most important financial adviser in the city draws her name from J.D. Salinger’s short story, "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor."
Coach Genghis: The terrible gym teacher who makes students run laps is clearly connected to Khan, the ferocious Mongol military leader who conquered most of Asia.
Other Astounding Allusions:
Beverly and Elliot: Violet and Klaus pick these pseudonyms when they visit Madam Lulu's carnival. Jeremy Irons plays Elliot and Beverly Mantle in the 1988 horror film Dead Ringers a movie with lots and lots of blood and gore.
Caligari Carnival: Madam Lulu's carnival is named after The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a silent movie about a string of murders committed in Germany.
Hugo and Colette: The hunchback and the contortionist in the carnival are named after authors Victor Hugo and Colette.
Nevermore Tree: "A poem drops beneath its leaves / Sent there by a flying crow / Not a raven as in Poe"
Plath Pass: The orphans have a hard time getting through this pass, named after the poet who committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven.
Prufrock Prepatory School: The boarding school where the Baudelaires are sent pays homage to T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which opens with a verse from Dante's Inferno.
The Ophelia Bank: Ophelia drowns by the riverbanks in Hamlet.
Sontag Shore: The shore pays tribute to Susan, noted critic and activist.
Queequeg: This tattooed South Sea Islander has a penchant for harpoons in Melville's Moby Dick.
Virginia Woolfsnake: Montgomery Montgomery's slithery creature "should never be allowed near a typewriter." Which is exactly what Count Olaf would say about Lemony Snicket.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.