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Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  227 ratings  ·  50 reviews

The Real Stories Behind Everyone's Favorite Novels-from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to The Great Gatsby.

Every great book begins with an idea, whether it comes to a writer's mind with lightning speed or tugs at the imagination over time. Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway offers stories of the inspiration behind fifty classic works, from The Sound and the Fury, Jane Eyre, and F

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Perigee Books
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3.55  · 
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 ·  227 ratings  ·  50 reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it

This collection of four-page essays on the sources of inspiration of some fifty well known-novels--ranging from Naked Lunch and Mrs. Dalloway to "The Wind and the Willows" and "The Hobbit"--is a quick and enjoyable read.

Veteran readers who know a lot of this stuff already will still acquire a few interesting anecdotes, and intelligent high school students--one of whom recommended this to me--will find it very informative.

Johnson refuses to go dark or deep--J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll, for ex
Shelf Magazine
Read an interview with author Celia Blue Johnson and read an excerpt from the book in the October/November 2011 issue of Shelf to discover the stories behind famous stories.
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I finally finished this book by my bedside table that I started a long time ago, put down because I’m the worst, and wasn’t picking up again (for whatever reason) till now.

I remember really liking this book when I first started it, but I put it down, thinking that I could read a story in it every night (which was stupid [!!] because look at my track record with books). Although I do not actually know how factual each story in this book is, the work is work cited for each claim it makes. I felt
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
I think I appreciated the headings for each section of this book more than the actual stories (as it turns out, anyone who has read some will be surprised at how much they already knew about how the authors came up with the ideas for their books, it's well-examined territory): 1) When Lightning Strikes 2) In the Telling 3) Catch Me If You Can 4) These Mean Streets 5) The Great Chase 6) On the Job. The fact that some authors had a flash of inspiration from nowhere, that some used real live people ...more
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting stories about the genesis of some great books, but although it discusses classics, is not a classic on it's own.
Did you know Atticus in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is named after Titus Pomponius Atticus, close friend of Cicero? Also that dear friends gave Harper Lee a year off from work (financial support) so she could write, and Mockingbird is the result.
Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte after she heard news of a governess who found out that her husband had a secret w
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a great collection of stories behind the stories... from Cervantes to Kurt Vonnegut, it follows a chronological pattern (which I appreciate), but in 6 different categories I'm not fully convinced works

I have recently become interested in writing, and have had trouble taking the plunge, but if you're like me, one of the things you will learn from Ian Fleming (James Bond series) "never mind about the brilliant phrase or the golden word, once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct,
Jane Greensmith
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I was so disappointed with this book. I've read the first 6 or so chapters and just don't want to take the time to go on with it. It seems very juvenile--in fact, I checked on Amazon to see whether I had inadvertently ordered a kids book or YA book, but no such disclaimer there.

The stories about the inspiration behind the various works of fiction are just that stories, anecdotes with no reference to source material, footnotes, or even quotes. There is nothing in the way the story is presented th
Barbara Ardinger
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is probably more appropriate for young readers, but it's fun even if you know something about literature. What inspired Tolstoy to write Anna Karenina? Why did Tolkien write The Hobbit and the Ring trilogy? Johnson teases out the secrets of fifty authors, from Cervantes to Grahame, Milne, Potter, Mark Twain, Barrie, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. We also learn what inspired Gaston Leroux to write The Phantom of the Opera and why Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. This is a very en ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
If I had known back in the day that the Australian I was ragging on would become an accomplished author I probably would have been nicer.

Nah, that wouldnt have been any fun. Still, congrats Blue, on a very enjoyable read.
Nov 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a great little book...contains short essays about how some of the great works of literature came into being. A lot of great little tidbits, and a quick read. I had no idea that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were best friends! Highly recommended for all literature lovers.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: real-life
Good for trivia. Kinda wished it had gone a little deeper, but perhaps that's just pickiness on my part.
Paula Dembeck
Sep 14, 2014 rated it liked it
How do writers generate ideas for their stories? What led writers to create some of the most famous works in literature? Acknowledging that no one can define exactly what inspired an author to write, much has been written about the events leading up to a the creation of a great novel and so Johnson tries to answer that question by exploring the genesis of a number of great books. To present their stories she divides her work into six sections, each with a different theme based on how or why the ...more
Jakk Makk
May 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
Inspiration happens. As does: eating, digestion, and the inevitable outcome. This colonoscopy of a book doesn't delve deep enough to find the Dark Heart of the Cancer.

The synopsis' feel hollow when viewed through the lens of such legendary works, the book equivalent of YouTube popularity brainletism: Ten Things About Famous Books. None of these mini-histories increased my enjoyment of the novels, so why bother?

It might provide you enough annoying trivia to get your funky chicken kicked out of
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Cute little anecdotes about authors and some of their famous works. It felt like this book was written for a younger audience (even though it doesn't look like the publisher designated it as YA). The stories were short (about 2-4 pages long) and I breezed through them very quickly. Didn't discover anything earth-shattering.
Heather Ford
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was not thoroughly researched, and that unfortunately showed in many of the chapters. However, I did learn some fascinating tidbits behind authors I have not read and am now adding quite a few literary works to my to-read pile.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Three words: shallow, curious, simplistic.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An enjoyable light read. A collection of 4-page backstories on 50 great works of literature. The “essays” don’t go into a lot of depth, but I still liked reading it a little at a time.
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did you know that the classic books Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Jane Eyre were all based on true stories? Did you know that Anne Shirley's story was inspired when L. M. Montgomery combined her adopted cousin and a famous model, with her imagination mixing in the spunkishness of the character? Or that The Hobbit only saw the light of day because a student of Tolkien's saw promise in it and connected Tolkien with a publisher?

There are so many unique tales behind the best-known stori
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
[This is an excerpt from a post on my personal review blog.]

For some, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it was a game: her monster was born form the idea of horror itself, his bits and pieces belonging to an overheard conversation on the topic of the reanimation of bodies. For others, like Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the steps of the cerebral sleuth had been tread by another, as the masterful detective was based off of - at least partially - a one time medical professor of Doyle's. For
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a fun, light read - each short chapter discusses a well-known work of literature and gives a little bit of background about how the author was inspired to write it. Some of the stories were familiar to me - Winnie-the-Pooh, Pride and Prejudice - but many were not. I picked up some interesting information and also got some ideas for books I need to add to my to-read list!

The writing is simple and straightforward; the author conveys her stories in an accessible way, with only a few clunke
Marathon County Public Library

Have you ever wondered what inspired a particular author to write a book? For instance, why did Margaret Mitchell write "Gone with the Wind?" What drove Ernest Hemingway to pen "The Old Man and the Sea?" What inspired L. Frank Baum to create "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?" Author Celia Johnson provides the intriguing back stories to those literary classics and many more in her fascinating book, "Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway." Johnson book traces the origins of some 50 famous titles. Along with the a

Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this collection of true stories about authors and their famous novels they created. Each story is no longer than a couple pages, so if you want something more in-depth, this isn't for you. However, I was really intrigued by this book and it has made me interested in re-reading some of the classics discussed. It has also piqued my interest in reading a full-length biography or two. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in classic fiction, biography or those w ...more
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
A bunch of short stories about how authors came up with ideas for their famous books. It was interesting to read and I'd have liked to have seen more in there. Some of them I knew, some I didn't. I may have skimmed over ones I had no interest in, but that was on me, not the book.

It was an easy read, but I'd have to say a good one.
Lars Bunch
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
An entertaining collection of brief origin stories of famous novels. I had only planned to read a couple of entries, but ending up reading the whole collection through the course of a day. This is a good "popcorn" sort of book; nothing deep that requires thought and concentration, but well written and interesting.
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of stories behind the stories. Some of them were well know but others I hadn't heard before. It's a quick read and my one complain would be that some of the stories were just way to short, only 2 pages.
Jim Zubricky
Apr 21, 2012 rated it liked it
It was a cute book with each chapter being 3-5 pages about an important work in literature and the story behind it. It was okay -- a very fast read. I skipped over parts of it because I did not read those works (and would like to!) but overall, it's a short and sweet collection of essays.
Jen Fumarolo
Apr 06, 2012 rated it liked it
This was a fun collection of tales describing the impetus for many literary classics we know and love or at least have on our to-read lists. It's kind of cool to see how different stories came to be or what a particular author found as inspiration. Fun little read.
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
I cannot imagine the amount of research that went into this book. Johnson seems to do a very careful job of sticking to the facts. If there’s a certain detail that she’s unsure about, or that there isn’t a record of—she doesn’t hypothesis. She comes right out and says so.
Leah Rachel von Essen
It was very interesting, even for the books that I haven't read yet (did get some spoilers of course, so be warned of that). I think JK Rowling should have been included as well. Other than that, very good and interesting.
Rowan MacBean
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction

I really enjoyed reading about all the different ways authors of classic literature gained their inspiration. I also really appreciated that this book's author made it clear when there was any doubt about the veracity of any of the stories.
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Celia Blue Johnson began her publishing career as a book editor at Random House and Grand Central Publishing. She left editing to focus on writing and running Slice, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization that has been featured in Time Out New York, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. She has interviewed several bestselling and award-winning writers for Slice magazine. You can find out more a ...more