10 Bizarre Literary Myths and Conspiracy Theories


Conspiracy theories: they’re as fascinating as they are maddening. For every ridiculous idea that the stoner in your life insists on telling you about every time you see him/her, there’s another theory that sounds like it could just be true. Here at Flavorwire this week, we’re investigating conspiracy theories in pop culture: yes, it’s Conspiracy Theory Week! Don’t tell the Illuminati.

There are people who spend years trying to prove certain literary myths and conspiracy theories correct, but most never quite do it. Some of those theories are hilarious, a couple are totally pointless, others are impossible to prove right or wrong, while the most entertaining ones are borderline batshit insane. These are a few of our favorites.

Branwell Brontë, not Emily Brontë, wrote Wuthering Heights

So Branwell goes out drinking with his friends one evening, has a few pints (or whatever they drank in Victorian England), and read parts of his novel in progress to them. Later on, when his sister Emily’s book became well known, those drinking buddies swore they recognized parts of it as the novel their pal had read to them.

Emily Dickinson always wore white

As you can see in the above photo, Emily Dickinson didn’t always wear white. But according to her museum’s website, there’s a strangely pervasive myth that she did later in her life.

Leo Tolstoy was murdered

The official story is that the War and Peace author died of pneumonia, but the journalist and scholar Elif Batuman once went to an International Tolstoy Conference at Tolstoy’s house in Yasnaya Polyana to present a paper investigating the possibility that he was murdered. Read all about how that trip went at Harper’s.

The KGB killed Albert Camus

William Faulkner’s dog is buried next to him

If you’re ever in Mississippi, and you want to visit Faulkner’s earthly remains at the Oxford Cemetery, maybe you can try and solve the mystery of who is buried in the fourth grave in the family plot marked with initials E.T., “an old family friend who came home to rest with us,” whose true identity is a weirdly guarded secret.

Marcel Proust didn’t know anything about madeleines

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was inspired by childbirth

Charles Dickens wrote longer novels because he was paid by the word

Charles Dickens met Fyodor Dostoyevsy

Honore de Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day

Did he really drink that much coffee on a daily basis? Unfortunately, no outside source — a 19th-century barista, perhaps — stepped forward as a witness to Balzac’s chain-drinking of black coffee, and that would have been a whole lot of caffeine coursing through his veins (not to mention liquid swimming around in his stomach).