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Baudelaire’s Suicide Letter Auctions for $267K

Photo of Charles Baudelaire via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note:

Also in this week’s Signature Need-to-Know: Netflix’s “Sabrina” faces legal action from actual Satanists, and more!

There are famous last words, and then there are last words so famous that they fetch upwards of $250K at auction, over a century and half later – whether they were truly your last ones or not. That’s the case with Charles Baudelaire, who wrote an “extraordinary” letter to his mistress and muse in anticipation of a suicide attempt, which ultimately proved unsuccessful (he went on to live 22 more years). That letter fetched far more than the expected price at an auction this week, and was assessed by the seller as “without doubt the most extraordinary letter from Baudelaire in private hands.”

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Of all the possible conflicts to emerge from Netflix’s adaptation of the SabrinaΒ comics, we never thought to prepare for a clash with real-life Satanists. The Satanic Temple leader Lucien Greaves is threatening a lawsuit against the series over a statue of Baphomet featured briefly onscreen, which bears a striking resemblance to the one TST has actually commissioned and erected in real life. Greaves’ legal counsel states: “Given the show’s utilization of the Baphomet statue to represent an evil cannibalistic cult, a perception falsely associated with Satanism even in modern times, TST would have denied its use to the show creators.” This could end up being a payday for a group that has, until recently, picked some important fights over freedom of religion. (Recently, chapters nationwide have experienced a great deal of schism over ideological differences, including some related to Greaves’ leadership, which you can read more about here.

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If you’re moving an entire bookstore across town, you’d hire trucks. But what if you’re just moving down the street? That was the conundrum faced by a UK retailer, and they arrived at an incredibly creative solution. Recruiting volunteers, they formed a human chain to simply pass the books hand-by-hand down the street, where they arrived at the new location no worse for wear – more than 2,000 books over the course of just one hour. This also happens to be the best possible form of advertising for the store’s new location – none of the store’s regular customers can claim they don’t know where it is.

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Here’s a teachable moment for book lovers: two scientists stationed together in Antarctica got into a near-fatal scuffle because one of them wouldn’t stop revealing the endings to books the other was trying to read. While news reports are quick to cite the harsh, isolating Antarctic conditions as a main factor in the stabbing, but anyone who’s ever had a major plot point deliberately spoiled for them will likely feel a twinge of sympathy for the attacker… in fact, they may have a hard time assembling a truly impartial jury for this case.

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Meanwhile, novelist Jeannette Ng took to Twitter to address a particular pet peeve in fiction: the trope of “characters wandering into an endless library without further worldbuilding.” Storing and maintaining a tremendous library is a lot of work, and that effort tends to be curiously invisible in fictitious libraries. Ng provides a bit of library history for other writers to draw from the next time they tackle a setting like this, and she also imparts some wisdom on how this trope likely arose in the first place: “The idea that every great house comes with a dusty library (with half the pages still uncut) is a very Victorian one, when the mass production of books had hit the point where you can just buy a library and install it as a status symbol like a ball room.”

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It’s not just prisoners who stand to suffer from having their reading options curtailed – as they increasingly are, as more prisons adopt a for-profit model and a shrinking selection of titles. We on the outside stand to lose as well, and this piece by Electric Literature underscores how access to reading material can lower rates of recidivism, “allowing the growth and development of prison writers and intellectuals.” In other words, the lessons and skills people pick up while imprisoned really do play a role in who they become upon release.

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George Orwell would probably be shocked to see how well-regarded his book 1984 is today, since this was his estimation of his manuscript at the time: “It’s a ghastly mess now, a good idea ruined, but of course I was seriously ill for 7 or 8 months of the time.” This excerpt from a new book about the life of Anthony PowellΒ also provides a portrait of Orwell’s last years, noting that upon his passing in 1950, only about fifty or sixty people attended the funeral – “he had as yet nothing like the reputation that eventually made him a key figure of the 20th century.”

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In Bram Stoker’sΒ  time, writing research had to be entirely done in libraries – and the London Library in Mayfair has the receipts, since they’ve begun discovering Stoker’s Dracula notes scribbled in the margins of various books. Digging through old texts like The Book of Werewolves and An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia have yielded numerous examples of “crosses, lines and page turn-downs” consistent with Stoker’s known habits, plus scribbles in the author’s “appalling” handwriting.Β  While defacing library books is a big no-no nowadays, we’re still excited to glimpse this marginalia.

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Forget anything you’ve heard about “Star Wars”: Anne of Green Gables has the most intense fandom, bar none.Β  Whether or not you’ve read the book, you will be amused to see the effort poured into this thread of tweets re-imagining Anne and company as characters in a classic role-playing game. “Okay so Anne is going to pass the raspberry cordial to Diana as part of her bonus move,” the post begins. “And they get a +2 to combined actions because of their bosom friend perks.” Based on the response to all this, the creator has their sights set on creating a full RPG setting for those with a taste for adventure (as well as cordial).