Quote Investigator®

Tracing Quotations

Truth Is Stranger than Fiction, But It Is Because Fiction Is Obliged to Stick to Possibilities; Truth Isn’t

Mark Twain? Lord Byron? G. K. Chesterton? Edward Bellamy? Humphrey Bogart? Leo Rosten? Tom Clancy?

truth is stranger than fiction argumentative essay

1) Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense. 2) It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction must be credible. 3) Truth is stranger than fiction. It has to be! Fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t! 4) The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.

Would you please explore this topic and determine what Twain actually said? Some versions have been credited to humorist Leo Rosten and top-selling author Tom Clancy.

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Mark Twain released a travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and the fifteenth chapter presented the following epigraph. Boldface has been added to excerpts: [1] 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 15 Epigraph), Quote Page 156, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday … Continue reading

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. —Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. Thus, Twain was the actual crafter of the remark given above. Over the years many variant phrasings have evolved.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1823 Lord Byron published several cantos of his epic satirical poem “Don Juan”. The one-hundredth stanza of canto 14 included two lines indicating that momentous events sometimes capriciously hinged on other seemingly unimportant occurrences:

You’ll never guess I’ll bet you millions, milliards— It all sprung from a harmless game at billiards.

The next stanza expressed a thought about the strangeness of truth that has now become idiomatic: [2] 1823, Don Juan: Cantos XIII, XIII, and XIV, Author: George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), Canto 14, Stanza 101, Quote Page 165, Printed for John Hunt, London. (Google Books Full View) link

‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange, Stranger than fiction: if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold!

In 1888 Edward Bellamy published the popular utopian novel “Looking Backward: 2000–1887” which contained a germane quotation. The main character Julian West, an insomniac, built a special chamber to block noises and hired a mesmerist to facilitate a deep sleep. A conflagration in 1887 caused West’s contemporaries to believe he had perished while his body remained hidden and preserved for more than a century. In 2000 West’s body was rediscovered and revived. He was confused and skeptical about his new situation, so he asked his discoverer for an explanation: [3] 1888, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy, Chapter 3, Quote Page 45 and 46, Ticknor and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link

“Perhaps,” I said, “you will go on and favor me with some particulars as to the circumstances under which you discovered this chamber of which you speak, and its contents. I enjoy good fiction.” “In this case,” was the grave reply, “no fiction could be so strange as the truth.”

The above quotation was applied to one particular situation; hence, it did not quite fit the proverbial form.

In 1895 a newspaper in Delphos, Ohio printed a humorous precursor as an anonymous filler item: [4] 1895 August 9, The Delphos Daily Herald, (Fill item), Quote Page 2, Column 6, Delphos, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Truth is stranger than fiction because we don’t meet it as often.

In 1897 Mark Twain included an adage comparing truth and fiction in “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World” as mentioned previously:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

In 1904 “Current Literature: A Magazine of Contemporary Thought” reprinted the words of Twain in an altered form. The two words “possibilities” and “isn’t” were replaced by “probability” and “ain’t”. In addition, the phrasing was changed: [5] 1904 December, Current Literature: A Magazine of Contemporary Thought, Volume 37, Number 6, The Original of Lady Kitty? Start Page 518, Quote Page 521, Column 1, The Current Literature Publishing … Continue reading

It was Mark Twain who once remarked sagely, in the person of Pudd’nhead Wilson, that “truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to probability, and truth ain’t.”

In 1905 the noteworthy essayist and detective writer G. K. Chesterton presented a thematically related statement: [6] 1905, The Club of Queer Trades by Gilbert K. Chesterton, The Singular Speculation of the House-Agent, Start Page 129, Quote Page 135 and 136, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) … Continue reading

“Do you believe that truth is stranger than fiction?” “Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction,” said Basil, placidly. “For fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it.”

In 1913 “The Magazine Maker: An Informative Journal for Writers and Editors” printed an article about submitting stories to magazines, and shared the opinion that many such tales were of low quality. The author presented a quotation from John Thompson who was the editor of “Pearson’s Magazine”, and Thompson employed another variant of Twain’s statement: [7] 1913 January, The Magazine Maker: An Informative Journal for Writers and Editors, Volume 3, Number 6, The Newspaper Story by Russell E. Smith, Start Page 11, Quote Page 13, The Hannis Jordan Company, … Continue reading

“There is an astonishing lack of ‘naturalness’ in these stories that come to us through the mails. If the chaps who write these stories would get a little more naturalness into their yarns there would be more published. Mark Twain said ‘Truth is stranger than fiction. It has to be! Fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t!'”

In 1914 “Pearson’s Magazine” printed an advertisement that praised forthcoming stories. Twain’s remark was rephrased yet again: [8] 1914 July, Pearson’s Magazine, Volume 32, Number 1, (Advertisement for stories appearing in a future issue of Pearson’s Magazine), Quote Page 112, The Pearson Publishing Company, New … Continue reading

“Truth,” said Mark Twain, “is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t.”

In 1922 “McClure’s Magazine” printed a short story that uncertainly echoed the absurdist variant given several years earlier in “Pearson’s Magazine”: [9] 1922 May, McClure’s Magazine, Volume 54, Number 3, Aaron Westcott’s Funeral By Viola Roseboro’, Start Page 37, Quote Page 39, Column 2, The McClure Publishing Company, New York. … Continue reading

But what was it Mark Twain said, ‘Truth’s stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t’?

The 1954 film “The Barefoot Contessa” included a thematically matching line spoken by the star Humphrey Bogart as recorded in “The Movie Quote Book”. The screenplay was by Joseph L. Mankiewicz: [10] 1980, The Movie Quote Book, Compiled by Harry Haun, Topic: Screenplays, Quote Page 293 Lippincott & Crowell, New York. (Verified on paper)

“Kirk was wrong when he said I didn’t know where movie scripts left off and life began. A script has to make sense, and life doesn’t.”

In 1975 the humorist Leo Rosten published an article in “The Saturday Review” that included an instance of the adage. Rosten used an asterisk footnote to assign credit to Mark Twain: [11] 1975 January 25, The Saturday Review, Diversions: This Enchanted World by Leo Rosten, Start Page 8, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

“Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction?” asked the soundest psychologist the United States has produced.* “Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” Reality, of course, does not. If you doubt this, settle down as I give you a sample of some recent carryings-on of the human species. *Mark Twain.

The popular 1977 compilation “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter contained a version of the saying. Interestingly, the instance given by Peter matched the instance given by Rosten, and both were ascribed to Twain: [12] 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Truth, Quote Page 473, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense. —Mark Twain

In 1978 Leo Rosten published “Passions & Prejudices: Or, Some of My Best Friends Are People”, and he expressed another thematically matching notion which he ascribed to Twain: [13] 1978, Passions & Prejudices: Or, Some of My Best Friends Are People by Leo Rosten, Chapter 4: The Glories of the Press, Quote Page 24, Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified … Continue reading

For novelty, lunacy and surprise, fiction cannot begin to compete with fact. Mark Twain knew why: Fiction has to make sense . . . and life doesn’t.

In 1997 “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes” ascribed the following saying to Tom Clancy who was a bestselling author of military thrillers: [14] 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Quote Page 140, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)

The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense. —TOM CLANCY

In 2004 an instance appeared as a puzzle solution in the long-running syndicated newspaper feature called “Celebrity Cipher”. Cryptograms for this widely-distributed column were based on “quotations by famous people past and present”: [15] 2004 November 10, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Celebrity Cipher by Luis Campos, (Previous Solution), Quote Page B7, Column 5, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)

“Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense.” — Leo Rosten

In 2012 the energetic quotation collector Robert Byrne published “The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said”, and he included an anonymous instance of the saying: [16] 2012, The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne, Quote Number 855, Touchstone: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)

The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. —Unknown

In conclusion, there is a large family of sayings which contrast “truth/reality” and “fiction”. These adages assert that fiction must accord with possibilities or probabilities. Alternatively, they state that fiction must make sense or be credible. QI believes that this family of expressions evolved from Mark Twain’s remark published in 1897. Many different variants have been assigned to Twain; however, current evidence only supports the ascription of 1897 statement.

Image Notes: Photo of faucet sculpture fountain from Hans on Pixabay. Portrait of Mark Twain from Appleton’s Journal of July 4, 1874 via Wikimedia Commons. Image showing part of the cover of the 1897 edition of “Following the Equator” by Mark Twain.

(Great thanks to Hope Dellon, Secretoriginz, and Ed Darrell who asked about this family of sayings. Dellon knew the correct Twain quotation. Their inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Additional thanks to Brandon Miller who pointed to the quotation in Bellamy’s 1888 work.)

Update History: On February 6, 2019 the 1888 Bellamy citation was added.

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Read it First: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Collage of famous authors

Last month we took a look at the lives of famous authors as shown in popular films. And while that was a fun way to learn more about the authors we know and love, we all know that sometimes films take creative license to make their stories more interesting. This time around, we’re looking at cold hard facts. Below we’ve featured several documentaries about writers that may just be even more fantastic than their fictional counterparts. Did you know that Maya Angelou was mute for five years? Or that Gabriel García Márquez was once punched in the face by Mario Vargas Llosa? As they say, truth is stranger (and sometimes even more entertaining) than fiction.

Watch and Read at Home

Book cover for Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou led a long and extraordinary life. It took Angelou seven autobiographies to discuss her fascinating life, a feat we cannot complete in a mere paragraph. Here is just a taste of her many achievements. Angelou held many jobs during her life including San Francisco’s first female African American cable car conductor, night club dancer, actress of both stage and screen, journalist, composer, author, director, and political rally organizer. She wrote seven autobiographical novels, multiple collections of essays, poetry, and screenplays. She worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to organize rallies and work for racial justice. She received over 50 honorary doctorates, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, and won three Grammys. She was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom and served on two presidential committees. From San Francisco to Ghana, to Los Angeles, Angelou took the world by storm in whatever she put her mind to. Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack bring together rare footage, archival photographs, and exclusive interviews with many of Angelou’s friends including Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, Common, and Quincy Jones in their award-winning documentary about her life, And Still I Rise . Find e-books of Maya Angelou’s work here .

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Book cover for William S. Burroughs A Man Within

William S. Burroughs was an American writer and one of the most well known members of the Beat Generation. After being discharged from the Army in 1942 for mental instability, he moved to New York. It was there that he fell into his lifelong drug addiction and met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. These three writers would form the basis of the Beat Generation. Burroughs accidentally killed his second wife in 1951, an act which he would later claim inspired him to begin his writing career as he wrote to stave off a restless, possessive spirit that he felt followed him from that point forward. He wrote semi-autobiographical works that delved into his alcoholism, drug abuse and homosexuality as he traveled around the world. The novel that brought Burroughs to the public consciousness was Naked Lunch, a controversial work that has since become a classic. Naked Lunch was labeled obscene upon its publication in the US and to this day is the last text only book to be put on trial for obscenity. Young Leyser’s 2010 documentary, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within , uses never-before-seen footage and interviews with friends and admirers such as Patti Smith, John Waters, Amiri Baraka, and David Cronenberg, to provide an intimate portrait of this troubled and visionary writer. Check out more of Burroughs’ work here .

Book cover for Ralph Ellison: An American Journey

Ralph Ellison was a critically acclaimed scholar and author in the mid 20th century. After an unsettled childhood, Ellison managed to gain admission to the prestigious Tuskegee Institute, an all Black university founded by Booker T. Washington. But Ellison soon left due to the class prejudice and academic elitism of the environment. After moving to New York, he met Langston Hughes who took him under his wing and introduced him to a group of like-minded writers, actors, and artists. It was there he met Richard Wright, who encouraged him to write fiction. Several years later, Ellison’s seminal novel Invisible Man was published. Ellison’s groundbreaking portrayal of the ubiquitous racism and elitism faced by his unnamed protagonist was the first novel written by a Black author to win the National Book Award. Avon Kirkland’s 2002 documentary, Ralph Ellison: An American Journey , is a portrait of Ralph Ellison's life and legacy. Read Ralph Ellison’s fiction and nonfiction work here .

Book cover for Gabo: The Creation Of Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez, affectionately known as Gabo, was a Nobel Prize winning author and journalist best known for his works One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera . Widely considered one of the best authors of the 20th century, Márquez was one of the most famous writers of the Magical Realism genre. In addition to his literary work, Márquez was passionate about politics and activism throughout his life. From a close friendship with Fidel Castro to his integral role in negotiating peace talks between the Colombian government and several guerilla groups, Márquez led a fascinating and full life. Justin Webster’s 2015 documentary Gabo looks at the life story and literary legacy of this classic author. Interested in checking out Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional work? Check out our e-books and e-audiobooks here .

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Book cover for Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. Le Guin was a prolific and groundbreaking speculative fiction author. The winner of eight Hugos, six Nebulas, 22 Locus Awards and the second woman to be named Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, she left a lasting legacy on speculative fiction. Le Guin was the daughter of an anthropologist and an author, who grew up reading science fiction magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories and Astounding Science Fiction . These influences would color her future work. Le Guin’s career took off with the publication of the young adult novel, A Wizard of Earthsea , widely regarded as inspiration for dozens of fantasy classics that followed in its wake. Her next novel, The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo and the Nebula, making Le Guin the first woman to win both awards. Her career spanned almost six decades and she is credited with opening the door for greater recognition of female writers and making the speculative genre more mainstream and more literary. Arwen Curry’s 2018 documentary, Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin , was created over the course of a decade with Le Guin’s participation. Featuring interviews with Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon and more, it delves into the remarkable life and literary legacy of this incredible author. You can find e-books and-audiobooks of Le Guin’s work here .

Book cover for Tell Them Anything You Want

Maurice Sendak was an illustrator and children’s book author who rose to fame after the publication of Where the Wild Things Are . An immediate success in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are has remained a beloved children's book ever since. He found himself at the center of controversy after the publication of his next book, In The Night Kitchen , due to the nudity of the main child character. Since its publication, there have been multiple attempts to remove this book from school and public libraries. Despite this, Sendak is one of only two children’s authors to win the three prestigious Hans Christian Anderson Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Sendak continued to write and illustrate for the remainder of his life and his books are perennial classics. Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs’ documentary Tell Them Anything You Want features interviews with Sendak, covering his life, his work, and the controversies that surrounded some of his most famous children’s books. You can find a selection of Maurice Sendak’s work here .

Book cover for Gonzo

Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist and author whose seemingly unquenchable thirst for drugs and alcohol fueled his unique brand of writing and turned him into a cultural icon. Thompson began his career in journalism covering football games in Florida while in the Air Force. He was honorably discharged for his rebellious attitude and spent the next few years being hired and fired from several newspaper jobs for various acts of insubordination and unruly behavior. This pattern would continue throughout his life. His first work of prominence was Hell’s Angels , for which he lived and rode alongside a group of Hell’s Angels riders for a year. This was his first real instance of what was later termed gonzo journalism, a style pioneered by Thompson in which the journalist becomes a part of the story he is telling. Thompson is best known for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , which began as a 250 word photo caption and morphed into a drug-fueled novel about the death of the 1960’s countercultural movement. Eventually, Thompson’s wild lifestyle took its toll and he began a slow decline that sadly ended with him taking his own life on February 22, 2005. Alex Gibney’s 2008 documentary, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson , focuses on Thompson’s unique brand of journalism and his storied life through interviews with friends and family. To find more of the weird and wonderful work of Hunter S. Thompson, check out our e-media collection . 

Book cover for Trumbo

Dalton Trumbo was a novelist and screenwriter of multiple Academy Award winning films. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, Trumbo was one of the most sought after and highly paid screenwriters in Hollywood. All of that changed in 1946 when he was named as a Communist sympathizer in the infamous “Billy’s Blacklist,” a column denouncing several members of Hollywood as using films to further a Communist agenda. Brought before the House of UnAmerican Activities in 1947, Trumbo refused to testify against his colleagues and ended up serving eleven months in jail. Upon his release, he was blacklisted from Hollywood. Though banned from the industry, he continued to write screenplays pseudonymously and under other writer’s names. These films included such classics as Roman Holiday , Spartacus , and Exodus . Peter Askin’s 2007 documentary, Trumbo , combines footage of Trumbo, interviews with friends and family, and reenactments of his letters using an all star cast to look at this extraordinary writer and the trials he endured to continue his work. While we don’t have copies of Dalton Trumbo’s scripts, you can read his novel Johnny Got His Gun through our e-media providers today! 

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The Marginalian

From Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury, Iconic Writers on Truth vs. Fiction

By maria popova.

truth is stranger than fiction argumentative essay

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King in On Writing
Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison in Advice to Writers
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ~ Mark Twain in Following the Equator
Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story… humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels, etc., etc. Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing… and as unobtrusive.” ~ Ray Bradbury
The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe in Advice to Writers
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” ~ Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie
The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt
You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.” ~ John Waters in Role Models
Fiction that adds up, that suggests a ‘logical consistency,’ or an explanation of some kind, is surely second-rate fiction; for the truth of life is its mystery.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982
The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.” ~ Wallace Stevens in Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose
Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing
We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.” ~ Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

— Published January 27, 2012 — https://www.themarginalian.org/2012/01/27/famous-authors-on-truth-vs-fiction/ —

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The meaning and origin of the expression: Truth is stranger than fiction

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Truth is stranger than fiction

What's the meaning of the phrase 'truth is stranger than fiction'.

Literal meaning.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Truth is stranger than fiction'?

This proverbial saying is attributed to, and almost certainly coined by, Lord Byron, in the satirical poem Don Juan , 1823:

' Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold! How oft would vice and virtue places change! The new world would be nothing to the old, If some Columbus of the moral seas Would show mankind their souls' antipodes.

See also: the List of Proverbs .

Gary Martin - the author of the phrases.org.uk website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin, author of the www.phrases.org.uk website.

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Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: Don Juan and the Truth Claims of Genre

Dino Franco Felluga is associate professor of English at Purdue University. He is author of The Perversity of Poetry (2005) and Critical Theory: The Key Concepts (2015). He is also general editor of the four-volume Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (2015) and of Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History ( branchcollective.org ).

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Dino Franco Felluga; Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: Don Juan and the Truth Claims of Genre. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2016; 77 (1): 105–120. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-3331613

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This essay examines the ways that Lord Byron’s Don Juan engages both the novel’s and the lyric’s claims to truth and virtue, thus setting up the maneuvers that would later be exploited by the Victorian verse novel.

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Why do we say "Truth is stranger than fiction"?

Well-known expressions, truth is stranger than fiction.

Sometimes the facts can be harder to believe than fiction

Background:

The first recorded use of this expression in its modern form is in Lord Byron's Don Juan (1823): 'Tis strange -- but true; for truth is always strange;      Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange!      How differently the world would men behold! How oft would vice and virtue places change!      The new world would be nothing to the old, If some Columbus of the moral seas Would show mankind their souls' antipodes. - George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), Don Juan , Canto the Fourteenth, Verse 101

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Truth Is Stronger Than Fiction

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By Rachel Donadio

  • Aug. 7, 2005

ON Page 8 of this issue, V. S. Naipaul argues that nonfiction is better suited than fiction to capturing the complexities of today's world. Another major writer, the novelist Ian McEwan, expressed similar sentiments when he said that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he turned to history books, and books on Islam and imperialism. "For a while I did find it wearisome to confront invented characters," McEwan said on "The Charlie Rose Show" in March. "I wanted to be told about the world. I wanted to be informed. I felt that we had gone through great changes, and now was the time to just go back to school, as it were, and start to learn."

Magazine editors apparently share these writers' sense of things. This spring, The Atlantic Monthly announced it would stop publishing fiction regularly, except for an annual summer issue. Around the same time, the new editor of The Paris Review, Philip Gourevitch, said he wanted the literary magazine to feature more nonfiction. GQ hasn't published fiction since 2003, and is undecided about whether to resume. Esquire, once the glimmering showcase of the postwar liter-ary scene, has also scaled back in recent years.

The evidence is plain: space for fiction in general-interest high-circulation publications is shrinking. But what exactly is driving the trend? Are these magazines responding to a cultural reality or creating one? Is fiction no longer essential? If so, aren't magazines ensuring its decline by publishing less of it? Maybe all of the above. "We're living in a newsy time," Gourevitch said. "There's an intense emphasis on topicality that also happens to coincide with a time when fiction is not particularly topical." Gourevitch's first issue of Paris Review comes out this month, and although he wants more nonfiction in the mix, he said he had no plans to "radically" alter the balance of fiction and poetry in the magazine.

"We're in a dark cultural moment. I think people seem to feel more comfortable with nonfiction," said Adrienne Miller, a novelist and the literary editor of Esquire. "The tragic theme here is that literary fiction has very limited cultural currency now. Fewer and fewer people seem to believe fiction is still essential for our emotional and intellectual survival."

Like painting, the novel isn't dead; it just isn't as central to the culture as it once was. In our current infotainment era, in which the line between truth and "truth" is growing ever more blurry, readers thirst for a narrative, any narrative, and will turn to the most compelling one. Depending on your worldview, fiction and nonfiction are either ensconced in a healthy, mutually affirming relationship, or they're locked in a death grip, vying for America's attention.

Publishers are constantly debating which of the two is on top. "The interesting thing is that the question keeps getting asked," said Karen Rinaldi, the publisher of Bloomsbury USA, which publishes both fiction and nonfiction. "In my experience, the trend right now according to everybody is that nonfiction dominates."

But trends can lead to pitfalls. "If you're following something, that's how you miss things," Rinaldi said. Nonfiction dominates publishers' lists when they pile on to the theme du jour -- political books in election season, low-carb diet books, books with breathless subtitles: "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," "One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw," "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," etc.

As with so many cultural trends, market factors are at work. Book publishers often find nonfiction easier to deal with because they can package and market it more successfully. Publishing nonfiction is "more satisfying," said William Shinker, the senior vice president and publisher of Gotham Books, a nonfiction imprint of Penguin. By satisfying, he meant the books found their audience and sold better. This is true, but it's also why the nonfiction best-seller list is well stocked with books that have the shelf life of skim milk. They may be good for the next quarter's earnings, but they probably won't do wonders for the all-important backlist, the books kept in print over the years because they continue to sell.

And how, you may ask, can we be in a nonfiction moment when the latest installment in the Harry Potter series sold more than four million copies at the bookstore box office in its first weekend alone? Or when "The Da Vinci Code" has been on the best-seller list for almost two and a half years? One answer is that these are books as escape from the world. Fiction may still be one escape of choice -- along with television and movies and video games and iPods -- but when it comes to illuminating today's world most vividly, nonfiction is winning. Not for nothing has "The 9/11 Commission Report," a government document that reads like a thriller, sold more than a million copies.

Which is in part why the editors of The Atlantic Monthly decided to scale back on fiction. "In recent years we have found that a certain kind of reporting -- long-form narrative reporting -- has proved to be of enormous value . . . in making sense of a complicated and fractious world," Cullen Murphy, the magazine's departing editor, wrote in an e-mail message. "Certain kinds of nonfiction writing have claimed some of the territory once claimed by fiction. Not because nonfiction writing has become 'fictional,' in the sense of taking liberties, but because certain traits that used to be standard in fiction, like a strong sense of plot and memorable characters in the service of important and morally charged subject matter, are today as reliably found in narrative nonfiction as they are in literary fiction. Some might even say 'more reliably' found."

Yes, the American appetite for experimental fiction does seem pretty small these days. Depending on whom you talk to, that's a sign either of our small-mindedness or of our impatience with opacity. But while it's admirable that The Atlantic hasn't stopped publishing fiction altogether, its current fiction issue seems to offer more evidence of fiction's marginalization. By ghettoizing it in one issue, The Atlantic is sending the message that fiction today is somehow removed from the eschatological urgency and "morally charged" subjects of its nonfiction reportage.

Which brings us back to politics. If, as Naipaul argues, fiction is no longer adequate to make sense of the world, then it's understandable why magazines and readers turn to nonfiction. As a rule, novelists shouldn't become editorialists, but it's safe to say no novels have yet engaged with the post-Sept. 11 era in any meaningful way. A possible exception is Ian McEwan's "Saturday," which is set in London on the eve of the Iraq war. But although it demonstrates a fine-tuned awareness of the range of human responses to terrorism and violence, the backdrop of the geopolitical situation remains just that, a backdrop.

To date, no work of fiction has perfectly captured our historical moment the way certain novels captured the Gilded Age, or the Weimar Republic, or the cold war. Then again, it's still early. Nonfiction can keep up with the instant messenger culture; fiction takes its own sweet time. Even Tolstoy wrote "War and Peace" years after the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the most compelling creative energies seem directed at nonfiction. That is, until the next great novelist comes along to prove the naysayers wrong. Time, as Elizabeth Bishop once wrote, is nothing if not amenable.

ESSAY Rachel Donadio is a writer and editor at the Book Review.

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Mark Twain: 'Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.'

Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.

Mark Twain once famously said, "Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." This quote succinctly captures the idea that reality often presents us with scenarios that are more unbelievable and unpredictable than anything a fiction writer could concoct. Truth, by its very nature, is not beholden to the constraints of logic or narrative structure as fiction is. Real-life events can be chaotic, bizarre, and defy our expectations, leading us to question the boundaries of what is possible or plausible. In this sense, truth can indeed be stranger and more fascinating than fiction.In delving deeper into this notion, it is interesting to consider the implications it has on our perception of reality and our understanding of the world around us. The contrast between truth and fiction raises philosophical questions about the nature of truth itself. If reality can sometimes be more outlandish than anything we could dream up in our imagination, how can we trust our perceptions and beliefs? Are we limited by our ability to comprehend the complexities and nuances of the world, or are we simply scratching the surface of a much deeper and more convoluted reality?One unexpected philosophical concept that may shed light on these questions is the idea of solipsism, the belief that the only thing that can be known to exist is one's own mind and that everything else, including the external world and other minds, is uncertain or may not exist at all. While this extreme philosophical position may seem far-fetched and isolating, it offers an intriguing perspective on the limits of human knowledge and the elusive nature of truth. In a world where reality can be stranger than fiction, perhaps we are all just players in our own individual narratives, struggling to make sense of a world that defies our attempts at understanding.The juxtaposition of truth and fiction challenges us to question our assumptions about the nature of reality and invites us to embrace the uncertainties and mysteries that surround us. Instead of seeking easy answers or neat resolutions, we can embrace the strangeness and unpredictability of truth, allowing ourselves to be surprised and enlightened by the myriad possibilities that exist beyond the confines of our imagination. As Mark Twain suggests, truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, and it is in embracing this strangeness that we truly come to appreciate the richness and complexity of the world we inhabit.

Thomas Fuller: 'Better be alone than in bad company.'

Oscar niemeyer: 'architecture is invention.'.

ScienceDaily

Is truth stranger than fiction? Yes, especially for science fiction

From warp drives to hyperspace, science fiction has continuously borrowed from, and sometimes anticipated, the state of the art in scientific progress. This has resulted in the perception that science and science fiction have a causal relationship, one finding direction from and fulfilling the science fantasy laid out before it.

But that is rarely the case, according to Lawrence Krauss, a Foundation professor in the School of Space and Earth Exploration and the Department of Physics at Arizona State University. No doubt, science fiction has taken inspiration from the cutting edge science of its day. And, as Stephen Hawking reaffirmed in the preface of Krauss's bestselling book, the Physics of Star Trek, science fiction helps inspire our imaginations. But Krauss believes science fiction is not a match for reality.

"Truth is stranger than fiction," Krauss said at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

"The imagination of nature far exceeds the human imagination, which is why we constantly need to probe the universe via experimentation to make progress," he said. "In fact, I tend to think that what makes science fiction most interesting is what they missed, not what they got right."

Krauss gave his talk, "Physics of the future," on Feb. 14 at AAAS as part of a session titled "Where's my flying car? Science, science fiction and a changing vision of the future."

As examples, Krauss mentioned the World-Wide-Web, developed at the CERN scientific laboratory and which governs the world in ways that were not anticipated. He also described "The World Set Free," often quoted as a prophetic book by H.G. Wells, which was published in 1914 and anticipated the development of atomic weapons that could be used in war. It even coined the term "atomic bombs" decades before they became a harsh reality in the modern world and perhaps influencing some of the scientists who went on to create these weapons.

"Nevertheless not only did Wells' continually burning atomic weapons bear no resemblance to the engines of destruction in the real world," Krauss emphasized, "he thought it would unite the world into one society whereas we are painfully aware that it hasn't changed human thinking, except to divide the world into nuclear haves and have-nots."

"Nevertheless it is instructive, and fun, to compare the 'science' of science fiction with that of the real world," said Krauss, who also is the director of the Origins Project at ASU. "Rather than dwelling on things that don't work, it is fun to explore closely related things in the real world that might work."

Krauss discussed a variety of classical science fiction standbys -- space exploration, faster than light travel, time travel and teleportation. It seems almost tragic that science fiction is full of space travelers, freely and technologically effortlessly fulfilling their manifest destiny in space while we remain stuck on Earth. But the reality of the situation, according to Krauss, is that space travel costs a lot of money and energy, is a very risky endeavor and humans, as "hundred-pound bags of water," are not built for space.

On a more positive vein, Krauss described how exotica live warp drive and time travel are not ruled out by known laws of nature, though from a practical perspective even if possible in principle they are likely to be impossible in practice. While it is not likely that humans will be "beamed" from one place to another, quantum teleportation might revolutionize computing in ways that science fiction has just begun to come to grips with, said Krauss, who has authored more than 300 scientific publications and nine books, including the international bestseller The Physics of Star Trek, a tour of the Star Trek universe and our universe, and Beyond Star Trek, which addressed recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy and takes a look at how the laws of physics relate to notions from popular culture.

Krauss concluded that predicting the future of science if fraught with problems.

"The best part of physics of the future is that we have no idea what the exciting discoveries of the future will be," he said. "If I knew what the next big thing would be, I would be working on it now!"

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The Benefit of Using Postmodern Characteristics in "Stranger than Fiction" 

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truth is stranger than fiction argumentative essay

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  1. Truth Is Stranger than Fiction, But It Is Because Fiction Is Obliged to

    Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.—Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar. Pudd'nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. Thus, Twain was the actual crafter of the remark given above.

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    Jun 1, 2022. --. 9. Photo by Sachin Khadka on Unsplash. Truth is stranger than fiction… because fiction has to make sense. A sentiment that has seen many iterations from many prominent authors, and probably dates back to a poem by Lord Byron, but all express the same thing: the dichotomy between real life and fiction stories.

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    Mark Twain once famously remarked, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities Truth isn't." This quote encapsulates the idea that reality often presents scenarios that are more unbelievable and extraordinary than anything that could be concocted by the human imagination. In the world of ...

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  8. The saying 'Truth is stranger than fiction'

    This proverbial saying is attributed to, and almost certainly coined by, Lord Byron, in the satirical poem Don Juan, 1823: ' Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold! How oft would vice and virtue places ...

  9. Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction:

    Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: Don Juan and the Truth Claims of Genre Dino Franco Felluga. ... This essay examines the ways that Lord Byron's Don Juan engages both the novel's and the lyric's claims to truth and virtue, thus setting up the maneuvers that would later be exploited by the Victorian verse novel.

  10. Why do we say Truth is stranger than fiction?

    The first recorded use of this expression in its modern form is in Lord Byron's Don Juan (1823): 'Tis strange -- but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold! How oft would vice and virtue places change!

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    Is truth stranger than fiction? Yes, especially for science fiction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 28, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com / releases / 2014 / 02 / 140214152048.htm.

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    "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." ― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World. tags: books, truth. Read more quotes from Mark Twain. Share this quote: Like Quote. Recommend to friends ...

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    Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction. Professional success and personal failure of James M. Barrie In researching the many odd and bizarre happenings of our unique culture, it is certain that truth is often stranger than fiction. The first paragraph of James Barrie's classic story "Peter Pan" introduced its central theme: "All children except one ...

  18. Josiah Henson, 1789-1883. Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson's

    He was a man of good, kind impulses, liberal, jovial, hearty. No degree of arbitrary power could ever lead him to cruelty. As the first negro-child ever born to him, I was his especial pet. He gave me his own Christian name, Josiah, and with that he also gave me my last name, Henson, after an uncle of his, who was an.

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  22. English.S2 Flashcards

    Truth can never be "stranger than fiction" because fiction involves the fantastic and unusual. False Persuasive writers try to broaden the reader's outlook so that he will accept all viewpoints about a subject.

  23. English Unit 1 Semester 2 Flashcards

    Exposition is a kind of nonfiction writing which _____. explains a subject by illustration. Coherence in a nonfiction writing means that it _____. follows a logical pattern. Argumentative writing is a type of expository prose which _____. tries to convince the reader. Hyperbole refers to any type of exposition using figurative language.