Kind of Twisted and Memorable Characters

Illustration by John Tenniel

 
 

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are fictional characters in an English nursery rhyme and in Lewis Carroll‘s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). Their names may have originally come from an epigram written by poet John Byrom. The nursery rhyme has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19800. The names have since become synonymous in western popular culture slang for any two people who look and act in identical ways, generally in a derogatory context.

Carroll, having introduced two fat little men named Tweedledum and Tweedledee, quotes the nursery rhyme, which the two brothers then go on to enact. They agree to have a battle, but never have one. When they see a monstrous black crow swooping down, they take to their heels. The Tweedle brothers never contradict each other, even when one of them, according to the rhyme, “agrees to have a battle”. Rather, they complement each other’s words. This fact has led Tenniel to assume that they are twins, and Martin Gardner goes so far as to claim that Carroll intended them to be enantiomorphs — three-dimensional mirror images. Evidence for these assumptions cannot be found in any of Lewis Carroll’s writings.

The words “Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee” make their first appearance in print in “one of the most celebrated and most frequently quoted (and sometimes misquoted) epigrams”, satirising the disagreements between George Frideric Händel and Giovanni Bononcini, written by John Byrom (1692–1763):

Some say, compar’d to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be’
Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

Although Byrom is clearly the author of the epigram, the last two lines have also been attributed to Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. While the familiar form of the rhyme was not printed until around 1805, when it appeared in Original Ditties for the Nursery, it is possible that Byrom was drawing on an existing rhyme.

 
 

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum features as the opening song on Bob Dylan‘s 2001 album Love and Theft.

 
 

The track includes many references to parades in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where participants are masked, and “determined to go all the way” of the parade route, in spite of being intoxicated. “It rolls in like a storm, drums galloping over the horizon into ear shot, guitar riffs slicing with terse dexterity while a tale about a pair of vagabonds unfolds,” writes Kot. “It ends in death, and sets the stage for an album populated by rogues, con men, outcasts, gamblers, gunfighters and desperados, many of them with nothing to lose, some of them out of their minds, all of them quintessentially American.

They’re the kind of twisted, instantly memorable characters one meets in John Ford‘s westerns, Jack Kerouac‘s road novels, but, most of all, in the blues and country songs of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. This is a tour of American music—jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads, Country Swing—that evokes the sprawl, fatalism and subversive humor of Dylan’s sacred text, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the pre-rock voicings of Hank Williams, Charley Patton and Johnnie Ray, among others, and the ultradry humor of Groucho Marx.

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The Flapper And The Philosopher

Flappers and Philosophers was the first collection of short stories written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1920. It includes eight stories. Illustration by W. E. Hill.

 
 

W. E. (William Ely) Hill (1887-1962) was an enormously popular illustrator during the first half of the twentieth century. He drew for Life and Puck and had his own weekly page of illustrations, titled Among Us Mortals, in the Sunday New York Tribune. He also drew the dust jacket art for the first editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (1920)

 
 

Norman Rockwell’s illustration for the Saturday Evening Post containing Bernice Bobs Her Hair. The issue from May, 1920 marked the first time Fitzgerald’s name appeared on the cover.

 
 

As a gesture of gratefulness, in the First Chapter of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald mentioned the weekly magazine founded by Benjamin Franklin:

“Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the Saturday Evening Post. — the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms.

When we came in she held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.

“To be continued,” she said, tossing the magazine on the table, “in our very next issue.”

 
 

The short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair was based on letters Fitzgerald sent to his younger sister, Annabel, advising her on how to be more attractive to young men. The original text was much longer, but Fitzgerald cut nearly 3000 words and changed the ending to make the story more attractive to publishers. The name of the protagonist echoes that of Berenice, whose sacrifice of her golden tresses resulted in the victory of her husband in war, and the honor given to her by the gods. Her tresses were placed into the heavens as the Constellation Coma Berenices.

 
 

Queen Berenice II of Egypt

 
 

During her husband’s absence on an expedition to Syria, she dedicated her hair to Aphrodite for his safe return, and placed it in the temple of the goddess at Zephyrium. The hair having by some unknown means disappeared, Conon of Samos explained the phenomenon in courtly phrase, by saying that it had been carried to the heavens and placed among the stars. This story is parodied in Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.