- "Like all of us, Wolfe has his favorite words, phrases, and sayings," wrote William S. Baring-Gould. "Among the words, many are unusual and some are abstruse."
- "Nero Wolfe talks in a way that no human being on the face of the earth has ever spoken, with the possible exception of Rex Stout after he had a gin and tonic," said Michael Jaffe, executive producer of the A&E TV series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery.
Examples of unfamiliar words — or unfamiliar uses of words that some would otherwise consider familiar — are found throughout the corpus, often in the give-and-take between Wolfe and Archie. For specific examples, see the Wikipedia page for each book, under the topic "the unfamiliar word."
John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun, opens his article, "Telling Evidence," (December 7, 2013) with this:
"Pray consider this sentence from one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe murder mysteries: "Everyone has something they don't want anyone to see; that is one of the functions of a home, to provide a spot to keep such things." Click here to read the full article about the Telling Evidence of Nero Wolfe.
The novel Gambit opens with Wolfe destroying his copy of Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged, Third Edition:
"Mr. Wolfe is in the middle of a fit. It's complicated. There's a fireplace in the front room, but it's never lit because he hates open fires. He says they stultify mental processes. But it's lit now because he's using it. He's seated in front of it, on a chair too small for him, tearing sheets out of a book and burning them. The book is the new edition, the third edition, of Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged, published by the G. & C. Merriam Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. He considers it subversive because it threatens the integrity of the English language...."
When Mr. Wolfe is finished, Archie says to him, "...You knew you were going to burn it when you bought it. Otherwise you would have ordered leather." [the cover was buckram]
Now read Greg Smith's response: Gambit -- Open Letter to Nero Wolfe
Rex Stout's pronunciation (from Bourne, Michael, "An Informal Interview with Rex Stout" [7/18/1973]; ©1998, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers ISBN 0918736226)
*The radio programs are available for free download from archive.org:
- THE NEW ADVENTURES OF NERO WOLFE: https://archive.org/details/Nero_Wolfe (23 episodes)
- NERO WOLFE: https://archive.org/details/NeroWolfe (10 episodes)
Did you know that Pfui is a German word?
Wolfe's Reading List & Grading System
N.B. Most, if not all, of the books that Mr. Wolfe reads are actual books, almost certainly read and approved of by Mr. Stout.
"I divide the books Nero Wolfe reads into four grades: A, B, C, and D. If, when he comes down to the office from the plant rooms at six o'clock, he picks up his current book and opens to his place before he rings for beer, and if his place was marked with a thin strip of gold, five inches long and an inch wide, which was presented to him some years ago by a grateful client, the book is an A. If he picks up the book before he rings, but his place was marked with a piece of paper, it is a B. If he rings and then picks up the book, and he had dog-eared a page to mark his place, it is a C. If he waits until Fritz has brought the beer and he has poured to pick up the book, and his place was dog-eared, it's a D. I haven't kept score, but I would say that of the two hundred or so books he reads in a year not more than five or six get an A." -- From Plot It Yourself (1959), p. 1
Elena Deicu wrote this perceptive comment:
"It seems to me that Archie's classification of A, B, C, and D grades is rather incomplete, as right there [in Before Midnight, ch. 19] he says something like, 'This book was from selected several dozens that he kept in his bedroom (italics mine - E.D.), so he didn't take anything from the office and couldn't be accused of interfering with justice.'" This distinction between the office collection and Wolfe's upstairs books had not previously occurred to me - but of course if Wolfe is like most of us his favorite books are in his bedroom bookcases! Here's a new challenge for the hard-core Wolfe reader - identify not just Wolfe's reading list, but the bookshelves on which various books are kept ...."
Thank you, Winnifred Louis, for sharing Wolfe's Reading List from your long-running web site, Merely A Genius, sadly now "off-the-air."
(listed alphabetically; click an author or title for more details below)
Author Index 1 of 2
Lyman Bryson (Ed.)
Simone de Beauvoir
Michel de Montaigne
Author Index 2 of 2
Christopher La Farge
T. E. Lawrence
Dan Rather & Gary Gates
Ole E. Rolvaag
A. L. Rouse
Walter Schneir & Miriam Schneir
Mark Van Doren
P. G. Wodehouse
Title Index 1 of 2
Beauty for Ashes
But We Were Born Free
The Coming Fury
The Complete Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798
The FBI Nobody Knows
The First Circle
The Greek Way
Giants In The Earth
Grant Takes Command
Here and Now
A History of Human Marriage
The Incredible Victory
Inside Russia Today
Invitation to an Inquest
The Jungle Book
Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple (1652-54)
The Lotus and the Robot
Title Index 2 of 2
My Life in Court
The Native's Return
An Outline of Human Nature
An Outline of Man's Knowledge of the Modern World
The Palace Guard
Party of One
Power and Policy
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Science: The Glorious Entertainment
A Secret Understanding
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
The Shepheardes Calender
The Sudden Guest
A Survey of Symbolic Logic
Travels With Charley
The Treasure of Our Tongue
Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged, Third Edition
World Peace Through World Law
Robert Ardry, African Genesis. Wolfe reads this book in Gambit, receiving the gold strip bookmark - the highest accolade.
Jane Austen, Emma. A wonderful quotation about Stout's view of Austen in the intro by McAleer to Death Times Three:
"During the last years of Rex Stout's life, as his authorized biographer, I received numerous letters from well-wishers and, on occasion, not-such-well-wishers, offering me advice. "Is it true," one of the latter asked, "that Stout has a secretary who writes all his stuff for him?" I showed the letter to Rex, then in his eighty-ninth year. He scanned it and said, "Tell him the name is Jane Austen, but I haven't the address." ... Not long before that he had told me, "I used to think that men did everything better than women, but that was before I read Jane Austen. I don't think any man ever wrote better than Jane Austen." It was no coincidence that, when I asked after Wolfe a few days before Rex died, Rex confided, "he's rereading Emma." Rex ranked Emma as Jane Austen"s masterpiece. In the last weeks of his life he also reread it. That a book could be reread was to him solid proof of its worth. Thus it pleased him when P.G. Wodehouse, whom Rex admired, declared, at ninety-four, in a letter that he wrote to me,
'... he [Stout] passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's *writing*.'"
But Wolfe's views were more ambivalent: in The Mother Hunt, in chapter 12, Archie says, "Dol and Sally had been responsible, six years back, for my revision of my basic attitude toward female ops, and I held it against them, just as Wolfe held it against Jane Austen for forcing him to concede that a woman could write a good novel."
Lincoln Barnett, The Treasure of Our Tongue. This book received the coveted gold book mark in The Doorbell Rang.
Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment. "Wolfe had just started reading it on page 94 of A Right to Die. Apparently he liked it, because he used it to launch discussion several times later." [Jacques Barzun was a personal friend of Rex Stout.]
The Bible. Wolfe has five versions of the bible, in four different languages. They reside on the second shelf from the top near the left end.
Herbert Block, Here and Now. In "A Christmas Party," Wolfe does not actually read this book. He sends Archie to his (Archie's) room to get it, but it is merely an excuse to have Archie find a pair of gloves. A memorable scene, as those who have read the story will recall ...
Franz Boas. The anthropologist Franz Boas is referenced in Too Many Cooks. "I have met Franz Boas," Wolfe apparently says, "and have his books autographed."
Encyclopaedia Britannica. According to Baring-Gould, Wolfe has a complete EB, and frequently takes down a volume and reads an article at random. In Before Midnight, Archie says, "Apparently at some time during the day Wolfe had found time to gallop through the encyclopedia article on cosmetics, and at dinner he saw fit, intermittently, to share it with me." In Death of a Doxy, "Wolfe was still consulting the encyclopedia, though he must have finished with Thales long ago."
Lyman Bryson (Ed.), An Outline of Man's Knowledge of the Modern World. Wolfe reads this book in Too Many Clients."
Albert Camus,The Fall. Wolfe is reading this novel in the story "Fourth of July Picnic.".
John Carlson,Under Cover. Wolfe reads this book in "Booby Trap."
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Wolfe reads this book in The Mother Hunt.
Casanova, The Complete Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798. Wolfe consults this book in Before Midnight, as Elena Deicu pointed out to me. It is online here in an 1894 translation by Arthur Machen [a Project Gutenberg e-book. [Rex Stout contributed to the publication (printing in Mexico) of a limited edition, twelve-volume set Arthur Machen's barred translation of Casanova's Memoirs. Click here to read more about Stout's involvement in the printing and distribution of this work in 1924.]
Bruce Catton, Grant Takes Command. Wolfe is reading this book in Please Pass the Guilt. Wolfe also reads Catton's book The Coming Fury in "Murder is Corny."
Grenville Clark, World Peace Through World Law. This book is read by Wolfe on page 89 of Champagne for One.
Barry Cornwall, Mirandola. In Plot It Yourself (1959), Wolfe quotes Barry Cornwall's line "Most writers steal a good thing when they can", and mentions Cornwall's 19th c. play, Mirandola. (p. 22)
Fred Cook, The FBI Nobody Knows. Central to the plot in The Doorbell Rang, The FBI Nobody Knows is a harsh critique of FBI methods & ethics under Hoover, and in TDR the client is trying to fend off FBI harassment incurred because she mails copies to 10000 people.
Elmer Davis, But We Were Born Free. This book is referenced in The Black Mountain.
Simone de Beauvoir. In A Family Affair, Archie remarks to Wolfe, "She has three books by Simone de Beauvoir, who you have admitted can write" (p. 30).
Michel de Montaigne, Essays. In Before Midnight Wolfe is reading Essays in chapter 19.
Paul Dunbar. In A Right To Die and Too Many Cooks, Wolfe praises Dunbar extensively. Paul Whipple, the black waiter in Too Many Cooks names his son Dunbar and reminds Wolfe in Right to Die of their conversation at the Kanawha Spa.
Clifton Fadiman, Party of One. In Before Midnight Wolfe is reading this book in his bedroom.
Thomas Finletter, Power and Policy. Wolfe is borrowing this book from someone in the story "Immune to Murder" and thus bookmarks it with a slip of paper.
Gilbert Gabriel, Love From London. Wolfe is reading this book in chapter 16 of Too Many Women.
John Gunther. Wolfe is obviously a fan of Gunther's, since he's read at least two of the books: Inside Russia Today and Inside Europe. Wolfe was reading the former in "Method Three for Murder" and Inside Europe in Too Many Cooks.
Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way. Wolfe never really read the book in DEATH OF A DUDE, however Archie recalled both Wolfe and Miss Rowan mentioning that they had done so at one time or another. Having nothing better to do at the time he decided to give it a go and see for himself what the fuss was all about.
Oscar Hammerstein. Hammerstein lyrics are quoted in Murder by the Book. [Oscar Hammerstein was a personal friend of Rex Stout.]
Henderson, United Yugoslavia. In Over My Dead Body this book is not only on Wolfe's shelf, but a crucial contributor to the plot.
Laura Hobson. In The Second Confession (1949), Wolfe puts down a book by Laura Hobson. But which one is it? The landmark "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) (made into a movie with Gregory Peck or the less-well known and earlier "The Trespassers" (1943).
Lancelot Hogben, Mathematics for the Millions. Wolfe uses this book in the story "The Zero Clue" to solve the case.
Homer, The Iliad. In A Family Affair Wolfe compares Fitzgerald's translation to others he owns.
Victor Hugo. In Some Buried Caesar (1938) Wolfe remarks at one point, "Don't let's be childish about the depravity of lying. Victor Hugo wrote a whole book to prove that a lie can be sublime." (p. 157). The reference to a lie being sublime might stem from Les Miserables when Valjean's housekeeper, a woman famed for her honesty, lies to the police to save his neck. Though she is mortified by the need for deception the conclusion is that lying can be necessary in pursuit of a greater good
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book. There is an extremely funny scene about the joys of reading Kipling in Death of a Doxy.
Arthur Koestler, The Lotus and the Robot. Wolfe is reading this book in The Final Deduction.
William Kunstler,The Minister and the Choir Singer. Wolfe is reading this book in A Right to Die.
Christopher La Farge, Beauty for Ashes and The Sudden Guest. In Before Midnight, Wolfe reads Beauty for Ashes -- though as it was dogeared it can't have been one of his favourites. On a similarly ominous note, Archie comments that it was a novel in verse which he did not, himself, read. However, in Too Many Women Wolfe is reading another of La Farge's books, The Sudden Guest. Archie's comment about Wolfe's reading habits:
"Wolfe was reading three books at once. He had been doing that, off and on, all the years I had been with him, and it always annoyed me because it seemed ostentatious. The three current items were The Sudden Guest by Christopher La Farge, Love from London by Gilbert Gabriel, and A Survey of Symbolic Logic by C.I. Lewis. He would take turns with them, reading twenty or thirty pages in each at a time." (Chapter 16, Too Many Women.
T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In The Red Box"Wolfe is re-reading Lawrence's book Pillars of Wisdom for the third time. It is bookmarked, apparently, with a thin piece of ebony -- this must have been before he got the strip of gold.
C. I. Lewis, A Survey of Symbolic Logic. Wolfe was reading this book in chapter 16 of Too Many Women, but it was dog-eared.
Lindenia. Wolfe's library contains bound copies of Lindenia. It is a classic 19th century work on orchids, with many colored plates. It is a collector's item. This was a French publication, subtitled (in translation): Iconography of Orchids. Published by J. Linden, Ghent, 1888-1906 also an English-language edition, issued somewhat later, 13 volumes. Described as 'one of the great 19th century plate books' on orchids.
Walter Lord, The Incredible Victory. This was a gold bookmarked book for Wolfe in The Father Hunt.
Merle Miller, A Secret Understanding. Wolfe is perusing this book in Might as Well Be Dead.
Thomas More, Utopia. Archie mentions in Death of a Doxy that Wolfe investigated whether Richard killed the princes in the tower and, once he has ascertained that Richard had been framed, he removed the works of Thomas More from his shelves because More framed Richard."
Louis Nizer, My Life in Court. This book is referenced in "Murder is Corny".
Dorothy Osborne, Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple (1652-54). Wolfe consults (although he does not read) this book in Before Midnight. I found that the book is online at the University of Penn. site.
Dan Rather and Gary Gates, The Palace Guard. Wolfe is reading this book in the opening pages of A Family Affair.
Ole E. Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth. Wolfe cites Per Hansa, a character in Giants in the Earth, in chapter 1 of Over My Dead Body. Giants In The Earth is the first book of a prairie trilogy about the settling of Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas.
Alfred Rossiter, An Outline of Human Nature. This book is referenced in The League of Frightened Men.
A. L. Rouse, William Shakespeare. Wolfe spends a great deal of time reading Rouse's volume, in A Right to Die, and provokes the following exchange with Archie: "'You know, I don't think I have ever known you to take so long with a book.' He put it down. 'I'm reviewing his dating of Cymbeline. I think he's wrong.'"
See also Shakespeare, below.
Walter Schneir & Miriam Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest. Wolfe reads this in Death of a Doxy.
William Shakespeare. In Plot It Yourself (1959), we observe that Wolfe keeps a complete set of Shakespeare on the shelves in his office (p. 40). See also Rouse's book, above. But there's lots of evidence that Stout is a fan of Shakespeare: e.g., the title And Be A Villain is drawn from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "For one may smile and smile and smile / And be a villain".
McAleer states in his 1977 book, Rex Stout: a Biography (Boston: Little, Brown), "Between the ages of seven and twelve [Stout] read all Shakespeare's plays and memorized all the sonnets. At eighty-six he still could quote them, letter-perfect. Shakespeare's word sense overwhelmed him. He said that that fact influenced him prodigiously. In the Nero Wolfe tales Shakespeare is quoted far oftener than any other writer. Rex's library still has his father's twenty-volume Harvard edition of Shakespeare and ten-volume Bibliophile edition of Macaulay." (McAleer, p. 56) McAleer also writes that Stout was a frequent theater-goer, and that John Barrymore's performance in Hamlet in 1922 was Stout's favourite theater experience.
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. According to Baring-Gouldand Steve T., this book is referenced in "Kill Now---Pay Later".
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle. This was the book Wolfe had with him when he went paddling in a creek in Montana, so Archie doesn't note if it was bookmarked or not.
Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender. In The League of Frightened Men, Archie describes Wolfe's copy of Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender as dark blue, tooled, and bound "in this city by a Swedish boy who will probably starve to death during the coming winter." The reference comes during a long riff that Wolfe does (Archie calls it "babble") on Paul Chapin's writing while he's talking at Miss Hibbard. Wolfe's purpose in talking about the Spenser volume is to use it as a diversion while Wolfe 'borrows' a list of the "League of Atonement" members from a file brought by Hibbard. Spenser is stored on the "third shelf, at the right of the door" and the reason for the 'starving boy' reference may have been that Leag was published in the spring of 1935, and the consequences of the late financial crash were still very heavy (the same book gives a further example in chapter 4, with Del Bascom begging Wolfe not to deprive him of the job he's on. The text is online at the University of Virginia site.
John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley. Wolfe is reading this volume in The Mother Hunt.
Turgenev. In Please Pass the Guilt Wolfe is reading a collection of Turgenev's stories.
Mark van Doren. In And Be a Villain, Wolfe is reading an unspecified collection of van Doren's poetry. [Mark van Doren was a personal friend of Rex Stout ].
Westermarck, A History of Human Marriage. This book is mentioned in Please Pass the Guilt.
P. G. Wodehouse. Wolfe does not read Wodehouse, but he is included herein because Stout did. In John McAleer's Introduction to Death Times Three he states that Stout & Wodehouse greatly admired each others work. McAleer state that "Thus it pleased him when P. G. Wodehouse, whom Rex admired, declared, at ninety-four, in a letter that he wrote to me, "He [Rex Stout] passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Nero Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's writing."
Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged, Third Edition. Wikipedia state: "Although it was an unprecedented masterwork of scholarship, it was met with considerable criticism for its descriptive (rather than prescriptive) approach. It told how the language was used, not how it ought to be used." Nero Wolfe burns it in the opening scene of Gambit. Click here for the complete reference.