On the Particular Origins of Some Literary Cliches


The phrase “little did she/he/they know” has plenty of history. The question is, when did it start being used for cheap suspense? The inversion of subject and verb sounds stilted and melodramatic, so the obvious culprit would be 19th century fiction. But perhaps not everything is as it seems.

Once upon a time, in an age older than our fathers’s fathers, far, far away, on a night just like this one (it was dark and stormy), cliches were born. Follow this string of red letters to see where, exactly, some of these came from.

Casey Dayan is a Rumpus intern and musician. He is finishing up his undergraduate studies in literature and anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he is working on a memoir and trying to one-up Jeff Buckley. Find his twitter here, @caseydayan. Find his band, “Moo,” here. More from this author →