Word of the Day: Fabulist

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day, thanks to the Word Genius website, is fabulist, a noun meaning “1 A person who composes or relates fables,” or “2 A liar, especially a person who invents elaborate, dishonest stories.” According to www.etymonline.com, the word entered the English language in the “1590s, ‘inventor or writer of fables,’ from French fabuliste, from Latin fabula ‘story, tale’ (see fable (n.)). The earlier word in English was fabler (late 14c.); the Latin term was fabulator.” If you go to fable, as the entry suggests, you will find that it entered the language “c. 1300, ‘falsehood, fictitious narrative; a lie, pretense,’ from Old French fable ‘story, fable, tale; drama, play, fiction; lie, falsehood’ (12c.), from Latin fabula ‘story, story with a lesson, tale, narrative, account; the common talk, news,’ literally ‘that which is told,’ from fari ‘speak, tell,’ from PIE root *bha- (2) ‘to speak, tell, say.’” 

Thomas Lanier Williams, III, was born in Mississippi in 1911. His father was a traveling shoe salesman and an alcoholic who was frequently absent. He was raised, in his early years, by his mother and her parents in a parsonage—Williams’s grandfather was an Episcopal priest. When Williams was 8, his father got promoted to the corporate headquarters of the company he sold for, in St. Louis, and the family moved there. The time in St. Louis was not a happy time—the family moved frequently.

He attended the University of Missouri for two years, where he took journalism classes and began writing. He received honorable mention in a writing contest for one of his early plays. But his father pulled him out of school and made him go to work in the warehouse of the shoe company he worked for. Williams hated it. So with his spare time, he began to pour himself into his writing: poetry, fiction, and plays.  After a nervous breakdown and the separation of his parents, Williams returned to school, attending two different universities, graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in English.

Then he moved to New York City, and the theater became his focus. In 1939 he adopted a pen name: Tennessee Williams. After a couple of not-so-successful plays, in 1944 he hit the big time with his first major success, The Glass Menagerie. Menagerie is what might be called a semi-autobiographical play, about a young man who works in a shoe warehouse, who writes poetry on the side (and even on the top of shoeboxes, and who has a sister named Laura who is emotionally and socially frail. If you have never seen or read The Glass Menagerie, you should, as soon as possible. It is one of the most beautiful theatrical pieces ever written. It is poetic. The closing lines of the play, a monologue by the main character who also serves as the narrator of the play, is one of the most impressive pieces of prose you will read.

Williams went on to write other great plays: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Suddenly Last Summer (1958), The Night of the Iguana (1961), and many, many more. He turned several of his plays into screenplays and wrote some original screenplays. He published two novels, including The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, which was twice adapted into film. He wrote numerous short stories and a lot of poetry.

Tennessee Williams was a fabulous fabulist. And he died on this date in 1983.

The image is from the 1987 movie version of The Glass Menagerie, which starred John Malkovich, Joanne Woodward, Karen Allen, and James Naughton, and which was directed by Paul Newman.