Latin in Modern Fiction

Who Says It’s a Dead Language?

by Henryk Hoffmann

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Hoffmann’s study aims to show that Latin remains a very strong presence in modern culture, even though many cultural critics and linguists many years ago proclaimed it a dead language. Hoffmann, himself a Latin teacher, would like to see the language flourish and be taught at schools and universities, but the fact remains that Latin is slowly disappearing from our lives, from medicine and other fields of science, not to mention the Catholic church liturgy. The young generation no longer understands many well-known proverbs and sayings in Latin, which were easily recognizable and commonly used by their parents. Although Hoffmann insists that Latin is not a dead language, it is easy to notice that its position is no longer what it used to be.
In his reference study, Hoffmann wants to make the reader aware of how deeply rooted was the presence of Latin in the twentieth-century literature and culture. The author selects several authors representing different sub-periods in modern literature, and meticulously shows the ways and goals of using Latin in fiction. He does not focus on mainstream literature but explores other genres such as detective fiction and literary western to demonstrate that Latin was not restricted to high brow writing and that it crossed all genre borders.
[…] Hoffmann’s volume is a solid reference study. What makes it different from most other volumes of its kind is that it is also an excellent read. Likely, the book’s readers will not merely study entries on the authors they are interested in, but – as each discussed author has its unique way of using Latin - will read the entire book the way one reads and exciting novel – chapter by chapter. Although the chances of restoring Latin’s popularity are almost nonexistent, thanks to Hoffmann younger readers may at least learn how important the Latin language has been in Western civilisation development.

Dr. Jerzy Durczak
Professor Emeritus
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland

The goal of this book is to prove that Latin is not a dead language by demonstrating how prevalent and strong it still is in modern Western culture. In order to do so, the author, an English philologist with a long experience as a Latin educator, catalogues, explains and interprets Latin quotations and references in a multitude of twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary works by—primarily—mainstream authors (from Aldous Huxley to Saul Bellow to John Irving), crime/mystery writers (from Raymond Chandler to Elizabeth George to Dennis Lehane) and frontier/western novelists (from Emerson Hough to Larry McMurtry). The three areas of fiction constituting the main scope of the book indicate the author’s major interest and preference, as well as the subject matter of his extensive research, both prior and current—the former related to his already published books.

The writers offering the most impressive contributions to the thesis are featured in the three parts of the main body; those with lesser input are listed in the Appendix. The prospective readers of the book include all Latin students and educators at the secondary and college levels worldwide.

List of Figures

I. Latin in Mainstream Literature

1. Samuel Hopkins ADAMS (1871–1958)
2. Aldous HUXLEY (1894–1963)
3. Sinclair LEWIS (1885–1951)
4. F. Scott FITZGERALD (1896–1940)
5. James HILTON (1900–1954)
6. Thomas WOLFE (1900–1938)
7. John STEINBECK (1902–1968)
8. Irwin SHAW (1913–1984)
9. Julio CORTÁZAR (1914–1984)
10. Saul BELLOW (1915–2005)
11. Morris L. WEST (1916–1999)
12. Flannery O’CONNOR (1925–1964)
13. Gore VIDAL (1925–2012)
14. Herman RAUCHER (1928– )
15. Umberto ECO (1932–2016)
16. John UPDIKE (1932–2009)
17. John Gregory DUNNE (1932–2003)
18. C. K. STEAD (1932– )
19. Jerzy KOSINSKI (1933–1991)
20. John IRVING (1942– )
21. Dermot McEVOY (1950– )

II. Latin in Crime and Detective Fiction

1. Raymond CHANDLER (1888–1959)
2. S. S. VAN DINE (1888–1939)
3. Erle Stanley GARDNER (1889–1970)
4. Brett HALLIDAY (1904–1977)
5. Ellery QUEEN (Manfred B. Lee, 1905–1971; Frederic Dannay, 1905–1982)
6. John Dickson CARR (1906–1977)
7. Ross MACDONALD (1915–1983)
8. William X. KIENZLE (1928–2001)
9. Tom KAKONIS (1930–2018)
10. Joe GORES (1931–2011)
11. Joseph WAMBAUGH (1937– )
12. Robert K. TANENBAUM (1942– )
13. Sara PARETSKY (1947– )
14. Paul LEVINE (1948– )
15. Elizabeth GEORGE (1949– )
16. Scott TUROW (1949– )
17. Joseph FINDER (1958– )
18. Greg ILES (1960– )
19. Ian RANKIN (1960– )
20. Dennis LEHANE (1965– )

III. Latin in Frontier and Western Fiction

1. Emerson HOUGH (1857–1923)
2. Paul HORGAN (1903–1995)
3. Will HENRY/Clay FISHER (1912–1991)
4. Larry McMURTRY (1936– )


Henryk Hoffmann was born, raised and educated in Poznań, Poland. Upon his graduation from Adam Mickiewicz University with an MA degree in English Philology, he worked as an English teacher, translator and interpreter in several institutions, including his alma mater, the Polish Academy of Sciences and his self-owned firm. Since his immigration to the USA in 1992, he has taught Latin, German, English and History, first in North Carolina and then in Pennsylvania.

He is the author of six reference books—“A” Western Filmmakers: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers, Directors, Cinematographers, Composers, Actors and Actresses (McFarland, 2000, 2008), Western Film Highlights: The Best of the West, 1914-2001 (McFarland, 2003, 2009), Leksykon gwiazd kina amerykańskiego (A Biographical Dictionary of American Movie Stars, Agencja Producentów Filmowych, Warsaw, 2006; written in Polish in collaboration with his daughters, Beata and Katarzyna), Western Movie References in American Literature (McFarland, 2012), Four Hollywood Legends in World Literature: References to Bogart, Cooper, Gable and Tracy (BearManor Media, 2016) and The Careers of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as Referenced in Literature: A Study in Film Perception (Vernon Press, 2020); and one memoir, Ironies, Coincidences and Absurdities in My Ordinary Life on Both Sides of the Atlantic (Higher Ground Books & Media, 2019).

His professional honors include the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition (2000) for his first book, a two-time inclusion in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers (Educational Communications, 2002 and 2005), an entry in Contemporary Authors (Thomson Gale, 2005) and an Honorary Diploma from the Polish Federation of Film Societies (on its 50th Anniversary, 2006). Henryk (also known as Henry) and his wife Betsy live in Lititz, PA.

Ablative of mean/instrument, ancient history, classical studies, comparative linguistics, derivatives, Germanic languages, grammar, Latin quotations, Latin references, lexicon, motto, mythology, predicate nominative, predicate accusative, Proto-Indo-European, Romance languages, Rome, roots, semantics, Slavic languages, syntax, system of cases, system of tenses, tradition, words of wisdom

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title
Latin in Modern Fiction
Book Subtitle
Who Says It’s a Dead Language?
Number of pages
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Publication date
July 2021