(n.) a brief description of a book or film, typically for promotional purposes
The fact that the blurb on the back of a book takes its name from an early twentieth century book review allegedly written by a “Miss Belinda Blurb” ended up the most popular fact on HH this week. And, as you probably saw over on Twitter, what makes that fact all the most curious is that Belinda Blurb didn’t actually exist.
In 1906, the American author and humorist Gelett Burgess published a satirical article entitled Are You A Bromide?, a pseudo-psychiatric essay that sought to divide all human beings into one of two groups: the bromides, who copied and followed everyone else’s rules and trends, and the sulphites, a minority of people who were capable of truly original and inventive thought.
Originally published in a periodical called The Smart Set, it was two years before Burgess’ essay appeared for the first time as a volume on its own. And it was then, at a book publishers’ symposium, that Burgess began handing out copies of his essay wrapped in his own homemade dust jackets.
On the advice of his publisher—who claimed that there should be “the picture of a damsel, languishing, heroic, or coquettish ... on the jacket of every novel”—Burgess took a photograph from an advertisement for a nearby dentist’s surgery, gave the woman in the picture the name “Belinda Blurb”, and wrote his own review in her words:
Say! Ain’t this book a 90-HP, six-cylinder Seller? If WE do say it as shouldn’t, WE consider that this man Burgess has got Henry James locked into the coal-bin, telephoning for “Information”.
WE expect to sell 350 copies of this great, grand book. It has gush and go to it, it has that Certain Something which makes you want to crawl through thirty miles of dense tropical jungle and bite somebody in the neck. No hero, no heroine, nothing like that for OURS, but when you’ve READ this masterpiece, you’ll know what a BOOK is.
And so it went on. The fact that Burgess headlined his review “Yes, this a blurb!”—and explained that Belinda’s photograph showed her “in the act of blurbing”—has lead to calls that perhaps the word was already in use in publishing circles before he picked up on it. But with no evidence to back that up, it seems more likely that he invented the word himself and, as a fertile-minded “sulphite” himself, soon sparked a trend for writing similarly self-publicizing “blurbs”.
Speaking of self-publicity, did you know there’s a new HH book out in time for Christmas? (Shameless plug #4,245).