Stephen Fry’s Idea of Greatness

Question: Who are your main influences?

Stephen Fry: Probably in terms of writing and linguistic awareness there were a combination, firstly of W’s, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh, the British novelist. That’s a male Evelyn, by the way. And I would add to that Arthur Chonan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes. When I was between the ages of about seven and twelve I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and I would read and reread and re, re, reread all those, so the rhythms and tones of the English language as exemplified by that kind of grand perfect Victorian manner and then Dickens, but it was really Oscar Wilde who awoke language in my head in a way like nobody else and I think also discovering the kind of man Oscar Wilde was, was an enormous influence as well. The fact that you could be such a towering intellect, such a lord of language and be charming and graceful, kind, good natured, but also unhappy and unlucky was a great discovery for an adolescent because one of the traps of adolescence is the sort of paranoid resentment that somehow you’re never going to match up and that everybody else’s life is going to be better and finer and fuller. That everyone else attended some secret lesson in which how to live was taught and you had a dental appointment that day or you were somehow not invited and the point of great writers like Wilde is that they make that invitation to you. They welcome it. Perhaps the greatest definition I think of character and quality is people who when they’re truly great rather than making you feel that tall they make you feel that tall, that they’re greatness as it were improves you. They used to say of Oscar Wilde that when you got done from a dinner table you felt funnier and wittier and cleverer. Now a lot of Brilliant people make you feel less funny, less clever, less witty because they’re so clever, witty and funny, but he had the opposite effect. A bit like what Shakespeare said about Falstaff, not just a wit, but a cause of wit in others.

Recorded December 8, 2009

Making others feel better, finer, and funnier—that’s the sign of "character and quality."

America of the 1930s saw thousands of people become Nazi

Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.

Credit: Bettman / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
  • The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
  • Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
Keep reading Show less

Coffee and green tea may lower death risk for some adults

Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.


Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
  • This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
  • The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.
Keep reading Show less

Can you solve what an MIT professor once called 'the hardest logic puzzle ever'?

Logic puzzles can teach reasoning in a fun way that doesn't feel like work.

Credit: Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Logician Raymond Smullyan devised tons of logic puzzles, but one was declared by another philosopher to be the hardest of all time.
  • The problem, also known as the Three Gods Problem, is solvable, even if it doesn't seem to be.
  • It depends on using complex questions to assure that any answer given is useful.
Keep reading Show less

Why San Francisco felt like the set of a sci-fi flick

But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.

Brittany Hosea-Small / AFP / Getty Images
Surprising Science

On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast