This Day In Literary History
On January 20th, 1961, the legendary American poet Robert Frost read a poem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy - the first American president to have a poet read at his inauguration.
Frost had written a poem called Dedication especially for this event. He had typed up a clean copy on his typewriter, but the ribbon was almost out of ink.
With the glare of sunlight on the January snow reflected in his eyes, the 87-year-old Frost had trouble reading his faded text and started to stumble over the words.
Frustrated, he gave up and recited another poem, one he remembered by heart. The poem was called The Gift Outright:
The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
Frost recited the poem perfectly in a commanding voice. The JFK Library later received his original handwritten manuscript of Dedication, the poem he'd planned to read at the inauguration. Here is the text of that poem:
Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.
Robert Frost died of complications following prostate surgery on January 29th, 1963 - nearly two years to the day that he performed at the Kennedy inauguration.
Later that year, on November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Quote Of The Day
"A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness." - Robert Frost
Today's video features NBC TV news coverage of John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On January 19th, 1809, the legendary American writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, Henry Leonard Poe and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, were both actors.
At the time of his birth, they were in a production of Shakespeare's King Lear, and Edgar may have been named after the character in the play.
When Edgar was a year old, his father abandoned the family. A year later, his mother died of tuberculosis. He was adopted by Scottish merchant John Allan, who changed his name to Edgar Allan Poe and had him baptized in the Episcopal Church.
As a parent, John Allan proved to be a man of extremes; he was both an incredibly doting father and a ferociously strict and aggressive disciplinarian. In 1815, the Allans sailed to England.
At six, Poe briefly attended a grammar school in his adoptive father's hometown of Irvine, Scotland. By 1816, he rejoined his family in London, where he attended a boarding school in Chelsea until 1817.
By 1820, Poe and his family had moved back to the United States, settling in Richmond, Virginia. In 1824, Poe, then fifteen years old, served as a lieutenant in the Richmond youth honor guard during the celebrated visit of the Marquis de Lafayette.
Two years later, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia, where he majored in languages. The university had been founded a year earlier by Thomas Jefferson.
The experimental college had strict rules against such things as tobacco, alcohol, and gambling, yet it also employed an honor system of student self-government.
Poe found the system chaotic and dysfunctional, adding to the stress he was already under; his engagement to his childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster was called off, and he became estranged from his father after his gambling debts cut into his college finances.
A year later, still struggling to pay for his education and unhappy with the honor system, he left university. After he learned that Sarah had married another man, Poe believed there was nothing left for him in Richmond.
So, in 1827, he moved to Boston, where he worked as a clerk and a newspaper writer. He began writing poetry and fiction under the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet.
In May of 1827, unable to support himself, Poe enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, using the alias Edgar A. Perry. He claimed he was 22 years old, though he was really 18. He was stationed at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor and earned $5 a month.
That same year, his first book was published. It was a poetry collection titled Tamerlane and Other Poems. The byline read "by a Bostonian." Only 50 copies of the book were printed, and it went practically unnoticed.
Poe's regiment was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina, where he won a promotion and his monthly pay was doubled. After serving for two years, he was promoted to Sergeant Major for Artillery.
Then he decided that he wanted to end his five-year enlistment early and enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He revealed his real name and age to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard.
Howard would only discharge him if he agreed to reconcile with his adoptive father, John Allan. He wrote to John repeatedly, but received no reply. When he visited him in February of 1829, Poe found that his father hadn't even bothered to tell him that his mother had died.
Despite this, Poe and his father did reconcile, and John Allan supported his decision to leave the Army. Before entering West Point, Poe moved to Baltimore to stay with his widowed aunt Maria, her daughter Virginia, his brother Henry, and his grandmother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe.
His second poetry collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems was published. In October of 1830, Poe's father remarried. Poe disapproved of both the marriage and the illegitimate children sired as the result of John Allan's philandering.
This led to bitter quarrels between the two men, and Poe's father disowned him. Poe left West Point by deliberately getting himself court martialed. In February of 1831, he moved to New York City.
There, he released his third poetry collection, Poems. The book was financed in part by Poe's fellow West Point cadets, who loved the satirical poems he wrote that made fun of their commanding officers.
In Poe's third book, his long poems Tamerlane and Al Aaraaf were included again. The book also featured early versions of To Helen, Israfel, and The City In The Sea.
A month after he arrived in New York, Poe returned to Baltimore to stay with his aunt, cousin, and brother. His older brother Henry died five months later from complications due to alcoholism. Afterward, Poe decided to try and make a living as a writer.
Unfortunately, copyright laws were practically nonexistent in the early 19th century, and pirated editions of literary works were common. Undaunted, Poe put his poetry on the back burner and turned to prose. He sold a few short stories and began work on his only play, Politian.
In 1833, Poe's short story MS. Found In A Bottle won him a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. It also brought him to the attention of John P. Kennedy, a novelist and prominent Baltimorian.
Kennedy helped him sell some more stories and land a job as assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond in August of 1835. He was fired a few weeks later for being drunk on the job.
Poe returned to Baltimore, where he secretly married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. After he promised to behave, Poe was reinstated at the Messenger. He and Virginia and her mother moved to Richmond. Poe and Virginia later had a second, public wedding ceremony.
By 1838, Poe's only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, was published. It was widely reviewed and praised. In the summer of 1839, Poe became the assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine.
There, he published numerous short stories, reviews, and articles, building his reputation as both a writer and a critic. That same year, his classic short story collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, was published in two volumes.
Regarded today as one of the all time great works of American literature, the collection received mixed reviews and he made little money from it. In 1840, Poe became assistant editor of Graham's Magazine.
He made plans to start his own literary magazine, The Stylus, but his plans fell through. Two years later, his wife Virginia was stricken with tuberculosis. As her illness worsened, he began drinking heavily.
He left Graham's and returned to New York, where he worked for the Evening Mirror, which would publish his celebrated poem, The Raven, in January of 1845.
Poe was paid only $9 for it, but the poem became a huge hit and made him a household name. Children would follow him as he walked down the street, and he would caw "Nevermore!" at them. They would scream and pretend to run away, then laugh and follow him until he cawed "Nevermore!" at them again.
Poe later become editor and then owner of The Broadway Journal. Still drinking, Poe would alienate himself from his fellow writers when he publicly accused poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism. Longfellow never responded to the charge.
After The Broadway Journal failed, Poe moved into a cottage in The Bronx, which is known today as Poe Cottage. Not long after he moved in, his wife Virginia died of tuberculosis. Poe was devastated and plunged into a quagmire of alcoholism and mental illness.
Later, he dated poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement was called off as a result of Poe's drinking, his mental instability, and the interference of Sarah's mother, who did all she could to sabotage the relationship.
Poe returned to Richmond and resumed his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. He returned to Baltimore, then mysteriously disappeared. On October 3rd, 1849, he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore by a man named Joseph W. Walker.
Severely ill, incoherent, and wearing someone else's clothes, Edgar Allan Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later at the age of 40. His death certificate and medical records were lost, so the actual cause of his death remains a mystery.
Newspapers reported that he died of "congestion of the brain" or "cerebral inflammation," which were common euphemisms used when a person died of illicit causes such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or venereal disease.
Before his disappearance, Poe had given a manuscript to a friend of his. It was something he'd written a while back, a poem he described as "a little trifle that may be worth something to you." It was the manuscript for his last great poem, Annabel Lee, which would be published two days after he died.
Rufus Griswold, an enemy of Poe's, somehow became his literary executor. He wrote a biography of Poe called Memoir of the Author, where he described Poe as a depraved madman addled by drink and drugs.
Most of Griswold's claims were lies or half-truths; for example, although Poe was an opium user and wrote about it, he was a casual user and never became addicted to the drug.
Griswold's biography was virulently denounced by those who knew Edgar Allan Poe. The letters that Griswold presented as proof of his claims were later revealed to be forgeries.
Edgar Allan Poe's writings, especially his classic horror stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Cask Of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher continue to inspire new generations of writers.
Quote Of The Day
"Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality." - Edgar Allan Poe
Today's video features a complete reading of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story, The Fall of the House of Usher - performed by Christopher Lee! Enjoy!
Monday, January 18, 2021
My flash piece, Velcro, was published over at Every Day Fiction. Thanks to my fantastic Fiction friends for giving this one a read before I set it loose in the submission wilderness.
A comic flash I wrote with the Practice group has been accepted for publication at Flash Fiction Magazine. The story was originally called, "A Fuddy Duddy on Vacation," but is now titled, "A Gondola Ride in Venice." The story won't be published for another two months.
Thanks go to the fine critiques I received on Practice.
A nonfiction piece I wrote was made available on The Hindu's website, along with a print version. It's for a weekly food based column and a story behind it.
Cezarija E. Abartis
My story, "The Princess in the Tower," has been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine. Thank you to the kind reviewers: Bill LaFond, Deepa, Mark Budman, Wayne Scheer, Mitra Lacaille, Chandrika Radhakrishnan, Aaron Troye-White, and Eric Petersen.
I'm so excited to have received my free contributor's copy of Gargoyle today. Inside is my poem, Eve-Pandora, an ekphrastic poem about Jean Cousin's painting Eva Prima Pandora.
This is a beautiful issue and I'm so proud to have my work included. And I'm keeping such good company with the likes of so many talented poets and fiction writers whose work has also been published. It made my day to receive this in my mailbox.
Friday, January 15, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On January 15th, 1891, the famous Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was born in Warsaw, Poland. He came from a wealthy Jewish family; his father was a leather merchant.
Because of his wealth and position, Osip's father was able to get a special dispensation exempting the family from having to relocate with other Jews to the "pale of settlement" region of Russia. So, not long after Osip was born, the Mandelstams moved to Saint Petersburg.
In 1908, at the age of seventeen, Osip Mandelstam entered the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) to study literature and philosophy, but left the following year and went to the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
In 1911, Mandelstam decided to finish his education at the University of Saint Petersburg. In order to enroll at the Methodist university, he converted to Methodism, but never practiced the religion.
That same year, Mandelstam and several other young poets formed the Poets' Guild. The group, led by Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky, would later be known as the Acmeists. Mandelstam wrote their manifesto, The Morning Of Acmeism, in 1913.
Acmeism was a Russian poetic movement that served as a counter to the works of Russian symbolist poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as Andrei Bely and Vyacheslav Ivanov. Acmeism stressed compactness of form and clarity of expression.
Osip Mandelstam's Acmeist manifesto wouldn't be published until 1919. However, his first poetry collection, The Stone, would be published in 1913, and re-released in an expanded edition in 1916.
By 1922, he had married his girlfriend Nadezhda Yakovlevna and moved to Moscow. At that time, his second poetry collection, Tristia, was published. For the next several years, Mandelstam nearly abandoned poetry, as he mostly wrote essays, literary criticism, short prose, and memoirs.
He took a job as a translator and translated 19 books in a period of six months. His marriage began to sour and he had affairs, but he and his wife reconciled. Mandelstam started writing poetry again. In November of 1933, he wrote his most famous poem, Stalin Epigram.
The poem was a harsh criticism of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whom he referred to as the "Kremlin highlander." The poem was likely inspired by the effects of the Holodomor (the Great Famine) which Mandelstam had witnessed while vacationing in Crimea.
The Holodomor was caused by Stalin's drive to exterminate the kulaks - the affluent peasant farmers - and collectivize all of Russia's farms. Six months after Stalin Epigram appeared in print, Osip Mandelstam was arrested.
Amazingly, he was neither condemned to death nor sent to the Gulag. Instead, he was exiled, along with his wife, to Cherdyn in Northern Ural. After a suicide attempt, his sentence was softened; he was banned from the big cities, but allowed to choose another place of residence. He and his wife chose to move to Voronezh.
Unfortunately, this proved to be a temporary reprieve. Although Mandelstam wrote poems glorifying Stalin in 1937, (as was required of him and all Soviet poets) the Great Purge was beginning.
The pro-Soviet literary establishment assailed him in print, accusing him of harboring anti-Soviet sentiments. A year later, he and his wife received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow.
When they arrived, Mandelstam was arrested again and charged with counter-revolutionary activities. In August of 1938, Osip Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in the Gulag and taken to a transit camp in Vladivostok at the Second River.
He died several months later, on December 27th, 1938. The official cause of death was an unspecified illness. In 1956, during the Khrushchev thaw, Mandelstam was officially "rehabilitated" - cleared of the charges brought against him during his 1938 arrest.
Thirty years later, he would be cleared of the charges stemming from his first arrest in 1934.
Quote Of The Day
"Only in Russia is poetry respected - it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" - Osip Mandelstam
Today's video features a reading of five of Osip Mandelstam's poems. Enjoy!
Thursday, January 14, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On January 14th, 1886, the famous Anglo-Irish writer Hugh Lofting was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England. As a boy, he developed a love of animals and kept "a combination zoo and natural history museum" in his mother's linen closet.
He received his education in Jesuit-run private schools. He later went to the United States, where he studied civil engineering at MIT - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After graduating from MIT, Lofting returned to England and became a civil engineer, traveling throughout the British Empire as his job required him to do. When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Irish Guards, a Foot Guards regiment in the British Army.
In his service as a soldier, he was horrified by not only the human carnage he witnessed, but also by the sufferings of horses and other animals used at the front. During the war, Lofting wrote letters to his children frequently.
Wishing to spare them the horrors of war, (and to escape from them himself) he would tell his children stories about John Dolittle, a country doctor who learned how to talk to animals. Lofting illustrated the stories in his letters.
When he returned home from the war, Lofting reworked his stories into a book he illustrated himself, the first in a hugely popular series that made him world famous. The Story of Doctor Dolittle was published in 1920.
In it, we meet Dr. John Dolittle, a young country doctor who lives with his sister in the small English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Over the years, his love of animals grows; he acquires a menagerie of exotic pets. Unfortunately, his animals scare off his human patients.
After he learns how to speak to animals from his parrot Polynesia, Dolittle gives up his human medical practice and becomes a veterinarian, only to see his new practice start failing after he adopts a crocodile.
In the animal kingdom, he becomes world famous. Just as he's about to go bankrupt, the British government conscripts Doctor Dolittle and orders him to go to Africa and contain an epidemic that's ravaging the monkey population.
So, Dolittle borrows a ship and supplies and sets sail for Africa with a crew of his animal friends. The group is shipwrecked upon their arrival. As they journey toward the monkey kingdom, they're arrested by the king of Jolligingki.
The king, after being victimized and exploited by Europeans, wants no white men in his country. Dolittle and the animals escape through a ruse and reach the monkey kingdom, which is in dire straits due to the raging epidemic.
Dolittle vaccinates the well monkeys and nurses the sick ones back to health, containing the disease. In appreciation, the monkeys give him a pushmi-pullyu - a rare and valuable two-headed animal that's a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn.
Unfortunately, Dolittle and his friends are arrested again in Jolligingki upon their return. This time, they escape with the help of the king's son, Prince Bumpo, after Dolittle bleaches Bumpo's face white so he can be like the European fairy tale princes and hopefully marry his white Sleeping Beauty.
Bumpo gives Dolittle and his animal crew a new ship. After having a couple run-ins with pirates, Dolittle wins a pirate ship filled with treasures. When he finally returns home to England, he exhibits the pushmi-pullyu in a traveling circus and makes enough money to retire.
Hugh Lofting would write a total of twelve Doctor Dolittle books, the last three of which would be published posthumously. They would be adapted numerous times for the radio, screen, and television.
Many years after their first publication, the Doctor Dolittle books would court controversy due to certain language, scenes, and illustrations now considered racially offensive and politically incorrect.
Beginning in the 1960s, certain words and scenes would be changed or removed in some reprint editions of the books in both the UK and the U.S. By 1981, the original, unexpurgated versions would go out of print in both countries.
In 1986, to mark the 100th anniversary of Lofting's birth, the Doctor Dolittle books were republished in a special edition - a severely bowdlerized version with passages of text rewritten or removed and some illustrations altered or replaced.
Ironically, Lofting himself was no racist; black African characters were portrayed sympathetically. In the first Doctor Dolittle book, the king of Jolligingki bemoans his country's exploitation by the white man:
Many years ago a white man came to these shores; and I was very kind to him. But after he had dug holes in the ground to get the gold, and killed all the elephants to get their ivory tusks, he went away secretly in his ship - without so much as saying `Thank you.'
In addition to his Doctor Dolittle books, Hugh Lofting wrote other children's books, including a book of children's poems called Porridge Poetry (1924). His only book geared toward adult readers was Victory For the Slain (1942), an antiwar epic poem. He died in 1947 at the age of 61.
Quote Of The Day
"For years it was a constant source of shock to me to find my writings amongst 'Juveniles.' It does not bother me any more now, but I still feel there should be a category of 'Seniles' to offset the epithet." - Hugh Lofting
Today's video features a complete reading of Hugh Lofting's first book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle - the original version, now in the public domain. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On January 13th, 1926, the famous English children's book writer Michael Bond was born. He was born in Newbury, Berkshire, England.
As a boy, Bond was educated at Presentation College, a Catholic boys' school. During World War II, he served in both the RAF (Royal Air Force) and the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army.
Michael Bond began his writing career in 1945 at the age of nineteen. He sold his first short story to the London Opinion magazine. He continued to write stories and plays and later took a job as a cameraman for the BBC.
While working for the BBC, he would film the popular Blue Peter children's TV series. In 1958, his first book was published. It was a children's book, and the first in a beloved series of classic children's books that would bring its author international fame.
A Bear Called Paddington told the story of a bear from "Darkest Peru" who is sent to England by his Aunt Lucy. He arrives in London's Paddington Station wearing his bush hat, coat, and boots, carrying a battered suitcase and his favorite food - marmalade sandwiches.
He is found by the Brown family - Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their two children, Jonathan and Judy. Pinned to the bear's coat is a note that reads "PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR. THANK YOU."
The Browns decide to adopt the charming, well-mannered bear, whom they name Paddington. They bring him home, where he gets into all sorts of misadventures and annoys the Browns' foul-tempered next door neighbor, Mr. Curry.
Two years before his book was published, on Christmas Eve, 1956, Michael Bond noticed a lone teddy bear on the shelf of a London store. He bought it as a Christmas present for his wife.
That gave him the idea for the story of Paddington, and he based the details of the bear's arrival on old newsreels he'd seen during the war that depicted child evacuees leaving London with labels around their necks and carrying small suitcases.
The Paddington books would become hugely popular in both the UK and the U.S., and be published in many other countries. Bond would write over a dozen Paddington books throughout the years.
In the early 1970s, he began a new series of books featuring another popular character, Olga da Polga. The first book in the series, The Tales of Olga da Polga, was published in 1971.
Olga da Polga is a guinea pig and a teller of tall tales in the tradition of Baron Munchhausen. Something fairly ordinary will happen to her, and she'll give a wildly exaggerated account of it to her friends. Bond would write numerous books featuring Olga da Polga's alleged adventures.
In 1975, while he was working on his Olga da Polga series, Michael Bond served as the producer of a BBC TV series based on his Paddington books. The animated series was famous for its unique look.
While the other characters and the backgrounds were two-dimensional animations, Paddington was rendered in 3D stop-motion animation. Whenever Paddington touched two-dimensional objects, they would become 3D like him.
The series was a huge hit in the UK and just as successful when it premiered on American television. In 1989, a new Paddington animated series premiered on American TV, produced by the Hanna-Barbera studios and starring the voices of Charlie Adler as Paddington and Tim Curry as Mr. Curry.
A Paddington feature film was produced in 2014. Directed and co-written by Paul King, the film starred Nicole Kidman, Michael Gambon, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington.
Michael Bond wasn't keen on a film adaptation of his cherished books, saying "They don’t like to consult you, just like publishers don’t like you to be alone with the illustrator – in case you’re plotting, which you often are."
But he loved the final product, and even appeared in a brief cameo. Released in January of 2016, the film was a critical and commercial success. It grossed $25 million - half its budget - in the opening weekend alone.
A sequel, Paddington 2, was released in 2018. Though popular with fans and critics, it didn't do quite as well on its opening weekend, grossing $11 million on its $40 million budget, but its worldwide theatrical gross was $227 million.
In the 1980s, Bond began yet another series of novels, this time geared toward adult readers. It was a series of humorous mystery novels featuring Monsieur Pamplemousse, a French food critic and amateur detective.
Assisting him in his investigations of crimes is his faithful bloodhound, Pommes Frites. The first book in the series, Monsieur Pamplemousse, was published in 1983.
In addition his popular novel series, Michael Bond has written numerous other books, including non-fiction books such as a travel guide and his autobiography, Bears and Forebears: A Life So Far (1996).
In 1997, he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to children's literature. Ten years later, in 2007, the University of Reading awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Letters.
Michael Bond died in June 2017 at the age of 91. If you visit Paddington station, you'll see a bronze statue of Paddington Bear, sculpted by artist Marcus Cornish. In Saint Mary's Square, there's a sculpture of Michael Bond holding a Paddington teddy bear.
Quote Of The Day
"It's nice having a bear about the house." - Michael Bond
Today's video features a clip from the classic 1970s BBC TV series adaptation of Paddington, produced by his author, Michael Bond. This was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Enjoy!
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On January 12th, 1876, the legendary American writer Jack London was born. He was presumably born John Chaney in San Francisco, but his record of birth was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.
London's mother, Flora Wellman, a music teacher and spiritualist, had become pregnant by her boyfriend, astrologer William Chaney. Chaney demanded that she have an abortion; when she refused, he refused to accept responsibility for the child.
In desperation, Flora Wellman attempted suicide by shooting herself. She wasn't seriously injured, but had become mentally ill, so her friend, ex-slave Virginia Prentiss, took care of the baby while she recovered.
Virginia would remain a strong maternal figure throughout Jack London's life. After his mother recovered, she met and later married John London, a disabled Civil War veteran. The baby, named John but called Jack, came to live with them.
The Londons moved around the San Francisco Bay Area before settling in Oakland. Jack London began his schooling. In 1886, at the age of 10, he discovered the Oakland Public Library and became a voracious reader, his love of literature nurtured by the librarian, poet Ina Coolbrith, later the state's first poet laureate.
In 1897, when he was 21 years old and a student at the University of California, Berkeley, London read an old newspaper account of his mother's attempted suicide. Learning the name of his biological father, William Chaney, London wrote to him.
Chaney wrote back, telling him that he wasn't his father, and that his mother was a whore who had slandered him, ruining his good name. London was devastated.
Long before he had attended Berkeley, Jack London started working at the age of 13. He toiled from 12 to 18 hours a day for slave wages. Seeking a way out of this grueling labor, London borrowed money from his black foster mother.
He bought a boat from an oyster pirate named French Frank. Jack became an oyster pirate himself for a few months, but then his boat was damaged beyond repair. So, he gave up piracy and switched sides, joining the California Fish Patrol.
From there, London signed up to work on a sealing schooner bound for Japan. When he returned to the U.S., he found his country in the grip of the Panic of '93, a precursor to the Great Depression. Labor unrest had swept through his hometown of Oakland.
After suffering through more grueling, low-paying jobs, London joined the famous Kelly's Army protest march of unemployed workers and became a tramp. These experiences would result in London becoming a lifelong socialist.
After living as a hobo for a while, Jack London decided that he would have to use his brains to escape poverty. So, he completed high school and went on to the University of Berkeley. Financial difficulties forced him to leave university in 1897, so he never graduated.
He set sail for Alaska with his brother-in-law, James Shepard, hoping to strike it rich in the Yukon Gold Rush. Instead, like most would-be prospectors, he fell ill from exposure to the harsh Alaskan climate.
Suffering from malnutrition and a bad case of scurvy, he soon found himself living in a shelter and medical facility for the poor. London would later base one of his greatest short stories, To Build A Fire, (1908) on these struggles.
When he returned to California in 1898, Jack London determined to become a writer. His first published short story, To The Man On Trial, appeared in The Overland Monthly that year. The magazine paid him $5 for the story, (about $155 today) but was slow in sending him a check.
Just as he was about to give up on being a writer, The Black Cat accepted another of his stories, A Thousand Deaths, (1899) and paid him $40 for it, or about $1244 today.
London had begun his literary career at the right time; new printing technology had just been introduced that enabled high quality magazines to be produced quickly at low cost. This resulted in a literary magazine boom.
Literary magazines catering to a wide variety of genres and tastes provided a strong market for short fiction and serialized novels. London's writings continued to sell and sell well. By 1900, he was making $2,500 a year - the equivalent of $78,000 in today's money.
That year, London married his first wife, Bess Maddern. She had been an old and close friend of his. They both knew (and publicly acknowledged) that they didn't really love each other, but they liked each other enough that they figured they could make a successful marriage. Bess bore Jack two daughters, Joan and Bessie, who was called Becky.
After the birth of their second daughter, their marriage soured. Bess wanted no more children, and she believed that sex without the express purpose of procreation was immoral, so she wouldn't let her husband touch her. Frustration led London to frequent brothels. Bess finally agreed to a divorce, and they parted amicably.
A year later, Jack London married his second wife, Charmian Kittredge. She had been his publisher's secretary. In Charmian, Jack found a soul mate. Despite her prim and dignified exterior, Charmian was a libertine who enjoyed sex. She also possessed an intellect equal to her husband's.
Charmian had been raised by an aunt who was a libertine, a feminist, and a disciple of the famous suffragist Victoria Woodhull. Jack and Charmian tried to have children together, but their first child died at birth and a second pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage.
In 1903, Jack London's most famous novel, The Call Of The Wild, was published, first in a serialization by the Saturday Evening Post. They asked London to set his price, and he received a payment of $750, or just under $22,000 today.
Later, Macmillan bought the book rights. London chose to take a lump sum payment of $2000 (about $558,000 today) instead of royalties, not realizing that his novel would become a classic, selling millions of copies. He had no regrets, because the publisher's extensive promotional campaign made his name as a writer and helped him sell more novels.
The Call Of The Wild told the story of Buck, a domesticated dog living in the rough and frigid Yukon during the Gold Rush who finds himself forced into service as a sled dog.
Buck's experiences cause him to revert to his primordial instincts. Although considered a children's novel because its main character is a dog, The Call Of The Wild is actually a dark tale with many scenes of cruelty and violence.
Jack London would publish more classic novels, including The Sea-Wolf (1904) and White Fang (1906). In The Sea-Wolf, pampered, rich intellectual Humphrey Van Weyden is on board a San Francisco ferry which collides with another ship in the fog and sinks.
Adrift in the sea, Van Weyden is rescued by Wolf Larsen, the captain of a sealing schooner. The misanthropic Larsen is no hero; he rules his crew with an iron fist and promptly shanghais Van Weyden, forcing him to work as cabin boy.
The formerly pampered rich man must toughen up fast in order to do his work and protect himself from the brutal crew. When the crew attempts a mutiny, Wolf Larsen fights them off, then tortures them in retribution.
White Fang tells the story of the title character, a wolf-dog hybrid who is adopted by an Indian tribe in the Yukon. The pack of dogs that live with the tribe see White Fang as a wolf and attack him. The Indians save him, but the dogs still persecute him relentlessly.
The morose and solitary White Fang grows up to be a savage and deadly fighter. The Indians sell him for a bottle of whiskey to Beauty Smith, a white prospector who runs a dog-fighting operation.
The savage White Fang goes undefeated until one opponent, a ferocious bulldog, nearly tears him apart. Left to die, he is rescued by Weedon Scott, a wealthy young prospector. After nursing White Fang back to health, Scott manages to tame the formerly vicious wolf-dog.
In 1905, Jack London bought a 1,000 acre ranch in Glen Ellen, California, on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain. He loved the ranch, and over the next decade, he invested his writing income (after 1910, he mostly wrote potboilers strictly for money) into making it successful, but it turned out to be a huge failure.
By 1916, he began suffering from both kidney failure and dysentery. He continued to work, both on his writing and on the ranch, even as his health deteriorated. On November 22nd, 1916, Jack London died at the age of 40.
Although uremia was listed as the official cause of death, London was taking large doses of morphine to relieve the extreme pain he was in, and most believe that he really died from an accidental or intentional overdose of morphine.
Throughout his remarkable career, Jack London wrote numerous novels and short stories. He also published several works of nonfiction, including two memoirs: The Road (1907), about his life as a tramp, and John Barleycorn (1913), about his battles with alcoholism.
A lifelong socialist, he wrote political books as well, including The People Of The Abyss, (1903) - an expose of slum life in London - and Revolution, And Other Essays (1910). He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest American writers of all time.
Quote Of The Day
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” - Jack London
Today's video features a complete reading of Jack London's classic novel, White Fang. Enjoy!