This Day In Writing History
On April 15th, 1755, A Dictionary of the English Language, the classic reference book by the legendary English writer Samuel Johnson, was published. Neither the first nor the last English language dictionary ever published, it was, however, one of the most memorable dictionaries ever published.
That's because it was written by Samuel Johnson - the legendary English poet, essayist, literary critic, biographer, and lexicographer considered to be "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history."
Most dictionaries of the time were found to be unsatisfactory at best, so in 1746, a group of London booksellers commissioned Samuel Johnson to write a dictionary for £1,575 - the equivalent of £230,000 in today's money. Johnson claimed that he could complete the work in three years.
Actually, it took him almost nine years to finish his dictionary. It took Johnson a whole year just to draft a plan for the design of the dictionary. The plan received the support of statesman Lord Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
After the dictionary was published, Stanhope wrote an anonymous essay endorsing the work and complaining that the English language lacked structure. Johnson didn't like the tone of the essay and felt that Stanhope hadn't done enough to fulfill his obligations as patron of the dictionary.
The first edition of A Dictionary of the English Language was published in a ponderously large sized volume, (18" tall by 20" wide) on the finest quality paper available at the time.
This made the dictionary incredibly expensive to print and affordable only by nobility and royalty. Johnson called this volume "Vasta mole superbus." - "Proud in its great bulk."
Johnson's dictionary contained the definitions of 42,773 English words (only a few more words would be added in its revised editions) and was innovative in its use of literary quotations used to illustrate the meanings of words.
The dictionary contained some 114,000 quotations by authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden. In addition to the quotations, Johnson's dictionary was the first to use humor in its definitions of words.
A famous example is Johnson's definition of the word oats as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." The legendary American writer Ambrose Bierce would employ similar humor in his masterpiece of scathing satire, The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
A Dictionary of the English Language was a huge hit in England, receiving rave reviews and becoming famous throughout Europe. In America, however, it was poorly received, especially by one Noah Webster.
Webster, an American lexicographer, argued that British English should no longer be the American standard because "the taste of [Britain's] writers is already corrupted, and her language is on the decline." He would later write a famous dictionary of his own - a dictionary of American English.
In England, Samuel Johnson's dictionary would be viewed as the preeminent English dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary was completed and published in 1884. It earned Johnson a £300 pension from King George III and a legacy that continues to this day.
Quote Of The Day
"Books, like friends, should be few and well-chosen." - Samuel Johnson
Today's video features an episode of the Learning English series that takes a look at Samuel Johnson and his dictionary. Enjoy!
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On April 14th, 1939, The Grapes of Wrath, the classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the legendary American writer John Steinbeck, was published.
Steinbeck had previously scored a literary triumph with his acclaimed and controversial novella, Of Mice and Men. The Grapes of Wrath would also court controversy.
The Grapes of Wrath (the title comes from a line in the song The Battle Hymn of the Republic) told the story of the Joads, a poor family of Oklahoma sharecroppers who, driven from their home by the Great Depression and the dust storms, go to California hoping to improve their fortunes. Instead, they encounter more hardship.
The novel opens with son Tom Joad being paroled after serving time in prison for manslaughter. On his way home, he meets Jim Casy, an ex-preacher he once knew.
Casy, who shares the same initials as Jesus Christ, (and later proves himself a Christ figure) lost his faith after having affairs with his congregants and realizing that religion can provide no real answers or solace for the difficulties that people are experiencing in the Depression.
Tom and Casy go to Tom's uncle's house, where Tom finds his family loading their truck with their possessions. Their crops were destroyed by the dust storms and their farm has been repossessed.
So, the Joads have decided to go to California after an advertisement convinces them that the Golden State holds the key to prosperity. Leaving Oklahoma would violate Tom's parole, but he believes that it's a risk worth taking.
They head out on Route 66, and soon realize that their prospects in California may not be as good as they thought. The road is full of other families making the same journey and the makeshift camps in which they live.
The Joads hear many stories of hardship from people who have been to California, but they feel they have no choice but to continue their journey.
When they finally arrive in California, the Joads find no hope of making a decent living. There's an oversupply of labor and no rights for workers, thanks to a collusion of big corporate farmers. Smaller farmers are suffering from a collapse in prices.
The Joads find hope at Weedpatch Camp, a clean camp operated by the Resettlement Administration, one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. Since the camp is a federal facility, the poor migrant workers are protected there from the sadistic California state policemen.
The vigilante cops had been constantly harassing and brutalizing migrant workers in an attempt to drive them out of the state. Unfortunately, there's not enough money and space at Weedpatch to care for all the needy.
The novel reaches its apex when the Joads end up working (unknowingly) as strike breakers at a peach orchard. A strike turns violent and Tom Joad's friend Jim Casy is murdered. Tom witnesses the crime and kills the attacker to avenge his friend's death.
Now a fugitive, Tom says goodbye to his mother and flees, vowing that wherever the road takes him, he'll act as a defender of the oppressed.
The publication of The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 was described as "a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national radio hook-ups; but above all, it was read."
Loved by most and denounced as communist propaganda by some, The Grapes of Wrath would become one of the most thoroughly discussed and studied novels of the twentieth century.
Though author John Steinbeck had been accused of exaggerating the camp conditions to make a political point, he had actually underplayed conditions that he knew had been much worse than what he'd described in his novel. He did this to avoid being labeled a propagandist, but he was denounced as a communist nonetheless.
In 1940, the legendary filmmaker John Ford directed a feature film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and John Carradine as Jim Casy.
Though the ending of the film differs greatly from the novel, it's still rightfully considered to be of the greatest films ever made. It won big at the Academy Awards, taking the Oscars for Best Actor (Fonda), Best Director (Ford), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie was a big fan of the film. After he saw it, he wrote a song summarizing the plot for people who couldn't afford to see the movie. The result, Guthrie's classic song Tom Joad, turned out to be so long that it had to be broken into two parts.
In 1962, John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature. The prize committee cited the brilliance of The Grapes of Wrath as one of their main reasons for giving Steinbeck the award.
Quote Of The Day
"The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true." - John Steinbeck
Today's video features a reading from John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Enjoy!
Friday, April 11, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On April 11th, 1931, the legendary American writer Dorothy Parker resigned as drama critic for the New Yorker magazine.
Best known as a poet, Dorothy began her career as a magazine writer in 1914 when Vogue hired her as an editorial assistant after one of her poems appeared in its sister magazine, Vanity Fair.
After working at Vogue for two years, Dorothy was transferred to Vanity Fair to work as a staff writer. By 1918, she had become the magazine's guest drama critic, filling in for the vacationing P.G. Wodehouse.
It was in this capacity that Dorothy Parker began developing the rapacious wit that would make her famous. Her reviews were often brutal. She offered this advice to potential audiences of one particular musical comedy: "If you don't knit, bring a book."
She reviewed a production of Leo Tolstoy's Redemption by saying, "I went into the Plymouth Theater a comparatively young woman, and I staggered out of it, three hours later, twenty years older."
Infuriated by Dorothy's scathing reviews of their plays, the wealthy, powerful producers flexed their considerable muscle to get her fired. Her friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, resigned in protest.
Together, they formed the Algonquin Round Table, a famous group of New York City writers, actors, critics, and wits. Another founding member of the group was Harold Ross, who would found the New Yorker magazine in 1925.
He named Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley as members of the magazine's board of editors, which made his investors happy. Over the next fifteen years, Dorothy would reach her peak of productivity and success.
Her first poetry collection, Enough Rope, was published in 1926. It sold nearly 50,000 copies and received great reviews. The Nation newsmagazine described her poetry as "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity."
Within the next four years, Dorothy would publish over 300 poems in the New Yorker and many other national magazines. In addition to her poetry, she also wrote humorous pieces, essays, columns, and book reviews for the New Yorker.
She also served as the magazine's drama critic for over five years. Then she tired of drama - and of the drama her scathing reviews created - and resigned as drama critic. She continued writing book reviews - under the byline Constant Reader - until 1933.
Dorothy Parker's writing talent and sparkling wit was noticed by Hollywood, and she became a screenwriter. In 1937, she co-wrote the hit film, A Star Is Born and earned an Academy Award nomination. Her political activism would eventually derail her Hollywood career.
She served as a correspondent for the communist magazine New Masses, reporting on the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, before her success with A Star Is Born, she founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.
During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Dorothy protested the government's relentless and mostly illegal persecution of suspected communists and communist sympathizers. She never joined the Communist Party, but did declare herself a sympathizer.
The FBI deemed her a subversive and compiled a dossier on her that would reach 1,000 pages in length. She was never charged with a crime, but her former Hollywood studio bosses blacklisted her for years. In 1957, she moved back to New York City and served as a book reviewer for Esquire magazine.
Dorothy died of a heart attack in June of 1967 at the age of 73. She left her estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination the following year, it was passed on to the NAACP.
In 1988, the NAACP interred Dorothy's ashes in a memorial garden outside its Baltimore headquarters. The plaque in the garden reads as follows:
Here lies the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph, she suggested Excuse my dust. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988
Four years later, to celebrate Dorothy's 99th birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.
Quote Of The Day
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” - Dorothy Parker
Today's video features a rare recording of Dorothy Parker reading her poem, Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 10, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On April 10th, 1906, The Four Million, the classic short story collection by the legendary American writer O. Henry, was published. It contained two of the author's most popular stories - The Cop and the Anthem and The Gift of the Magi.
The Cop and the Anthem is set in New York City. It's late autumn, and with winter coming, a homeless hobo called Soapy isn't looking forward to sleeping out in the cold.
Soapy decides to get himself arrested so he can spend the night in a warm jail cell. He tries swindling, petty thievery, vandalism, and pretending to be publicly intoxicated, but he just can't get arrested.
When Soapy tries sexually harassing a young woman, she turns out to be a prostitute. Heartbroken, he moves on. As the sun begins to set on a cold night, he finds himself standing outside a small church.
Inside the church, the organist is practicing. Soapy listens to him play. Moved by the music, he contemplates his life and decides to clean up his act and get himself a job and a home. Lost in reverie over the prospect of a brighter future, Soapy is approached by a cop - who arrests him for loitering.
The Gift of the Magi, considered O. Henry's most beloved story, is a heartwarming Christmas tale. Jim and Della are a poor young married couple living in a modest little apartment.
Although poor, they each have a valuable possession that they take pride in. Della has her beautiful, long flowing hair, while Jim's prize possession is his grandfather's pocket watch.
It's Christmas Eve, and Della has just under two dollars to spend on Jim's Christmas present. Desperate, she decides to sell the only thing of value she has - her hair. She sells it for $20 and buys a shiny platinum fob chain for Jim's treasured pocket watch.
When Jim comes home, she gives him his present and tells him she sold her hair to pay for it. He fixes her with an expression “that she could not read, and it terrified her.” Then he gives Della her Christmas present - a set of expensive, fancy combs for her hair. He sold his grandfather's pocket watch to pay for them.
The couple is left with two Christmas presents they can't use and one invaluable gift they take great pleasure in - their deep love for each other. The story ends with the author comparing their sacrificial gifts to each other with the biblical gifts of the Magi given to the baby Jesus:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.
And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.
O. Henry was the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter, born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1862. A voracious reader as a child, he took up writing in his twenties. While living in Austin, Texas, in the late 1880s, he wrote short stories and founded a humorous weekly literary magazine called The Rolling Stone.
Porter supported himself by working at a bank, which would lead to his downfall. He would be accused of embezzlement and fired, but not indicted. He moved to Houston, where he worked on his magazine and also wrote for the Houston Post.
During this time, the bank where Porter had worked was audited by the feds, who arrested him on federal embezzlement charges. He fled, and while on the lam, went to Honduras, where he coined the term "banana republic" to describe that third world Latin American country and others like it.
When Porter learned that his wife was dying of tuberculosis, he returned to Texas and surrendered. He was granted bail so he could remain with his wife pending an appeal. After she died, Porter lost his appeal and was sentenced to five years in a federal prison in Ohio.
While serving his time, Porter continued to write. He used several pseudonyms, settling on O. Henry - the name he was becoming famous under. He had a friend in New Orleans forward his stories so that publishers wouldn't realize that he was in prison.
After serving three years of his five year sentence, he was paroled for good behavior. The year after his release from prison, O. Henry moved to New York City, which was the mecca of the publishing world.
He would become one of the great masters of the short story, writing nearly four hundred of them. The critics of the day were rarely kind to O. Henry, but his readers loved him and couldn't get enough of his stories.
Sadly, O. Henry's life would be cut short by chronic health problems such as diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and an enlarged heart. These problems were caused or worsened by his heavy drinking. He died in 1910 at the age of 47.
Quote Of The Day
"Write what you like; there is no other rule." - O. Henry
Today's video features a complete reading of O. Henry's classic short story, The Gift of the Magi. Enjoy!
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On April 9th, 1821, the legendary French poet Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris, France. His father Francois was a civil servant and amateur artist 34 years older than his wife, Baudelaire's mother Caroline. He died when Charles was six years old.
The following year, Caroline remarried. The young Baudelaire hated his stepfather Jacques Aupick, who was a lieutenant colonel in the army and a fierce disciplinarian at home. Aupick later sent his young stepson to boarding school in Lyon.
Recalling his boyhood, Baudelaire said, "I was a precocious dandy." As such, he was greatly disliked by most of his classmates. One of his few friends at school agreed with this assessment.
His friend would later say of the then 14-year-old Baudelaire, "He was much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils... [we] shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature."
While attending the Lycee Louis-le-Grand - the famous and demanding secondary school in Paris - Baudelaire's academic performance was erratic. Sometimes he was extremely diligent in his studies, while at other times, he was prone to periods of idleness.
He graduated in 1839 at the age of eighteen. At that time, he was described as "an exalted character, sometimes full of mysticism, and sometimes full of immorality and cynicism, which were excessive, but only verbal."
Baudelaire told his brother, "I don't feel I have a vocation for anything." His stepfather wanted him to pursue a career in law or diplomacy. Instead, he decided to become a writer. He spent the next two years living a bohemian life and socializing with other writers and artists.
He frequented prostitutes, and as a result, visited a pharmacist who specialized in the treatment of venereal disease. He took one prostitute, a girl named Sara, as his live-in lover.
In order to keep him under control, Baudelaire's stepfather kept him on a strict allowance, which he often spent immediately, most of it on clothes. When the money ran out, he bought on credit and ran up debts.
His stepfather decided to send him to Calcutta, to be supervised by an ex-naval captain. The arduous experience failed to dissuade Baudelaire from pursuing a literary career and failed to change his laid-back nature.
The captain let Baudelaire go home to France. He did gain something from his year of travels - strong impressions of the sea, the sailing life, and exotic ports of call, all of which would have an effect on his poetry. Back in Paris, he began his literary career by reading his poems in taverns.
At the age of 21, Baudelaire inherited over 100,000 francs and several parcels of land. He squandered most of his new found wealth, and his family obtained a decree placing the rest of his assets in trust. Around this time, he met Jeanne Duval, the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute.
Their love affair would be the longest relationship he would have in his short life. His mother thought she was a "Black Venus" who "tortured [my son] in every way" and drained him of his money. By 1845, at the age of 24, Baudelaire was broke and eating on credit.
He began writing the poems that would appear in his classic first poetry collection, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) which would be published twelve years later. His first published work was an art review titled "Salon of 1845."
He gained a reputation as a passionate and well-informed art critic. Unfortunately, his debts were rising and his future was doubtful, so he attempted suicide by stabbing himself. He lost his nerve and ended up with a superficial wound.
Baudelaire wrote to his mother, begging her to visit him, but she ignored his pleas under orders from his stepfather. After being homeless for a time, he resolved to improve his situation. He continued his work as an art critic.
In 1846, he published a novella, La Fanfarlo. Being fluent in English since childhood, he earned extra money as a translator. He translated English language works of literature into French - including some of his favorite works.
His translations included Matthew Lewis' notorious and classic Gothic novel The Monk, the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and other classic works.
In 1857, Baudelaire's stepfather died. Although he had been disinherited, he did gain something from Jacques Aupick's death - he reconciled with his mother, to whom he had become estranged. As a boy, he had been very close to her, but he never forgave her for marrying Jacques Aupick.
1857 was a good year for Baudelaire. Not only did he reconcile with his mother, his first and most famous poetry collection was finally published. It had taken him twelve years to complete, as he had been sidetracked by indolence, emotional distress, and physical illness.
Les Fleurs du Mal established Baudelaire as one of the greatest French poets of all time. Some of the poems in it had been previously published in the Revue des Deux Mondes (Review of Two Worlds) magazine.
Sex and death were the main themes of the poems collected in Les Fleurs du Mal, which touched on taboo subjects such as lesbianism. Critics offered high praise for some of his poems; for others, they demanded he be arrested for obscenity.
In a letter to his mother, Baudelaire addressed the outcry over the alleged obscenity in his poems:
You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du Mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people.
Moreover, since I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire, I cut out a third from the proofs. They deny me everything, the spirit of invention and even the knowledge of the French language. I don't care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public, beside the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier, and even Byron.
Baudelaire, his publisher, and the book printer had all been charged with obscenity. None were imprisoned - they were fined instead. Baudelaire's fine was 300 francs. The French literati condemned the author's conviction and offered him their support.
Legendary novelist Victor Hugo wrote to Baudelaire, telling him "Your Fleurs du Mal shine and dazzle like stars... I applaud your vigorous spirit with all my might." As a result of the obscenity conviction, Fleurs du Mal was republished in a censored version with six poems deleted.
These poems would be published uncensored in Belgium as Les Epaves (The Wrecks) in 1866. In 1949 - nearly a hundred years after its first publication - the original, unexpurgated version of Fleurs du Mal would finally be published in France.
Baudelaire continued to write. In addition to his own works, he translated more English works into French, including Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821).
Baudelaire wrote a book about his own experiences with opium and hashish, titled Les Paradis Artificiels (Artificial Paradises), which was published in 1860. He believed that these substances could help mankind create an ideal world.
In 1861, Baudelaire's publisher went bankrupt. At the time, he had been living a peaceful and productive life with his mother in the seaside town of Honfleur. The stress and poverty of his earlier life, along with his chronic illnesses and use of laudanum (tincture of opium) had taken a toll on his health.
Just as he was starting to recover his health, his publisher's bankruptcy added new stress to his life, as once again he faced the prospect of poverty. In 1864, Baudelaire went to Belgium, hoping to have his works published there and to give lectures.
In addition to his on and off relationship with Jeanne Duval, he took actress Marie Daubrun and courtesan Allonie Sabatier as his lovers. None of his relationships ever blossomed into true love.
Unsatisfied in his personal life and fearful of poverty, Baudelaire smoked opium and drank to excess. In 1866, he suffered a massive stroke that left him half-paralyzed. For the remainder of his life, he lived in sanitariums in Brussels and Paris.
Charles Baudelaire died in August of 1867 at the age of 46. Many of his unpublished works were published posthumously, and his previously published works were republished.
The proceeds enabled his mother to pay off his substantial debts. She found comfort in his fame, saying "I see that my son, for all his faults, has his place in literature."
Quote Of The Day
"Always be a poet, even in prose." - Charles Baudelaire
Today's video features a reading of Charles Baudelaire's classic poem Les Litanies de Satan (The Litanies of Satan), from his famous poetry collection, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). The poem is read in the original French with English, French, and Spanish subtitles provided. Enjoy!
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On April 8th, 1950, For Esmè - with Love and Squalor, the classic short story by the legendary American writer J.D. Salinger, was published in The New Yorker. The story, was based in part on the author's own experiences during the conflict.
The narrator is an American ex-soldier who refers to himself as Staff Sergeant X. The story opens with X receiving an invitation to a wedding in England. He wants to go, but he can't because his mother-in-law is coming to visit at that time. So, he decides to make "a few revealing notes about the bride as I knew her almost six years ago."
The story then flashes back to Devon, England, circa 1944, where X is stationed along with some 60 other American soldiers as part of a secret three-week training program for an upcoming invasion - the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
On his last day of training, after packing his bags, X takes a final walk through Devon and ends up at a church where a children's choir practice is taking place. He finds himself entranced by the singing of one particular child.
She's a thirteen-year-old girl “with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length, an exquisite forehead, and blasé eyes that, I thought, might very possibly have counted the house.” Hers is the “sweetest-sounding” voice, though she seems “bored with her own singing ability.”
X leaves the church. Later, he goes to a tea room, where he orders tea and cinnamon toast. The girl he'd seen singing at the church enters the room, along with a little boy and "an efficient looking woman." They sit a few tables down from him.
When the girl notices X staring at her, she gets up and walks over to him. She is surprised to see him at the tea room, because she "thought all Americans despised tea." X asks her if she'd like to join him, and she accepts the invitation.
As they engage in a conversation, the girl, whose name is Esmè, surprises X with her precociousness when she asks him if he goes “to that secret Intelligence school on the hill.” She also asks him if he's married.
Esmè describes herself as "a terribly cold person" and says that she's teaching herself to be more compassionate. She and her little brother Charles live with their aunt. Her father was a solider, killed in action in North Africa.
Charles comes over to join Esmè and X. When Esmè asks what X's job was before he became a soldier, he tells her that he'd like to consider himself a professional writer, but he has yet to be published, which he blames on American editors.
When X notices the "enormous-faced, chronographic-looking wristwatch" that Esmè is wearing, he asks if it belonged to her father. She says that it did and “I’d be extremely flattered if you’d write a story exclusively for me sometime.”
She prefers stories about squalor. Before she leaves, Esmè offers to write letters to X, adding that "I write extremely articulate letters." He tells her that he'd love it if she wrote to him, and gives her his contact information.
The story flashes forward to V-E Day in 1945, as X tells his tale of personal squalor. He suffered a nervous breakdown from combat stress and is currently living in a "civilian home" for shell-shocked soldiers in Bavaria.
(After his own tour of duty, J.D. Salinger spent time in a mental hospital in Nuremberg following a nervous breakdown brought on by combat stress.)
X suffers from psychosomatic symptoms such as facial ticks and a badly shaking hand. He's gaunt, he can't sleep, and his friend Corporal Z says that he "looks like a corpse." Festivities are taking place in town, but X stays in his room.
He turns his attention to a pile of unopened letters by his writing table. Nauseous and trembling, X opens a letter. It's from Esmè. She apologizes for not writing sooner and asks if X is well, obviously worried about him. She also asks if he would write her back as soon as possible.
Enclosed in Esmè's letter is a note from her little brother Charles and a present - her father's wristwatch. X sits there for a while, contemplating the letter and the present, then "suddenly, almost ecstatically" feels sleepy - something he hasn't experienced in a long, long time.
For Esmè - with Love and Squalor was a huge hit. It would be included in Salinger's classic 1953 short story collection, Nine Stories. That year, the legendary British actor Sir Laurence Olivier asked Salinger for permission to adapt For Esmè - with Love and Squalor as a BBC radio play.
Salinger turned him down. When another one of his short stories, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, was adapted as a Hollywood feature film, the result was a critical and commercial failure that had little to do with the story upon which it was based.
Despite Hollywood's dogged determination to adapt his celebrated novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951) as a feature film, an irate Salinger vowed that no more adaptations of his works would be made - a vow he kept until he died in January of 2010 at the age of 91.
Quote Of The Day
"I don't suppose a writing man ever really gets rid of his crocus-yellow neckties. Sooner or later, I think, they show up in his prose, and there isn't a hell of a lot he can do about it." - J.D. Salinger
Today's video features a reading of J.D. Salinger's classic short story, For Esmè - with Love and Squalor. Enjoy!
Monday, April 7, 2014
My flash piece, “Cashmere Silk,” is up at Roadside Fiction.
Clever Magazine has accepted my story, “Dear Computer,” for their June issue.
A short story, “A Bird in the Hand,” was published online last week in CommuterLit and “Hello Central,” is slated for next week.
My historical novel, Flight to the Frontier, due to be released in June of this year by Chronicler Publishing.