This Day In Literary History
On July 28th, 1932, the famous American children's book writer Natalie Babbitt was born. She was born Natalie Zane in Dayton, Ohio, but the family moved around frequently. Growing up during the Great Depression, Natalie enjoyed reading fairy tales, folklore, and books about mythology.
When she discovered an illustrated copy of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Natalie determined to become a children's book illustrator when she grew up.
Her mother, an amateur landscape and portrait painter, encouraged her. She gave Natalie art lessons and made sure she always had enough paper, colored pencils, and paints.
Natalie Babbitt studied art at the Laurel School for Girls in Cleveland and at Smith College. After graduation, she married Samuel Babbitt and bore him three children. She spent the next ten years as a stay-at-home mom.
When her husband became the president of Kirkland College in New York, she performed all the duties of a college president's wife, including attending various functions.
In the late 1960s, Natalie and her husband collaborated on a children's book called The Forty-Ninth Magician. Samuel wrote the story and Natalie drew the illustrations. The book, published in 1966, was successful.
Unfortunately, Samuel's work left him little time to write, so further books were out of the question. Natalie's sister asked her to illustrate a comic novel she'd written, but that panned out due to her constant rewrites, which required Natalie to keep drawing new pictures.
Frustrated, Natalie Babbitt decided to write her own books. Her first solo effort, Dick Foote and the Shark, was published in 1967. With her enchanting fairy tales, she made a name for herself as one of the best children's writers of all time.
She also has a gift for humor and satire. In 1974, Natalie published The Devil's Storybook, a collection of humorous Saki-esque short stories featuring the Devil as the main character.
The Devil's Storybook has nothing to do with religion. Instead, it presents the Devil as a comic character. As Jean Stafford, book critic for the New Yorker magazine, noted:
"This Devil is not dire; he is a scheming practical joker and comes to earth often when he is restless, to play tricks on clergymen, goodwives, poets, and pretty girls."
Natalie Babbitt's ferocious wit, combined with her hilarious illustrations, made The Devil's Storybook a favorite of both children and adults. In 1987, Babbitt published a sequel, The Devil's Other Storybook.
Natalie Babbitt is, of course, best known for her fairy tales and fantasy stories. In 1975, she published Tuck Everlasting, a novel that most of her fans (including me) consider to be her best work.
Set in 1881, the novel tells the story of Winnie Foster, a bored and lonely ten-year-old girl stifled by her wealthy, overprotective parents. She escapes from them by exploring the forest near her home.
One day, she finds a mysterious family, the Tucks, (mother Mae Tuck, her husband, and their two sons) living in the middle of the woods. The Tucks have a secret, which Winnie discovers: they are immortal - the result of drinking water from a hidden, magical spring.
Winnie befriends the Tuck family and promises to keep their secret. She grows close to their younger son, 17-year-old Jesse Tuck, and thinks that it must be wonderful to live forever.
She ultimately realizes that immortality is more of a curse than a gift. The Tucks live a lonely, isolated existence, trying to prevent their secret from being revealed, for then everyone would want to be immortal, and the world would become a terrible place.
When Mae Tuck kills a man to save Winnie, she's sent to prison, but Winnie helps her escape. The Tucks flee, taking their secret with them - except for some magic spring water which Jesse Tuck gave to Winnie. Will she drink it when she turns seventeen so she can marry him and live forever?
Tuck Everlasting was adapted twice as a feature film, first in 1981 - a rarely seen, independently made gem that really captured the essence of Natalie Babbitt's novel - then again in 2002.
The 2002 version was a Disney film - a horrible adaptation that turned Babbitt's great novel into a sappy teen romance - despite the fact that Winnie Foster is only ten years old in the book. The movie was panned by critics and film goers alike.
In 1977, Natalie Babbitt published The Eyes of the Amaryllis, a haunting tale of the supernatural. It's summertime, and 11-year-old Geneva "Jenny" Reade has been sent to stay with her grandmother for a while.
The old woman has broken her leg, and needs help while she recovers. Jenny's grandmother believes that her husband, who went missing at sea thirty years ago, will soon send her a sign of his love.
Jenny doesn't believe her - until she meets the ghost of a drowned man named Seward. Seward is tasked with returning to the sea anything of value that may wash up on shore.
When Jenny finds an object of value that washed up, her grandmother believes that it's a sign from her husband. But Seward warns them that the sea wants it back - and will take it back by force if necessary.
The Eyes of the Amaryllis was adapted as a feature film in 1982 - an excellent, independently made film that wonderfully adapts Natalie Babbitt's novel to the screen.
It featured a memorable performance by 11-year-old Martha Byrne as Jenny Reade. A year later, she would star in the science fiction classic, Anna to the Infinite Power - another indie gem.
Natalie Babbitt has written seventeen children's books. Her latest, The Moon Over High Street, was published in 2011. In addition to writing, she also serves as a board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance.
Quote Of The Day
"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live." - Natalie Babbitt
Today's video features the complete, rare 1981 feature film adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's classic novel, Tuck Everlasting. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 27th, 1916, the famous American writer and literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick was born in Lexington, Kentucky. She was eighth in a family of eleven children. Her father ran a plumbing and heating business.
Although he and his wife brought up their children in a strict Protestant household, they also held liberal political views, and Elizabeth inherited their deep compassion for the poor.
In 1939, Elizabeth moved to New York City to do graduate work at Columbia university. Two years later, she dropped out to become a freelance writer. As a literary critic, she reviewed books for highbrow publications such as the Partisan Review.
The editor for the Partisan Review, Philip Rahv, became her lover for a time. She would later describe her life in Manhattan as being comprised of "love and alcohol and clothes on the floor." She embraced the bohemian lifestyle of writing, free love, and jazz nightclubs.
Elizabeth Hardwick's first novel, The Ghostly Lover, was published in 1945. A year later, she attended a party given by poet Robert Lowell and his wife at their Greenwich Village apartment.
Elizabeth and Robert would meet again at Yaddo, a famous retreat for writers in upstate New York. By this time, Robert had finalized his messy divorce from his wife Jean Stafford, a hardened alcoholic who had given up writing to devote her time to the bottle.
Elizabeth and Robert dated for a couple of years, then married in 1949. The marriage would prove to be both long and tempestuous. Robert was mentally ill; during their honeymoon, he had to be committed following a severe manic-depressive episode.
At the mental hospital, he received shock treatment. After he recovered and was released, he and Elizabeth traveled to Europe, where Robert took a job as a teacher in Salzburg.
Robert Lowell's struggle with mental illness continued. In addition to manic depression, he suffered from psychotic episodes. While teaching in Salzburg, he engaged in an affair with one of his students - an affair that existed only in his mind.
He had another breakdown, received treatment, and was released. It would be a recurring pattern for him. Elizabeth Hardwick struggled to keep her marriage together. When her husband engaged in real life affairs with other women, she forgave the casual flings.
Meanwhile, in 1956, at the age of 40, Elizabeth gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Harriet. She continued with her writing career. In 1955, her second novel, The Simple Truth, was published.
Four years later, in 1959, she published her famous essay, The Decline of Book Reviewing, in Harper's Magazine. It was a scathing critique of the book reviews currently being published in American periodicals - including The New York Times Book Review. Though she and her husband had parted and reunited several times, by 1961, the marriage finally seemed solid and stable.
In 1963, Elizabeth Hardwick, along with her friends Jason Epstein, Barbara Epstein, and Robert B. Silvers, founded the legendary literary magazine, The New York Review of Books. For many years, she served as editorial adviser and creative consultant, and also published numerous essays in the magazine.
Her last, published in 2003, was about Nathanael West, the legendary author of the classic novels Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939) whose brilliant writing career and young life were both cut short by a car accident.
Elizabeth Hartwick's 21-year marriage finally came to an end in 1970, when instead of a casual fling, her husband fell in love with another woman - novelist Lady Caroline Blackwood. By 1972, Elizabeth and Robert Lowell divorced, and he married Caroline.
Elizabeth returned to her writing career. When she wasn't working or writing for The New York Review of Books, she worked on her third novel, Sleepless Nights, which would be published in 1979.
In addition to her novels and short fiction, Elizabeth published several nonfiction books, including a biography of Herman Melville and a true crime book about the Caryl Chessman case, one of several famous capital murder cases.
These cases led the Supreme Court to ban capital punishment as unconstitutional in 1972. Chessman, a career criminal, had been convicted of being the "Red Light Bandit," a serial robber who sometimes raped his female victims after robbing them.
Chessman was sentenced to death because a law on California's books (passed as a result of the Lindbergh baby case) made kidnapping with bodily harm a capital offense. Acting as his own attorney, Chessman appealed his conviction vigorously, claiming that it was due to mistaken identity.
Chessman won eight stays of execution. On his ninth execution date, the governor's office called the prison with another order to stay it, but the call came in too late - Chessman was already in the gas chamber, choking to death.
Elizabeth Hardwick's account of the Chessman case was included in the Library of America's 200-year retrospective of American true crime writing. She died in 2007 at the age of 91.
Quote Of The Day
"The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination." - Elizabeth Hardwick
Today's video features a panel discussion of how three great writers - Elizabeth Hardwick, Henry James, and Edith Wharton - chronicled life in New York City in their short fiction. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 26th, 1894, the legendary English writer Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. His father, Leonard Huxley, was a writer, a scientist, and a schoolmaster.
His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a brilliant scientist famous for his vigorous defense of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution, which earned him the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog."
He also became famous for coining the term agnostic to describe his spiritual beliefs. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a god, because there is no scientific evidence to either prove or disprove that a higher power exists.
Aldous Huxley began his education at home, assisted by both his mother and his father's well-equipped laboratory. His mother died of illness when he was 14. At 17, he wrote his first novel, which would go unpublished.
That same year, Huxley suffered from keratitis, an inflammation of the corneas that left him practically blind for nearly three years. When he regained some of his eyesight, he enrolled at Balliol College, Oxford, to study English literature.
After he graduated with honors, Huxley taught French at Eton College. One of his students was a young man named Eric Blair, who would become famous for the classic novels he wrote under his legendary pseudonym, George Orwell.
Although Blair and his other students were impressed with his intellect, Huxley found that he had no aptitude for teaching and trouble maintaining discipline in the classroom.
Disqualified from military service during World War 1 due to his eyesight, Huxley would work briefly for the Air Ministry in 1918, near the end of the war. During the war, he spent most of his time working as a farm laborer at Garsington Manor.
Garsington Manor was the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, a society hostess and patron of the arts. She would host the gatherings of a group of writers, artists, intellectuals, and philosophers that came to be known as the Bloomsbury Set.
Through Lady Ottoline, Aldous Huxley was introduced to this influential group and became friends with many of its members, including D.H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and Clive Bell. He determined to become a serious writer.
His first published novel, Crome Yellow, was published in 1921. Huxley began his literary career satirizing England's class system, specifically, the manners and mores of the upper class. Then, in 1932, he published the novel that made him world famous.
Brave New World, (the title comes from a line in Shakespeare's classic play, The Tempest) a masterpiece of dystopic science fiction, was far removed from anything Huxley had written before, though it did showcase the talent for satire that marked his previous novels.
It was inspired by H.G. Wells' novel Men Like Gods (1923), a work of utopic science fiction. Huxley had intended to write a scathing parody of the utopic visions of the future depicted in Wells' novel and in the works of other writers of the time.
Unlike his former student George Orwell's satire of Stalinism in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Huxley's anti-capitalist dystopic vision depicted a twisted, surreal society of the future dedicated to mindless, materialistic pleasure.
It's "the Year of our Ford" 632, (car magnate Henry Ford has become a messianic figure to this capitalist, materialist dystopia) aka 2540 A.D., and the vast majority of the world's people live in a single, unified state called The World State, where the form of government is an eerily benevolent fascist dictatorship.
A strict caste system is in effect, and children are conceived in hatcheries and conditioned to fit into a predetermined class. The caste system of highest (Alpha) to lowest (Epsilon) is designed to assure universal employment in all areas - the backbone of the World State's capitalist economy and materialistic society.
Mass consumption is the government's philosophy, with catch phrases like "spending is better than mending" its mantras. There are no such things as parents or family; children are raised by everyone.
To keep the people happy, (and happy to work and spend money) the state uses recreational sex, which it encourages people to have often, with no emotional connections. Birth control is mandatory. To condition children to become sexually active adults, they are encouraged at a very young age to engage in erotic play with each other.
The World State also keeps its people happy by encouraging them to drug themselves with Soma, a mood enhancing narcotic. Instead of practicing a religion, people attend Solidarity Services.
At a Solidarity Service, people drug themselves into oblivion with large amounts of Soma, sing hymns, and then partake in "communion" by having an orgy.
Almost all the people of the World State engage in these and other state-approved customs and activities, as those who don't face ostracism and potential exile.
Bernard Marx works as a psychologist for the World State, but he has become discontented with this so-called utopia. Although an Alpha, his petite frame has made him a misfit among those of his caste.
He takes issue with the State's use of sleep programming to shape the people's most deeply held beliefs. He hates taking Soma and would "rather be himself." Worst of all, he finds himself drawn to a woman named Lenina Crowne.
Bernard doesn't want to engage in emotionless sex with Lenina, he - gasp - has fallen in love with her. Lenina is torn between her loyalty to the World State and the passions that are growing within her.
Eighteen-year-old John the Savage lives outside the World State on an Indian reservation. He is the illegitimate son of Thomas, a World State official, and a woman called Linda. Thomas is the Director of the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre.
Thomas lives in fear of this dark secret; conceiving a child naturally - and in an act of love - are considered scandalous and obscene acts in the World State. Thus, Linda was considered a disgrace.
She had been a Beta in the World State; now she lives on an Indian reservation because she's too ashamed to return to the World State. The Indian women hate her - she had sex with all their men, which she was conditioned to do by the World State.
Linda taught her son John how to read, an ability he considers a gift. The only books he had access to were his mother's manual from her old job in the World State and a collection of Shakespeare's plays.
John hated the job manual, but loved Shakespeare's plays and memorized them verbatim. Shakespeare's works are banned by the World State, but John still wants to see the "brave new world" his mother spoke of.
Bernard Marx takes John into the World State, where he becomes the toast of London. To Bernard's delight, when John meets Thomas and calls him father, Thomas is humiliated and resigns. Unfortunately, John's presence in the World State leads to tragedy.
After his mother dies of a Soma overdose, he incites a riot by throwing workers' Soma rations out a window. Caught by police, he is exiled and becomes a hermit. His solitude ends when he is caught on film whipping himself in a ritual of atonement, setting the stage for a tragic ending.
When Brave New World was first published in 1932, it was met with both acclaim and outrage. During the 1960s, it became a classic of the American counterculture. It remains remarkably relevant to this day.
Often appearing on high school English teachers' required reading lists, the novel continues to face bans and challenges from disgruntled parents. The American Library Association ranked the novel #52 on its list of the most banned and challenged books of all time.
Brave New World would be adapted for the radio, stage, screen, and television. In 1937, a few years after it was published, Aldous Huxley and his family moved to Hollywood, California.
There, his friend, American writer and philosopher Gerald Heard, introduced him to Vedanta (Veda-Centric Hinduism), meditation, vegetarianism, and enlightenment through ahimsa, the Hindu principle of nonviolence.
Huxley soon became part of Swami Prabhavananda's (the founder of the Ramakrishna Order) circle of followers. He would introduce his friend and fellow writer Christopher Isherwood to the group.
When he wasn't involved his Vedantic studies, Huxley continued to write. His 1939 novel After Many A Summer, a satire of American culture, (specifically, its narcissism, superficiality, and obsession with youth) won him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
In 1938, Huxley's friend, the legendary novelist and screenwriter Anita Loos, introduced him to the MGM film studio, which hired him to write the screenplay for the movie Madame Curie, which starred Greer Garson as the famous scientist.
MGM rejected Huxley's original screenplay as "too literary." His original script synopsis for Walt Disney's animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic novel Alice In Wonderland was also rejected.
He did achieve some success as a screenwriter; he co-wrote the screenplays for the 1940 feature film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the 1944 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Huxley was known for his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. Legend has it that the legendary English occultist Aleister Crowley introduced him to peyote after they dined together in Berlin one night in 1930.
Another friend, the famous British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, (who first coined the term psychedelic) introduced him to mescaline in 1953. Through Osmond, Huxley met Alfred Matthew Hubbard, "the Johnny Appleseed of LSD," who introduced him to that famous drug in 1955.
Intrigued by the potential of psychedelic drugs to assist humans in achieving enlightenment, he wrote of his experiments in his classic nonfiction works, The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956).
In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. Over the next couple of years, his health began to deteriorate. On the morning of November 22nd, 1963, as he lay on his deathbed unable to speak, he gave his wife a written request to inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD.
She granted the request, and he spent the last few hours of his life under the influence of LSD, then died at the age of 60 - not long after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island, published in 1962, was conceived as a utopic counterpoint to his classic novel, Brave New World. It told the story of Will Farnaby, a cynical journalist who finds himself shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala.
Will discovers that the Palanese people, who are Mahayana Buddhists, live in a utopic society that combines modern science with the use of psychedelic substances to gain mystical insight.
Quote Of The Day
"It's with bad sentiments that one makes good novels." - Aldous Huxley
Today's video features a complete reading of Aldous Huxley's classic novel, Brave New World, narrated by Michael York. Enjoy!
Monday, July 25, 2016
Joanna M. Weston
A poem up at A Day's Encounter. Enjoy!
I'm so happy about this review of A Bedroom of Searchlights on Canadian Poetry Review, I'm dancing!
have a guest blog post about agility at Guilie Castillo's Life in Dogs blog. Please stop on by and join in the conversation in the comments section, if you're so inclined.
Thank you, Guilie, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite non-writing things - dogs and agility - and for the chance to highlight my books, too!
My review of The Ninja's Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Dual Coast Magazine has accepted my story, "Porcelain Never Leaves" for their print and online publications.
If you feel like giving them a whirl, they do offer token payments in case, like me, you are saving up for a big trip to a vending machine or coffee shop.
Thank you to my Fiction list friends for helping me clean this one up before I attempted to send it out.
"The Twenty-Three Month Pregnancy" is up on the Montana Scribbler blog. The story of "Kill All Cats" as told by, well, me. How did you come about writing your novel?
Fellow author Gay Degani has featured me on her website, Words In Place, as part of her Journey To Planet Write series, with a piece on how I came (or returned) to writing.
Friday, July 22, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 22nd, 1936, the famous American writer Tom Robbins was born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Both his grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. The family moved to Virginia in 1947.
At the age of 16, Robbins studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, but he dropped out of college when his fraternity expelled him for disciplinary problems.
In 1954, Robbins was drafted into the military. He enlisted in the Air Force and served a two year tour of duty in Korea as a meteorologist. After his discharge, he returned to civilian life, settling in Richmond, Virginia. He became part of the local art scene and hung out with his fellow painters.
In 1957, Robbins enrolled in art school at Richmond Professional Institute, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, he became the editor of the campus newspaper and worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper.
After art school, Tom Robbins spent a year hitchhiking his way around the country. He settled in New York City and became a poet. In 1961, he moved to San Francisco, then a year later, he moved to Seattle to get a Master's degree at the University Of Washington's School of Far Eastern Studies.
Over the next five years, Robbins worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first as a sports reporter, then as an arts reviewer. In 1966, he wrote a column for Seattle Magazine and hosted a radio show on KRAB-FM, a non-commercial station in Seattle.
The following year, Robbins went to a concert by the legendary rock band The Doors, which was a life changing experience for him and a major factor in his decision to move to La Conner, Washington, and write his first book.
Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, was published in 1971. It introduced his trademark writing style - a non-linear narrative filled with offbeat humor and scathing satire.
It told the story of John Paul Ziller and his wife Amanda - a hippie guru - who open a combination hot dog stand and zoo called Captain Kendrick's Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve.
Other weird characters in the novel are a baboon named Mon Cul, a well educated fellow called Marx Marvelous, and L. Westminster "Plucky" Purcell, a football great and part time drug dealer.
Plucky accidentally uncovers a secret order of monks who work as assassins for the Vatican. He also uncovers a shocking secret dating back to the beginning of Christianity.
Robbins' next novel, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1976) featured a main character, Sissy Henshaw, who was born with an unusual birth defect - enormously large thumbs, which she uses to hitchhike around the country. In her travels, Sissy meets and becomes a model for the Countess, a lesbian feminine hygiene product tycoon.
The Countess introduces Sissy to her future husband, a Mohawk Indian named Julian Gitche. Sissy also meets sexually open cowgirl Bonanza Jellybean, and an escapee from a U.S. government Japanese internment camp with the erroneous nickname "The Chink."
In 1993, director Gus Van Sant - a friend of Tom Robbins - adapted Even Cowgirls Get The Blues as a feature film starring Uma Thurman as Sissy Henshaw, John Hurt as the Countess, Rain Phoenix as Bonanza Jellybean, Keanu Reeves as Julian Gitche, and Pat Morita as The Chink.
Tom Robbins has written ten novels so far, including memorable works such as Still Life with Woodpecker (1980) and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994). His latest novel, B is for Beer, was published in April of 2009.
B is for Beer is classic Robbins. Dubbed "a children's book for grown-ups" and "a grown-up book for children," it's presented in the form of a children's novel. It tells the story of six-year-old Gracie Perkel, who is fascinated by beer, her dad's favorite beverage, which she describes as "the stuff that's yellow and looks like pee-pee."
Gracie turns to her favorite uncle, beer-guzzling hippie Uncle Moe, for help. He leads her on a quest to find out all there is to know about beer, then leaves her in the lurch, running off with a woman - a podiatrist he's fallen in love with.
Undaunted, Gracie drinks her first beer, throws up, passes out, and is visited by the Beer Fairy, who teaches her all about the history and production of beer. In a recent interview, Tom Robbins claimed that he wrote B is for Beer as a satirical ode to the brewed beverage:
Kids are constantly exposed to beer. It's everywhere, yet, aside from wagging a warning finger and growling - true enough as it goes - "beer is for grownups," how many parents actually engage their youngsters on the subject? As a topic for detailed family discussion, it's generally as taboo as sex.
As for his next novel, Robbins says, "I've decided to take advantage of outsourcing. My next novel will be written by a couple of guys in Bangalore."
Quote Of The Day
"There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act." - Tom Robbins
Today's video features Tom Robbins reading from and discussing his most recent novel, B is for Beer. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 21, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 21st, 1899, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago. His father, Clarence Edmonds "Doc Ed" Hemingway, was a country doctor. His mother Grace was an aspiring opera singer.
Grace, who earned money giving voice and music lessons, was a domineering and fiercely religious woman who shared the beliefs of the strict, fundamentalist Protestant population of Oak Park, which Ernest Hemingway described as having "wide lawns and narrow minds."
As a boy, Hemingway adopted his father's hobbies of hunting, fishing, and camping in the woods and lakes of Northern Michigan, where his family owned a summer home. They often vacationed there, and the young Hemingway's experiences instilled in him a passion for both outdoor adventure and living in remote areas.
In high school, Hemingway excelled in both sports (he boxed and played football) and academics, displaying exceptional talent in his English classes. His first literary experience was writing for both the school newspaper and yearbook.
In his senior year, he became the editor of the newspaper. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Ring Lardner, Jr. as a tribute to his literary hero, Ring Lardner.
After graduating high school, Hemingway decided not to go to college. Instead, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Six months later, against his father's wishes, he left the job to join the Army and fight in World War I.
He failed his physical due to vision problems, so he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead. On his way to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, which was being bombarded by German artillery. He tried to get as close to the combat zone as possible.
When he arrived in Italy, Hemingway witnessed first hand the horrors of war. After an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, he had to pick up the human remains. He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead.
It left him badly shaken. In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly wounded while delivering supplies to soldiers. Shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell lodged in his legs, and machine gun fire badly injured his knee.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowski, an American nurse six years his senior. They planned to return to America together, but when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer.
This painful betrayal left a mark on his psyche, and was reflected in his classic novel A Farewell To Arms (1929). After the war, he returned briefly to Oak Park before leaving for Toronto, Ontario.
There, he lived in an apartment on Bathurst Street, now known as The Hemingway. He resumed his journalism career, landing a job as a reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper. He met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
She hated their cramped apartment, so they moved to Paris, where Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish War for the Toronto Star. In this obscure yet important war, he witnessed the horrific burning of Smyrna, which he mentioned in a few of his short stories.
While living in Paris, he met Gertrude Stein, who became his mentor and introduced him to the American expatriate community of writers and artists who lived around the Montparnasse Quarter. This community came to be known as the Lost Generation, a term Stein coined from a comment made by her mechanic.
In 1923, after enjoying great success as a foreign correspondent, Hemingway returned to Toronto, where he began writing fiction under the pseudonym Peter Jackson. His first child was born - a son named John but known as Jack. Hemingway asked Gertrude Stein to be his son's godmother.
Around this time, Hemingway had a falling out with his editor, who believed he had been spoiled by his overseas assignments. He deliberately gave Hemingway mundane assignments.
A bitter Hemingway angrily resigned from the Toronto Star in December of 1923. His resignation must have been either ignored or rescinded, as Hemingway continued to write for the newspaper - albeit sporadically.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway's first book was published. It was a short story collection called In Our Time. It featured four Nick Adams stories.
The book's title, which came from the English Book of Common Prayer, was suggested to Hemingway by Ezra Pound. The 1930 reprint of the book included the piece On The Quai At Smyrna as an introduction.
It was based on Hemingway's experiences covering the Greco-Turkish War. The same year his book was published, Hemingway met writer F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar in Paris. Just two weeks before, Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published.
Hemingway and Fiztgerald became close friends. They spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and exchanging manuscripts. Impressed with Hemingway's writing talent, Fitzgerald did a lot to advance his career.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's wife Zelda took an immediate dislike to Hemingway. The feeling was mutual. Zelda and her husband were having marital problems at the time, and she blamed the decline of their sex life on Hemingway, whom she called a "fairy."
She accused him of having a homosexual affair with Fitzgerald, but there's no evidence that the two men had an affair or that they were gay or bisexual. Zelda was both a heavy drinker and a schizophrenic, and would later be institutionalized.
To get back at her for attacking his masculinity, Fitzgerald slept with a female prostitute and flaunted the affair. The conflict between Hemingway and Zelda ended his friendship with Fitzgerald and created lifelong animosity between the two writers.
Hemingway and his wife Hadley divorced in 1927. He later married Pauline Pfeiffer, a devout Catholic from Arkansas who was an occasional fashion reporter, writing for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Hemingway converted to Catholicism and continued to write.
Tragedy struck the following year when his father, in poor health and with financial troubles, committed suicide by shooting himself with an old Civil War pistol. Hemingway returned to Oak Park to arrange the funeral.
He angered the Protestant community by voicing the Catholic view that all suicides go to Hell. Not long afterward, Harry Crosby - an old friend of Hemingway's from his Paris days and the founder of Black Sun Press - also committed suicide.
A year later in 1929, Hemingway published his classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. It was an autobiographical novel based on Hemingway's experiences in World War I. In it, Frederic Henry, an American soldier, is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital.
There, he meets a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and falls in love with her. By the time he has recovered, she is three months pregnant. They are separated by the war, then reunited later.
They flee to Switzerland by rowboat where, after a long and painful labor, Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then bleeds to death. The novel would later be adapted for the stage and screen.
Ernest Hemingway wrote ten novels, most of them all-time classics. He also wrote ten short story collections, several non-fiction books, and two plays. His famous 1952 novella The Old Man And The Sea -written while Hemingway was living in Cuba - was his favorite, and with good reason.
His previous novel, Across The River And Into The Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics. They said that Hemingway was washed up as writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man And The Sea proved his brilliance.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise from the critics, who compared his novella with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man And The Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, my eighth grade English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing novella. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
In July of 1961, just three weeks before his 62nd birthday, after suffering from health problems and mental illness, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that the disease haemochromatosis ran in Hemingway's father's family.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood - which not only results in damage to the pancreas, but also causes instability in the cerebrum, resulting in depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar, and all great writers have had it." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a full length documentary on Ernest Hemingway called Ernest Hemingway: Wrestling With Life. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 20th, 1304, the legendary Italian poet, philosopher, and scholar Petrarch was born. He was born Francesco Petrarca in Arezzo, Italy. Petrarch's father was in the legal profession, so he demanded that his sons study law as well.
Petrarch spent seven years in law school, but he considered it a waste of time - his main interests were writing and Latin literature and he hated the practice of law, which he considered to be the art of selling justice.
After the death of their parents, Petrarch and his brother Gherardo went back to Avignon, where they spent most of their early years. To support himself, Petrarch worked in clerical offices. This gave him time to write.
He became friends with the legendary writer Boccaccio and corresponded with him frequently. Petrarch also completed his first major work, Africa - an epic poem written in Latin that told the story of the great Roman general, Scipio Africanus.
Petrarch's epic poem made him a celebrity throughout Europe. He became a priest and continued his work as a scholar and writer. He wrote mostly in Latin, but his most famous collection of poems, Il Canzoniere, (The Songbook) was written in Italian.
This work contained over 300 sonnets, a form his name would always be associated with. Though he is sometimes mistakenly credited as being the inventor of the sonnet, he was not. He did, however, invent the particular rhyme scheme for the form that came to be known as the Petrarchan sonnet.
The sonnets in Petrarch's book were inspired by a mysterious young woman known only as Laura. When Petrarch was 24 years old, after he had left the priesthood, he first saw Laura in church on Good Friday.
It was love at first sight for Petrarch, but alas, Laura was a married noblewoman who could not return his affection. Although an aristocrat, Laura was also a sweet-natured and humble girl, which endeared her to Petrarch.
Unable to realize his love for Laura, Petrarch wrote over 300 sonnets secretly professing his unrequited love for her. They are among the greatest love poems ever written. Not much is known to history about Laura.
Some scholars believe that she may have been Laura de Noves, wife of Count Hugues de Sade - an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade. When she died in 1348, Petrarch was wracked with grief.
The legendary composer Franz Liszt would set three of Petrarch's sonnets to music for voice in his work Tre Sonnetti Di Petrarca, and later transcribe them for solo piano in his suite Annees De Pelerinage.
In 1341, Petrarch was crowned the first poet laureate of Rome since antiquity. He traveled all over Europe as an ambassador. During his travels, he collected old, crumbling Latin manuscripts and became a leader in the movement to recover and restore the manuscripts of ancient Roman and Greek writers.
He advised Leontius Pilatus in his translation of a Homer manuscript acquired from Boccaccio, but was greatly displeased with the result. In 1345, Petrarch himself discovered a previously unknown collection of Cicero's letters, the Ad Atticum.
During the Italian Renaissance, Petrarch became a respected and influential philosopher. He is credited with founding the Humanist movement and describing the ignorant times that preceded the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages." But he will always be known as one of the greatest writers and poets of all time.
Throughout his remarkable life, he wrote poetry collections, essays, numerous scholarly works, and a large volume of correspondence. He brought the sonnet to prominence long before the birth of Shakespeare, and his love poems were magnificent. One of his most beloved sonnets is Sonnet #140:
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
Petrarch died in July of 1374, just before his 70th birthday.
Quote Of The Day
"There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound, us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away- sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety." - Petrarch
Today's video features a documentary on Petrarch and his contribution to the sonnet. Enjoy!