This Day In Writing History
On September 2nd, 1946, The Iceman Cometh, the classic play by legendary American playwright Eugene O'Neill, opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theater.
Directed by Eddie Dowling, the play ran for 136 performances before it closed. It would be revived in 1999 and be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival.
The Iceman Cometh, considered to be O'Neill's finest work, contained all the distinctive elements of an O'Neill play: dingy, run-down sets, experimental use of light and sound, and the dialogue of the common man, peppered with slang.
Often compared to Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, The Iceman Cometh tells the story of a tavern full of skid row bums who cling to illusion in order to cope with the reality of their despair.
The year is 1912, the place is a grubby saloon and rooming house in Greenwich Village, and the people are the patrons of the establishment. All of them are men, except for three women who are prostitutes. All are skid row alcoholics who seek solace in each other's company - when they're not trying to mooch free drinks from the bartenders.
They await the arrival of their friend Theodore "Hickey" Hickman, a traveling salesman who always stops by the bar to buy drinks for everyone after returning from a tour of his sales route. He regales the bums with stories and jokes.
This time, the bums are also expecting Hickey to plan a surprise birthday party for Harry Hope, owner of the bar and main bartender. (Harry Hope - isn't that a great name for a bartender?) Also in the first act, we meet Don Parrit and Larry Slade.
Don's mother is involved with an anarchist group, and she used to date Larry. Joe Mott is the only black member of the group. He used to own a black casino, which he plans to re-open.
Cecil "The Captain" Lewis is a former British Army infantryman who fought against Piet "The General" Wetjoen during the Boer War, but now the two men are good friends who both insult and defend each other. They insist that they'll go back to their countries soon.
Willie Oban is a graduate of Harvard who claims that he'll soon have a job at the D.A.'s office. Pat McGloin is an ex-cop and convicted criminal who hopes to appeal his case when the time is right.
Rocky Pioggi, the night bartender, hates being called a pimp, even though he makes most of his living from the earnings of hookers Pearl and Margie, in exchange for letting them live and work at the bar.
Hugo Kalmar is an ex-anarchist who often quotes from the Old Testament - when he's not passed out drunk, which is most of the time. James Cameron, a former newspaper correspondent, always says that he'll get a job tomorrow, hence his nickname, Jimmy Tomorrow.
Chuck Morello is the day bartender and the boyfriend of hooker Cora. He keeps telling her that he'll marry her tomorrow. Meanwhile, Harry Hope hasn't left the bar since his wife died twenty years ago.
Harry says that he'll go for a walk on his birthday; his brother-in-law, Ed Mosher, is a former circus box office ticket seller and con man with an uncanny talent for short-changing people.
All of these characters cling to their illusions, especially Hickey, who insists that in his new found sobriety, he finally sees life clearly. He chides his former drinking buddies for clinging to their pipe dreams, but Hickey's own illusions lead to tragedy.
A compulsive adulterer, Hickey has grown tired of his wife always forgiving him for cheating on her. So, because he really loves her, he decides to put her out of her misery.
Don Parrit is driven to suicide by guilt after he turns in his mother for her anarchist activities. Though he tries to convince himself otherwise, Don finally admits that he turned in his mother because he hated her.
When he was a boy, she cared more about her anarchist group than him, and either ignored him or was domineering. Informing on her was an act of revenge for his unhappy childhood.
Eugene O'Neill's brilliant, gut wrenching, heartbreaking play would be the last one produced on Broadway before his death. It was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1973.
Directed by John Frankenheimer, the film featuread a stellar cast including Lee Marvin, Fredric March, Robert Ryan, Jeff Bridges, Bradford Dillman, Sorrell Booke, and Moses Gunn.
Quote Of The Day
"To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It's irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober." - Eugene O'Neill
Today's video features a behind the scenes look at a recent production of The Iceman Cometh starring Nathan Lane as Hickey. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On September 1st, 1875, the legendary American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago, Illinois. As a young boy, he attended several different schools. In 1891, when he was a teenager, an influenza epidemic swept through Chicago, so he was sent to stay at his brother's ranch in Idaho for six months.
After the epidemic was over, Burroughs resumed his education. He attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, then the Michigan Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1895.
He applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point, but failed the entrance exam. So, Burroughs enlisted in the military and became a soldier with the 7th U.S. Cavalry in Fort Grant, Arizona territory.
His military career was cut short when he was diagnosed with a heart condition and discharged in 1897. For the next two years, Burroughs became a drifter, working primarily as a ranch hand.
Then, in 1899, he took a job at his father's firm. In 1900, Burroughs married his girlfriend Emma Centennia Hulbert. Four years later, he quit his job and worked at menial jobs in both Chicago and Idaho.
After spending the next seven years working at low paying jobs, he found decent work as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. By this time, he and Emma had two children, and he had begun writing part-time.
Burroughs read many pulp fiction magazines and believed he could do better than the other writers whose works were published in them. His first published story was Under The Moons Of Mars, (1912) a serialization that appeared in The All-Story magazine.
It proved to be so popular that Burroughs was paid a whopping $400 for the entire work - the equivalent of about $9000 in today's money. By the time the last part of the serialization was published, Burroughs had written two novels.
One of these novels was published in October of 1912 and would be the first in a series of over over 30 novels featuring Burroughs' most famous character. Tarzan Of The Apes told the story of a white man raised by apes after his parents die.
His parents were an English couple, Lord and Lady Greystoke, who found themselves marooned in the African jungle. Adopted as an infant by a female ape named Kala, the boy is given the name Tarzan, which means white skin in the ape language.
Tarzan grows up to become a man of formidable intelligence, strength, and speed - a great hunter. He discovers his parents' cabin, finds their books, and teaches himself their language. The jealous ape leader Korchak attacks Tarzan, who kills him and becomes the new lord of the apes.
An African tribe moves into the area, and one of their hunters kills Kala. Tarzan avenges her death, beginning a war with the tribe. The tribesmen believe that Tarzan is an evil spirit whom they have offended. They try to placate him.
When other whites are marooned on the African coast, Tarzan spies on them and helps them. One of the newcomers is a woman named Jane - the first white woman Tarzan has ever seen. He ends up saving her life.
Unfortunately, while Tarzan is away, Jane and the others are rescued and leave Africa. After Tarzan saves French Naval Officer Paul D'Arnot from the natives, D'Arnot teaches him how to speak French and behave around "civilized" white men.
Eventually, Tarzan leaves Africa and is reunited with Jane in the United States, where he discovers to his dismay that she is engaged to marry his cousin, William Clayton, who inherited Tarzan's parents' estate.
For the sake of Jane's happiness, Tarzan decides to conceal his true identity and not claim his rightful inheritance. Tarzan would become one of the most popular literary characters of all time and cross over into comic strips, comic books, movies, and television.
The first movie adaptation, Tarzan Of The Apes, was a silent film classic released in 1918, starring Elmo Lincoln as the ape man. But the best known adaptation was the first sound film adaptation, Tarzan The Ape Man (1932), which starred Olympic champion swimmer turned actor Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.
The 1934 film Tarzan And His Mate featured a surprising underwater nude swimming scene, but it wasn't leading lady Maureen O'Sullivan. A body double was used - Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim, who had competed along with star Johnny Weissmuller in the 1928 games.
The nude scene was cut after the Production Code crackdown was imposed later in 1934. It would remain cut until Turner Entertainment restored the scene for the movie's first videotape release in 1986.
In addition to his Tarzan adventure novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote many science fiction novels. Two of his most popular science fiction books were The Lost Continent (1916) and The Land That Time Forgot (1918), both of which were adapted as feature films.
The Lost Continent was set in the distant future - the year 2137 - where Europe has descended into barbarism while the rest of the isolated Western Hemisphere has not. Civilized people are forbidden to enter Europe.
The Land That Time Forgot is set during World War I. While drifting through the ocean in a captured U-Boat, a crew of British sailors and their German prisoners get sucked into a subterranean passage. They resurface hoping to find a source of fresh water. They find that and something else - a lost land where dinosaurs still exist.
In 1923, Burroughs set up his own production company - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. - where he printed his own books through the 1930s. Around the time of the Pearl Harbor attack that led the U.S. into World War II, Burroughs was living in Hawaii.
Even though he was in his late sixties at the time, Burroughs applied for permission to become a war correspondent. Permission was granted, and Burroughs became one of the oldest war correspondents for the United States. After the war ended, he moved to Encino, California.
Edgar Rice Burroughs died of a heart attack in 1950 at the age of 74. All in all, he had written over seventy novels. Tarzan remains of the most popular literary characters of all time. The towns of Tarzana, California and Tarzan, Texas, were named after him, and a crater on Mars - the Burroughs Crater - was named after his creator.
Quote Of The Day
"I write to escape... to escape poverty." - Edgar Rice Burroughs
Today's video features a complete reading of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic adventure novel, Tarzan Of The Apes. Enjoy!
Monday, August 31, 2015
For what it's worth, I can smile just knowing that my new book, 'A Helping Hand On Dialysis: Power Tips To Enhance the Dialysis Life hit the #1 spot on Amazon.ca in the paid section. The buzz has begun and the interview requests have also begun. Check out my interview with Bookbuzzr.
Sarah Corbett Morgan
I’m happy to say my book review of Vanessa Blakeslee’s exceptional new novel, JUVENTUD, is live over at the Internet Review of Books. Many thanks to all the diligent writers and critters on the Nfiction list for your invaluable help.
Four reviews at Gumshoe Reviews:
A Promise to Die For by Jacqueline Pelham, Five Star Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781432830557 Determined to recover her dead grandmother's stolen paintings, Evangeline Raines searches throughout the U.S. and European art worlds for clues.
Eat Crow and Die (P.J. Benson Mystery) by Maris Soule, Five Star Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781432830762 P.J., an accountant, must save her love, Deputy Wade Kingsley, from arrest for the murders of his ex-wife and her husband.
Enemies at Home (Flavia Albia) by Lindsey Davis, Minotaur Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250068484 Flavia Albia, an informer in Rome during the reign of Domitian, investigates what role the household slaves might have played in the deaths of a newlwed wealthy couple, but discovers the case is anything but simple.
Murder in the Paperback Parlor (Book Retreat Mystery)by Ellery Adams, Berkley Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425265604 Jane Steward, Guardian of Storyton Hall's fabulous and hidden library, invites four famous romance novelists to a conference, but murder stalks these ladies.
Friday, August 28, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On August 28th, 1749, the legendary German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born. He was born in Frankfurt, where he lived with his family in a large house.
Goethe's siblings, except for his younger sister Cornelia, died at early ages. As a boy, Goethe received his education from tutors, as his father determined to give his children all the educational advantages he never had.
The young Goethe quickly developed an interest in literature, with Homer and the German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock among his earliest favorite authors. He was also devoted to the theater and particularly fond of the puppet shows staged in his home.
When he was sixteen, Goethe began studying law in Leipzig, but came to detest it. He fell in love with a girl named Käthchen Schönkopf and wrote her love poems, but failed to win her heart.
Three years later, in 1768, Goethe returned to Frankfurt, as his studies were going nowhere. In 1770, he published his first book anonymously. It was a poetry collection called Annette.
Goethe wrote prolifically, but soon fell seriously ill. His relationship with his father strained, he was nursed back to health by his mother and sister. Bored during his convalescence, he wrote in bed. After he recovered, his father sent him to Strasbourg to finish his studies.
In Strasbourg, Goethe met poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, and they became close friends. Herder got him interested in Shakespeare's plays and in volkspoesie - folk poetry.
After he finished his law studies, Goethe's thesis, based on his own ideas, was published. He was offered a job in the French government but rejected it and returned to Frankfurt, where he was certified to practice law.
Working for the local government, Goethe tried to make the law more humane and progressive. As a result, he was reprimanded and terminated from his position.
Disgusted with law, Goethe decided to pursue a literary career. This time, his father was supportive of his decision and even helped him out. Goethe became an editor for a literary magazine, but he couldn't support himself on his small salary.
So, in 1772, he went to Wetzlar to practice law again. Two years later, in 1774, he published his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. The tragic tale was an important novel of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) era of German literature.
Goethe's novel, which mostly takes the form of a collection of letters, tells the story of Werther, a young, sensitive aspiring artist.
While staying in the fictional village of Wahlheim, Werther meets a beautiful girl named Lotte, who has been caring for her siblings since their mother died. Werther falls in love with Lotte, even though she's already engaged to marry Albert, a man eleven years her senior.
Werther becomes close friends with both Lotte and Albert, but his love for Lotte causes him too much pain, so he goes to Wiemar, where he suffers more embarrassment. Returning to Wahlheim, Werther finds that Lotte and Albert have married.
Lotte, feeling both sorrow for her friend and respect for her husband, decides that Werther shouldn't visit them so often. He makes one final visit, where he delivers a memorable recitation of a portion of Ossian.
Werther ultimately realizes that this painful love triangle can only be dissolved by the death of himself, Albert, or Lotte, but he is unable to harm Albert or Lotte.
Seeing no other choice, Werther has Lotte send him two pistols. He commits suicide, dying twelve hours after shooting himself. Neither Lotte nor Albert nor a clergyman attends his funeral.
The Sorrows of Young Werther was considered controversial and accused of romanticizing suicide, which was considered sinful by Christian doctrine. Suicides were denied Christian burial.
From a young age, Goethe loathed the Church, whose history he described as "a hotchpotch of mistakes and violence." He had no use for its doctrines.
The Sorrows of Young Werther became a huge success for Goethe and made him world famous, but it didn't make him rich. Copyright law was virtually nonexistent at the time and pirated editions of literary works were common.
Goethe thwarted the pirates by periodically authorizing "new" and "revised" editions of his works. His new found fame won him an invitation to the court of Carl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. So, he went to Weimar, where he lived the rest of his life and held several offices, eventually becoming the Duke's chief adviser.
As a writer, Goethe remained prolific and authored a large body of works, mostly poetry and plays, along with the occasional novel.
Some of his classic poems include Prometheus (1773), Hermann and Dorothea (1798), and Roman Elegies (1790). Roman Elegies, aka Erotica Romana, was a collection of poems written during Goethe's two year visit to Italy.
During his lifetime (and afterward) some of these poems were suppressed due to their sexual imagery. Goethe's poetry has inspired the works of legendary composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.
As a playwright, Goethe was best known for his masterpiece, Faust. It was written in two parts. The first, Faust Part One, was published in 1808, and the second, Faust Part Two, which Goethe completed shortly before his death in 1832, was published posthumously.
In the play, God bets Mephisto (the Devil) that he can't tempt His favorite scholar, Dr. Faust. So, Mephisto offers Faust a bargain - he'll do Faust's bidding on Earth if Faust will do his bidding in Hell when he dies.
Unsatisfied by his scientific studies, Faust has a clause added to the contract: Mephisto must provide him something that will satisfy him - a moment that Faust would want to last forever. Mephisto agrees, so Faust signs the contract in blood.
God allows Faust to be led astray so He can lead him to the right path, teaching the scholar that "man must still err while he doth strive." Faust's attempts to satisfy his desires have disastrous consequences for those he cares about.
Faust became Goethe's best known work, one that still influences popular culture today. Goethe's play has been adapted for the opera and for the screen.
The most famous movie adaptation was the 1926 German silent feature film classic directed by F.W. Murnau, starring Emil Jannings as Mephisto.
In addition to his writing and practice of law, Goethe was also involved in scientific work. He had a keen interest in natural science and wrote scientific books on subjects such as insect morphology, homology, and color theory.
But he was best known for his fiction, poetry, and plays, with which he established himself as one of Germany's greatest writers. He died in 1832 at the age of 82.
Quote Of The Day
"None are more enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Today's video features a complete reading of Goethe's classic play, Faust! Enjoy!
Thursday, August 27, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On August 27th, 1871, the famous American writer Theodore Dreiser was born. He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the twelfth of thirteen children. The popular songwriter Paul Dresser was Dreiser's older brother.
In 1889, Dreiser entered Indiana University, but he flunked out a year later. Several years after flunking out of university, Theodore Dreiser became a journalist, writing first for the Chicago Globe, then for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
He wrote articles about famous writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Burroughs and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison. On December 28th, 1898, he married his girlfriend, Sara White. The couple separated in 1909, but never divorced.
In 1900, Theodore Dreiser's acclaimed first novel, Sister Carrie, was published. The controversial novel told the story of 18-year-old Caroline "Carrie" Meeber, a young girl living an unhappy life in rural Wisconsin.
So, Carrie takes a train to Chicago, where she has made arrangements to move in with her older sister Minnie and her brother-in-law, Sven. On the train, Carrie meets a traveling salesman named Charles Drouet. He is attracted to her and they exchange information.
Carrie finds life at her sister's apartment not much happier than it was in Wisconsin. To earn her keep, Carrie takes a job at a shoe factory. She finds her co-workers (both male and female) vulgar and the working conditions squalid. The job takes a toll on her health.
After getting sick, Carrie loses her job. She is reunited with Charles Drouet, who is still attracted to her. He takes her to dinner, where he asks her to move in with him, lavishing her with money. Tired of living with her sister and brother-in-law, Carrie agrees to be Drouet's kept woman.
Later, Drouet introduces Carrie to George Hurstwood, the manager of his favorite bar. Hurstwood, an unhappily married man, falls in love with Carrie, and they have an affair. But she returns to Drouet because Hurstwood can't provide for her financially.
So, Hurstwood embezzles a large sum of money from the bar and persuades Carrie to run away with him to Canada. In Montreal, Hurstwood is trapped by both his guilty conscience and a private detective and returns most of the stolen money.
He agrees to marry Carrie and the couple move to New York City, where they live under the assumed names George and Carrie Wheeler. Carrie believes she may have finally found happiness, but then she and George grow apart.
After George loses his source of income and gambles away the couple's savings, Carrie, who has been trying to build a career in the theater, leaves him. She becomes a rich and famous actress, but finds that wealth and fame don't bring her happiness and that nothing will.
When it was first published, Sister Carrie sold poorly. Due to its controversial nature, even though Dreiser had cut some material himself and other parts had been altered by editors, the publisher initially reneged on his agreement to publish the novel. Fortunately, a new agreement was reached and the novel was published.
Unfortunately for Dreiser, the publisher refused to promote it and gave it a bland, red cover, with only the names of the novel and the author on it. When the publisher's wife complained that the novel was too sordid, he withdrew it from circulation.
Later, it was republished when Frank Norris, a reader for Doubleday & McClure, sent a few copies to reviewers. All the subsequent editions of the novel came from the first publisher's edited version of the manuscript.
Theodore Dreiser earned only $68.40 from the ill-fated first publication of Sister Carrie. The ordeal drove the writer to a nervous breakdown and turned him off writing for ten years. Ironically, it also ended up saving his life.
In 1912, Dreiser had originally planned to book passage home from England on the Titanic. Unable to afford tickets for the ill-fated luxury ocean liner, he sailed home earlier on a less expensive passenger ship.
In 1981, Dreiser's original, unexpurgated manuscript of Sister Carrie was finally published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Still, even in its edited version, Sister Carrie was regarded as a classic American novel. In his 1930 Nobel Prize Lecture, Sinclair Lewis said of it:
Dreiser's great first novel, Sister Carrie, which he dared to publish thirty long years ago and which I read twenty-five years ago, came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Whitman.
Theodore Dreiser wrote more classic novels, including his Trilogy of Desire series, The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The Stoic (1947). But his 1925 epic novel, An American Tragedy, became his first commercial success. It's also considered a classic novel.
Inspired by a real life criminal case and set in Kansas City, it tells the story of Clyde Griffiths, the son of poor, devoutly religious parents who force him to join in their street missionary work. Dreaming of better things, he takes a job as bellboy at a local hotel
There, the other boys introduce him to alcohol and prostitutes. He falls in love with a girl, Hortense Briggs, and does everything he can to impress her. While driving a stolen car, Clyde accidentally kills a child. He flees Kansas City.
After staying briefly in Chicago, Clyde reinvents himself as a foreman at a collar factory in Lycurgus, New York, owned by his long-lost uncle. Clyde promised himself that he wouldn't let his passions cause his downfall again, but then he falls for Roberta Alden.
Roberta is a poor farm girl who works under him at the factory. He enjoys their secret relationship (which is forbidden by company rules) and manipulates Roberta into having sex with him.
Clyde is not about to marry a poor farm girl; later, he He falls for Sondra Finchley, an elegant rich girl whose father is a friend of his uncle's. Just as his relationship with Sondra shows promise, Clyde learns that Roberta is pregnant.
His attempt at arranging an illegal abortion proves unsuccessful, and Roberta threatens to reveal their relationship unless Clyde marries her. He decides to murder her instead. He takes her for a canoe ride and ends up hitting her with his camera.
The boat capsizes, and Roberta, who can't swim, drowns while Clyde swims back to shore, unwilling to save her. The narrative is deliberately unclear as to whether Clyde really attempted to kill Roberta, or just struck her out of anger.
But the circumstantial evidence suggests murder, and the authorities are so determined to convict Clyde that they resort to manufacturing evidence to secure a conviction.
Despite a strong defense by lawyers hired by his uncle, Clyde is convicted and sentenced to death. The novel's greatest scenes of pathos take place in prison, where Clyde corresponds with his mother until the day of his execution.
In addition to his novels, Theodore Dreiser also wrote short story collections and nonfiction books about political issues. A devout socialist, Dreiser wrote of his 1927 trip to the Soviet Union in Dreiser Looks at Russia
He criticized American capitalism in Tragic America (1931) and America is Worth Saving (1941). But he was best known for his fiction and is rightfully considered to be one of the all-time greatest American novelists.
Theodore Dreiser died 1945 at the age of 74.
Quote Of The Day
"Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail." - Theodore Dreiser
Today's video features a complete reading of Theodore Dreiser's classic epic novel, An American Tragedy. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On August 26th, 1904, the famous English writer Christopher Isherwood was born in High Lane, Cheshire, England. His father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army, and moved the family often to wherever he was stationed.
Lt. Col. Isherwood was killed in action during World War I. Afterward, Christopher Isherwood and his mother lived in London and Wyberslegh. Isherwood attended St. Edmund's prep school in Surrey.
There, he met W.H. Auden, a soon to be famous writer who would become Isherwood's protege and close friend. After St. Edmund's, Isherwood attended Repton School, where he met writer Edward Upward, who would become a lifelong friend.
Isherwood and Upward collaborated on a short story collection, The Mortmere Stories. Although famous in literary circles, only one of the stories would be published during Isherwood's lifetime. The whole collection of stories was published posthumously in 1994.
Christopher Isherwood entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but deliberately failed his exams and left the college without a degree in 1925. He took a job as secretary for violinist André Mangeot and his string quartet, living with Mangeot and his family for the next three years.
In his spare time, Isherwood studied medicine and wrote a book of nonsensical poetry called People One Ought To Know, which was illustrated by Mangeot's 11-year-old son, Sylvain.
Later in 1925, Isherwood was reunited with W.H. Auden. He became Auden's literary mentor and occasional lover. Auden introduced him to writer Sir Stephen Spender, whom he would later spend time with in Berlin.
Isherwood's first novel, All The Conspirators, was published in 1928. It was about a young man, Philip, who longs to escape the office where he works, but is torn between pleasing his oppressive, domineering mother and living out his dream of becoming an artist. Philip's only ally is his sister, Joan.
Around the time his first novel was published, Isherwood studied medicine at King's College, London, but dropped out in six months to join W.H. Auden in Berlin. He had rejected his upper class roots and was openly gay though homosexuality was still a crime in England.
Isherwood came to love Berlin, which, before the rise of Hitler and Nazism, was known as one of Europe's most cultured and liberal cities. He took advantage of the sexual freedom in Berlin and indulged in his passion for handsome young men. He met one, Heinz, who became his first great love.
Isherwood's second novel, The Memorial, was published in 1932. It was another tale of conflict between mother and son, based on Isherwood's family history. While writing his third novel, Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935), Isherwood worked as a tutor.
When Hitler came to power in Germany, Isherwood left Berlin and traveled around Europe, living in cities such as Sintra, Portugal, and Copenhagen, Denmark. Around this time, he collaborated on three plays with W.H. Auden: The Dog Beneath The Skin (1935), The Ascent Of F6 (1936), and On The Frontier (1939).
In 1939, Isherwood published one of his masterpieces, a collection of short stories and novellas called The Berlin Stories. They were inspired by Isherwood's time living in Berlin and his experiences with its sexual underground.
The book's stories would be adapted as a play called I Am A Camera and a popular, Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Cabaret, which would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1972 starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey.
The city of Berlin would erect a plaque in Isherwood's memory on the house in Schoneberg, Berlin, where he had lived. In 1939, after visiting New York City on their way back to England, Isherwood and Auden decided to emigrate to the United States.
This decision, made just months before England declared war on Germany, officially beginning World War II, was seen as a kind of betrayal by the patriotic crowd in England. Isherwood stayed in New York with Auden for a few months, then moved to Hollywood, California.
In Hollywood, he met mystic and historian Gerald Heard, who introduced him to Swami Prabhavananda and his Vedantic brand of Hindu spirituality and philosophy. Isherwood joined a group of mystic explorers that included writer Aldous Huxley and philosopher Bertrand Russell.
He embraced Vedanta and, working with the Swami, translated Hindu scriptures, wrote Vedanta essays, and the biography Ramakrishna and His Disciples. He also wrote Vedanta themed novels and plays.
In 1946, Isherwood became a naturalized American citizen. This made him eligible for the draft, however, he had already established himself as a conscientious objector. Throughout the late 40s and early 50s, Isherwood spent most of his time with his Vedanta writings.
On Valentine's Day, 1953, while spending time on the beach with friends, the 48-year-old Isherwood was introduced to an 18-year-old aspiring artist named Don Bachardy. Despite a 30-year age difference and being interrupted by affairs and separations, Bachardy and Isherwood would remain partners until Isherwood's death.
During the early months of their relationship, (which would be chronicled in the acclaimed 2008 documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story) Isherwood finally completed The World In The Evening (1954), a novel he'd been working on for a few years. Bachardy typed up the manuscript.
When he wasn't writing, Isherwood taught creative writing at California State University, Los Angeles. In 1962, Isherwood's novel Down There On A Visit was published. A semi-sequel to The Berlin Stories, the novel is narrated by a hedonistic writer who proves himself to be a man of extremes.
He relentlessly pursues physical pleasures, but interrupts his binges of debauchery to engage in meditation and take up disciplines such as learning a foreign language. He meets a famous male prostitute and the two men decide to take up a spiritual life dedicated to self-denial and meditation.
Two years later, in 1964, Isherwood published his other masterpiece, A Single Man. Told in a stream of consciousness narrative, the novel takes place during one day in the life of George Falconer, a middle-aged gay Englishman and professor living in Los Angeles, as he struggles to cope with the sudden death of his partner Jim in a car accident.
The novel's frank and honest treatment of homosexuality and gay relationships proved to be a shocker in 1964, but it was Isherwood's dazzling prose that made the novel a masterpiece.
Isherwood's fellow English writer Anthony Burgess declared it "a testimony to Isherwood's undiminished brilliance as a novelist." An acclaimed feature film adaptation of A Single Man was released in December of 2009, starring Colin Firth as George Falconer.
For the rest of his life, Christopher Isherwood lived with his partner Don Bachardy in Santa Monica, California. He died of prostate cancer in 1986 at the age of 81, after which, Bachardy's portraits (he had become a successful draughtsman and painter) of his dying partner became famous.
Quote Of The Day
"The Nazis hated culture itself, because it is essentially international and therefore subversive of nationalism. What they called Nazi culture was a local, perverted, nationalistic cult, by which a few major artists and many minor ones were honored for their Germanness, not their talent." - Christopher Isherwood
Today's video features a 1969 BBC TV documentary on Christopher Isherwood. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On August 25th, 1949, the famous English writer Martin Amis was born. He was born in Oxford, England, the son of famous writer Sir Kingsley Amis.
As a boy, Martin Amis attended 14 different schools, as his father gave lectures at colleges and universities all over the United Kingdom and the United States, taking the family with him.
Martin Amis was twelve years old when his parents divorced. He only read comic books until his stepmother, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to the novels of Jane Austen, whom he credited as his earliest influence.
As a teenager, Martin became a hippie and hung out at bars with the mod crowd. He later graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with a Congratulatory First in English, which he described as "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers."
In 1973, Martin Amis' first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published. The semi-autobiographical comic novel told the story of Charles Highway, a bright, bookish, 19-year-old wannabe intellectual making the transition from adolescence to manhood.
Nasty yet moral, calculating yet able to love, Charles falls for the lovely Rachel, executes a carefully planned seduction of her, then abandons her even though she may be pregnant with his child. The absurdly conceited Charles doesn't realize how much he has in common with his father, whom he detests.
The Rachel Papers, which was adapted as a feature film in 1989, won Martin Amis the Somerset Maugham Award - the same award his father had won for his 1954 novel, Lucky Jim. Unfortunately, Sir Kingsley Amis showed no interest in his son's work and often derided it.
Martin's next novel, Dead Babies (1975), a black comedy, has been described as a cross between the works of P.G. Wodehouse and the Marquis de Sade. It's set in a bleak future where excess has become the norm, as the characters engage in orgies of sex and drugs. Dead Babies was adapted as a feature film in 2000, released in the United States under the title Mood Swingers.
Some of Martin Amis' best known and most respected novels were written in the 1980s and 90s, including Money (1984), London Fields (1989), Time's Arrow (1991), and The Information (1995).
In Time's Arrow, which was nominated for a Booker Prize, the novel is the autobiography of its main character, an ex-Nazi doctor accused of torturing Jews during the Holocaust. Amis employs an unusual narrative technique: time runs backward during the entire novel, to the point that the characters even speak backward.
In addition to his novels, Martin Amis also wrote short story collections and nonfiction. Some of his most memorable nonfiction books include The Moronic Inferno And Other Visits To America (1986) - a collection of satirical essays about all things American, from fashion to the religious right.
Koba The Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002) is about the horrors of Stalinism. His most recent nonfiction book, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom (2008) offers scathing attacks on both Islamic fundamentalism and the Bush administration's response to it.
Martin Amis' latest novel, The Zone Of Interest, was published in August of 2014. Set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, circa 1942, it tells the story of Angelus Thomsen, a Nazi officer who falls in love with Hannah Doll, the wife of the commandant, Paul Doll.
The affair awakens the humanity of Thomsen, who becomes appalled by the inhumanity of Auschwitz. His love for Hannah helps her find sanity in an insane existence as the wife of the deluded, psychopathic commandant.
When her husband discovers the affair, Hannah's hate for Paul escalates, and she uses the affair to taunt him in private and embarrass him in public. So he plots to have her killed by blackmailing Szmul Zacharias, a Jewish Sonderkommando.
The novel features alternating first-person narration by Thomsen, Paul Doll, and Szmul Zacharias. Critics called it the best novel Amis has written since London Fields (1989).
Quote Of The Day
"When success happens to an English writer, he acquires a new typewriter. When success happens to an American writer, he acquires a new life." - Martin Amis
Today's video features Martin Amis discussing his latest novel at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Enjoy!