Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Notes For January 16th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 16th, 1933, the famous American writer, filmmaker, and activist Susan Sontag was born. She was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York City. Her childhood was unhappy; her father, a wealthy fur trader, died of tuberculosis when she was five. Her mother, cold and distant, was "always away."

When Susan was twelve, her mother married an Army captain, Nathan Sontag. Susan and her sister were given his surname, though he never officially adopted them. He moved the family around the country, finally settling in Los Angeles.

After graduating Hollywood High School at the age of 15, the intellectually gifted Susan Sontag enrolled at Berkeley University. She later transferred to the University of Chicago. There, after engaging in a brief but passionate courtship, she got married at seventeen.

Her new husband, Philip Rieff, was a writer and sociology professor at the university. They would remain together for eight years and have one child, a son named David. Susan continued her education and earned a Master's degree in philosophy.

In 1957, she was awarded a fellowship at St. Anne's College, Oxford, and traveled to England alone to take classes. She didn't care for Oxford and transferred to the University of Paris.

She considered her time in Paris the most important time in her life, both intellectually and artistically, as she struck up friendships with expatriate academics and artists, one of which, Cuban-American avant garde playwright María Irene Fornés, became her lover.

Susan and María moved to New York City and lived together for seven years. During that time, Susan had regained custody of her son and begun working on her first novel, The Benefactor (1963).

It was a novel in the form of a memoir. The protagonist, a Candide-esque bohemian named Hippolyte, takes the reader along for the ride as his dream world gradually becomes indistinguishable from reality.

Susan's second novel, Death Kit (1967), is a dark Kafka like tale that takes place on a train. One of the passengers, a thirtysomething year old businessman with the ironic nickname Diddy, (It sounds like "Did he?") becomes convinced that he might be a murderer.

Diddy, who recently attempted suicide, fears that he may have beaten a railroad worker to death while the train was stopped in a dark tunnel. Hester, the lovely yet apathetic blind girl sitting next to him, tells him that he never left his seat. Diddy examines his memories and dreams, trying to answer the question: did he do it?

Susan Sontag would publish two more novels, a short story collection, and nonfiction books. She was also known as an essayist and published six essay collections. Her second and most famous collection, Styles of Radical Will (1969), contained her most controversial essay.

Trip to Hanoi was the culmination of Susan's activism against the Vietnam War. She had first signed the Writers and Editors War Tax pledge, refusing to pay taxes to support the war. Like actress Jane Fonda, she went to Hanoi to tell the North Vietnamese side of the story.

Susan sympathized with the North Vietnamese, writing in her essay that the Vietcong could not be compared to the Soviets or the Maoist Chinese, whose communism she would later describe as "fascism with a human face." The Vietcong were fighting for their independence.

No stranger to controversy, Susan had previously published an essay in the Partisan Review where she said:

Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.

Susan would later retract that statement, but only because she believed that it was insulting to cancer patients.

She continued her activist work; in 1986, she vigorously defended the legendary Indian writer Salman Rushdie when his classic novel The Satanic Verses resulted in the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa calling for his death.

A few years later, during the Bosnian War, Susan declared that the Serbian Orthodox Christian forces were the real war criminals in that conflict, not the Bosnian / Albanian Muslim resistance. She went to Sarajevo and directed a production of Samuel Beckett's classic play, Waiting For Godot.

When the AIDS epidemic began to spread in the 1980s, Susan brought it to attention with her play The Way We Live Now and her nonfiction book, AIDS and Its Metaphors, where she harshly criticized the idea that AIDS was a "gay disease" and a divine judgement against homosexuals.

Susan was also a filmmaker. Between 1969 and 1983, she wrote and directed four feature films. Three were produced in Sweden, one in Italy. Her first film, Duet for Cannibals (1969), was a Swedish production.

It told the story of a professor who hires a young man to organize his papers for publication. The young man discovers that the professor's wife, tired of being abused and degraded by him, is planning to murder him. The wife and the young man become lovers. Meanwhile, the professor pursues the young man's girlfriend.

Susan followed Duet for Cannibals with Brother Carl (1971), Promised Lands (1974), and Unguided Tour (1983). Unfortunately, all of her movies are hard to find.

Never afraid to voice her often controversial opinions, on September 24th, 2001 - thirteen days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks - in the New Yorker magazine, Susan asked:

Where is the acknowledgment that this was... an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?

That year, she won the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded biannually at the Jerusalem International Book Fair to writers whose works have dealt with the subject of human freedom in society.

Susan Sontag died of leukemia in 2004 at the age of 71.

Quote Of The Day

"The writer is either a practicing recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one - or both. Usually both." - Susan Sontag

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Susan Sontag speaking at the San Francisco Public Library in 2001. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Notes For January 15th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 15th, 1891, the famous Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was born in Warsaw, Poland. He came from a wealthy Jewish family; his father was a leather merchant.

Because of his wealth and position, Osip's father was able to get a special dispensation exempting the family from having to relocate with other Jews to the "pale of settlement" region of Russia. So, not long after Osip was born, the Mandelstams moved to Saint Petersburg.

In 1908, at the age of seventeen, Osip Mandelstam entered the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) to study literature and philosophy, but left the following year and went to the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

In 1911, Mandelstam decided to finish his education at the University of Saint Petersburg. In order to enroll at the Methodist university, he converted to Methodism, but never practiced the religion.

That same year, Mandelstam and several other young poets formed the Poets' Guild. The group, led by Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky, would later be known as the Acmeists. Mandelstam wrote their manifesto, The Morning Of Acmeism, in 1913.

Acmeism was a Russian poetic movement that served as a counter to the works of Russian symbolist poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as Andrei Bely and Vyacheslav Ivanov. Acmeism stressed compactness of form and clarity of expression.

Osip Mandelstam's Acmeist manifesto wouldn't be published until 1919. However, his first poetry collection, The Stone, would be published in 1913, and re-released in an expanded edition in 1916.

By 1922, he had married his girlfriend Nadezhda Yakovlevna and moved to Moscow. At that time, his second poetry collection, Tristia, was published. For the next several years, Mandelstam nearly abandoned poetry, as he mostly wrote essays, literary criticism, short prose, and memoirs.

He took a job as a translator and translated 19 books in a period of six months. His marriage began to sour and he had affairs, but he and his wife reconciled. Mandelstam started writing poetry again. In November of 1933, he wrote his most famous poem, Stalin Epigram.

The poem was a harsh criticism of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whom he referred to as the "Kremlin highlander." The poem was likely inspired by the effects of the Holodomor (the Great Famine) which Mandelstam had witnessed while vacationing in Crimea.

The Holodomor was caused by Stalin's drive to exterminate the kulaks - the affluent peasant farmers - and collectivize all of Russia's farms. Six months after Stalin Epigram appeared in print, Osip Mandelstam was arrested.

Amazingly, he was neither condemned to death nor sent to the Gulag. Instead, he was exiled, along with his wife, to Cherdyn in Northern Ural. After a suicide attempt, his sentence was softened; he was banned from the big cities, but allowed to choose another place of residence. He and his wife chose to move to Voronezh.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a temporary reprieve. Although Mandelstam wrote poems glorifying Stalin in 1937, (as was required of him and all Soviet poets) the Great Purge was beginning.

The pro-Soviet literary establishment assailed him in print, accusing him of harboring anti-Soviet sentiments. A year later, he and his wife received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow.

When they arrived, Mandelstam was arrested again and charged with counter-revolutionary activities. In August of 1938, Osip Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in the Gulag and taken to a transit camp in Vladivostok at the Second River.

He died several months later, on December 27th, 1938. The official cause of death was an unspecified illness. In 1956, during the Khrushchev thaw, Mandelstam was officially "rehabilitated" - cleared of the charges brought against him during his 1938 arrest.

Thirty years later, he would be cleared of the charges stemming from his first arrest in 1934.

Quote Of The Day

"Only in Russia is poetry respected - it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" - Osip Mandelstam

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of five of Osip Mandelstam's poems. Enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2019

IWW Members' Publishing Successes

Joanna M. Weston

I have four poems up on The Short Humour Site:

The Cat Out Of The Bag
The Broken Crayon
Dilemma Oddities

Friday, January 11, 2019

Notes For January 11th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 11th, 1901, the legendary South African writer and activist Alan Paton was born in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, the son of a civil servant.

After earning his Bachelor's degree at the University of Natal, Paton became a high school teacher. Later, in 1935, he took a job as principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory for black African juvenile offenders.

Disgusted by the prior mistreatment of the boys at the reformatory, and hoping to truly rehabilitate them, Paton introduced a series of progressive reforms, all of which were considered highly controversial by his fellow white South Africans.

The most controversial reform was his new honor system, whereby offenders would be allowed to work outside the reformatory. Some boys who proved their trustworthiness would even be allowed to live outside the reformatory with a foster family.

Paton's reforms proved to be a huge success. During his fourteen years as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, some 10,000 boys were granted outside leave, and less than 1% failed to return.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Alan Paton volunteered for military service, but was rejected. So, he traveled around the world, visiting juvenile correctional facilities in other countries. He also began working on his first novel, which would become an all-time classic and an international bestseller.

Cry, The Beloved Country (1948) told the story of Stephen Kumalo, a black pastor from the small village of Ixopo, who receives a letter from a priest in Johannesburg asking him to come and help his sister Gertrude, who is ill.

Kumalo's son Absalom had gone to Johannesburg to look for Gertrude, but never came home. So, Kumalo decides to go to the city himself. When he arrives in Johannesburg, Kumalo finds that Gertrude has become a prostitute and an alcoholic, but he convinces her to return along with her young son.

Then Kumalo begins searching for his own son, Absalom. The trail leads him to discover that Absalom served time in a reformatory, impregnated a girl, and is now facing execution for allegedly murdering a man during a burglary.

The victim was Arthur Jarvis, a white activist for racial justice - and the son of James Jarvis, Kumalo's neighbor in Ixopo. James and Arthur had been estranged, but after reading his son's writings, James decides to carry on Arthur's work on behalf of oppressed black South Africans.

Meanwhile, Kumalo and his son Absalom are reunited. Before he is executed, Absalom marries the girl he impregnated. She decides to return to Ixopo with her new father-in-law. Back home, Kumalo, with help from James Jarvis, tries to restore the barren farmlands of his village.

Cry, The Beloved Country would become a classic, as it explored the societal and political changes in South Africa that would lead to the introduction of the apartheid system in that country.

The novel was published in 1948, and later that same year, the right wing National Party would seize power. Within the next few years, they would pass the legislation that defined the apartheid system, stripping black South Africans of their citizenship and civil rights.

In 1953, Alan Paton founded the South African Liberal Party, (SALP) which fought against the apartheid laws. Paton would serve as president of the SALP until the late 1960s, when the party was outlawed by the apartheid regime because its membership was comprised of both blacks and whites.

Paton's friend, Bernard Friedman, would later found the Progressive Party. Paton's anti-apartheid activities often raised the ire of the regime. In 1960, the South African Secret Police learned that Paton's party was receiving donations from international sources.

Legally, they couldn't stop the transactions, so when Paton returned from a trip to New York City, (where he received the Freedom Award) the secret police confiscated his passport and didn't return it for ten years.

Alan Paton would write other memorable novels, which also dealt with racial injustice in South Africa, as did his short story collection, Tales From a Troubled Land (1961).

He also wrote collections of essays; his last one, Save the Beloved Country, was published posthumously in 1989. He died in 1988 at the age of 85.

Beginning in 1990, as the result of violent resistance at home and mounting opposition around the world, South Africa's apartheid system slowly but surely came to an end, culminating in the African National Congress's landslide victory over the National Party in the 1994 election.

Quote Of The Day

"The truth is, our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions." - Alan Paton

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a clip from a rare 1960 Canadian TV interview with Alan Paton. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Notes For January 10th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 10th, 1845, the famous English poet and playwright Robert Browning wrote his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, a fellow poet who would become his soul mate. Ironically, at the time they first began corresponding, it was unlikely that Elizabeth would become anybody's anything.

As a young girl, Elizabeth Barrett was both intellectually gifted and physically weak. By the age of six, she was reading novels and writing poetry. At fifteen, she was struck with an illness that doctors were unable to diagnose.

Some have speculated that it was a debilitating heart condition that causes pain and weakness, such as angina. All three of her sisters contracted the illness as well, but for them, it didn't last long. They recovered quickly, but Elizabeth did not. She had a severe case.

Whatever the illness was, it and the opiates she took to relieve the pain made Elizabeth pretty much an invalid. She spent most of her time in her room, either in bed or writing at her desk. She earned a modest income writing poetry, essays, and literary criticism.

She saw few people except for her family, but she had a lot of family to keep her company - three sisters and seven brothers. Despite her illness, Elizabeth Barrett became one of the greatest poets of her generation.

When her classic poetry collection Poems was published in 1844, she became one of the most famous poets in England. Although she saw few visitors, she kept up a huge amount of correspondence.

One of Elizabeth Barrett's greatest admirers was the poet Robert Browning. Not only did he love her poetry, but she was one of the very few literary critics who had given his first poetry collection, Dramatic Lyrics (1842), a good review. A glowing review, in fact.

So, Robert wrote to thank her - and to proclaim his great admiration of her poetry. "The fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought" is how he described her talent. Then he proclaimed his love for her:

I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart... and I love you too. Do you know I was once not very far from seeing - really seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "Would you like to see Miss Barrett?" then he went to announce me... then he returned... you were too unwell, and now it is years ago, and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels, as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel or crypt, only a screen to push and I might have entered, but there was some slight, so it now seems, slight and just sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be?

Thus, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett began a correspondence that would result in nearly six hundred letters exchanged between them. It would also result in a courtship, and a miraculous improvement in Elizabeth's health.

Though she would not recover completely from her illness, she would regain her strength, leave her invalid's bed, marry, have a child, and live to the age of 55 - far longer than was expected for someone with her condition.

Elizabeth's courtship with Robert Browning had to be carried out in secret, as her father, a domineering tyrant, had forbidden all his eleven children from ever marrying under penalty of disinheritance. Why? The answer lies in the family history.

The wealthy, aristocratic Barrett family came from a long line of plantation owners. Elizabeth Barrett's grandfather, who owned sugar plantations and other businesses in the West Indies, was known for his humane treatment of his slaves.

He was also known to take slave women as his mistresses. Elizabeth's father, Edward Barrett, believed that his father may have adopted the light skinned babies of his slave mistresses, and that he may have been one of them.

Politically conservative and a virulent racist, Edward Barrett was greatly shamed by the thought that Negro blood may be running through his and his children's veins. His children were white, but he feared that they might one day produce dark skinned offspring. So he forbade them all from marrying.

Elizabeth Barrett was the polar opposite of her father. A liberal intellectual, she despised slavery, wrote abolitionist poetry, and rejoiced when England outlawed slavery completely in 1833. This resulted in a huge rift between father and daughter.

Elizabeth never gave much thought to her father's decree forbidding marriage because she figured that her illness rendered her too sick too marry. She didn't plan on falling in love with Robert Browning. When they eloped, her father disinherited her and never spoke to her again. Her brothers didn't speak to her for years.

The happy couple settled in Italy, where Elizabeth regained her strength and after several miscarriages, bore their only child, a boy named Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, but known by his nickname, Pen.

Many years later, the Brownings' son published all but one of their letters to each other. The one missing letter was believed to have been burned by Robert Browning at Elizabeth Barrett's insistence because it was so passionate that she feared he might be arrested for sending it through the mail.

Quote Of The Day

"Love is the energy of life." - Robert Browning

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading from the first letter of Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Notes For January 9th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 9th, 1908, the legendary French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France. Her father was a legal secretary and aspiring actor. Her mother, the daughter of a wealthy banker, raised her children to be devout Catholics like herself.

Simone was devoutly religious as a child, but at the age of fourteen, she lost her faith and would remain an atheist for the rest of her life. An intellectually gifted child, she passed advanced exams in mathematics and philosophy at the age of seventeen.

After studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, she studied for her teacher's exams at the Institut Catholique and Institut Sainte-Marie. She also sat in on courses at the École Normale Supérieure, though she wasn't enrolled there.

At the École Normale Supérieure, Simone struck up friendships with fellow students Paul Nizan and René Maheu, who would become noted writers and philosophers. Another student she met would become her lifelong lover. His name was Jean-Paul Sartre.

Although Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre became lifelong lovers and soul mates who influenced each other as writers and existentialist philosophers, they never married nor lived together as a couple.

Theirs was a very complex relationship. They both had separate lovers. Simone was openly bisexual and often shared her female lovers with Sartre. Her first novel, She Came to Stay (1943), was a fictionalized chronicle of her and Sartre's romantic entanglements with two sisters, one of whom was her student.

Simone's second novel, The Blood of Others (1945) was an existentialist classic set in Nazi-occupied France. As his lover Hélène lies dying, the protagonist Jean Blomart looks back on his own life. Guilty over his comfortable upper middle class upbringing, Blomart breaks ties with his family.

He joins the Communist Party, then leaves it when his friend is killed in a political protest. While he devotes himself to trade union activities, he meets Hélène, but initially rejects her advances.

After she has a reckless affair with another man, gets pregnant, and has an abortion, Blomart tells her that he loves her and proposes marriage, though deep inside, he doubts that he really loves her. But he wants her to be happy.

When France enters World War II, Blomart enlists and becomes a soldier. Against his will, Hélène arranges for him to be posted away from the combat zone. Furious, he breaks up with her. After the defeat of France, the couple is reunited when Hélène seeks to join the French Resistance.

Blomart has become the leader of a Resistance group. Hélène joins the group and is shot during a mission. As he maintains a deathbed vigil, Blomart must come to terms with his guilt, the consequences of his actions, and his feelings for Hélène. He decides to continue with his Resistance work.

In 1944, Simone published her first philosophical essay, Pyrrhus et Cinéas, a discussion of existentialist ethics, concepts she would expand on in her second essay, The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947).

The Ethics of Ambiguity was perhaps the most accessible writing on existentialism during that time, far more accessible than Jean-Paul Sartre's brooding, abstruse classic, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943).

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex, her classic 800-page epic work of feminist philosophy. After debunking the theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, she looks at the misogynistic philosophies of St. Paul, St. Ambrose, and John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.

The misogyny that forms the foundation of Christianity is in direct contrast to the goddess worship that preceded it. The subordination of women in the name of God is nothing more than a way to maintain patriarchal power for Pope and common man alike.

This need to control women's sexuality to maintain the patriarchy reflects the deep seated fear of the power of a woman's body - her ability to create life within her, her ability to receive sexual pleasure without having intercourse with a man, etc.

After centuries of male domination, Woman still yearns for her freedom from reproductive slavery. Abortion, Simone argues, is one means of achieving that freedom. It is not an issue of morality, and making it illegal is an act of "masculine sadism" against women.

The Second Sex became a hugely influential work of feminist philosophy that laid the groundwork for the 1970s women's liberation movement. Simone would join France's women's liberation movement.

In 1971, she signed the Manifest of the 343, a list of famous women who had abortions even though it was illegal in France at the time. Other signers included actress Catherine Deneuve and actress-director Delphine Seyrig. Three years later, abortion was legalized in France.

After Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980, Simone wrote A Farewell to Sartre (1981), an account of his final years. It was the only major published work of hers that he didn't read prior to publication. She also published a collection of his letters to her.

Simone de Beauvoir died in 1986 at the age of 78.

Quote Of The Day

"The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels." - Simone de Beauvoir

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a 1959 interview with Simone de Beauvoir, in French with English subtitles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Notes For January 8th, 2019

This Day In Literary History

On January 8th, 1824, the legendary English writer Wilkie Collins was born in London, England. He was born William Collins, Jr. His father, William Sr., was a well-known Royal Academician landscape artist.

William, Jr. called himself by his middle name, Wilkie, to honor his godfather, the renowned Scottish painter, David Wilkie. After spending his early childhood in London, at the age of twelve, he went to live with his parents in Italy, an experience he enjoyed greatly.

He returned to London three years later. At the age of seventeen, Collins left school and took a job as an apprentice clerk for a tea merchant firm. He hated it. During the five years he worked for the tea company, he wrote his first novel, Iolani. It would be published posthumously in 1999.

Collins switched gears and entered Lincoln's Inn to study law. In 1847, after his father died, he produced his first published book - Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A.

As he continued his law studies, he considered a career in painting, having exhibited his artwork at Royal Academy's summer exhibition in 1849. However, the following year, his first published novel Antonina was released, thus beginning his career as a writer.

Although it was a work of historical fiction, Antonina introduced Wilkie Collins' distinctive style of "sensation novel," which is what suspense novels and crime thrillers were called at the time.

Antonina is a young woman who finds herself caught up in the struggle between the old pagan and new Christian religions of 5th century Rome, which are seen as equally destructive.

Antonina's father, Numerian, wants to restore Christianity to its founder's ideals. His steward, Ulpius, a pagan, secretly plans to restore Rome's old gods to prominence.

Meanwhile, Numerian's neighbor, the wealthy Vetranio, has become enamored with Antonina. When Numerian catches them in an apparently compromising position, Antonina flees Rome - just before the city is encircled and seized by the Goth army.

In 1851, through a mutual friend, Collins was introduced to the legendary novelist Charles Dickens - an event that would have a huge effect on Collins' life and writings, as the two men became lifelong friends and collaborated on plays and short stories.

Most of Collins' novels and novellas would first appear in serialized format in the pages of Dickens' weekly literary magazine, All The Year Round. Collins' younger brother, Charles Allston Collins, would marry Dickens' daughter, Kate.

Throughout his life, Wilkie Collins suffered from rheumatic gout, a form of arthritis. To relieve the pain, he often took laudanum (opium tincture) and became severely addicted to it. He experienced delusions and came to believe that he had a subjective doppelganger whom he called "Ghost Wilkie."

Opium use and addiction would play a part in his most famous novel, which is considered the first major detective novel in English literature. Published in 1868, it was called The Moonstone.

The Moonstone is a legendary large yellow diamond, acquired by corrupt British soldier Colonel Herncastle through theft and murder. Shunned by his family, Herncastle wills the diamond to his niece, Rachel, as a gift for her 18th birthday.

In addition to its monetary value, the Moonstone has huge religious significance, as it came from the head of a statue of Vishnu in India. The stone's guardians - three Hindu priests - are determined to get it back.

At Rachel's birthday party, she wears the Moonstone to show it to her guests. Later that night, the gem is stolen from her room. Suspicion first falls on Rosanna, a maid and ex-thief.

After Rosanna commits suicide, evidence is found implying that Franklin Blake - whom Rachel had become enamored with - is the real thief. Despite the efforts of brilliant detective Sergeant Cuff, the crime goes unsolved.

Believing that Rachel suspects him of theft, Blake meets with her and she tells him that she saw him steal the gem and has been protecting his reputation. Blake has no memory of stealing the Moonstone. He decides to do some detective work himself.

He discovers that he was secretly drugged with laudanum at the party by Dr. Candy, in retribution for Blake's criticisms of medicine. Then, in a drug-induced trance, Blake took the Moonstone in a subconscious attempt to move it to a safe place.

The stone has disappeared again, turning up later at a London bank, sending Blake on the trail of more skullduggery as he tries to solve the crime. The Moonstone was a huge hit with both Victorian literary critics and readers.

Rightfully considered one of the all-time classics of crime fiction, it was considered shocking at the time of its publication due to its sensationalized depiction of opium addiction.

It proved to be Collins' last great success, coming at the end of his most productive period, where four previous novels, including The Woman In White (1860), No Name (1862), and Armadale (1866) also proved to be bestsellers.

The Black Robe, published in 1881, proved to be Collins' most controversial novel. It told the story of a scheming Catholic priest, Father Bentwell, who plots to swindle nobleman Lewis Romayne out of his estate, Vange Abbey, which once belonged to the Church.

Romayne is racked with guilt after accidentally killing a man - an opponent in a card game who had challenged him to a duel. Romayne goes to London to visit his old friend, Lord Loring. There, he meets Stella Eyrecourt, who falls in love with him.

The Lorings' spiritual adviser is Father Bentwell, a Jesuit priest. When he learns of Romayne's position and situation, he plots to induce Romayne to convert to Catholicism, then manipulate him into willing his estate to the Church.

To achieve this end, he employs young priest Father Penrose to befriend Romayne and offer him spiritual support. After Romayne marries Stella, Father Bentwell does all he can to undermine the marriage.

He succeeds, and Romayne changes his will, leaving his estate to the Church instead of his wife and child. When Romayne learns that he's dying, he finally decides to visit his wife and son. Father Bentwell brings a lawyer to Romayne's deathbed to make sure the Church inherits his estate.

Seeing through the priest's scheme, Romayne proclaims his love for Stella and his son and has the new will destroyed. After he dies, as stipulated in his original will, his wife and son receive his estate.

Although not considered one of Collins' best works, The Black Robe remains a strong and searing indictment of religious hypocrisy and corruption. It was denounced as anti-Catholic when it was first published.

After the publication of The Moonstone in 1868, Collins' laudanum addiction worsened over the years, affecting his health and his writing. The death of his close friend Charles Dickens in 1870 devastated him.

Wilkie Collins died in 1889 at the age of 65. He never married, but he fathered three children with his girlfriend, Martha Rudd. In his prolific career, he published 30 novels.

He also wrote over 60 short stories, 14 plays, and over 100 pieces of nonfiction, establishing himself as one of the greatest English writers of all time.

Quote Of The Day

"Habits of literary composition are perfectly familiar to me. One of the rarest of all the intellectual accomplishments that a man can possess is the grand faculty of arranging his ideas. Immense privilege! I possess it. Do you?" - Wilkie Collins

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Wilkie Collins' classic novel, The Moonstone. Enjoy!

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