This Day In Literary History
On February 23rd, 1633, the famous English writer Samuel Pepys was born in London, England. His father, John Pepys, was a tailor. His father's cousin, Richard Pepys, was an elected Member of Parliament who would later become the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
Samuel Pepys was the fifth of eleven children, but because of the high child mortality rate of the time, several of his siblings died, making him the eldest. He was sent to live with a nurse in Kingsland, north of London.
Around the age of eleven, he began his formal education at Huntingdon Grammar School. He attended St. Paul's school in London from 1646-50.
In 1649, at the age of sixteen, he witnessed the execution of Charles I, following the end of the English Civil War. This paved the way for the rule of Oliver Cromwell.
Pepys enrolled at Cambridge University in 1650. A year later, he transferred to Magdalene College, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. In 1655, he came to live with another of his father's cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who would become the first Earl of Sandwich.
That same year, Pepys married Elisabeth de St Michel, first in a religious ceremony, then in a civil ceremony. She was fourteen years old at the time.
From a very young age, Samuel Pepys suffered from painful kidney stones and hematuria. By 1657, his condition was so severe that he decided to undergo a risky procedure to surgically remove a very large kidney stone.
The operation took place at the home of Pepys' cousin, Jane Turner, and was a success. However, he did suffer from complications late in life. After he recovered from the operation, Pepys took a job working as a teller in the exchequer under George Downing.
On January 1st, 1660, Samuel Pepys embarked on an endeavor that would make him famous to this day: he began keeping a diary. Like most diaries, he used it to record the personal details of his daily life, including his business dealings.
He also recorded meetings with friends, his trivial concerns, jealousies, insecurities, his troubled marriage, and his extramarital affairs. These personal details would be intertwined with detailed commentary on the politics and national events of the time.
Within the first few months of entries, Samuel Pepys' diary chronicled General George Monck's march on London and Pepys' trip (he was a clerk for the Navy Board) with Sir Edward Montagu to the Netherlands to bring Charles II back from exile.
Over the next ten years, Pepys' diary would provide the most detailed account of the history of late 17th century England, including the Restoration, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The diary also painted a revealing portrait of Pepys the man. He loved the theater. He was a connoisseur of good wine, literature, and music. He enjoyed the company of friends. He would often evaluate his life and finances, promising to work harder and abstain from wine and the theater, then later, he'd record his lapses.
He was a talented singer and musician. He played the lute, violin, viola, flageolet, recorder, and harpsichord, with varying levels of proficiency. As a singer, he performed at home, at coffee houses, and at Westminster Abbey.
Pepys also chronicled, sometimes in surprisingly graphic detail, his extramarital affairs. In one entry, he described how his wife Elisabeth caught him in a compromising position with her friend, Deborah Willet.
He wrote that Elisabeth, "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also...." When he wrote about his affairs, Pepys was always filled with remorse - but that didn't stop his philandering.
Samuel Pepys kept his diary for nearly ten years. By 1669, his health began to suffer from all the work he put into it. He eyesight deteriorated, and he feared he might go blind, so for a while, he dictated his diary to his clerks before ending it altogether.
After he ended it, he would become an elected Member of Parliament and Secretary to the Admiralty. He also helped found the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital and was made its Governor. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and served as its president from 1684-86.
Pepys was attacked off and on by his political enemies and arrested twice on unsubstantiated charges of being a Jacobite - a radical plotting to restore the Stuart kings to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
He was released both times, as no charges brought against him could be proven in court. After his second release in 1690, he retired from public life at the age of 57. He died in 1703 at the age of 70. Having no children, he willed his estate to his nephew, John Jackson.
Samuel Pepys' diaries would remain unpublished until 1825. To write his diary entries, Pepys used tachygraphy, one of many forms of shorthand employed at the time. This required translation into standard English.
The first to translate Pepys' diaries was Reverend John Smith. He didn't know that the key to the tachygraphy system was stored in Pepys' library a few shelves above the diaries. So it took Smith several years, from 1819-1822, to finish his translation.
It was an incomplete translation, as the clergyman refused to translate the salacious sections of Pepys' diaries - especially the entries about his extramarital affairs.
A complete and definitive edition of Samuel Pepys' diaries was translated by Robert Latham and William Matthews and published in nine volumes, along with companion and index volumes, between 1970 and 1983.
Quote Of The Day
“Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.” - Samuel Pepys
Today's video features readings from Samuel Pepys' diaries. Enjoy!
Friday, February 23, 2018
Thursday, February 22, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On February 22nd, 1892, the legendary American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine. Her unusual middle name, St. Vincent, was given to her in honor of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, where her uncle's life had been saved shortly before she was born.
Edna and her two sisters were raised by their mother to be independent and outspoken feminists. Edna's strong feminist convictions developed at a very young age. She was often angered when she or other girls received unequal treatment compared to boys.
In elementary school, she often angered her principal with her frank opinions on gender inequality. When she asked him to call her Vincent - a boy's name - he refused, but instead of calling her Edna, he called her by girls' names that began with the letter V.
After several years of separation, when Edna was twelve, her mother divorced her father for his financial irresponsibility. The family lived in poverty and moved from place to place. When she started high school, Edna began developing her writing talent.
Soon, her poetry appeared in her high school magazine and in other literary magazines. At the age of 14, she was awarded the Gold Badge for her poetry by St. Nicholas Magazine, a then famous and progressive literary and art magazine for children.
Around this time, Edna came to understand and accept her bisexuality, and she would remain openly bisexual throughout her life. In 1912, when she was twenty years old, Edna St. Vincent Millay first became famous - for losing a poetry contest.
She had entered her classic poem Renascence in a poetry contest held by The Lyric Year magazine and was awarded fourth place. The decision proved scandalous for the magazine. Its readers were shocked.
The other poets who had entered the contest were also shocked - and embarrassed - as they considered Renascence to be the best poem. The first place winner, poet Orrick Johns, said of his first prize, “the award was as much an embarrassment to me as a triumph." The second place winner offered to give Edna his $250 prize money.
Not long after the contest debacle, Edna gave a poetry reading and piano recital in Camden, Maine, at the Whitehall Inn. Among those attending the event was Caroline Dow, director the New York YWCA National Training School. She was so impressed that she offered to pay for Edna's tuition at Vassar College. So, at the age of 21, Edna began her college education.
After she graduated in 1917, Edna moved to New York City's Greenwich Village and took up the life of a bohemian poet, having affairs with paramours of both sexes, immersing herself in the culture of the Village, and writing some of her best poetry.
Her classic poetry collection A Few Figs From Thistles, published in 1920, courted controversy with its feminist themes and meditations on female sexuality.
In 1923, Edna won the Pulitzer Prize for her poem, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. That same year, she married Eugen Jan Boissevain, with whom she had fallen in love. She was 31 years old and he 43. His late wife, Inez Millholland, was a labor lawyer and war correspondent whom Edna had known in Greenwich Village.
Edna and Eugen would remain together for 26 years, until his death in 1949. Eugen supported his wife's career and took care of the household. They maintained an open marriage, each having lovers on the side. One of Edna's lovers was George Dillon, a young poet 14 years her junior for whom she would write several sonnets.
In 1925, Edna and her husband bought Steepletop in Austerlitz, New York. The 500-acre estate had been a blueberry farm. They built a barn, a writing cabin, and a tennis court on their new estate, and Edna started a garden where she grew her own vegetables.
During World War II, Edna found herself criticized for the pacifist themes in her poetry. Years before, she had written Aria da Capo, (1921) an antiwar one-act play in verse.
Now, as critic Merle Rubin observed, "She seems to have caught more flak from the literary critics for supporting democracy than Ezra Pound did for championing fascism." Edna had also written poems about Nazi atrocities committed during the war.
In 1943, Edna became the sixth person (and the second woman) to be awarded the Frost Medal, a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to American poetry. Her husband died of lung cancer in 1949.
A year later, Edna St. Vincent Millay fell down her staircase at home and was found dead eight hours later. The autopsy revealed that she actually died of a heart attack, which had caused her to fall down the stairs. She was 58 years old.
After Edna's death, her sister Norma and her husband, painter Charles Ellis, moved into Steepletop. In 1973, they set aside some of the estate's vast acreage and established the Millay Colony for the Arts, which they would run until Norma died in 1986.
One of Norma's closest friends was Mary Oliver, a teenage poet who had moved into Steepletop and lived there for seven years. A huge fan of Norma's sister Edna, whose papers she would help organize, Mary would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize, as her idol had done before her.
Edna St. Vincent Millay remains a major influence on American poetic voice.
Quote Of The Day
"You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that." - Edna St. Vincent Millay
Today's video features a rare recording of Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her classic, Pulitzer Prize winning poem, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On February 21st, 1903, the legendary French writer Anaïs Nin was born. She was born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.
Her father, Joaquin Nin, was a Cuban pianist and composer. Her mother, Rosa Culmell, was a classically trained singer of French and Danish descent. She had two younger brothers, Thorvald and Joaquin.
When Anaïs was a young girl, her family traveled throughout Europe. They lived for a time in Spain and in America, then moved back to her mother's French homeland. There, they lived in an apartment rented from an American friend who had gone away for the summer.
Anaïs, then in her teens, stumbled across the man's collection of French erotic paperbacks and read them all. By then, she had already determined to become a writer, and had begun keeping the diaries for which she would become most famous.
At sixteen, she completed her primary education and became an artist's model. She had begun learning English while her family was living in America; soon she became fluent in English, though French would remain her native language.
In March of 1923, at the age of twenty, Anaïs married her boyfriend, Hugh Parker Guiler, a banker who years later would reinvent himself as an experimental filmmaker named Ian Hugo. The couple settled in Paris and would maintain an open marriage.
While her husband was preoccupied with his banking career, Anaïs took up writing and flamenco dancing. Her first book, published in 1932, was an acclaimed work of non-fiction titled D.H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. She wrote it in just over two weeks.
At the time of its publication, literary critics had begun turning their backs on Lawrence, the legendary English writer best known for his classic and controversial novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Anaïs' masterful, scholarly study of Lawrence's works was an eyebrow raiser - no woman had dared praise his controversial writings before.
At the time she wrote her book, Anaïs Nin was living the bohemian life in Paris. She met the legendary American writer Henry Miller, then a down-and-out expatriate trying to start his own career as a novelist. She let him read her diaries, and they were a revelation to him.
Her writing had the poetry and passion that his lacked. With Anaïs serving as his muse, Miller wrote his classic debut novel, Tropic of Cancer (1934), which made his name as a writer. Meanwhile, Anaïs worked on her own fiction.
While they tried to keep their writing careers going, Anaïs and Henry struggled to make ends meet, as France had also fallen victim to the Great Depression. They and their writer friends soon discovered they could make $1 per page writing pornographic literature for an anonymous private collector.
At first, they did it more for their own amusement than for the money, but soon it became an important source of income during the hard times of the Depression. $1 per page back then is equivalent to $15 per page in today's money.
Believe it or not, for Henry Miller, writing decent erotica in those days was a struggle. Anaïs Nin, however, was brilliant at it. Her erotica, told from a woman's perspective, was dazzling, poetic, sensual, and even philosophical at times, while also surprisingly graphic.
She explored all the known sexual taboos, including male and female homosexuality, sadomasochism, and incest. Though she retained her original manuscripts for these stories, she never intended to have them published.
Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller became close friends and ultimately lovers. When Miller's wife June arrived in Paris, the relationship would become something of a ménage à trois. Though Anaïs came to love June and found herself attracted to the woman, she preferred sex with men.
In 1936, Anaïs published her first novella, House Of Incest, which would prove to be one of her most famous works of fiction. The Nin family had feared that it was going to be an expose of a recent incestuous affair between Anaïs and her father.
Instead, it was a novella filled with surrealist prose poetry, metaphors, and psychological symbolism, based on a series of dreams she had. Anaïs would later chronicle the actual incestuous affair in her famous diaries.
Shockingly, one of her therapists had encouraged her to seduce, then abandon her father as an act of revenge for his abandonment of her when she was a young girl. The therapist believed that this would leave Anaïs feeling empowered. It didn't.
In the summer of 1939, with the winds of war brewing, Anaïs and her husband left Paris and moved to New York City. She would remain in America for pretty much the rest of her life. In 1947, she met Rupert Pole, an ex-actor sixteen years her junior, in an elevator while on her way to a party. They began dating, then ran off together.
The couple married in Arizona before moving to California. While Anaïs would live with Rupert until her death in 1977, she annulled their marriage in 1966 for tax reasons - and because she had never formally divorced her first husband.
Anaïs continued to write fiction and maintain her diaries. In 1958, she began publishing Cities of the Interior, her classic "continuous novel" which appeared in a series of five volumes. The most famous volumes were the third, The Four-Chambered Heart, and the fourth, A Spy in the House of Love.
While living in California, Anaïs struck up friendships with experimental filmmakers and appeared in a few films. Her most famous film role was of the goddess Astarte in Kenneth Anger's classic film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1956). She also appeared in Maya Deren's classic experimental film, Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946).
Over the years, Anaïs' famous diaries would be published in a series of eleven volumes. They would also appear as collections of excerpts, the most famous of which was Henry and June: From a Journal of Love (1986).
Henry and June: From a Journal of Love contained excerpts from Anaïs' diaries chronicling her relationship with Henry Miller and his wife, June. This memorable volume would be adapted by director Philip Kaufman as the highly acclaimed and controversial 1990 feature film Henry & June.
Starring Fred Ward as Henry Miller, Uma Thurman as June, and, in a bravura performance, Maria de Medeiros as Anaïs Nin, it was the first movie to be rated NC-17, which had replaced the X rating.
Bowing to pressure groups, most theaters banned NC-17 rated pictures as they had X-rated films, and Henry & June played on only a few hundred screens nationwide. It earned most of its profits in videotape sales and rentals, which were unaffected by the NC-17 rating.
Still, film critics, most famously the legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, decried the film's rating as undeserved and protested the NC-17 rating in general as unnecessary and continuing the X rating's tradition of imposing censorship on filmmakers.
(Since most theaters, especially shopping mall multiplexes, refused to play X or NC-17 rated movies, filmmakers were forced to cut their pictures to obtain a lower rating in order to get a wider distribution and hopefully make a profit.)
By 1976, Anaïs was losing her battle with cancer when a publisher approached her about releasing a volume of her famous erotic short stories, which everyone knew about but nobody had seen - except for the anonymous patron who had paid her to write them.
She still didn't want to publish them, but her ex-husbands Hugh Parker Guiler and Rupert Pole, both of whom she still loved, had fallen into poverty. She figured that the money could be used to help them out. She died in January of 1977 at the age of 73. Six months later, Delta of Venus was published.
As the publisher had expected, the short story collection became a huge hit, though Anaïs Nin had considered the stories an embarrassment because they were more caricature than serious writing and had been penned for a private patron's money rather than written for publication.
Nevertheless, they provided a memorable exhibition of Nin's talent for erotic literature. They also added to her legacy as a feminist icon. With the success of Delta of Venus, a second erotic short story collection, Little Birds, was published in 1979.
Quote Of The Day
"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it." - Anaïs Nin
Today's video features Anaïs Nin reading from her famous diaries. Enjoy!
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On February 20th, 1926, the famous American writer Richard Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey. Born to Norwegian immigrant parents, he would grow up in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1943, after graduating from high school, he joined the military and served as an infantry soldier during World War II. After the war ended, Matheson enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he earned a degree in journalism.
His first published short story, Born of Man and Woman, appeared in 1950, in an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story is narrated in broken English by the grotesque mutant eight-year-old son of a normal couple.
The "normal" parents keep their son chained in the cellar and beat him frequently. When the mutant boy breaks the rules and sneaks upstairs to spy on his parents, he discovers that he has a normal little sister whom he never met or knew existed.
Encouraged by his first sale, Matheson moved to California, hoping to become a professional writer. There, he married his girlfriend, Ruth Ann Woodson. They had four children, three of whom (Chris, Ali, and Richard Christian Matheson) would become writers.
Richard Matheson's first novel, Someone is Bleeding, was published in 1953, but his third novel, I Am Legend (1954), made his name as a writer. In it, a man named Robert Neville finds that he is apparently the last man left on Earth.
A pandemic quickly wiped out the rest of the world's population, but Neville is immune for some reason. He soon discovers that he is not alone; the world is still inhabited by the infected - who have become vampires that crave his blood.
The disease has mutated and the vampires can now spend brief periods of time during the day. After overcoming alcoholism and depression, Neville tries to find a cure for the disease before the vampires become indestructible.
I Am Legend would be adapted three times as a feature film: The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith as Robert Neville.
Matheson's classic 1956 novel, The Shrinking Man, told the story of Scott Carey, a man exposed to radiation after accidentally ingesting an insecticide. The combination of the two alters Carey's biochemical structure, causing him to shrink in size a little every day.
Most of the story finds Carey at only seven inches tall. Ordinary small objects and creatures become terrifying. As he keeps shrinking, Carey soon realizes that he won't shrink to death, as he'd feared. Instead, he'll keep shrinking to the size of an atom.
The Shrinking Man is actually a scathing satire of 1950s white middle class manhood. When Scott Carey shrinks to doll size, he finds that he is no longer the man of the house. Now, his wife and children are intimidating him for a change - a huge blow to his ego and masculinity.
The Shrinking Man would be adapted by the author himself as the cult classic film, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). It would also be adapted as The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), a comic fantasy about the dangers of industrial chemicals and deceptive advertising.
Lily Tomlin starred as an average housewife and mother whose exposure to chemicals in everything from laundry detergents to foods, combined with her unique body chemistry, causes her to shrink a little every day. When she reaches doll size, she becomes a media sensation.
In 1958, Matheson published A Stir of Echoes, a supernatural horror novel about a mild-mannered fellow, Tom Wallace, who is hypnotized at a party by his brother-in-law. Wallace doubts the effectiveness of hypnosis until a post-hypnotic suggestion unlocks formidable psychic powers within him.
Suddenly able to read minds and predict the future, Tom's life plunges into a downward spiral. Then, the spirit of a murder victim begins stalking him, desperately searching for closure. This memorable novel would be adapted as the horror film Stir of Echoes in 1999.
Richard Matheson's success as a novelist and short story writer got him noticed by television. He would write fourteen episodes of the classic TV series, The Twilight Zone (1959-64). His memorable episodes include the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
In this episode, an aerophobic salesman (William Shatner) notices something terrifying during his flight - a gremlin clinging to the plane's wing, trying to destroy the aircraft. Is it real or all in his mind?
Another great Twilight Zone episode Matheson wrote was Little Girl Lost. In it, a little girl falls out of her bed in the middle of the night and tumbles through a gateway into another dimension. Her father must attempt a daring rescue before the door closes forever.
Matheson and his close friend, writer Charles Beaumont, who also wrote for The Twilight Zone, belonged to the Southern California Writing Group in the 1950s and 60s. Other members included Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl, and George Clayton Johnson.
In the 1970s, Matheson wrote the screenplays for two TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, which were based on a horror novel by Jeff Rice called The Kolchak Papers. The popular movies would spawn the short lived cult classic TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75).
The first of Matheson's TV movies, The Night Stalker, received record ratings for a TV movie. Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, a shrewd, obnoxious, wisecracking newspaper reporter covering a series of bizarre murders in Las Vegas.
All of the victims were completely drained of their blood. The police suspect a psychotic killer, but Kolchak's investigation leads him to something more terrifying - a vampire. After Kolchak destroys the vampire, the police launch a cover-up and run him out of town.
The sequel, The Night Stangler (1973), finds Kolchak in Seattle, uncovering another supernatural mystery - identical series of murders that have occurred every 21 years since 1931. The killer is on the prowl again, draining his victims of their blood.
This time, instead of a vampire, the culprit is a former Civil War surgeon who discovered an elixir of life that grants him immortality. The formula must be taken every 21 years and requires a quantity of human blood from unwilling donors.
Richard Matheson wrote over two dozen novels and numerous short stories, as well as film and TV screenplays. He won several awards and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010. His final novel, Generations, was published in 2012. He died in 2013 at the age of 87.
Quote Of The Day
"Life is a risk; so is writing. You have to love it." - Richard Matheson
Today's video features a Writers Guild Foundation interview with Richard Matheson. Enjoy!
Monday, February 19, 2018
My review of Holmes Entangled, a novel by Gordon McAlpine, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
My translation of Sara Blaedel's "Undertaker's Daughter" has been published by Grand Central. And a short story I translated, "When the Time Came" by Kaaberbol and Friis, is in an anthology published by Soho, "The Usual Santas."
I also translated two crime novels that came out in the past year as e-books, "Dark September" and "Under a Black Sky" by Inger Wolf, published by People's Press.
A little late, but two pieces were published recently. "In Which We Drive the Transpeninsular Mexico 1" was published in jmww.
And, "When Amy Turned Wild", a collaboration with Katherine Gehan, was published in The Airgonaut's February issue.
My novel "Rescue" started a 'campaign' on Kindle Scout today. I wrote this story for NaNoWriMo in 2014, and over the following year subbed it on NOVELS-L. In middle and late 2016 I submitted the story to several publishers. I received polite rejections from two, and no answer from the others.
When I heard of Kindle Scout a few months ago, I decided to try that. I re-edited it very carefully, making a few minor changes (the largest one being a name change for one of the major characters), made a cover image, and composed the other bits and pieces needed. And now it's out there.
Friday, February 16, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On February 16th, 1944, the famous American writer Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi. His father, Parker Ford, was a traveling salesman for a starch company. When Richard was eight years old, his father had a serious heart attack.
While Parker recovered and afterward, Richard spent a lot of time with his grandfather, an ex-boxer turned hotel owner, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He would lose his father to a second heart attack when he was sixteen.
As a boy, Richard Ford suffered from partial dyslexia. To cope with his learning disability, he learned to read slowly, but thoroughly. This led him to develop a passion for literature.
After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Michigan to study hotel management. He soon switched his major to English. At university, he met Kristina Hensley, whom he would marry in 1968.
After graduating from university, Richard became a middle school teacher in Flint, Michigan. He enlisted in the Marines, but was discharged after contracting hepatitis.
Ford then enrolled in law school, but dropped out to enroll in the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, where he earned a Master's degree in Fine Arts.
In 1976, Richard Ford's first novel, A Piece of My Heart, was published. His second novel, The Ultimate Good Luck, was published five years later.
Neither novel was successful, so he gave up writing and became a journalist. He took a job as sportswriter for Inside Sports magazine. A year later, the magazine folded. When Sports Illustrated wouldn't hire him, Richard Ford returned to writing. He based his next novel on his experiences as a sportswriter.
The Sportswriter (1986) proved to be a breakthrough novel that made Richard Ford's name as a writer. In it, Frank Bascombe, a 38-year-old failed novelist turned sportswriter, suffers an emotional crisis when first his son dies, then his marriage crumbles after his wife (whom he refers to only as X) finds proof of his infidelity.
The novel made Ford a finalist for the PEN / Faulkner Award for fiction. It was named one of the five best books of 1986 by Time magazine.
Nine years later, Richard Ford published Independence Day, a sequel to The Sportswriter. It won both the 1996 PEN / Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize, becoming the first novel to win both awards in the same year.
Independence Day finds Frank Bascombe, now a real estate agent, evaluating his life over a long July 4th weekend as he visits his ex-wife and troubled teenage son, as well as some clients and renters of one of his properties. Frank wrestles with the question of whether he should rekindle his relationship with his ex, or stay with his current girlfriend.
In 2006, Ford published the third novel in his Frank Bascombe trilogy. The Lay of the Land finds Frank preparing for Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Sea Clift, New Jersey. Attending the dinner will be his bisexual daughter Clarissa, his son Paul, now a greeting card designer, and Paul's girlfriend.
Frank's second wife, Sally, has left him and reunited with her ex-husband, who went AWOL and was presumed dead. Meanwhile, Frank has started his own real estate company and is fighting a tough battle with prostate cancer.
From 2008 to 2011, Richard Ford served as Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, where he taught the Masters Programme in creative writing.
In the fall of 2011, he returned to the United States, where he became the new senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi. His most recent book, Let Me Be Frank With You, a collection of four novellas featuring Frank Bascombe, was published in 2014.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is the only thing I've ever done with persistence, except for being married." - Richard Ford
Today's video features Richard Ford discussing his most recent book, Let Me Be Frank With You, live at the Politics and Prose bookstore and coffeehouse. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 15, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On February 15th, 1986, the original typewritten manuscript of Tropic of Cancer, the classic debut novel of the legendary American writer Henry Miller, was sold at auction for $165,000 - then a record price for a 20th century manuscript and the equivalent of about $361,000 in today's money.
At the time Henry Miller wrote Tropic of Cancer - the novel was first published in 1934 - he had been living in Paris, having tired of his American homeland. He had first visited Paris in 1928, along with his wife, June. By 1931, he had emigrated and found work as a proofreader for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
Miller's first novel, Clipped Wings, was never published. His second, Moloch: or, This Gentile World, would be published posthumously, though he had abandoned it, calling it "utterly false." He was searching for a new literary direction.
His third attempt at writing a novel, Crazy Cock, though different from the first two, was going nowhere. Written in a conventional format, albeit with some graphic sexual content, Miller knew it would never sell. (It too would be published posthumously.)
Miller knew his writing was missing something, but what? Taking advantage of the highly charged creative atmosphere of Paris, he joined in the writing community and struck up friendships with fellow authors.
When he met legendary French writer Anaïs Nin, she immediately recognized his talent. She became his close friend and lover, and let him read her now famous diaries. Her prose was a revelation to him. He needed that kind of passion and poetry in his writing.
Excited, Miller abandoned Crazy Cock and set about writing a new novel. The muse seized him by the throat and wouldn't let go; as his fingers flew about the keys of his typewriter, he chain-smoked and listened to the jazz or Beethoven that blared from his Victrola.
He would write as many as 20, 30, or even 45 pages a day. When he completed the manuscript, he and Anaïs Nin both knew he had written something special - a novel that would revolutionize literature as the world knew it and probably land its author in jail for obscenity.
Miller was determined to get his new novel, Tropic of Cancer, published. One editor said of him, "Miller is so alive nothing else can exist. It is like being close to the sun."
The novel was brilliant, but the graphic sexual content, which Miller refused to censor, made it unpublishable. Finally, in 1934, Obelisk Press, an English language publishing house in Paris, published Tropic of Cancer unexpurgated.
Miller's fellow Americans would have to wait over 30 years for the novel to be legally published in the United States - it was banned as obscene until the Supreme Court overturned the ruling in 1964, in the case of Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein.
Grove would also win the legal right to publish the original, uncensored versions of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, William Burroughs' classic novel, Naked Lunch, and Howl and Other Poems, the classic poetry collection by Allen Ginsberg.
Tropic of Cancer was a novel in the form of a memoir. Combining fiction with autobiography, the novel featured a narrative that alternated between conventional and experimental, combining sober accounts with dazzling stream of consciousness reflections.
Funny, sad, joyous, and mad, passionate and poetic, the novel is rightfully recognized as a masterpiece. In the opening pages, Miller described the book this way:
It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.
This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants of God, Man, Destiny, Time, Beauty... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse...
One of Miller's dirty corpses was that of his homeland, America. Predicting the uproar over the novel's graphic sexual content, he said:
America will call me the lowest of the low when they see my Cancer. What a laugh I'll have when they begin to spit and fume. I hope they'll learn something about death and futility, about hope, etc. I won't give them a fucking leg to stand on...
Henry Miller was no pornographer; he didn't write about sex to arouse his readers, he simply and honestly celebrated his sexual life. In his classic novella-length essay, The World of Sex (1940), he explained that the sex in his writings was the product of the libertine philosophy that he believed in and based his life on.
He criticized the American "values" that condemned sex as sinful. Instead of openly and honestly accepting and embracing something as wholesome and beautiful as sex, Americans would rather decry it as obscene, leaving the only outlet for sexual expression to smut peddlers.
Miller followed Tropic of Cancer with many more classic novels, including Black Spring (1936), Tropic of Capricorn (1939), and his famous Rosy Crucifixion trilogy - Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1960). He died in 1980 at the age of 88.
Quote Of The Day
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” - Henry Miller
Today's video features a reading from Henry Miller's classic novel, Tropic of Cancer. Enjoy!