This Day In Writing History
On March 7th, 1957, the famous English novelist Robert Harris was born in Nottingham, England. When he was a young boy, he would visit the printing plant where his father worked and watch books being made. He dreamed of becoming a writer and seeing his name on the books produced at the plant.
Harris studied English literature at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and served as editor of the student newspaper, Varsity. He also served as president of the Union - the college's debating society.
After graduating Cambridge, Robert Harris took a job with the BBC, (British Broadcasting Corporation) where he worked on news and public affairs programs such as Panorama and Insight.
In 1982, Harris published his first book, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Gas and Germ Warfare, a non-fiction work he had co-written with his friend and fellow BBC journalist, Jeremy Paxman.
Harris would publish other non-fiction books, including one on the Falkland Islands conflict and one on the notorious Hitler Diaries, which were allegedly written by the Nazi dictator but later proven to be forgeries.
In 1992, Robert Harris published his first novel. It would bring him international fame and make his name as a writer. Fatherland was a work of alternative historical fiction - a suspense thriller set in the aftermath of alternative historical events, specifically, a Nazi victory in World War II.
It's April, 1964 - nearly twenty years after the Nazis won the war. Though the Soviet Union was destroyed by the Nazis during the war, (except for communist guerrillas that continue to resist) the United States is still involved in a Cold War - with the German Reich.
A historic summit will soon take place between U.S. President Joseph P. Kennedy and Adolf Hitler, set to coincide with the dictator's 75th birthday celebration.
Meanwhile, 41-year-old Xavier March, a homicide detective for the Kripo, (Kriminalpolizei) is called upon to investigate the murder of a high ranking Nazi official. As March delves into his investigation, more Nazi officials turn up murdered.
Just when March believes that he's about to uncover a major scandal, the Gestapo pounces on him. They claim jurisdiction, close the investigation, and order the Kripo to close its case.
March secretly continues his investigation, assisted by Charlotte "Charlie" Maguire, an American reporter sent to cover the Kennedy-Hitler summit. As they plunge deeper into the case, March and Maguire fall in love.
They soon discover the shocking truth about the murders - during the war, all the victims had planned and carried out the extermination of nine million Jews who had supposedly been relocated. The Gestapo is killing off these Nazi officials to cover up their horrific crime.
Desperate to get the evidence to U.S. authorities, March and Maguire hatch a plan to smuggle it out of Germany and into neutral Switzerland. The plan is threatened when March's own 10-year-old son denounces him to the Gestapo...
Fatherland was adapted as a made-for-HBO feature film in 1994, and as a BBC radio miniseries in 1997.
Harris would continue to write great historical suspense thrillers. Enigma (1995) told the story of Tom Jericho, a young English mathematician determined to crack the Nazis' famous Enigma ciphers during World War 2.
Archangel (1999) was about a historian attending a conference in Moscow who is approached by a mysterious old man who claims to have been present at Joseph Stalin's death. He leads the historian to a shocking conspiracy.
Stalin secretly fathered a son before he died. The boy was groomed to be a carbon copy of his dad. Now he's all grown up and ready to rule Russia as his father did before him.
After tackling Ancient Rome in Pompeii (2003), Harris switched gears and wrote The Ghost (2007). This novel was a thinly veiled attack on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Harris, a liberal, had been an enthusiastic Blair supporter, but came to loathe the Prime Minister after the debacle of the Iraq War. The main character of The Ghost is the novel's narrator - an unnamed man who has been hired to ghostwrite the memoirs of the recently resigned Prime Minister, Adam Lang.
Lang's previous ghostwriter accidentally drowned, though as the novel progresses, the narrator begins to suspect that the drowning may have been a homicide. Meanwhile, his subject, Adam Lang, finds himself accused of war crimes after a classified memo is leaked.
As the narrator struggles to complete Lang's memoirs, he uncovers damaging evidence about Lang that he feels should be exposed. But as he digs deeper, he realizes that he's placing his personal, political, and physical life in great danger.
The Ghost would be adapted as a feature film called The Ghost Writer by celebrated director Roman Polanski - a friend of Robert Harris. The film features a screenplay co-written by Polanski and Harris.
In 2011, Harris wrote The Fear Index (2011), a novel set around the 2010 Flash Crash, where the Dow Jones fell just over 1,000 points - nearly 600 points in five minutes - then regained most of its losses twenty minutes later. It was caused by a perfect storm of high frequency trading, technical glitches, and other factors.
Robert Harris' most recent novel is An Officer and a Spy. Published in September of 2013, it's based on the true story of Georges Picquart, the French soldier who exposed the Dreyfus Affair, one of the most notorious political scandals of modern times.
In 1895, Alfred Dreyfus, an honorable Jewish officer in the French Army, was framed for treason and sent to prison by the military and the French government, which at the time were both conservative, devoutly Catholic, and fiercely anti-Semitic.
Dreyfus was framed for two reasons: to protect the identity of another soldier who was posing as a spy to trick the Germans, and to allow the French Army to rid itself of one more Jewish soldier.
Quote Of The Day
“Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.” - Robert Harris
Today's video features Robert Harris discussing his latest novel, An Officer and a Spy. Enjoy!
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On March 6th, 1927, the legendary Columbian writer Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia. He was born Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez. His parents left him in the care of his maternal grandparents and moved to another town to seek their fortune.
Gabriel adored his grandparents. His grandfather, Colonel Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía, was a hero of the Thousand Days War, Columbia's civil war of 1899-1902, where the Liberal Party revolted against the country's thoroughly corrupt Conservative leadership.
"My grandfather the Colonel was a Liberal," Márquez said. "My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government."
Gabriel's grandmother, Doña Tranquilina, was a storyteller, and she would regale him with tales of ghosts, premonitions, omens, curses, magic, and such. She was "the source of the magical, superstitious and supernatural view of reality."
It was she who inspired his literary style of magical realism, in which magical elements and events are injected into ordinary, realistic situations.
While studying law at the University of Cartagena, Gabriel García Márquez switched gears and began a career in journalism, during which he would serve as a reporter, columnist, and editorial writer. In 1955, Márquez was working as a writer for the newspaper El Espectador when he uncovered a major scandal.
A Columbian Navy vessel had been shipwrecked in a storm in the Caribbean. The entire crew was washed overboard by heavy waves. After four days, the search was called off and all the men were declared dead.
However, several days later, the sole survivor of the shipwreck, Seaman Luis Alejandro Velasco Rodríguez, was found off the coast of Columbia. He had been drifting on the sea in a raft for ten days - without food. Rodríguez was given a hero's welcome, military honors, and tons of publicity.
When Gabriel García Márquez interviewed Seaman Rodríguez, a much different story came out than the one trumpeted by Columbia's conservative government and the media outlets that served it.
The Columbian Navy vessel had been shipwrecked not by a storm, but by its poorly secured secret cargo - illegal contraband goods - which had broken loose on the deck.
Márquez published a series of 14 news articles on the shipwreck story. These articles would be published in book form as a non-fiction work called The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.
The result was a huge public outcry over the fact that the government had lied about the shipwreck. Feeling the heat, Márquez's employers exiled him to Europe to serve as a foreign correspondent.
Around the same time he wrote The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Gabriel García Márquez had published his first novella, Leaf Storm, a work of experimental fiction that takes place in one room during a period of thirty minutes.
The story tells of an aging Colonel - modeled after the author's grandfather - who tries to give a proper Christian burial to a hated French doctor.
Márquez would go on write more great novels, including One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). Steeped deep in magical realism and Latin American history, his novels also featured experimental narrative structures and non-linear plots. In 1982, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Márquez was considered highly controversial. Although he had become the most famous and celebrated writer in Latin America, he was denounced by right wing critics around the world, especially in the United States.
Márquez was a vocal opponent of U.S. imperialism and the suffering it caused in Latin America. This earned him the friendship of many Latin leaders, including Fidel Castro. For years, Márquez was deemed a subversive and denied entrance visas by the U.S. Department of Immigration.
However, when Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, he overturned the ban and allowed Márquez to visit America. Clinton boldly declared that the author's classic work One Hundred Years of Solitude was his favorite novel.
In 1999, Márquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He received chemotherapy at a hospital in Los Angeles. It proved to be successful, as Márquez went into remission and remains cancer free. His most recent work, a novella called Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was published in 2004.
Five years later, in 2009, Márquez's literary agent, Carmen Balcells, told a Chilean newspaper that the then 82-year-old author was unlikely to write another novel. However, the following year, an editor at Random House revealed that Gabriel García Márquez was about to complete a new novel called We'll Meet in August.
The novel has since been completed and is awaiting publication. In addition to his other novels and novellas, Márquez has also written short story collections, works of non-fiction, and movie screenplays.
Quote Of The Day
"Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood." - Gabriel García Márquez
Today's video features a clip from a documentary on Gabriel García Márquez. Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On March 5th, 1954, Under Milk Wood, the classic play by the legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, was published in London, England - four months after the author's untimely death. The "play for voices" was originally written for BBC radio.
Under Milk Wood features an omniscient narrator who invites the audience to listen to the dreams and thoughts of the people who live in the small, seaside Welsh village of Llareggub.
The Welsh-sounding name Llareggub is actually a crude English phrase - bugger all - spelled backwards. It's a classic example of Thomas' love for humorous wordplay.
Who lives in Llareggub? The twice married Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard's husbands are both dead - so she nags their ghosts. The blind Captain Cat dreams of his seafaring adventures and his long dead love, Rosie Probert.
Dai Bread, the village baker, who has two wives, (one for the day and one for the night) dreams of harems. Polly Garter pines for her dead lover and dreams of babies. Meanwhile, Nogood Boyo can't be bothered to dream at all, and Organ Morgan is obsessed with his music.
Those are just some of the over five dozen characters in the play, as Thomas paints funny, affectionate, sensitive, and sometimes disturbing portraits of people he had grown up with in the seaside Welsh village of his childhood.
Under Milk Wood had already been commissioned and paid for in advance by the BBC. Thomas turned over his handwritten manuscript to a professional typist. After the typed copy was returned to him, he lost it.
He phoned his BBC producer to report the loss and told the man that if he could find the missing manuscript, he could keep it. The producer did find it - in a Soho pub - resulting in legal wrangling over the rightful ownership after Thomas died.
Not long after he lost and regained his manuscript for Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas embarked on his final American tour, where he participated in the first reading of his play on May 14th, 1953, at the Poetry Center in New York City. His health had already begun to deteriorate.
Several months later, he would die at the age of 39. At first, Thomas was thought to have died of a cerebral hemorrhage, but then there were reports that he had been the victim of a violent mugging.
Thomas had been an alcoholic notorious for his drinking binges, so some said that he drank himself to death. Others claimed that he died of drug addiction, or succumbed to diabetes complications.
Actually, Thomas died from a severe case of pneumonia, which resulted in swelling of the brain due to lack of oxygen. He had been plagued with breathing problems for some time and used an inhaler. His autopsy showed that his liver was in surprisingly good condition, but there were signs of alcohol poisoning.
In his book Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?, author David N. Thomas (no relation) claimed that Dylan Thomas really died from medical malpractice at the hands of his personal physician, Dr. Feltenstein.
Feltenstein had misdiagnosed Thomas' severe pneumonia as delirium tremens and given him morphine. Then, to cover his tracks, he pressured other doctors to conclude that Thomas died from complications of alcoholism.
Quote Of The Day
"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." - Dylan Thomas
Today's video features a reading from Dylan Thomas' classic play Under Milk Wood - performed by Sir Richard Burton. Enjoy!
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On March 4th, 1952, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway completed the manuscript for his classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea. The novella would first be published in Life magazine that same year.
Written while Hemingway was living in Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea was his favorite work, and with good reason. His previous novel, Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics.
They said that Hemingway was washed up as a writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man and the Sea proved them wrong. It was the comeback novel of the decade, a success he desperately needed.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream, who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise by critics, who compared his novella with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man and the Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. I first read it when I was thirteen and in the eighth grade. My English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing book. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
The Old Man and the Sea was first adapted as a feature film in 1958, starring Spencer Tracy as Santiago. Although Tracy was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, the film was a disappointment to Ernest Hemingway, who believed that Tracy was miscast - he looked like a rich old white actor, not a poor, aging Cuban fisherman.
A 1990 TV movie adaptation, starring Anthony Quinn as Santiago, proved to be even worse, with Quinn's solid performance undermined by a bad script and a low budget.
The Old Man and the Sea would prove to be Ernest Hemingway's last great work of literature. Nine years after it was published, in July of 1961, Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle after suffering from health problems and mental illness.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Catholic Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that haemochromatosis, which ran in Hemingway's father's family, may have been the cause.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood, resulting in damage to the pancreas and instability in the cerebrum - which can lead to depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a lecture by writer Paul Hendrickson on Ernest Hemingway's passions for fishing and boating, which led him to write The Old Man and The Sea.. Enjoy!
Monday, March 3, 2014
As a result of my promo, Mike Kaas, Mining History Association member contacted me to ask if the books included mining history. It does.
The Sanders County Ledger published a review of Behind These Mountains written by IWW member, Sue Ellis.
Friday, February 28, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On February 28th, 1749, the publication of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, (later shortened to Tom Jones) the classic epic novel by the famous English novelist and playwright Henry Fielding, was announced in the famous London newspaper, The General Advertiser.
This is how the announcement appeared:
THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES,
-- Mores hominum multorum vidit --
By HENRY FIELDING, Esq;
It being impossible to get Sets bound fast enough to answer Demand for them, such Gentlemen and Ladies as please, may have them sew'd in Blue Paper and Boards, at the Price of 16s. a Set, of A. Millar over against Catharine-street in the Strand.
At the time, it was customary for a novel to be published in a serialized format before it appeared in book form. Due to the controversial nature of this particular novel, it was published in book form before the serialized publication was completed.
Although it would be a hot property and sell a lot of copies, most scholars believe that the heavy demand mentioned in the newspaper ad was in fact an exaggeration designed to create a demand for Tom Jones.
The novel, a bawdy romantic comedy / adventure, told the story of its title character. It opens with Squire Allworthy, a wealthy landowner, returning to his country estate in Somerset after an extended business engagement in London.
Allworthy is shocked to find an abandoned baby boy sleeping in his bed. A young woman named Jenny Jones - servant girl to the local schoolmaster and his wife - later confesses to being the baby's mother, but refuses to name the father.
The kindhearted Squire Allworthy decides to take in the baby, called Tom Jones, as his ward. Sophia Western, the neighbor's daughter, becomes Tom's childhood sweetheart.
Unfortunately, her father and Squire Allworthy have no intention of allowing Sophia and Tom to marry when they grow up. That's because Tom is illegitimate, and thus beneath a girl of Sophia's class.
Tom Jones grows up to have both a healthy appetite for women and a good heart like Squire Allworthy. The novel's liberal attitudes toward sexual promiscuity and prostitution made it quite controversial in its day.
Moralists denounced the novel as immoral, decrying its depiction of a hero who proves himself to be both noble and promiscuous. In reality, Tom's sexual exploits are played mostly for laughs, as the author's sense of humor played a huge part in his fiction.
The most controversial (and funniest) part of the novel finds Tom witnessing a half-naked woman being beaten by a man. Tom rescues her and brings her to an inn.
The woman, Mrs. Waters, is the wife of an army captain. She thanks her handsome young hero by making love to him. Later, Squire Allworthy reveals to Tom the horrible truth about Mrs. Waters - her maiden name is Jones. Jenny Jones. Tom just slept with his long-lost mother!
Meanwhile, Tom's childhood sweetheart and first great love, Sophia Western, whom he has tried to keep in touch with, goes through her own trials and tribulations, including the prospect of marriage to a man she detests - Lord Fellamar, a vile young nobleman who lusts for her.
Fellamar hatches a plan to trick Sophia into thinking that Tom Jones has been killed so that she'll agree to marry him. Rather than wait until their wedding night, Fellamar attempts to rape Sophia. Thankfully, her father arrives on the scene before he can.
True love triumphs in the end, as Tom and Sophia are reunited and another shocking secret is revealed: Jenny Jones was not Tom's mother. His real mother was Squire Allworthy's sister, Bridget.
Bridget had been seduced by a young man named Summer - the son of Allworthy's clergyman friend. Now a respectable gentleman, Tom declares his love for Sophia and she agrees to marry him, with the blessings of her father and Squire Allworthy.
Tom Jones would be adapted several times for the screen, stage, and television. The most famous adaptations were the 1963 British feature film starring Albert Finney in the title role, and the opera by French composer François-André Danican Philidor.
Quote Of The Day
"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea." - Henry Fielding
Today's video features a video presentation on the life and literary career of Henry Fielding. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 27, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On February 27th, 1807, the legendary American poet and novelist Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine. A child prodigy, he began his schooling at the age of three. At six, he was studying Latin and reading Miguel Cervantes' classic epic novel, Don Quixote.
Longfellow was thirteen when his first published poem, The Battle of Lovell's Pond, appeared in the Portland Gazette. Two years later, he enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. There, he met legendary writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became his lifelong friend.
After graduating in 1825 at the age of eighteen, he was offered a job as professor of modern languages at Bowdoin, on the condition that he travel to Europe to learn more languages. So, he embarked on a three-year European tour, where he became fluent in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese.
While in Madrid, Longfellow met legendary American writer Washington Irving, who encouraged him to become a professional writer. Longfellow based his second book, a travelogue called Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (1835), on his European tour.
Back in America, when he wasn't teaching at Bowdoin, he translated French, Spanish, and German textbooks. His first book, published in 1833, was a translation of the works of medieval Spanish poet Jorge Manrique.
In 1831, Longfellow married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Storer Potter. She died three years later from illness following the miscarriage of their only child. Her husband was devastated. At the time, he had been teaching languages at Harvard and had become fluent in Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic.
After losing his wife, Longfellow threw himself into his work, mostly to escape his grief. He worked on more translations and began publishing the poetry collections that would make him famous, such as Voices in the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841).
To escape his loneliness, Longfellow socialized with fellow writers and scholars. In 1839, five years after he'd lost his wife, he found himself falling love again, with Frances "Fanny" Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. She wasn't interested in him.
Nevertheless, Longfellow determined to win her heart, writing to a friend, "Victory hangs doubtful. The lady says she will not! I say she shall! It is not pride, but the madness of passion." After a tumultuous seven year courtship, Fanny's dogged admirer won her heart.
It almost didn't happen when Longfellow published Hyperion, a Romance (1839), a novel inspired by their early courtship. The protagonist, Paul Flemming, a grief stricken American wandering through Germany, meets an Englishwoman named Mary Ashburton and determines to win her heart.
When Fanny learned that she was the inspiration for the character of Mary Ashburton, she was neither flattered nor amused. Longfellow wouldn't give up. When in a letter she finally agreed to marry him, he walked 90 minutes to her home rather than wait for a carriage.
The couple would remain together for eighteen years and have six children before tragedy struck again. In July of 1861, Fanny was trying to seal an envelope with hot wax when her dress caught fire. Her screams woke Longfellow from his nap, and he tried to save her.
Severely burned, Fanny was tended by a doctor who administered ether to her throughout the day and night. She died the next morning. Longfellow had been burned as well, but he would recover physically, growing a beard to hide his facial scars. Emotionally, he was destroyed.
Longfellow had used laudanum (a tincture of opium) to ease the pain of his burns; now physically healed, he used the drug to ease the pain of his depression. He feared that he might go insane and begged his family not to send him to an asylum. He determined to write again.
By now, Longfellow had become the most famous poet in America, and one of the richest writers as well. He continued to write poetry collections and novels. In 1867, he published his greatest work as a scholar - a translation of Dante Alighieri's classic poem, The Divine Comedy.
Longfellow also devoted his later years to social causes. A prominent abolitionist, he protested slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War. He opposed a prewar compromise to allow slavery to preserve the union, but hoped that the Northern and Southern states could reconcile after the war ended.
As a poet, Longfellow was known as a master of lyric poetry. A versatile poet, he experimented with both traditional and free verse, using anapestic and trochaic forms, heroic couplets, ballads, sonnets, and blank verse - unrhymed iambic pentameter.
His greatest poems include Paul Revere's Ride, The Village Blacksmith, The Wreck of the Hesperus, and his classic epic poems, Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, which was based on Ojibwe tribal legends.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died of peritonitis in 1882 at the age of 75.
Quote Of The Day
"The tragic element in poetry is like Saturn in alchemy — the Malevolent, the Destroyer of Nature; but without it no true Aurum Potabile, or Elixir of Life, can be made." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Today's video features a complete reading of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Enjoy!