This Day In Literary History
On July 21st, 1899, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago. His father, Clarence Edmonds "Doc Ed" Hemingway, was a country doctor. His mother Grace was an aspiring opera singer.
Grace, who earned money giving voice and music lessons, was a domineering and fiercely religious woman who shared the beliefs of the strict, fundamentalist Protestant population of Oak Park, which Ernest Hemingway described as having "wide lawns and narrow minds."
As a boy, Hemingway adopted his father's hobbies of hunting, fishing, and camping in the woods and lakes of Northern Michigan, where his family owned a summer home. They often vacationed there, and the young Hemingway's experiences instilled in him a passion for both outdoor adventure and living in remote areas.
In high school, Hemingway excelled in both sports (he boxed and played football) and academics, displaying exceptional talent in his English classes. His first literary experience was writing for both the school newspaper and yearbook.
In his senior year, he became the editor of the newspaper. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Ring Lardner, Jr. as a tribute to his literary hero, Ring Lardner.
After graduating high school, Hemingway decided not to go to college. Instead, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Six months later, against his father's wishes, he left the job and joined the Army to fight in World War I.
He failed his physical due to vision problems, so he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead. On his way to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, which was being bombarded by German artillery. He tried to get as close to the combat zone as possible.
When he arrived in Italy, Hemingway witnessed first hand the horrors of war. After an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, he had to pick up the human remains. He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead.
It left him badly shaken. In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly wounded while delivering supplies to soldiers. Shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell lodged in his legs, and machine gun fire badly injured his knee.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowski, an American nurse six years his senior. They planned to return to America together, but when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer.
This painful betrayal left a mark on his psyche, and was reflected in his classic novel A Farewell To Arms (1929). After the war, he returned briefly to Oak Park before leaving for Toronto, Ontario.
There, he lived in an apartment on Bathurst Street, now known as The Hemingway. He resumed his journalism career, landing a job as a reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper. He met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
She hated their cramped apartment, so they moved to Paris, where Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish War for the Toronto Star. In this obscure yet important war, he witnessed the horrific burning of Smyrna, which he mentioned in a few of his short stories.
While living in Paris, he met Gertrude Stein, who became his mentor and introduced him to the American expatriate community of writers and artists who lived around the Montparnasse Quarter. This community came to be known as the Lost Generation, a term Stein coined from a comment made by her mechanic.
In 1923, after enjoying great success as a foreign correspondent, Hemingway returned to Toronto, where he began writing fiction under the pseudonym Peter Jackson. His first child was born - a son named John but known as Jack. Hemingway asked Gertrude Stein to be his son's godmother.
Around this time, Hemingway had a falling out with his editor, who believed he had been spoiled by his overseas assignments. He deliberately gave Hemingway mundane assignments.
A bitter Hemingway angrily resigned from the Toronto Star in December of 1923. His resignation must have been either ignored or rescinded, as Hemingway continued to write for the newspaper - albeit sporadically.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway's first book was published. It was a short story collection called In Our Time. It featured four Nick Adams stories.
The book's title, which came from the English Book of Common Prayer, was suggested to Hemingway by Ezra Pound. The 1930 reprint of the book included the piece On The Quai At Smyrna as an introduction.
It was based on Hemingway's experiences covering the Greco-Turkish War. The same year his book was published, Hemingway met writer F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar in Paris. Just two weeks before, Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published.
Hemingway and Fiztgerald became close friends. They spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and exchanging manuscripts. Impressed with Hemingway's writing talent, Fitzgerald did a lot to advance his career.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's wife Zelda took an immediate dislike to Hemingway. The feeling was mutual. Zelda and her husband were having marital problems at the time, and she blamed the decline of their sex life on Hemingway, whom she called a "fairy."
She accused him of having a homosexual affair with Fitzgerald, but there's no evidence that the two men had an affair or that they were gay or bisexual. Zelda was both a heavy drinker and a schizophrenic, and would later be institutionalized.
To get back at her for attacking his masculinity, Fitzgerald slept with a female prostitute and flaunted the affair. The conflict between Hemingway and Zelda ended his friendship with Fitzgerald and created lifelong animosity between the two writers.
Hemingway and his wife Hadley divorced in 1927. He later married Pauline Pfeiffer, a devout Catholic from Arkansas who was an occasional fashion reporter, writing for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Hemingway converted to Catholicism and continued to write.
Tragedy struck the following year when his father, in poor health and with financial troubles, committed suicide by shooting himself with an old Civil War pistol. Hemingway returned to Oak Park to arrange the funeral.
He angered the Protestant community by voicing the Catholic view that all suicides go to Hell. Not long afterward, Harry Crosby - an old friend of Hemingway's from his Paris days and the founder of Black Sun Press - also committed suicide.
A year later in 1929, Hemingway published his classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. It was an autobiographical novel based on Hemingway's experiences in World War I. In it, Frederic Henry, an American soldier, is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital.
There, he meets a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and falls in love with her. By the time he has recovered, she is three months pregnant. They are separated by the war, then reunited later.
They flee to Switzerland by rowboat where, after a long and painful labor, Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then bleeds to death. The novel would later be adapted for the stage and screen.
Ernest Hemingway wrote ten novels, most of them all-time classics. He also wrote ten short story collections, several non-fiction books, and two plays. His famous 1952 novella The Old Man And The Sea -written while Hemingway was living in Cuba - was his favorite, and with good reason.
His previous novel, Across The River And Into The Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics. They said that Hemingway was washed up as writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man And The Sea proved his brilliance.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise from the critics, who compared his novella with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man And The Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, my eighth grade English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing novella. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
In July of 1961, just three weeks before his 62nd birthday, after suffering from health problems and mental illness, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that the disease haemochromatosis ran in Hemingway's father's family.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood - which not only results in damage to the pancreas, but also causes instability in the cerebrum, resulting in depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar, and all great writers have had it." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a full length documentary on Ernest Hemingway called Ernest Hemingway: Wrestling With Life. Enjoy!
Friday, July 21, 2017
Thursday, July 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On July 20th, 1304, the legendary Italian poet, philosopher, and scholar Petrarch was born. He was born Francesco Petrarca in Arezzo, Italy. Petrarch's father was in the legal profession, so he demanded that his sons study law as well.
Petrarch spent seven years in law school, but he considered it a waste of time - his main interests were writing and Latin literature and he hated the practice of law, which he considered to be the art of selling justice.
After the death of their parents, Petrarch and his brother Gherardo went back to Avignon, where they spent most of their early years. To support himself, Petrarch worked in clerical offices. This gave him time to write.
He became friends with the legendary writer Boccaccio and corresponded with him frequently. Petrarch also completed his first major work, Africa - an epic poem written in Latin that told the story of the great Roman general, Scipio Africanus.
Petrarch's epic poem made him a celebrity throughout Europe. He became a priest and continued his work as a scholar and writer. He wrote mostly in Latin, but his most famous collection of poems, Il Canzoniere, (The Songbook) was written in Italian.
This work contained over 300 sonnets, a form his name would always be associated with. Though he is sometimes mistakenly credited as being the inventor of the sonnet, he was not. He did, however, invent the particular rhyme scheme for the form that came to be known as the Petrarchan sonnet.
The sonnets in Petrarch's book were inspired by a mysterious young woman known only as Laura. When Petrarch was 24 years old, after he had left the priesthood, he first saw Laura in church on Good Friday.
It was love at first sight for Petrarch, but alas, Laura was a married noblewoman who could not return his affection. Although an aristocrat, Laura was also a sweet-natured and humble girl, which endeared her to Petrarch.
Unable to realize his love for Laura, Petrarch wrote over 300 sonnets secretly professing his unrequited love for her. They are among the greatest love poems ever written. Not much is known to history about Laura.
Some scholars believe that she may have been Laura de Noves, wife of Count Hugues de Sade - an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade. When she died in 1348, Petrarch was wracked with grief.
The legendary composer Franz Liszt would set three of Petrarch's sonnets to music for voice in his work Tre Sonnetti Di Petrarca, and later transcribe them for solo piano in his suite Annees De Pelerinage.
In 1341, Petrarch was crowned the first poet laureate of Rome since antiquity. He traveled all over Europe as an ambassador. During his travels, he collected old, crumbling Latin manuscripts and became a leader in the movement to recover and restore the manuscripts of ancient Roman and Greek writers.
He advised Leontius Pilatus in his translation of a Homer manuscript acquired from Boccaccio, but was greatly displeased with the result. In 1345, Petrarch himself discovered a previously unknown collection of Cicero's letters, the Ad Atticum.
During the Italian Renaissance, Petrarch became a respected and influential philosopher. He is credited with founding the Humanist movement and describing the ignorant times that preceded the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages." But he will always be known as one of the greatest writers and poets of all time.
Throughout his remarkable life, he wrote poetry collections, essays, numerous scholarly works, and a large volume of correspondence. He brought the sonnet to prominence long before the birth of Shakespeare, and his love poems were magnificent. One of his most beloved sonnets is Sonnet #140:
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
Petrarch died in July of 1374, just before his 70th birthday.
Quote Of The Day
"There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound, us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away- sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety." - Petrarch
Today's video features a documentary on Petrarch and his contribution to the sonnet. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On July 19th, 1898, the legendary French writer Emile Zola was forced to flee France to escape imprisonment after being convicted of libel.
Zola's conviction resulted from the publication of his most famous nonfiction work, J'Accuse, an open letter to France's president, Felix Faure. The letter would expose one of history's most famous and shameful political scandals - the Dreyfus Affair.
Emile Zola was born in Paris in 1840. He rose from humble working class roots to become one of France's greatest writers. Though he became wealthy, he never forgot his roots. A lifelong socialist, he was also a leading figure in the intellectual movement of his time.
As a young man, before he made his name as a writer, he openly denounced Napoleon III, the nephew of ex-emperor Napoleon I. In 1848, three years after he was elected President of the French Second Republic, Napoleon III staged a coup and overthrew the republic, establishing himself as the new emperor.
After Napoleon III was deposed in 1870 following France's disastrous defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the French Third Republic was established. It would remain in power for 70 years, until the Nazis invaded in 1940.
In its early days, the French Third Republic was a right wing fascist republic, heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and the French Army. It gave new meaning to Oscar Wilde's definition of patriotism as a virtue of the vicious.
Of course, not everyone in France agreed with their government. A great split was brewing. Intellectuals such as Emile Zola were concerned by not only the political atmosphere, but also by the plague of anti-Semitism that was spreading like wildfire throughout the country.
The plague was being spread by the Church, the army, and the right wing press. It was this climate of right wing nationalism and anti-Semitism that led to the Dreyfus Affair.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an artillery officer in the French Army who had been accused of turning military secrets over to a contact at the German Embassy. Although there was no evidence to prove his guilt, he was nonetheless convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island, the notorious prison in French Guiana.
Some people believed that Dreyfus had been railroaded because he was Jewish. Later, one Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart discovered evidence proving that another officer, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, had committed the crime for which Dreyfus had been convicted and imprisoned.
Rather than release Dreyfus, Picquart's superior, Hubert-Joseph Henry, forged documents to make it look like Dreyfus was guilty. Then he reassigned Picquart to a remote post in Africa.
Before he left for his new post, Picquart told Dreyfus' supporters what he knew about the case. For this, he would be court-martialed and sentenced to 60 days in jail. The right wing government refused to allow new evidence to be introduced.
Emile Zola could stand it no more. He wrote an open letter to President Felix Faure, which would be published in the January 13th, 1898 issue of L'Aurore, then France's most prominent and respected liberal newspaper.
J'Accuse (I Accuse) described the plot to frame Alfred Dreyfus for espionage, accusing by name the Army officers responsible. This cabal of officers was led by one Lt. Colonel Du Paty de Clam.
All of the conspirators were devout Catholics and ferocious anti-Semites. They framed Dreyfus for two reasons: to protect the real culprit and to rid the French Army of one more "dirty Jew."
Why would soldiers protect a comrade whom they knew had committed treason? Because they also knew that he was a double agent. Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy had been working for the French Secret Service, pretending to spy for Germany.
The "secrets" he was passing to the Germans were actually carefully crafted pieces of disinformation. To prevent Esterhazy's cover from being blown, the conspiring officers were more than happy to sacrifice the life of an innocent Jew. They got away with it in the name of national security.
Since Emile Zola was one of the most prominent intellectuals in France, the publication of J'Accuse resulted in a huge uproar - an outrage that sharply divided the French people and shocked other countries.
The Catholic Church backed the government and the Army. La Croix, France's most prominent Catholic newspaper, ran daily anti-Semitic editorials and blasted Zola.
As Zola expected, he was stripped of the Legion of Honor and quickly arrested. Charged with libel, he was convicted just over two weeks later and sentenced to a year in jail. He fled to England, where he stayed for over ten years.
Zola returned to France in June of 1899, just in time to see the right wing government fall. The new liberal government added to the republic's constitution a separation of Church and state.
The case of Alfred Dreyfus was taken up again. The government would not exonerate him, because that would have involved introducing classified Secret Service documents into the public record. So, they offered him a pardon instead, which he accepted.
But the truth was on the march, as Zola once said, and in 1906, the French Supreme Court finally exonerated Alfred Dreyfus. He was readmitted to the Army and given a promotion.
He would later serve in World War 1 and retire from the military with the rank of Lt. Colonel and the Legion of Honor award.
Emile Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902 at the age of 62. Many years later, a Parisian roofer confessed on his deathbed to killing Zola by closing his chimney. He claimed it was a political assassination.
The complete text of Zola's classic letter, J'Accuse, translated into English, can be found here.
In 1998, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of J'Accuse, the still prominent Catholic newspaper La Croix finally issued a public apology for its long history of anti-Semitism and the role it played in the Dreyfus Affair.
Quote Of The Day
"I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul." - Emile Zola
Today's video features a documentary on the Dreyfus Affair, the notorious political scandal exposed by Emile Zola in his classic nonfiction work, J'Accuse. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On July 18th, 1937, the legendary American writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky. The eldest of three sons, Thompson's father was an insurance adjuster, his mother a librarian.
When Hunter was fourteen, his father died of a degenerative disease called myasthenia gravis. His mother was left to raise her sons alone, a burden that would drive her to drink heavily.
From a young age, Hunter displayed a natural talent for athletics. While he attended middle school, he joined an athletic club that served to prepare boys his age to play sports on high school teams.
Although he excelled at baseball, Hunter didn't play any sports in high school, as he was considered a troublemaker and not a team player. So, he joined the school's literary club instead.
There, he became enamored with classic, controversial novels such as J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man (1955) and Jack Kerouac's On The Road (1957), attracted to their subversive nature.
When he was seventeen, Thompson happened to be riding in a car with a robber when the police pulled them over. Although he had no connection to the crime, Thompson was arrested and charged with being an accessory. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, but only served half that time.
While Hunter was in jail, the school superintendent refused to allow him to take his final exams, so he never graduated. After his release, he joined the Air Force.
Stationed at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida, Hunter took night classes at Florida State University. He also landed his first professional writing job for the local Command Courier newspaper. He got the job by lying about his work experience.
Nevertheless, Hunter excelled as a sports writer and editor, covering the local football team, the Elgin Eagles, whom future pro football stars Bart Starr, Max McGee, and Zeke Bratkowski would play for.
After being honorably discharged by the Air Force, Hunter continued his journalism career, which took him East to New York City. There, while working as a copy boy for Time magazine, he typed out copies of novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as a means of studying fiction.
Fired by Time for insubordination, Hunter moved upstate to Middletown, where he worked as a reporter for the Middletown Record. He was fired from that job for telling off a local restaurant owner who was one of the paper's advertisers.
In 1961, Hunter, following in the footsteps of his literary idol Jack Kerouac, hitchhiked across the country. While living in Big Sur, California, he published his first magazine article, a piece on the Beat literary and artistic scene in Big Sur.
At this time, Thompson began writing fiction. He wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, which wouldn't be published until the late 1990s. He also wrote many short stories, but found little success as a fiction writer.
In November of 1963, Hunter first coined his famous phrase "fear and loathing" in a letter to his old friend, legendary novelist William Kennedy, expressing his feelings about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (No relation.)
Two years later, Hunter S. Thompson took an assignment that would make his name as both a maverick journalist and as a writer. The editor of The Nation, a prominent liberal news magazine, asked him to write about the notorious Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.
So, Hunter spent a year riding with the gang, which was the most feared motorcycle club in the country, accused of crimes such as drug trafficking and gunrunning. The Hell's Angels hated reporters, but they came to like Hunter S. Thompson.
The relationship ended at a party held to celebrate the publication of Hunter's book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The Hell's Angels demanded a cut of the royalties, but Hunter refused.
When Thompson learned that one gang member called Junkie George was a wife-beater, he told the biker off in front of the rest of the gang, saying that "Only a punk beats his wife." The gang beat Thompson severely.
His Hell's Angels book received rave reviews. The New York Times said that it was an "angry, knowledgeable, fascinating and excitedly written book," and that its author was a "spirited, witty, observant and original writer; his prose crackles like motorcycle exhaust."
In the late 1960s, Hunter wrote many articles for national magazines. One of them, titled The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies criticized the hippie generation for lacking the political convictions of the New Left and the artistic fire of the Beat generation and for only being interested in drugs and free love.
Possessing strong political convictions, Hunter became an activist for the New Left. He signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest, a pledge to refuse to pay taxes to support the Vietnam War.
One of his heroes was the legendary Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Though he would rarely label his political beliefs, he would retain his strong anti-capitalist convictions throughout his life.
In the 1970s, Hunter developed his trademark style of "gonzo journalism," which began with his article The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. He accepted an assignment from Sports Illustrated to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas, and ended up writing his most famous book in the process.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) was an autobiographical novel based on Hunter's coverage of both the race and a narcotics officers' convention in Sin City. His alter ego, journalist Raoul Duke, covers the convention along with his "300-pound Samoan attorney" Oscar "Dr. Gonzo" Zeta Acosta.
The two men traveled together in a car loaded with an ample supply of drugs of all sorts, and were frequently stoned. A major theme of the novel was the ultimate failure of the late 1960s American counterculture, which would vanish by the mid 1970s.
In 1972, Thompson covered the presidential election in a series of articles for Rolling Stone that would be published in book form as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. He loathed then President Richard Nixon.
He described Nixon as a man who "could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time... an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it."
Thompson later accepted an assignment from Rolling Stone to cover the last days of the Vietnam War. He traveled to Saigon and found the country in chaos. When publisher Jann Wenner canceled the assignment without notice, Thompson found himself trapped in Vietnam without an expense account or health insurance.
In the 1980s, Hunter covered such famous events as the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the scandalous Roxanne Pulitzer divorce. In the 1990s, he wrote two noted fictional pieces. One was based on his interview with Bill Clinton, the other a protest against Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court.
By then, he had become a something of a recluse. His popularity soared again with the release of the acclaimed 1998 feature film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo.
Hunter's long lost novel The Rum Diary was published, along with two collections of letters. In 2003, a new book, Kingdom of Fear, was published, which contained new writings and classic pieces, serving primarily as an angry attack on post 9/11 America.
After suffering from numerous medical problems, including illnesses and a hip replacement, Hunter S. Thompson was left in poor health and chronic, often severe pain. Unable to take it any longer, he committed suicide in February of 2005 at the age of 67.
At the private funeral ceremony attended by nearly 300 people and paid for by Johnny Depp, Thompson's ashes were shot out of a cannon to the tunes of Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky and Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man.
Quote Of The Day
"Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives... and to the good life, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be." - Hunter S. Thompson
Today's video features a 1978 BBC documentary on Hunter S. Thompson. Enjoy!
Monday, July 17, 2017
My review of Pandemic is up at Internet Review of Books.
Theresa A. Cancro
My poem, "Mankind Is the Wild One," has been published in The Weekly Avocet, issue #239.
My flash fiction, “The Right Fit”, is published in Breath and Shadow Magazine today. This is my first published story that I’ve been paid for.
I have a flash in Jellyfish Review, "I Want to Believe the Truth Is Out There" as part of their Intergalactic Planetary Issue.
Friday, July 14, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On July 14th, 1902, the famous Polish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland. His older brother, Israel Joshua Singer, and his older sister, Esther Kreitman, also became writers. Their father was a Hasidic rabbi, and their mother's father and brothers were also rabbis.
When Isaac Bashevis Singer was ten years old, his brother Israel gave him a copy of Dostoevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment, despite the fact that their strict, orthodox father forbade them from reading non-religious books.
Isaac loved the novel. Later, as a teenager in Bilgoraj, he would study Yiddish translations of works by Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, and other authors. He read all sorts of novels, plays, and poetry collections.
Singer later entered a rabbinical seminary, but came to hate the school and the prospect of becoming a rabbi. He returned to his parents for a time, then went back to Bilgoraj and tried to earn some money as a Hebrew tutor.
In 1923, his brother Israel arranged for him to move to Warsaw and become a proofreader for the Literarische Bleter, for whom he would later become an editor. In his twenties, taking a cue from his brother who had done the same, Isaac Bashevis Singer rejected his religion and broke ties with his parents.
He became part of Warsaw's Bohemian scene, spending time with many of his fellow non-religious writers and artists. Singer's first published short story won a literary contest and established him as an up-and-coming talent.
Singer's primary language was Yiddish. He wrote in Yiddish, and Yiddish folktales were a major influence on his writing. His first novel, Satan In Goray, was published in a serialized format in Globus, a literary magazine co-founded in 1935 by Singer and his lifelong friend, Yiddish poet Aaron Zeitlin.
Singer's historical novel was set in 17th century Poland, in the village of Goraj. It was based on the true story of how one third of Poland's Jews were exterminated in a Cossack uprising. It also told of the effect of Shabbatai Zvi, a rabbi turned false prophet and cult leader, on the Jewish population.
A prominent vegetarian, Singer's dietary philosophy would be reflected in his writings. His short story The Slaughterer dealt with the anguish of a man trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job as a slaughterer.
Singer often said that he became a vegetarian for reasons of health - the health of animals. "In relation to [animals]," he wrote in The Letter Writer, "all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."
Although he had rejected his religion as a young man, Isaac Bashevis Singer's writing is often steeped deep in Judaism. His novels and short stories often depicted Jewish characters struggling with their religion. Their struggles sometimes become quite violent, resulting in death or insanity.
Singer's most popular novel, Yentl The Yeshiva Boy, was adapted in 1975 as an equally popular movie (which Singer absolutely hated) starring Barbra Streisand in the lead role. Yentl is a young girl constantly at odds with her rabbi father over the traditions of their religion, always debating theology with him - something females aren't supposed to do.
After her father dies, Yentl cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy named Anshel so she can enter a yeshiva and study the Talmud. Her true identity is discovered by her study partner, Avigdor. In his novel, Singer modeled the character of Yentl after his older sister, Esther.
Though she was an intellectually gifted child, due to the misogynistic beliefs and traditions of her father's orthodox religion, as a young girl, Esther was confined to a life of drudgery, doing menial household chores while her brothers received an education.
Esther had dreamed of becoming a writer, but her status as a woman in a strict Hasidic Jewish family crushed that dream. She was even forced into an arranged marriage, a fate she accepted grudgingly. The marriage ended in divorce. Later in life, she finally did educate herself and make her dream come true, publishing one novel and a collection of short stories.
Her brother, Isaac Bashevis Singer, wrote over 18 novels and numerous short story collections. In 1978, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 1991 at the age of 88, after suffering a series of strokes.
Quote Of The Day
"We must believe in free will - we have no choice." - Isaac Bashevis Singer
Today's video features the complete 1987 PBS TV documentary, Isaac In America: A Journey With Isaac Bashevis Singer. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 13, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On July 13th, 1798, the legendary English poet William Wordsworth wrote his classic poem Tintern Abbey. He had just returned from a visit to Wales, accompanied by his sister Dorothy.
While on a four-day walking tour of the Welsh countryside, they visited Tintern Abbey, a ruined church that was the first Cistercian monastery in Wales, and only the second in the United Kingdom.
Wordsworth composed the poem in his head while on the four-day walking tour, using a singsong method he had developed called "booing and hawing."
That was quite a feat, considering the length and quality of the poem. As soon as he got back home to Bristol, he wrote the poem down. The day after that, he brought it to the printers.
The poem Tintern Abbey first appeared in the book Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems, which Wordsworth co-wrote with his friend, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Published later in 1798, it included Coleridge's classic poem, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. The first edition sold out within two years. The second edition of the book included a preface article on Romantic poetry.
Tintern Abbey, (its full title is Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey) a long blank verse poem that read more like prose, was steeped in the fundamental themes of Romantic poetry
These themes included communion with nature, which has a restorative power. The poem also deals with memory, specifically childhood memory and how it affects us as adults. These themes were hugely important in Wordsworth's work.
William Wordsworth would go on to become the Poet Laureate of England. He died of lung disease in April of 1850 at the age of 80. He is still considered one of the greatest English Romantic poets of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"What is a Poet? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them." - William Wordsworth
Today's video features a complete reading of William Wordsworth's classic poem, Tintern Abbey. Enjoy!