This Day In Writing History
On October 22nd, 1964, the legendary French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for literature, which he declined. He was the first person to ever decline the award.
When Sartre learned that he was in contention to receive a Nobel Prize, he wrote to the Nobel Institute and asked that his name be removed from the list of candidates. The Swedish Academy had already made its decision to give him the prize.
Sartre didn't want to cause a scandal by refusing the Nobel Prize, nor did he want to offend the Swedish Academy, so he prepared a statement explaining that he always turned down "official distinctions."
He turned down such honors because "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in an honorable form."
Sartre believed that if a writer carried the authority of an institution along with his name, it wasn't fair to the reader, saying that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner."
He had previously turned down both the French Legion of Honor - the highest award given by his country's government - and a tenured teaching position at the prestigious College de France.
Jean-Paul Sartre was not only a novelist; he was also a playwright, a screenwriter, and most famously, an existentialist philosopher and founding father of the existentialist movement in 20th century literature.
As a young man studying at the elite École Normale Supérieure from 1924 to 1929, Sartre met legendary writer Simone de Beauvoir, who would become his lifelong companion. They would spend hours in cafes, talking and writing. Sartre's first novel, Nausea, was published in 1938.
A year later, Sartre was drafted into the French Army. During World War II, he was captured and made a prisoner of war for almost a year.
After he was released and France fell to the Nazis, he became a fighter for the French Resistance. During the war years, he published his first major existentialist work, Being and Nothingness. (1943)
Sartre's most famous work was his classic 1945 novel, The Age of Reason, the first in a trilogy of existentialist novels called The Roads to Freedom. The other two novels in the trilogy were The Reprieve (1947) and Troubled Sleep (1949).
In the 1960s, Sartre became a political activist. A communist sympathizer, he sought to reconcile his existentialist philosophy and ideas of free will with communist principles. He went to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, and also met the legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Following Guevara's assassination, Sartre said of him, "[He was] not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age." Back in Paris, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir supported the radical student uprisings.
Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980 at the age of 74.
Quote Of The Day
"Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think." - Jean-Paul Sartre
Today's video features a BBC documentary on Jean-Paul Sartre. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On October 21st, 1977, Bridge To Terabithia, the classic and controversial children's novel by the famous American writer Katherine Paterson, was published. It was inspired by a real life tragedy that affected the author and her son.
Katherine Paterson had already established herself as an acclaimed and popular children's author with her first two books, The Sign Of The Chrysanthemum (1973) and Of Nightingales That Weep (1974), when her eight-year-old son David lost his best and only friend.
Her name was Lisa Hill. She was a bright, vivacious, and imaginative little girl. While at the beach with her family, Lisa was struck by lightning and killed. David Paterson was devastated and traumatized by his sudden loss, and his mother was deeply affected by it as well.
After publishing her third novel, The Master Puppeteer (1975), Katherine Paterson and her son were still struggling to cope with Lisa Hill's death. So, for her next book, she decided to write a story about a close friendship between a young boy and girl cut short by tragedy.
The boy learns the value of friendship, then must use the inner strength his friend gave him as he struggles to cope with his loss. Paterson would later say that writing the book was a therapeutic exercise that helped her and her son make some sense out of a senseless tragedy.
Bridge To Terabithia is set in Lark Creek, a small town in rural Virginia. The novel opens with 10-year-old Jess Aarons, a poor farm boy, going out for a morning run before breakfast.
The introverted, artistically gifted Jess has no friends, but hopes to win his peers' admiration and respect when school starts by becoming the fastest boy in the fifth grade and winning the races held during recess.
When Jess returns from his practice run, we get a look at his bleak home life. The Aarons family is large and poor. His two older sisters, Brenda and Ellie, are cruel to him. His younger sisters, May Belle and Joyce Ann, adore him, but also annoy him, as he must share a bedroom with them.
His mother favors her daughters over her son and always yells at him. Jess' father lavishes affection on his younger daughters but is emotionally distant from his son and shows him no affection. He's often gruff and foul tempered, especially to Jess.
With money so tight that he has to commute over an hour each way to Washington, D.C. to work as a day laborer because farming doesn't pay enough to support the family, Mr. Aarons is rarely in a good mood.
At school, Jess' teacher is a nasty, foul-tempered, obese older woman named Mrs. Myers, nicknamed "Monster Mouth" by her students for obvious reasons. The music teacher, Miss Edmunds, is young and pretty, and the only human being who seems to care about Jess.
She admires his artistic talent and encourages him to keep drawing. She's a non-conformist like Jess - she wears jeans to class and no lipstick. She's also a hippie and plays folk songs on her guitar for the kids. Jess sees Miss Edmunds as a "diamond in the rough," and has a huge crush on her.
Jess's artistic talent is a source of consternation for his ignorant father, who worries that a passion for drawing poses a threat to his only son's masculinity:
He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he had told his dad that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought his dad would be pleased. He wasn't. "What are they teaching in that damn school?" he had asked. "Bunch of old ladies turning my only son into some kind of a..." He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years.
Into Jess' bleak world comes a ray of sunshine in the form of a new girl who moves in next door. Leslie Burke is Jess' age. She's an intelligent, vivacious tomboy from the city whose parents are both writers.
The Burkes are wealthy, but don't own a TV set. They prefer that their daughter call them by their first names (Judy and Bill) instead of Mom and Dad. They're liberal and non-religious, whereas the Aaronses, like most people in Lark Creek, are Christian fundamentalists. But they only attend church once a year, on Easter Sunday, because Mrs. Aarons "got mad at the preacher."
Jess and Leslie don't become friends when they first meet. Leslie joins Mrs. Myers' class and then runs against the boys in the races at recess. Unfortunately, she beats Jess in the heat, eliminating him from the races and crushing his dream of being the fastest kid in the fifth grade.
Nevertheless, when Gary Fulcher, a bully, refuses to let Leslie run in the finals, Jess stands up for her. Fulcher lets her run, and she beats him. She outruns the other boys as well, humiliating them. That's no way to start a friendship, but soon, Jess and Leslie become inseparable.
Deciding that she and Jess need a place of their own, Leslie chooses a forest clearing on the other side of a creek bed near their homes. In order to reach their secret land, they swing across the creek bed on an old rope tied to a tree branch.
Leslie names their magic kingdom Terabithia. There, they rule as king and queen, though Jess, who is in awe of Leslie, feels unworthy of being her king. In Terabithia, Jess and Leslie grow closer as she draws him into her world of imagination.
There, no enemies - not the imaginary giants from Leslie's stories or their real-life foes can defeat them. Leslie builds up Jess's low self-esteem and makes him feel good about himself. Though nervous around them at first, Jess grows close to Leslie's parents as well, as they too introduce him to a world he never knew existed.
Together, there's nothing that Jess and Leslie can't do. When another bully, Janice Avery, steals food from Jess' little sister May Belle, he and Leslie get even by playing a brilliantly conceived and executed practical joke to humiliate Janice in front of the other kids.
Later, when Jess hears Janice crying in the girls' bathroom, he gets Leslie to reach out to her. They learn that she is being abused by her father - brutally beaten - which is why she became a bully.
Though Jess likes Leslie's parents, he's uncomfortable having her over at his house. His sisters tease him about his "girlfriend," his mother hates Leslie's boyish looks and clothes, and his father keeps "fretting that his only son did nothing but play with girls," and is "worried about what would become of it."
When Leslie asks if she can go to church with Jess and his family for Easter services, (she's never been to a church before) his mother grudgingly gives her permission. Leslie shows up for church nicely dressed and is well mannered.
On the way home, Leslie wonders why Jess, who is a Christian, hates church so much while she, a nonbeliever, thinks that the story of Jesus is beautiful. May Belle warns her that she has to believe in the Bible, or else God will send her to Hell when she dies. Leslie disagrees.
The closer Jess grows to Leslie, the less he thinks about Miss Edmunds, the music teacher he had a crush on. But one morning, Jess is stunned when she unexpectedly invites him out to an art gallery in Washington.
Thrilled to be able to spend time with Miss Edmunds outside of music class, he goes off with her, asking his sleeping mother for permission. He forgets to call Leslie and tell her that he won't be meeting her in Terabithia that day.
Jess loves the art gallery, and immediately chastises himself for not inviting Leslie along. It's just not the same without her. He promises himself that he will invite her next time. Sadly, there won't be a next time. When Jess returns home, he finds his family worried, his mother in tears.
His older sister Brenda breaks the news: Leslie is dead. His father explains that she had been swinging on the rope to Terabithia when it broke. She fell, struck her head, and drowned in the creek. The family thought that Jess had been killed, too.
Disbelieving them at first, the terrible realization hits Jess like a punch in the stomach and he takes off running - as if by running, he could keep Leslie alive. His father brings him home. Jess experiences all the stages of the bereaved: denial, anger, fear, guilt, and sorrow.
He and his parents go to the Burkes' house to pay respects. The experience is unreal to him. Afterward, Jess struggles to deal with his grief. The only way he can cope with his loss is to use all the inner strength that Leslie had given him.
He decides to repay her for her kindness by passing it along. He builds a bridge to Terabithia and brings his neglected little sister May Belle into the magical kingdom, making her the new queen.
Katherine Paterson's powerful, emotional story won the Newbery Award the year it was published. Over 30 years later, it continues to touch the hearts and minds of new generations of readers.
Surprisingly, Bridge To Terabithia holds the distinction of being the most banned and challenged children's book of all time, as it often appears on teachers' assigned reading lists for classroom study.
The novel still raises the ire of disgruntled parents and conservative groups who complain about the novel's bleakness, stark realism, themes of death and grief, dialectic use of mildly profane language, alleged ridiculing of authority figures and negative depictions of Christians and Christianity.
These criticisms are surprising, considering that the author is the wife of a Presbyterian minister. Religious themes are handled in an honest, realistic way. Due to the religious dogma he was raised to believe in, Jess's faith is no comfort to him at all in his greatest time of need.
On the contrary, he's terrified that God will send Leslie Burke to Hell for being a non-believer. His father assures him otherwise, telling him that "God don't send no little girls to Hell." But Jess still worries about Leslie's soul.
Bridge To Terabithia has been adapted into other media over the years. The first adaptation was an audio dramatization released by Newbery Award Records in 1979. Sold only to schools as a study aid, this dramatization is excellent, with great voice acting, music, and sound effects.
I got my copy of the record on eBay. The 50-minute recording would be edited down to almost half its length and used as the soundtrack for a 1981 Bridge To Terabithia filmstrip set, which I also have.
There were two unabridged audiobook releases of Bridge To Terabithia. The first, released by Recorded Books in 1996, is read by actor Tom Stechschulte, who gives one of the best audiobook performances I've ever heard, his rich baritone voice resonating the power of the story.
The second audiobook, released in 2004 by Harper Children's Audio, features a flat and uninspired reading by actor Robert Sean Leonard. The 2007 movie tie-in release of this audiobook features a bonus interview with Katherine and David Paterson, which is the only reason to buy it.
In 1996, Katherine Paterson co-wrote a musical stage play adaptation of Bridge To Terabithia which her son David would produce and perform at elementary schools. The play would also be performed around the world in various languages.
The musical soundtrack appears on the cassette-only release, Bridge To Terabithia and Other Musicals, which includes the musical soundtracks for two other plays based on novels by Katherine Paterson: The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks and The Great Gilly Hopkins.
I ordered my copy of the cassette from the only store that sold it - a children's bookstore in New York City called Books of Wonder. I also have a copy of the play script, which is sold by its publisher - Samuel French, Inc.
Bridge To Terabithia was filmed twice. It was first adapted in 1985 as an episode of the PBS TV series, Wonderworks - a zero-budget, horribly written, poorly acted episode of a series that usually produced quality adaptations of children's literature.
David Paterson, who grew up to become a playwright, described it as being "the crazy cousin that nobody talks about... no one on our side was either involved with it or happy with the final product."
Fans of the book, myself included, believed that it would never be adapted as a quality film because of its controversial nature. However, in 2007, Disney's Walden Media division produced a feature film version of Bridge To Terabithia.
With David Paterson serving as producer and co-writer, the movie turned out to be a faithful (albeit modernized) adaptation that beautifully captured all the emotion of the story. It was lovingly directed by animator Gabor Csupo in his first live-action film.
The movie featured stunning performances by young leads Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb as Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke. They're backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Robert Patrick as Mr. Aarons and Zooey Deschanel as Miss Edmunds.
Although the "Disneyfied" screenplay tones down the story (the book is much darker) and omits or waters down the most objectionable elements of the novel, the movie still ignited a firestorm of controversy due to deceitful marketing practices over which the filmmakers had no control.
Hoping to attract a large audience, Disney executives falsely advertised the film as a fantasy similar to The Chronicles Of Narnia. Parents and children unfamiliar with the book went to the movie expecting to see what was advertised.
Instead, they saw a deep and sad story that really had little to do with fantasy. The marketing also drove away fans of the book (like me) who believed that the story they loved so much had been butchered yet again.
The Bridge To Terabithia movie is currently available on standard and Blu-Ray DVD. I wholeheartedly recommend that you see it - after you read the book, which is a masterpiece of contemporary children's literature.
Quote Of The Day
"When people ask me what qualifies me to be a writer for children, I say I was once a child. But I was not only a child, I was better still, a weird little kid." - Katherine Paterson
Today's video features Katherine Paterson discussing the writing of Bridge To Terabithia on Author Visits. Enjoy!
Monday, October 20, 2014
My short story, “IOANA,” is up at Red Fez. This is the first story set in my native country of Romania - at least the only such story written in English. Big thanks, as always, to the Fiction list for all your help.
My review of Alex's Wake, appears on the Internet Review of Books.
My poem, “One More Journey,” is up at The Camel Saloon.
Literary Hatchet at Pear Tree Press has accepted my poem, “Cha Cha and Tai Chi,” for publication in their print magazine on December 15. This is a good publication. They pay for stories, poems and nonfiction works, and they pay promptly. Over the past few issues, they accepted most of what I've sent them, so the editor is my new best friend. See their submission guidelines for details.
Thanks to Duotrope's listing, I entered a contest sponsored by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, and learned a few days ago that I am one of ten finalists in the non-fiction category. Winners will be announced Nov. 3. I don't expect to win, but I am glad to have my story posted where others can learn about chemical sensitivity.
A poem in Eclectica's autumn volume.
Flight to the Frontier is now a Kindle e-book. All reviews gratefully received.
Theresa A. Cancro
Two haiku of mine appear in Chrysanthemum, Issue #16, along with German translations (scroll down).
Friday, October 17, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On October 17th, 1903, the famous American writer Nathanael West was born. He was born Nathan Weinstein in New York City. His parents were German-speaking Russian Jews who had emigrated from Lithuania.
Although his lifelong passions for reading and writing began in childhood, West had little interest in school. He dropped out of high school, then gained admission into Tufts College by forging his high school transcripts.
Expelled by Tufts, West got himself into Brown University by submitting the transcripts of another Tufts College student with the same name. He spent more time at the library than in the classroom, and read extensively.
Uninterested in contemporary American fiction, West became enamored with the French surrealists and English and Irish writers. The legendary Irish playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was a huge influence.
West determined to become a writer himself, and began working on his first novel while studying at Brown. After barely graduating and obtaining his degree, he went to Paris and stayed there for a few months.
Disturbed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe (and America) in the mid 1920s, he changed his name to Nathanael West. After returning home to New York City, West completed the first draft of his novel.
The Dream Life of Balso Snell was published in 1931. An experimental, surrealist allegorical novel, it told the story of the title character, who happens upon the fabled Trojan Horse sitting in the grass around the city of Troy.
After he finds a way to get inside the giant wooden horse, Balso Snell enters the structure. Inside, he encounters a series of strange characters whom he realizes are "writers in search of an audience."
The characters also represent various religious, political, and artistic ideals. Snell listens to each of their stories and rejects them one by one in a nihilistic fashion. The novel is filled with juvenile and often scatological humor.
The Dream Life of Balso Snell received mostly negative reviews at the time of its publication and was commercially unsuccessful. Today, it's recognized as an important first work by a major talent. The best, however, was yet to come.
Unfazed by the reaction to his first novel, West began work on his second. He had taken a job as night manager of the Hotel Kenmore Hall in Manhattan, which provided him lots of downtime he could use for writing.
West's second novel would make his name as a writer. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) is a surreal, expressionist black comedy. The main character is an unnamed male newspaper columnist known only as Miss Lonelyhearts because he writes the paper's advice column under that name.
Miss Lonelyhearts loathes his job. His co-workers consider him and his column a joke. Though he writes the column because he needs the money, he can't help feeling for his fellow New Yorkers who besiege him with their desperate and often disturbing letters.
Driven to drink and despair, Miss Lonelyhearts tries various means to cope with his miserable life. He takes up religion, takes his fiancee Betty out on trips to the countryside, and engages in affairs with unhappily married women. Nothing helps.
After Miss Lonelyhearts has an affair with Mrs. Doyle, he meets her poor, crippled husband. The Doyles invite him to dinner, where Mrs. Doyle grotesquely tries to seduce him again. He snaps and beats her, and she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her.
The novel ends with Mr. Doyle going to Miss Lonelyhearts' apartment to take revenge on him. He hides a gun inside a newspaper. After spending three days in bed sick, Miss Lonelyhearts recovers and awakens to have a religious epiphany.
When he sees Mr. Doyle, he runs over to embrace him. Doyle's gun goes off and both men tumble down a flight of stairs. Miss Lonelyhearts would be adapted as a feature film, a TV movie, a Broadway play, and an opera.
Nathanael West published his third novel, A Cool Million, in 1934. He bought a farm in Pennsylvania, then gave it up and moved to California when he got a job as a contract screenwriter for Columbia Pictures.
West would write or co-write over a dozen screenplays. The pay was good and he needed the money, as he had been barely scraping by on his novel royalties. By the time his fourth and final novel was published, he had been writing B movies for RKO Radio Pictures.
The Day of the Locust (1939) is considered by many to be West's masterpiece. This surreal black comedy about the dark side of 1930s Hollywood was inspired by the author's time spent working as a Hollywood screenwriter.
The characters include Tod Hackett, a talented young artist who has come to Hollywood to work as a set painter. He does this to support himself until he becomes a famous artist. Faye Greener is a beautiful young aspiring actress.
Faye's father, Harry Greener, is an aging, failed actor and former vaudeville comic who earns a meager living as a door to door salesman. Despite all the doors slammed in his face, Harry, the ultimate huckster, pushes on, oblivious to the effects of his job on his frail health.
Homer Simpson (yes, that's really his name) is a good natured oaf who's not very bright. Also a neurotic depressive, he has come to California for reasons of health. The poor, pathetic Simpson will become the most tragic character in this dark and grotesque story.
Other memorable characters include Abe Kusich, a conceited midget actor with a huge chip on his little shoulder, and Adore Loomis, an obnoxious aspiring child star with a talent for blues singing and a stage mother so ambitious (and demented) that she passes him off as a girl, hoping he'll become the next Shirley Temple.
The price of stardom - the depths one would sink to in Hollywood in order to reach the height of success - is one of the main themes of the novel. Another theme is the garishness of excess.
One film producer keeps a lifelike, life sized dead horse made of rubber at the bottom of his swimming pool. Mrs. Jenning, a retired silent film star, runs a brothel, where she also screens pornographic films for her guests.
Faye Greener is the catalyst for the tragic undercurrent of the story that drives it to a shocking and brutal conclusion. She's a thoroughly amoral young woman, a manipulative sociopath willing to do anything and use anyone to get what she wants.
Of course, Tod ends up falling in love with her, but grudgingly settles for friendship, recognizing her amoral nature. He fantasizes about raping Faye or physically harming her in other ways as both a subconscious attack on her immorality and an attempt to suppress his secret desire to be just like her.
Homer Simpson also falls in love with Faye, but unlike the more realistic Tod, the poor, deluded Homer actually dreams of marrying Faye, settling down, and starting a family with her. When he accidentally discovers Faye having casual sex with a would-be actor called Miguel the Mexican, his delusion is suddenly shattered.
Homer decides to return to his Iowa hometown, but in the novel's violent, surreal ending, he wanders the streets in a state of shock and happens upon a crowd gathering outside a theater for a major movie premiere. While he stares blankly at the crowd, Adore Loomis appears and teases him yet again.
Homer's mind finally snaps, and in the novel's most shocking scene, he literally stomps the child to death. When the crowd sees Homer attack Adore, they riot and descend on him like a plague of locusts, killing him. Tod tries to save Homer, but gets lost in the milling throng.
The Day of the Locust was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1975. Directed by John Schlesinger from a screenplay by Waldo Salt, the film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.
In 1940, Nathanael West married Eileen McKenney, sister of writer Ruth McKenney and the inspiration for Ruth's classic short story collection My Sister Eileen, which would be adapted as a Broadway play and a TV series.
Sadly, in December of 1940, while West and Eileen were driving home to Los Angeles from a hunting trip in Mexico, they ran a stop sign and collided with another car. They were both killed. West was 37 years old, his wife Eileen only 26.
Never a huge critical or commercial success as a writer during his short life, after his death Nathanael West would be rightfully recognized as one of the best American writers of the 1930s.
Quote Of The Day
"I have spent my life in books; literature has deeply dyed my brain its own color. This literary coloring is a protective one - like the brown of the rabbit or the checks of the quail - making it impossible for me to tell where literature ends and I begin.” - Nathanael West
Today's video features a photo essay on Nathanael West. Enjoy!
Thursday, October 16, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On October 16th, 1854, the legendary Irish writer Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a prominent ear and eye surgeon who wrote books on medicine, archaeology, and Irish folklore.
Wilde's mother, Jane, wrote poetry for the Young Irelanders revolutionary movement and was a lifelong Irish nationalist. As a boy, Oscar Wilde was home schooled until the age of nine, when he attended Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh.
After graduating from Portora, Wilde enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, where he roomed with his brother Willie and became an outstanding student, winning the Berkley Gold Medal - the highest award a classics student could win at Trinity. He also won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.
While studying at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, but he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize. However, the essay he entered, The Rise Of Historical Criticism, would be published posthumously in 1909.
Wilde graduated from Trinity with a double first (the UK equivalent of two 4.0 grade point averages) in classical moderations and literae humaniores. During his years at Magdalen, Oscar Wilde was involved with the aesthetic and decadent movements in Victorian art and literature.
He wore his hair long, openly expressed his disdain for "manly" sports, and decorated his room with objets d'art such as peacock feathers, sunflowers, and blue china. As a result, Wilde was greatly disliked by his fellow students.
They bullied him viciously, throwing their crockery at him and trashing his room. It was during this difficult time that Wilde first became a Freemason. He rose to the rank of Master Mason, which he retained until his death.
After he graduated from Magdalen, Wilde returned to Dublin. He met a woman, Florence Balcombe, and courted her, but she ended up marrying the legendary writer Bram Stoker. After hearing of their engagement, Wilde was heartbroken.
He wrote to Florence and told her that he was going to leave Ireland permanently. He would return just twice, for brief visits. After he left Ireland, he spent the next six years in London, Paris, and the U.S.
In London, Wilde met Constance Lloyd, whose father, Horace, was Queen's Counsel. Wilde married Constance in May of 1884. They would have two sons. Although a married father of two, Wilde was a bisexual who preferred men.
Biographer Neil McKenna theorized that Wilde became aware of his homosexuality at sixteen, when he experienced his first kiss with another boy. For a time, unhappy with his sexual orientation, he sought out female companionship, hoping that marriage would "cure" him. It didn't.
Wilde subsequently developed an interest in gay philosophy and law reform. Homosexuality was not only held in great contempt by Victorian society, it was also illegal under British law and punishable by imprisonment.
So, Wilde and some like-minded individuals formed a secret society called the Order of Chaeronea, which was dedicated to gay activism. In the summer of 1891, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, a young undergraduate student and poet known as Bosie to his friends.
His father, John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, was a brutal, hateful man who abhorred his son. He believed that the boy had been corrupted beyond repair by older homosexuals.
Bosie, who would become famous for his poem Two Loves, wherein he described homosexuality as "the love that dare not speak its name," was first Wilde's close friend, then his lover. They lived together openly in various places. Their relationship would lead to Wilde's downfall.
As a writer, Wilde was best known for his plays, which he infused with his famous, rapacious wit. His only novel was a masterpiece of Gothic horror called The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890). Dorian Gray, a handsome young man, is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward.
Hallward becomes smitten with him and believes that Dorian's beauty is responsible for a new phase in his art. He introduces Dorian to his friend, Lord Henry Watton, a hedonistic aristocrat whose philosophy enthralls Dorian.
Fearing that his beauty will fade with age, Dorian proclaims that he would sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth. Then something strange happens. While Dorian stays young and handsome, his portrait begins to age.
Over the next eighteen years, he embarks on a path of indulgence and debauchery, experimenting with every known vice and sin. When Basil Hallward arrives to question him about the rumors of his debauchery, Dorian shows him the portrait.
Dorian's painted likeness has become an aged, grotesque reflection of his sins. Blaming the artist for his fate, Dorian stabs Hallward to death. Shocked by what he's done, Dorian decides to give up his sinful ways.
He begins by not breaking the heart of a vicar's daughter whom he has come to love. Back at home, Dorian wonders if his portrait has changed, now that he has chosen to be good. Instead, it has become more hideous than ever, and he knows why - his change of heart was just another form of vanity and not genuine repentance.
Realizing that only a full confession will absolve him, but lacking the courage to confess to the killing of Hallward and fearing the consequences of doing so, Dorian is left with only one option.
In a rage, he plunges a knife into his portrait. Hearing a scream, his servants summon the police. They find Dorian's body, suddenly aged, withered and monstrous, a knife plunged into his heart.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray was decried as immoral upon its publication because of its homoerotic overtones and depictions of debauchery. It would become a classic of Gothic horror.
It would be Oscar Wilde's only novel, though a famous, anonymously published gay erotic novel Teleny, or The Reverse Of The Medal (1893) would also be attributed to him. Scholars believe that the book was in fact a collaborative effort written by his friends, with Wilde serving as editor.
Oscar Wilde's most famous play was The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895), a comedy that satirized the hypocrisy and foibles of Victorian society. The play is packed with Wilde's trademark witty dialogue.
In it, shallow and scheming aristocrats use the same alias (Earnest) in order to lead double lives. Considered to be Wilde's best play, it would also be his last. It closed after 83 performances because of a scandal that had ensnared him.
The hateful Marquess of Queensberry publicly accused him of being a "posing sodomite," so to avoid ruin, Wilde made a complaint of criminal libel against him. He was arrested and released on bail.
A team of detectives led Queensberry's lawyers to London's gay underground. Wilde's associations with transvestites, male prostitutes and gay brothels were uncovered and leaked to the press, which assailed him nonstop.
Queensberry's lawyers claimed that the alleged libel was done for the public good. He was acquitted and Wilde found himself arrested for "gross indecency" - a term for homosexual acts that were illegal under British law.
The jury in Wilde's first trial failed to reach a verdict. At his final trial, presided by Justice Sir Alfred Wills, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to the maximum of two years imprisonment - a sentence that the judge believed was too lenient for the "crime" of homosexuality.
Wilde served his time at three different prisons. When he was released, prison life had left him in poor health. He spent his last years abroad in self-imposed exile, living under an assumed name.
He used the alias Sebastian Melmoth, a name based on Saint Sebastian and the main character of Melmoth The Wanderer, a Gothic novel written by Wilde's great uncle, Charles Robert Maturin.
Wilde was broke, so his wife, who refused to meet with him or let him see his children, sent him money when she could. He took up with his first lover, Robert Ross, and they spent the summer of 1897 together in Northern France, where Wilde wrote his famous poem, The Battle Of Reading Gaol.
Despite the objections of their families and friends, Wilde was later reunited with Bosie Douglas, and by late 1897, they were living together in Italy. They would break up again, this time for good.
Wilde moved to France and took up residence at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris, where he enjoyed the open and uninhibited gay life that had been denied him in England. He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30th, 1900, at the age of 46.
Some have speculated that the meningitis was a complication of syphilis, but Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, has said that it was a complication of a surgical procedure, most likely a mastoidectomy. Wilde's own doctors blamed the meningitis on an old suppuration of the right ear.
Oscar Wilde remains to this day one of the world's great literary icons.
Quote Of The Day
"It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection." - Oscar Wilde
Today's video features a documentary on Oscar Wilde. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On October 15th, 1844, the legendary German writer and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Rocken bei Lutzen, Prussia, the son of a Lutheran pastor and teacher.
The oldest of three children, Nietzsche's brother Ludwig died at the age of two, a year after their father died of a brain ailment at the age of 33. Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth would later figure in the controversy that still surrounds his philosophy and writings.
As a boy, Friedrich Nietzsche attended a boys' school, then a private school. In 1858, the 14-year-old Nietzsche displayed particular talent for both music and language, so the world famous school at Schulpforta accepted him as a student.
While studying there, he received his first important introduction to literature, especially ancient Greek and Roman literature. After graduating in 1864, Nietzsche entered the University of Bonn, where he studied theology and classical philology.
After his first semester, he lost his faith and ended his theological studies. Around this time, he had read David Strauss' famous book, The Life of Jesus, a debunking of the Bible as mythology.
However, two years earlier, in an essay titled Fate and History, Nietzsche had already argued that the central beliefs of Christianity had been discredited by historical research.
Deciding to become a classical philologist, Nietzsche followed his favorite professor to the University of Leipzig. At this time, he began delving into philosophy, studying the works of the thinkers of the day, such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Albert Lange.
In 1869, although he was only 24 years old and had neither a doctorate nor a teaching certificate, Nietzsche was offered a professorship in classical philology by the University of Basel in Switzerland. He accepted the offer and served for ten years. He is still one of their youngest tenured Classics professors on record.
During this time, Nietzsche struck up a close friendship with legendary composer Richard Wagner and his wife, Cosima. He had met Richard first in 1868. Nietzsche admired the Wagners greatly, and they introduced him to their inner circle of friends.
His friendship with the Wagners would sour after Richard began to champion German culture, which Nietzsche considered to be a contradiction in terms. He would later blast Wagner in his 1888 book, The Case Of Wagner.
In 1872, Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, where he argued that ancient Greek tragedy was the highest form of art. This was because its blending of Apollonian and Dionysian elements into a whole allowed the viewer to experience the full spectrum of the human condition.
The Apollonian impulse is detached, rational, sober, and emphasizes superficial appearance, whereas the Dionysian impulse is immersion in the whole of nature, intoxication, irrationality, and inhumanity.
Nietzsche argues that it's not healthy for the individual or society to be ruled by either impulse. Instead, they should be combined to create a healthy whole.
His 1878 book, Human, All Too Human, was a reaction to the pessimism of Wagner and Schopenhauer. It was a book of aphorisms on subjects including metaphysics, religion, the sexes, and morality.
It was the first of Nietzsche's writings that would be taken out of context by the Nazis. to build the foundation of their own philosophy - despite the fact that Nietzsche was the same man who had said, "Germany is a great nation only because its people have so much Polish blood in their veins."
In 1879, Nietzsche resigned his professorship due to a severe decline in his health. While serving as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, he contracted several diseases, including diphtheria and dysentery.
Some believe that he also contracted syphilis, which would eventually cause his mental illness and death. After leaving the university, he continued to write, and in 1881, he began using a typewriter, as his eyesight started to fail.
In his 1881 book Daybreak, Nietzsche began his "campaign against morality," criticizing the moral schemes of such institutions as Christianity and utilitarianism. His aim was not to destroy morality, but to replace the moral schemes of the aforementioned institutions with a new moral code.
There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all morality, and exceptional people should no longer be ashamed of their uniqueness. The old style of morality is best suited to unexceptional people who are satisfied with their mediocrity. Thus, Nietzsche's motto is "become what you are."
The Gay Science (1882) was a mixture of philosophy and poetry. It contained Nietzsche's famous axiom "God is dead" and its explanation, "Whither is God? he cried; I will tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers."
Nietzsche's most famous book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in four parts between 1883 and 1885, was a philosophical novel that incorporated all of Nietzsche's ideas into a prose narrative that cleverly parodied the Bible.
It told the story of Zarathustra, a wandering prophet who seeks to teach people how to live a fulfilling life in a world without meaning. Although Zarathustra was based on the Persian prophet Zoroaster, he seems more like Jesus Christ - or rather, an anti-Christ.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra is not a traditional novel by any means. It's a very dense and complex treatise on philosophy and morality. It explores Nietzsche's concept of the ubermensch, or overman, better known in English as the superman. It would be another concept bastardized by the Nazis after Nietzsche's death.
Whereas Hitler's idea of a superman was a physically strong Aryan warrior, Nietzsche's ubermensch was mentally as well as physically strong - a well-rounded superman - and could be of any race.
On January 3rd, 1889, Nietzsche collapsed after witnessing the whipping of a horse and throwing his arms around the animal's neck to protect it. This event triggered in Nietzsche a severe psychotic episode from which he would not recover, as it was believed that he was in the final stages of syphilis.
He started sending incoherent letters to friends. Claiming to have been crucified by German doctors, he called for the abolishing of anti-Semitism, the execution of the German emperor, and for all European powers to declare war on Germany.
Nietzsche's mother had him committed to a psychiatric hospital. Later, his sister Elisabeth returned from Paraguay following the suicide of her husband, a notorious anti-Semite. While she cared for her brother, Elisabeth studied his works and read through all of his unpublished manuscripts.
She hired writer and philosopher Rudolf Steiner to tutor her so she could understand her brother's writings. After a few months, Steiner gave up, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy.
Following a series of strokes and a bout with pneumonia, Friedrich Nietzsche died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of 55. His sister Elisabeth took control of his literary legacy. The following year, she had his last book published posthumously.
The Will to Power (1901) was actually a patchwork quilt of bits and pieces of previously unpublished manuscripts cobbled together by Elisabeth Nietzsche, who took great liberties with the material, and most of it out of context.
The final product was a hodgepodge of Nietzschean philosophy distorted and slanted to suit Elisabeth's anti-Semitic, nationalistic convictions. When Hitler rose to power in the early 1930s, the eightysomething year old Elisabeth Nietzsche became enamored with the Nazi dictator.
Hitler was equally enamored with Elisabeth's bastardization of her brother's work. He made Friedrich Nietzsche the official philosopher of the Third Reich. In life, Nietzsche was no anti-Semite; he broke ties with his editor, Ernst Schmeitzner, because he was disgusted by Schmeitzner's anti-Semitism.
Nietzche's relationship with his sister was a never ending pattern of conflict and reconciliation, as Nietzsche was also disgusted by her anti Semitism and that of her husband. And, as previously mentioned, Neitzche had a low opinion of German culture. He also despised nationalism.
Today, over a hundred years after his death, Friedrich Nietzsche still remains one of the world's most influential and controversial philosophers.
Quote Of The Day
"Good prose is written only face to face with poetry." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Today's video features a complete reading of Friedrich Nietzsche's classic philosophical novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On October 14th, 1888, the famous Kiwi writer Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington, New Zealand. She was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp. The third of four children, she had two older sisters and a younger brother.
Her father was a banker who would become the chairman of the Bank of New Zealand and be knighted as well. The Australian-born English novelist Elizabeth von Arnim was her cousin.
Although her first published short stories would appear in the High School Reporter and Wellington Girls' High School magazines, the teenage Katherine Mansfield had musical aspirations.
She was an accomplished cellist who initially planned to become a professional musician; she developed a crush on fellow cellist Arnold Trowell, whose father was her music teacher, but her feelings were mostly unreciprocated.
Mansfield began keeping journals from a young age. She wrote of her growing alienation from provincial white New Zealand society and her disillusionment with and disdain for her fellow whites over the repression of the Maori (New Zealand aboriginal) people. In her fiction, she depicted Maoris in a positive or sympathetic light.
In 1903, Mansfield moved to London, where she attended Queen's College with her sisters. While continuing with her cello studies, she contributed to the school newspaper. She eventually became editor of the paper, introducing its readers to the French Symbolists and Oscar Wilde. Her peers regarded her as vivacious and charismatic.
From 1903 to 1906, Mansfield traveled through Europe, living mostly in Belgium and Germany. After completing her schooling in England, she returned to her home in New Zealand, where she began her writing career. She quickly tired of the provincial life and returned to London, falling into the bohemian life.
Katherine Mansfield was known for her restless and rebellious nature, so the bohemian life suited her. She was bisexual and had many lovers, mostly male, though she had some lesbian relationships. One was with Ida Baker, a South African fellow writer who would become a lifelong friend.
In 1908, when she returned to London, Katherine sought out her old friends, the Trowell family. Her teenage crush Arnold Trowell was involved with another woman. Katherine soon found herself involved in a passionate affair with his brother, Garnet.
By 1909, Mansfield had become pregnant with Garnet's child, but his parents disapproved of their relationship, so they broke up. She hastily married George Bowden, a singing teacher eleven years her senior, but left him the same night after failing to consummate the marriage.
Her mother came to see her and blamed the breakup of the marriage on Ida Baker. She sent Katherine to Bad Worishofen, a spa town in Bavaria, where she miscarried after trying to lift a heavy suitcase and place it on top of a cupboard.
Mansfield's life in Bavaria had a major effect on her writing. She was introduced to the works of Anton Chekhov, who would prove to be a bigger influence on her than Oscar Wilde. In January 1910, she returned to London, where she had over a dozen works published in The New Age.
A socialist magazine edited by A.R. Orage, it was a highly regarded intellectual publication. In 1911, her first short story collection, In A German Pension, was published. A hit with critics, the book would be greatly enjoyed by readers during World War I, due to its negative portrayal of Germans.
The Great War had a major effect on Katherine Mansfield's life and writing. In 1915, news that her younger brother, to whom she was very close, had been killed in action shocked and traumatized her.
To cope with her loss, she took refuge in her memories of him, basing her fiction on nostalgic reminisces of their childhood together. In one of her poems, she writes of a dream she had shortly after her brother's death:
By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands...
"These are my body. Sister, take and eat."
Mansfield's best collection of short stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, published in 1922, was also inspired by her childhood in New Zealand.
In 1911, Mansfield submitted a short story to a new avant-garde literary magazine called Rhythm. The editor, John Middleton Murry, rejected it as too lightweight.
So, Mansfield submitted another story, The Woman at the Store, a dark tale of murder and insanity. Not only did Murry publish it, he and Mansfield began a seven-year relationship that resulted in their marriage in 1918. Their life, however, was not a happy one.
Stephen Swift, the publisher of Rhythm, fled and left John responsible for all the magazine's debts. Katherine's health began to deteriorate from, among other things, an undiagnosed case of gonorrhea. She left John twice, but returned to him each time.
In 1915, she had an affair with French writer Francis Carco after visiting him in Paris. She retold the story of this relationship in her short story, An Indiscreet Journey. That same year, she learned of her brother's death in the war.
In 1916, Katherine Mansfield entered her most prolific period as a writer, and her relationship with John Murry improved. She broadened her literary acquaintances, meeting great writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Lytton Strachey, and Bertrand Russell through social gatherings and mutual friends.
Unfortunately, in December of 1917, Mansfield fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In April of 1918, her divorce from her husband George Bowden was at last finalized, so she married John Murry. The following year, he became the editor of a prestigious weekly journal called Athenaeum.
Mansfield wrote over a hundred reviews for the magazine. During the winter of 1918-19, because of her poor health, she stayed in a villa in San Remo, Italy, with her friend and ex-lover, Ida Baker.
Their relationship became strained, and Katherine wrote to John of her depression, so he came to stay over the Christmas season. But their relationship too became strained and they often lived apart.
Katherine Mansfield spent her last years seeking unorthodox treatments for her tuberculosis, but none of them worked. She died on January 9th, 1923, at the age of 34. She was a master of the short story, a modernist, an early feminist, and a progressive thinker ahead of her time.
Quote Of The Day
“Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.” - Katherine Mansfield
Today's video features a reading of Katherine Mansfield's classic short story, The Garden Party. Enjoy!