This Day In Literary History
On November 30th, 1835, the legendary American writer Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the son of a lawyer and judge. He was the sixth of seven children; only three of his siblings would survive childhood.
When Twain was four years old, his father moved the family to Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River. Growing up in Hannibal, Twain came to love the town and would model the fictional town of St. Petersberg, Missouri, after it.
Twain's father contracted pneumonia and died when he was eleven years old. A year later, Twain went to work as a printer's devil, (apprentice) where he learned the printing and typesetting trade.
By the age of sixteen, he was working as a typesetter and writing articles and humorous pieces for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother, Orion.
When he turned eighteen, Twain left Hannibal and moved East, living in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York City. He worked as a printer by day and educated himself at night.
Twain educated himself at public libraries, where he found a wider spectrum of information available to him than in conventional schools. He would return to Hannibal four years later.
While traveling by steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, Twain befriended the pilot, Horace E. Bixby, who inspired him to become a steamboat pilot himself. At the time, steamboat piloting was a very prominent and respected position.
It also paid well - around $3000 per year, which is equivalent to about $72,000 in today's money. In order to obtain a steamboat pilot's license, one had to go through extensive training.
While Twain was training, his younger brother Henry was killed on another steamboat when it exploded. A month before the explosion, Twain had had a dream where his brother died.
After he was killed, Twain was racked with guilt because he had encouraged Henry to train on the ill-fated steamboat and never took the dream seriously. He would develop an interest in parapsychology as a result.
Despite this tragedy, Twain worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until 1861, when the Civil War broke out. His famous pen name, Mark Twain, was a term used by steamboat captains to note that the water was at least two fathoms deep, and thus safe to travel on.
Twain's experiences as a steamboat pilot would lead him to write his classic book, Life on the Mississippi (1883), a combination of non-fiction and fiction in which he mixed autobiography and history with folklore.
In 1861, Twain moved out West and joined his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the governor of the Nevada Territory. To get there, Twain and Orion traveled two weeks by stagecoach across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
The trip would inspire him to write his classic first short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865) and his famous travelogue, Roughing It (1872).
When they arrived in Virginia City, Nevada, Twain found work as a miner. He failed at mining, so he switched gears and began working as a journalist for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he first used his famous pen name, Mark Twain.
He moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he met famous writers such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Dan DeQuille, and Ina Coolbrith. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County would be published a year later in The Saturday Press, a weekly literary newspaper based in New York City.
In 1867, Twain was still working as a journalist when a newspaper sponsored him to take a tour of Europe and the Middle East, during which he wrote a series of popular travel letters.
These letters would be compiled and published in book form as his classic travelogue, The Innocents Abroad (1869). While on his tour, Twain met Charles Langdon, whose sister, Olivia, he would later marry.
Twain met Olivia in 1868. It was love at first sight, and within two years, they would be married. She bore him a son and three daughters. Twain's son Langdon died at the age of two from diphtheria. His daughter Susy would die suddenly from meningitis at 24.
Daughter Jean, an epileptic, would die at 29 after suffering a seizure in the bathtub. Though oldest daughter Clara would live a long life, her relationship with her father was tempestuous and plagued with scandal.
Mark Twain's wife, Olivia, came from a wealthy, liberal, intellectual family, and through them, he met fellow abolitionists and "socialists, principled atheists, and activists for women's rights and social equality."
These influential people included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and the famous utopian socialist, William Dean, who became a lifelong friend.
Olivia's family and their friends would have a strong influence on Twain's philosophy and writings. Although a Presbyterian, Twain was often critical of religion and once quipped that "if Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian."
Twain would become most famous for his classic novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Prince and the Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), Eve's Diary (1906), and many others.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), considered by many to be Twain's greatest novel, was attacked for its abolitionist themes when it was first published.
The novel finds Tom's friend Huckleberry Finn on an adventure of his own. While running away from his guardians, Huck meets Jim, an escaped slave who hopes to make it to Ohio - a free state - and eventually buy his family's freedom so they can join him there.
Through initially opposed to the idea of Jim becoming a free man, when he befriends and travels with him, Huck comes to realize that Jim is a good, intelligent man who deserves to be free.
When Jim is betrayed by some grifters and recaptured, Huck helps him escape again even though its against the law- it's considered a form of theft. In one of the novel's most famous lines, Huck, knowing that stealing is a sin, defiantly says, "All right then, I'll go to hell!"
Ironically, Twain's novel would be attacked again some seventy years after it was first published - this time for its alleged racism. The NAACP has denounced the novel for its use of the racial epithet nigger and alleged racist stereotyping of blacks.
The novel is often targeted by African-American activists who want it banned from classrooms and school libraries, but Twain scholars point out that the author let his Southern white characters speak their own ugly language as a way of denouncing slavery and the Southern notion that black people were subhuman.
In 2011, NewSouth Books, a publishing house in Alabama, issued a controversial new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - a bowdlerized edition with all uses of the word nigger changed to slave, and the word injun deleted entirely.
Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder of NewSouth Books, claimed that the changes would make the novel more acceptable for the classroom, but scholars derided the new edition as an attempt to whitewash the long history of white Southerners' venomous racism.
In addition to his writings, Mark Twain was also a world famous lecturer, and his lecture tours helped to establish his reputation as America's greatest humorist and iconoclast. When he ran into financial troubles from bad investments, he would go out on more lecture tours to earn back the money he lost.
During one European tour, Twain was invited to speak as the guest of the Concordia Press Club in Vienna, Austria. In typical Twain style, he gave a speech in German - Die Schrecken der Deutschen Sprache, which means The Horrors of the German Language.
Mark Twain died in 1910 at the age of 74. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest writers of all time and a founding father of American literature.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." - Mark Twain
Today's video features a complete reading of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 29th, 1832, the legendary American writer Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She had three sisters, Anna, Elizabeth, and Abigail, and would base her most famous novel on her experiences growing up with them in New England.
Louisa's father was Amos Bronson Alcott, who called himself Bronson. He was a famous teacher and transcendentalist philosopher who belonged to Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalist Club.
In addition to his spiritual beliefs, Bronson shared Emerson's ferocious abolitionist convictions. The Alcott family would host a runaway slave in their home. In 1840, when Louisa was eight years old, Bronson moved the family to Concord, Massachusetts.
Growing up in a liberal, intellectual family, Louisa was tutored mostly by her father's friend, the legendary writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. She also received instruction from Ralph Waldo Emerson and family friends Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller.
Louisa would write of these experiences in an early newspaper article, Transcendental Wild Oats. She would also write of the brief time her family lived in the Utopian Fruitlands commune co-founded by her father.
The commune would fail not only because of the members' philosophical extremes, but also due to the severe New England winter for which most of them were unprepared.
Economic hardship would require Louisa to go to work at a very young age, and she worked at such various jobs as governess, seamstress, domestic servant, and occasionally, as a teacher. What she really wanted to be was a writer.
Her first book, Flower Fables, was published in 1849, when she was seventeen years old. It was a collection of short stories originally written for Ralph Waldo Emerson's young daughter, Ellen. A year later, she began writing for the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Louisa served as a Union hospital nurse, caring for wounded and sick soldiers in Georgetown, D.C. She wrote vivid detailed letters home chronicling her experiences.
These letters would be revised and published in the Commonwealth newspaper. When they appeared in book form as Hospital Sketches (1863), they brought their author to the attention of critics, who praised her talent.
While she worked to build her career as a writer of traditional fiction, Louisa also wrote sensational, passionate stories and novels strictly for money. They were published under the pseudonym of A.M. Bernard.
These early novels were torrid Gothic potboilers with titles like Behind a Mask, or A Woman's Power, A Long Fatal Love Chase, and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. One novel she published anonymously was called A Modern Mephistopheles.
When her collections of children's stories became successful, Louisa was able to devote herself to traditional fiction. In 1868, she published her most famous novel. Originally intended for young adult readers, it would prove to be not only a critical and commercial success, but also a classic work of American literature.
Little Women told the story of the four March sisters, (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, was based on Alcott's experiences growing up with her own three sisters in Concord and Boston. Louisa modeled the character of Jo after herself.
Fifteen-year-old Jo March is the second oldest of the sisters. Intelligent, outspoken, and tomboyish, Jo longs to be a writer. An early feminist, Jo finds herself at odds with the restrictions placed on women in the late 19th century, including not being able to go to college and being pressured to marry.
Through the course of the novel, the March sisters become friends with Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the handsome, charming, affluent boy next door. An orphan, Laurie lives with his grandfather. He becomes especially close to Jo. They get into various scrapes as Laurie joins in the March sisters' adventures.
The sisters also struggle to overcome their particular character flaws (Jo has a temper, Meg is vain, Beth is shy, and Amy selfish) in order to live up to their parents' expectations and become, well, little women.
The first part of Little Women became a huge hit with both critics and readers, and an overnight sensation, selling over 2,000 copies in 1868. Louisa May Alcott received many letters from fans (and visits from them at her home) clamoring for a sequel.
So, in 1869, Alcott published the second part, Good Wives. Although her fans were begging for Jo to get married - especially to Laurie - she initially resisted the idea, believing that Jo should remain a "literary spinster."
Louisa changed her mind, and in Good Wives, married off not only Jo, but Meg and Amy as well. However, in a surprising twist, Jo marries Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer, the poor German immigrant and professor who encouraged her to be a serious writer, while Amy eventually marries Laurie.
Louisa would later write, "Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn't dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her."
As for her own spinsterhood, in an interview with literary critic Louise Chandler Moulton, she joked that the reason she herself was a spinster was because she had "fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man."
In reality, while traveling through Europe, she'd had a passionate affair with a young man she'd met in Switzerland, a Polish freedom fighter named Ladislas "Laddie" Wisniewski.
Louisa would base the character of Laurie on Laddie. Though she had written of her affair with Laddie in her journal, she tore out those pages prior to her death. The details of their relationship remain unknown.
Little Women would be followed by two sequels: Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Louisa also wrote other memorable novels including Eight Cousins (1875), Under The Lilacs (1878), and Jack and Jill: A Village Story (1880).
Jack and Jill, Alcott's last full length novel published under her own name, is sent in the quaint New England town of Harmony Village. Inseparable best friends and next door neighbors John "Jack" Minot and Jane Pecq are so close that the other kids call them Jack and Jill.
As the novel opens, Jack and Jill go sledding together on a steep, dangerous hill one winter day. Like their nursery rhyme namesakes, they take a nasty fall, which leaves Jack with a broken leg and Jill with a broken back.
Both kids are bedridden, and everyone fears that Jill will never walk again. Jack tries to keep her spirits up while they both recover. They exchange letters often and Jack visits Jill when he's well enough to leave his bed.
Their parents and friends also try to help Jill. As their love for each other deepens, Jack, who recovers from his injury, can't bear the idea that Jill might never walk again. Will she be crippled for life?
Louisa May Alcott suffered from chronically poor health in her later years, which she attributed to mercury poisoning from a typhoid fever treatment. She ultimately died of a stroke in March of 1888 at the age of 55.
Although her early biographers had agreed with her assessment of mercury poisoning, a more recent analysis of her chronic illness indicated that she most likely suffered from lupus.
Quote Of The Day
“Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can." - Louisa May Alcott
Today's video features a complete reading of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, Jack and Jill. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 28th, 1944, the famous American writer and activist Rita Mae Brown was born. She was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Florida. Her biological mother, an unwed 18-year-old girl, turned her over to an orphanage.
At three months old, Rita was adopted by her new parents, Ralph and Julia Ellen Brown. An intellectually gifted child, she had learned to read when she was three years old. As a high school student, she excelled at both academics and sports.
During Rita's teen years, she lost her adoptive father and began to experiment with sex, taking both male and female lovers. She considered herself a bisexual who preferred women, saying, "I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual."
When she was 16, the father of Rita's high school girlfriend found her love letters and outed her. As a result, she was kicked out of the student council. It was the first and not the last incident of homophobic persecution she experienced.
By 1964, Rita had won a scholarship to the University of Florida. When she wasn't studying, she worked for the civil rights movement. Her scholarship was revoked and she was expelled from university, allegedly because of her civil rights work, but that was just the university's excuse.
The real reason for Rita's expulsion and the loss of her scholarship was that she had been outed as a lesbian by the officers of her sorority. They suspected that Rita was gay and confronted her. She told them that if she was in love with someone, gender didn't matter to her.
After losing her scholarship, a penniless Rita hitchhiked to New York City. Homeless at first, she lived in a car with a male friend and a cat she'd named Baby Jesus. Determined to make something of herself, she put herself through New York University.
Upon graduating with a Bachelor's degree in English and the classics, she continued her education, studying cinematography at the New York School of Visual Arts. She would ultimately receive a Ph.D at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.
In 1970, while studying at the New York School of Visual Arts, Rita worked for the National Organization for Women (NOW). She would resign in protest over NOW president Betty Friedan's homophobic remarks and attempts to distance NOW from lesbian organizations.
After leaving NOW, Rita Mae Brown co-founded The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective. She began her literary career with two poetry collections, The Hand That Cradles the Rock (1971) and Songs to a Handsome Woman (1973).
In 1973, Rita's classic first novel was published. One of the most controversial young adult novels ever written, it was rejected by every major publisher in New York. She tried to get an agent, but that didn't work, either.
One agent, a woman, literally threw Rita's manuscript at her, called her a pervert, and told her to get out of her office. She finally found a publisher, a new and small feminist publishing house called Daughters Press, who bought her novel for $1,000.
Rubyfruit Jungle is a picaresque, semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman's coming-of-age as a lesbian, a tale told with humor, pathos, and zest. It paints a frank and honest portrait of lesbians that shatters all the stereotypes.
Molly Bolt is a pretty young girl who has a tempestuous relationship with her mother, Carrie, who informs her that she is an adopted bastard child. Beginning at the age of eleven, Molly experiments sexually with both girls and boys, including her cousin Leroy.
As a teenager, Molly loses her adoptive father Carl, to whom she was close, and has an affair with a cheerleader, Carolyn, who rejects the lesbian label, seeing herself as bisexual.
Determined to make something of herself, Molly becomes an excellent student and wins a college scholarship. When her lesbian affair with her alcoholic roommate is discovered, Molly loses her scholarship and is expelled from university.
Broke but not broken, the feisty Molly heads for New York City to study filmmaking and finds that life in the concrete jungle isn't all she dreamed it would be. Using her beauty, charm, intelligence, and sparkling wit, she determines to become the greatest filmmaker of all time.
Since Daughters Press, the publisher of Rubyfruit Jungle, was so small, there was no marketing or reviews of the novel at the time it was published, nor was it available in any major bookstores.
The novel was mostly sold in small bookshops, by mail, and even out of the trunks of cars. Nevertheless, word of mouth made Rubyfruit Jungle an underground hit, selling 70,000 copies in its first four years.
When the novel gained a wide release, it received great reviews and copies soon appeared on high school library shelves, causing an uproar - a censorship row that would last for many years - due to its sexual content and language.
Rita Mae Brown would write more great novels, including In Her Day (1976), a lesbian comic romance set in early 1970s Greenwich Village. Carole is a conservative, middle aged art history professor whose life is turned upside down when she falls for Ilse, a 20-year-old feminist revolutionary.
Southern Discomfort (1982) is a demented Southern Gothic comedy set in Alabama, circa 1918. It told the story of Hortensia Reedmuller Banastre, a Southern belle trapped in a loveless marriage who falls madly in love with Hercules Jinks - a handsome black prizefighter!
In 1990, Rita decided to try something different. She began a series of mystery novels allegedly co-written by Sneaky Pie Brown - her cat. The Mrs. Murphy Series features the adventures of Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat, and her human companion, Mary "Harry" Haristeen, who live in the small town of Crozet, Virginia.
In the first novel, Wish You Were Here (1990), someone is brutally murdering Crozet's most prominent citizens. Each victim received a postcard before they were murdered, with a tombstone on one side and the message "Wish you were here" written on the back. Can Harry and Mrs. Murphy solve the murders?
So far, Rita Mae Brown has written over two dozen Mrs. Murphy Mysteries. Her latest, A Hiss Before Dying, was published earlier this year, in May of 2017.
She has also written several screenplays for TV movies and feature films, including the famous horror movie The Slumber Party Massacre (1982). She wrote it as a spoof, but the director chose to shoot it as a serious slasher flick, resulting in a cult classic film.
Quote Of The Day
"Writers will happen in the best of families." - Rita Mae Brown
Today's video features a 90-minute interview with Rita Mae Brown recorded before a live audience as part of the National Writers Series. Enjoy!
Monday, November 27, 2017
Theresa A. Cancro
One tanka has been published in The Right Touch of Sun - the Tanka Society of America's Members' Anthology 2017.
My book review article "Rolling with Meaning: Perception of the Bicycle Throughout Urban History" has been accepted by the Journal of Urban History (Sage Publishing).
My comic flash, "Prince Charming," is up at The Humour Site.
Joanna M. Weston
One of my haiku is included in the November issue of Stardust Haiku. Scroll down, I'm on the right hand side.
Friday, November 24, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 24th, 1859, The Origin Of Species, the classic scientific textbook by the legendary English scientist Charles Darwin, was published.
Its full title was On The Origin Of Species By Means Of Natural Selection, or The Preservation Of Favoured Races In The Struggle For Life. When the sixth edition of the book was published in 1872, the title was shortened to The Origin Of Species.
Charles Darwin was a brilliant scientist, a former medical student turned biologist who had previously published textbook studies of subjects such as fossils, volcanic islands, and coral reefs.
With The Origin Of Species, he laid down the groundwork for his theories of evolution, which, although accepted by the scientific community, remain controversial to this day. The main theme is natural selection.
Natural selection is the process of evolution whereby organisms acquire heritable traits that make it more likely that the organisms will survive and reproduce - traits that allow organisms to adapt to their environment.
This was nothing new to science; theories of natural selection go back to the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers, from Empedocles to Aristotle, but Darwin's study of natural selection was revolutionary.
What made it controversial were his theories of evolution concerning common ancestry of species. In the late 18th century, Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, proposed a similar theory of how, through evolution, one species can become another.
In 1809, French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck took the idea further with his theory of the transmutation of species. But it was Charles Darwin's landmark study that defined this aspect of evolution as we know it today.
In the mid-19th century, when he published The Origin Of Species, the scientific community in Britain was closely tied to the Church of England. Reactions to Darwin's book were sharply mixed.
Liberal clergymen accepted Darwin's theories, declaring evolution to be God's plan of creation. Conservative (fundamentalist) clergymen decried evolution as blasphemous, taking the Bible's book of Genesis to be the literal truth and scientific fact, calling this "science" creationism.
Creationism and evolution would clash most famously in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher from Tennessee, had been charged with violating that state's Butler Act.
The Butler Act made it unlawful to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals" in any state-funded school or university.
Despite a brilliant defense mounted by legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, Scopes was convicted and fined $100, the equivalent of about $1,400 in today's money. The case was appealed to the Tennessee State Supreme Court, which affirmed the conviction, but threw out the fine on a technicality.
The Butler Act would remain on the books in Tennessee until it was voluntarily repealed in 1967. A year later, in the precedent-setting case of Epperson vs. Arkansas, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state's law forbidding the teaching of evolution unconstitutional.
The hotly contested battle between creationism and evolution, which began with the publication of The Origin Of Species 150 years ago, continues to this day.
Quote Of The Day
"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic." - Charles Darwin
Today's video features a complete reading of Charles Darwin's classic scientific textbook, The Origin Of Species. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 23, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 23rd, 1874, Far From The Madding Crowd, the classic novel by the legendary English writer Thomas Hardy, was published in London.
It first appeared in a serialized format, published by Cornhill Magazine, which at the time was the main rival of All The Year Round, the literary magazine founded by Charles Dickens.
Far From The Madding Crowd is not only one of the greatest love stories ever written, it's also a classic tale of rural English life during the Victorian era. It tells a tale of true love complicated and delayed by stubbornness, pride, and circumstance.
Gabriel Oak is a successful sheep farmer nearing thirty years of age who falls in love with Bathsheba Everdene, a proud, vain, determined, and independent woman eight years his junior who has come to live with her aunt.
Bathsheba grows close to Gabriel - she even saves his life - but when he proposes marriage, she refuses, as she values her independence more than his love. She moves away miles out of town.
When Bathsheba and Gabriel are reunited sometime later, things have changed drastically for both of them. Gabriel is ruined when an inexperienced sheepdog runs his flock over the edge of a cliff.
After being forced to sell off all his possessions to settle his debts, Gabriel wanders about looking for work. He happens upon a dangerous fire ravaging a farm and helps to put it out.
When the owner of the farm comes over to thank him, it turns out to be Bathsheba, who inherited her uncle's estate. In need of a capable shepherd, she hires Gabriel, although it makes her uncomfortable.
Bathsheba has another admirer - a lonely, repressed, middle-aged farmer named William Boldwood. She decides to play a joke on him and sends him a valentine with the words "Marry Me" written on it. Boldwood, not realizing that it's just a joke, proposes marriage.
Bathsheba doesn't love him, but toys with the idea of marrying him. Despite his shortcomings, he's also affluent and the most eligible bachelor in town.
Instead of accepting Boldwood's proposal right away, she puts off giving him an answer and plays with his affections. When Gabriel finds out, he chides Bathsheba for her thoughtlessness. She fires him.
Later, when bloat threatens to kill all of her sheep, Bathsheba is finally forced to swallow her pride and beg Gabriel for help. He saves her flock, she hires him back, and they become friends again.
Soon, however, Bathsheba falls for a dashing soldier, Sgt. Francis "Frank" Troy. Gabriel tries to discourage her from marrying him, telling her that she'd be better of with William Boldwood. In love with Troy, Bathsheba elopes with him.
When they return from their honeymoon, Troy is approached by Boldwood, who offers him a huge bribe in exchange for Bathsheba. He refuses, and Boldwood vows revenge.
Unfortunately for Bathsheba, her gallant husband soon shows his true colors - he's a compulsive gambler in love with another woman, whom he was going to marry. Her name was Fanny Robin.
On their wedding day, Fanny accidentally went to the wrong church. Mistakenly believing that she jilted him, a humiliated Troy called off the wedding, not knowing that Fanny was pregnant with his child.
Months later, Troy meets Fanny on the road. A destitute wreck about to give birth, Troy takes pity on her and gives her all the money he has on him. He plans to support her and their child, but she dies in childbirth, along with the baby.
Gabriel tries to conceal all of this from Bathsheba, but she finds out and has the coffin brought to her house. She opens it and sees both mother and child. Troy kisses Fanny's corpse.
Telling Bathsheba, "This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be," Troy leaves her. He takes a long walk to the coast, strips off his clothes, and bathes in the ocean. A riptide carries him out to sea and he's presumed dead.
William Boldwood still determines to marry Bathsheba. This time, out of guilt over all the pain she's caused him, (and others) she agrees to marry him in a few years, when she can have her husband declared legally dead. What she doesn't know is that he's still alive.
When Troy learns that Boldwood has forced Bathsheba to marry him, he returns on Christmas Eve to claim her. He finds her at Boldwood's house and she screams in horror when she sees him.
Boldwood, refusing to give her up, shoots Troy and kills him. He attempts suicide and is later sentenced to hang. Boldwood's death sentence is commuted on the grounds of insanity after his friends petition the Home Secretary for mercy.
Through all of her tribulations, Bathsheba came to rely more and more on her oldest and dearest friend, Gabriel Oak. But one day, he gives notice that he's resigning from her employ.
When she presses him for an explanation, Gabriel reluctantly admits that he's quitting to protect her good name, as people are gossiping that he wants to marry her.
Bathsheba finally realizes that he is the only one who ever truly cared about her - the only one who really loved her. When he summons the courage to ask for her hand again, she accepts without hesitation, and they quietly marry.
A huge hit with Victorian readers and critics, Far From the Madding Crowd would become an all-time classic novel, adapted for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
Thomas Hardy would write more classic novels, including Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). He died in 1928 at the age of 87.
Quote Of The Day
"The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." - Thomas Hardy
Today's video features a complete reading of Thomas Hardy's classic novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. Enjoy!
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 22nd, 1819, the legendary English novelist Mary Anne Evans, best known by her male pen name George Eliot, was born in Warwickshire, England. Growing up, she had more formal education than most girls in the Victorian era.
She was an intellectually gifted child and a voracious reader. Her father invested in her education partly because he feared that her homely looks would most likely prevent her from landing a husband.
Mary Anne's father was the manager of Arbury Hall, a magnificent estate belonging to the aristocratic Newdigate family. Because of his position, she was granted access to the estate's formidable library of books.
She used the library to educate herself from the age of sixteen; her visits to Arbury Hall exposed her to the stark contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor, which would influence her writing.
Around this time Mary Anne's mother died, so she served as her father's housekeeper and cook. When her brother Isaac married, he and his new wife took over the family home. Mary Anne and her father moved to a new home near Coventry.
There, she was introduced to Coventry society, and struck up a friendship with Charles and Cara Bray, a wealthy couple known for their philanthropy and reputation as progressive free thinkers.
Through the Brays, Mary Anne Evans was introduced to the great philosophers and writers of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Owen, Harriet Martineau, and Herbert Spencer.
She also met liberal theologians with whom she explored her simmering discontent with the conservative, evangelical Anglican beliefs her father raised her with. When she began questioning the literal truth of the Bible, her father threatened to kick her out of his home.
Mary Anne's father never followed through with his threats. She continued to serve as his cook and housekeeper until he died in 1849. She was 30 years old at the time. A few days after his funeral, she accompanied her friends the Brays on a trip to Switzerland.
She decided to remain in Geneva rather than return home with the Brays. There, she was befriended by French artist Francois d'Albert Durade and his wife, Juliet. Francois painted a portrait of her.
The following year, Mary Anne returned to England. Sometimes known as Marian, she began using the name Marian Evans. She determined to become a writer. She stayed with her old friend John Chapman, a radical publisher.
She would become the assistant editor of his liberal literary magazine, The Westminster Review. It was unheard for a woman to become a magazine editor during the Victorian era, and her living arrangement with John Chapman would add more fuel to the fire of scandal. The worst was yet to come.
A few years later, in 1854, Mary Anne Evans moved in with George Henry Lewes, a philosopher and critic whom she had met three years earlier. She had finally found her true love. Lewes was married, but he and his wife Agnes had an open marriage. They also had seven children, four of which had been sired by Agnes' lover, Thornton Leigh Hunt.
Since Lewes had named himself as the father of Hunt's children on their birth certificates knowing that they were not his, he couldn't divorce Agnes. If he did, he would be considered an accomplice to her adultery and subject to criminal prosecution under British law.
Although they never did marry, Mary Anne and George Henry Lewes considered themselves husband and wife, and lived together as such. Mary Anne even used George's last name. After enjoying what she considered to be her honeymoon in Germany, she resumed her literary career.
She edited and wrote for The Westminster Review. What she really wanted to be was a novelist. Knowing that women writers in the Victorian era were either derided or not taken seriously, she took the pen name George Eliot.
Mary Anne's first novel, Adam Bede, was published in 1859. Her tale of a handsome young squire in a rural English town caught up in a love "rectangle" who finally realizes who his true love really is became an instant hit.
Suddenly, everyone was talking about this new and talented writer named George Eliot whose true identity was a mystery. Speculation about who he might be spread like wildfire.
When a failed writer named Joseph Liggins claimed that he was George Eliot and took credit for her work, Mary Anne Evans came forward and proved that she was the real George Eliot.
It wasn't long before word got out about Mary Anne's scandalous relationship with George Henry Lewes. While most of her readers were shocked, her popularity wasn't affected. Neither was her talent, as she continued to write great novels. Two of her best known, classic novels were Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1871-72).
Silas Marner told the story of the title character, a weaver living in a small town in Northern England in the early 19th century. When Marner is falsely accused of stealing from the Calvinist congregation he belongs to, he's kicked out of Church. His fiancee breaks up with him and marries another man.
Heartbroken, Marner leaves town and settles in the village of Raveloe, where he becomes a bitter, miserly recluse obsessed with gold coins, which he hoards in his home. When someone breaks in and steals all of his gold, Marner sinks into a deep depression.
Then, one cold winter night, he finds something far more precious than gold - a golden-haired two-year-old girl who wanders into his home. He follows her tracks in the snow and finds her mother dead of exposure.
Silas Marner decides to adopt the orphaned little girl and names her Eppie after his mother and sister. In raising his loving daughter, Marner's broken heart finally heals. Eppie grows up to be a fine and respected young woman.
When the secret of her true parentage is revealed, Eppie's biological father offers her a life of luxury as a gentleman's daughter. She politely refuses, telling him that she could never be happy without her real father - Silas Marner.
Middlemarch would prove to be "George Eliot's" magnum opus - a 900+ page epic novel published in several volumes. The English historical novel, which takes place from 1830-32, would establish the author's reputation as one of the most accurate chroniclers of rural English life in the early Victorian era.
This brilliant, classic novel remains to this day one of the most popular works of English literature ever written. In 1877, five years after the publication of Middlemarch, Mary Anne Evans was introduced to one of her biggest fans, Princess Louise - the daughter of Queen Victoria.
Her admiration and acceptance by the royal family squelched the flames of her scandalous personal life. She would court scandal again in 1880, when, two years after the death of her lover George Henry Lewes from illness, she married John Cross, a man twenty years her junior.
Her new husband was supposedly mentally unstable, and when he had an accident during their honeymoon in Venice - he fell off their hotel balcony into the Grand Canal - some speculated that he had attempted suicide. Whatever the cause, John Cross survived.
He and Mary Anne returned to England and settled into a new home in Chelsea. Unfortunately, she soon fell ill with a throat infection. She had been suffering from kidney disease for a few years, so the throat infection took a toll on her frail health.
Mary Anne Evans, aka George Eliot, died on December 22nd, 1880, at the age of 61.
Quote Of The Day
“The responsibility of tolerance lies in those who have the wider vision.” - George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
Today's video features a complete reading of George Eliot's classic epic novel, Middlemarch. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 21st, 1694, the legendary French writer and philosopher Voltaire was born. He was born François-Marie Arouet in Paris, France. He came from an upper class family; his father was a treasury official, his mother a noblewoman.
As a boy, Voltaire received his education at the Collège Louis-le-Grand, a Jesuit private school. There, he learned Latin and Greek. Later, he would become fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.
Voltaire's father intended for him to become a lawyer, so after he completed his schooling he was sent to study law. But Voltaire wanted to be a writer. While pretending that he was apprenticed to a notary public, he had taken up the life of a bohemian poet.
His father found out what he was up to, and he was sent away to Normandy to study law, but he continued writing. When Voltaire's father arranged for him to work as secretary to the French ambassador to the Netherlands, he took the job.
In the Netherlands, he fell in love with a girl named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer, a French Protestant refugee. The couple planned to elope, but were foiled by Voltaire's father, who would not be scandalized by having a Protestant marry into his family.
This planted the seeds for Voltaire's seething lifelong hatred of not only the Catholic Church, but religion in general, as well as the aristocracy and bourgeois mores. Taking his famous pen name, he became one of France's greatest and most controversial writers.
Voltaire's poetry and prose works were of a polemic nature, and he possessed a rapacious wit. He wrote many polemic tracts, pamphlets, and books - over 2,000 during his lifetime. A leading figure of the French Enlightenment, his writings, radical for their time, often got him in trouble.
He was not an atheist; he believed in the existence of a higher power, but disputed the validity of the Bible and other religious books, considering them to be collections of fairy tales written by men that inspired ignorance, intolerance, cruelty, and violence.
Voltaire loathed religious institutions like the Catholic Church. In a letter to Frederick II, the King of Prussia, he wrote, "[Catholicism] is without a doubt the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and the most blood-thirsty [religion] ever to infect the world."
He didn't single out the Church or Christianity in general for criticism. He also blasted Judaism (which gave the world the Old Testament) for the same reasons, and also Islam, which he called "a false and barbarous sect" founded by a "false prophet."
Rejecting the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Voltaire believed that each race had its own distinct origin, and that no one race was superior to the others. For this reason, and because he had always championed civil liberties and human rights, he denounced slavery, adding to his reputation as a radical.
In 1717, the publication of Voltaire's epic poem La Henriade, a satirical attack on the French monarchy and the Catholic Church, resulted in his arrest. He served almost a year in the Bastille. Imprisonment failed to temper his poison pen, and by 1726, he found himself in trouble again.
Outraged by Voltaire's retort to his insult, Chevalier de Rohan, a young aristocrat, obtained a royal lettre de cachet from King Louis XV - a warrant for Voltaire's arrest and imprisonment without trial.
To avoid serving more time at the Bastille, Voltaire fled to England. He returned to Paris nearly three years later. He continued to write and publish polemical essays, poetry, and prose. Though banned in France, his works were circulated secretly and remained popular.
Voltaire's essay collection Philosophical Letters on the English praised the constitutional monarchy of England for its respect for human rights while condemning the French monarchy for violating them.
The outrage over his writings would escalate. He would flee arrest again, then return. Eventually, King Louis XV banned Voltaire entirely from France. He moved first to Germany, then settled in Switzerland, where he wrote his classic philosophical comic novel Candide and lived for 28 years.
When Voltaire finally returned to Paris in February of 1778, he was met with a hero's welcome. Around three hundred people came to visit him. He died three months later at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." - Voltaire
Today's video features a complete reading of Voltaire's classic philosophical comic novel, Candide. Enjoy!
Monday, November 20, 2017
My review of The Genius Plague, a novel by David Walton, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
I haven't yahooed in a while because I'm lazy, but here are two acceptances for future publication:
My flash nonfiction essay, “A Quiet Man,” at Forge Literary Magazine.
A humorous flash, “Anonymous Man,” at Clever Magazine.
My story, "Watching Television," is up at Everyday Fiction.
My story, “Understanding Mama,” originally published in Fabula Argentea, has been selected for republication in their Fifth Anniversary Anthology, now available at Amazon.
I’ll yahoo again when the others appear.
I'm pleased to learn that I made a decent showing in a state poetry competition. I found out last night that I won a first place prize for my poem about my uncle and his love for playing his mandolin (titled Mandolin Breeze).
We recently talked (briefly) about J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy and my winning poem is related to that time and place. I also won two second places, a third place, and seven of my other poems placed in the top ten of their categories.
My first place winner will appear in their yearly anthology which will also list my second and third place wins.
Theresa A. Cancro
My poem "Visceral" has been published on Stanzaic Stylings.
Three of my haiku (all new) have been published in the British haiku print journal Presence, Issue #59 (November 2017). Joanna Weston is also there.
Judith Kelly Quaempts
My poem, "Lull," is up at Ariel Chart.
Also my poem, "Somewhere a Bird Sings a Foreign Song” is up at the same place.
Friday, November 17, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 17th, 1993, The Shipping News, the classic novel by the famous American writer Annie Proulx, won the National Book Award. It wasn't the first award her writing received; her previous (and first) novel, Postcards (1992) won the PEN / Faulkner Award.
The Shipping News is the moving chronicle of Quoyle, a man who faces unexpected and tragic twists and turns in his life and struggles to move on.
First, Quoyle's parents commit suicide, then his abusive, cheating wife Petal abducts their young daughters and runs off with her lover. After selling the children to a black market adoption agency for six thousand dollars, Petal and her lover are killed in a car accident.
Later, the police find Quoyle's daughters and they are returned to him, safe and sound. Unfortunately, his life is falling apart. Then his eccentric aunt, Agnis Hamm, (his father's sister) pays an unexpected visit.
Aunt Agnis convinces him to take the girls and return to the family's ancestral home in Newfoundland, (his father had emigrated to upstate New York) located on Quoyle's Point. There, he could make a fresh start.
In Newfoundland, Quoyle takes a job as a car accident reporter for the Gammy Bird, the local newspaper of Killick-Claw. (Quoyle had previously worked for a newspaper in New York.)
The editor also assigns him to cover the shipping news - the arrivals and departures at the local port. This results in Quoyle writing a series of popular articles on boats of interest in the harbor.
While making a new life for himself in Newfoundland, Quoyle makes new friends within the community and falls in love with a local woman named Wavey. He finds his emotional strength and self confidence growing - both of which he'll need, as disturbing secrets about his family history begin to emerge.
A year after it won the National Book Award, The Shipping News won its author a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 2001, it was adapted as an acclaimed feature film, directed by legendary Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom. It starred Kevin Spacey as Quoyle, Julianne Moore as Wavey, and Dame Judi Dench as Aunt Agnis.
Annie Proulx would become most famous for her acclaimed short story, Brokeback Mountain, which would be adapted as an Academy Award winning feature film in 2005.
Quote Of The Day
"You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences, and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write." - Annie Proulx
Today's video features Annie Proulx being interviewed before a live audience at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 16, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 16th, 1913, Swann's Way, the first volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, (In Search of Lost Time, aka Remembrance of Things Past) the classic epic novel by the legendary French writer Marcel Proust, was published.
Clocking in at well over a million words, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu is one of the longest novels ever written. When Proust began work on it, he planned to publish it as a series of seven volumes.
It took him over ten years to complete the series. He died while editing his finished drafts of the last three volumes, so his brother Robert finished the revisions (working from Marcel's notes) and published them posthumously.
After completing the first volume of his epic novel, Swann's Way, Proust submitted the manuscript to several publishers, all of whom rejected it. One editor complained about some minor syntax errors, while another had a different complaint.
"My dear fellow," he told Proust, "I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."
Proust's writing style was experimental in nature - dense and lyrical prose rich in symbolism and philosophy, eschewing plot in favor of a non-linear narrative. This reflected his fascination with the nature of memory.
The most famous memory evoked in Swann's Way is the narrator's memory of eating that classic French tea cake, the madeleine:
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?
The memories in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu are recalled in incredibly rich detail. Its style was in complete contrast with the plot-driven novels of its time. This may have contributed to its initial rejection.
Some believe it had more to do with the fact that Proust, who was gay, wrote openly and honestly about homosexuality at a time when it was not only despised by society but also illegal - a crime punishable by imprisonment.
His narrator in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu is not gay, but other characters are (most notably the Baron de Charlus in the fourth volume, Sodom and Gomorrah) and homosexuality is a recurring theme in Proust's writings.
Unfazed by the rejection of Swann's Way by publishers, Proust raised the money to publish the novel himself. It made him famous. Scholars have proclaimed A la Recherche du Temps Perdu to be one of the greatest modern novels ever written.
The legendary Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov named it as one of the greatest prose works of the 20th century, along with James Joyce's Ulysses and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. W. Somerset Maugham called it "the greatest fiction to date."
In 2002, Penguin Books published a new English translation of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Edited by Christopher Prendergast, it's a collaboration of seven different translators.
Ten years later, Naxos Audiobooks began releasing its acclaimed series of unabridged English language audiobooks of all the volumes of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, narrated by Neville Jason, famous for the abridged audiobook version of the series he'd recorded many years earlier.
I have already listened to the first four volumes of this new unabridged series, and the narration is magnificent. As always, unabridged audiobooks are the only way to go, especially when listening to the classics.
Quote Of The Day
"Reading is at the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it. It does not constitute it... There are certain cases of spiritual depression in which reading can become a sort of curative discipline... reintroducing a lazy mind into the life of the Spirit." - Marcel Proust
Today's video features a complete reading of Marcel Proust's classic novel, Swann's Way. Enjoy!
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 15th, 1887, the famous American poet Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri. She was born in the living quarters of her grandfather's church. He was a Presbyterian minister.
Marianne's father had walked out on the family before she was born, so she spent her early years living in her grandfather's home. Her grandfather died when she seven, and her mother moved the family to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she began her education.
After attending college and business school, Marianne taught at the Carlisle Indian School for several years. In 1915, when she was twenty-eight, her first published poem appeared.
Marianne continued to write and determined to become a professional poet. She and her mother moved to New York City, where she would become an assistant librarian at the New York Public Library.
As her publication credits grew, with her works published in major literary magazines and newspapers, she was befriended by some of the greatest poets of the day, such as William Carlos Williams, H.D. (Hilda Dolittle), Wallace Stevens, and T.S. Eliot.
In 1919, she struck up a friendship with Ezra Pound, a fellow American poet famous for his poetry and controversial for his political views. She continued to write to him even after the end of the war, as he languished in a brutal military prison.
Pound had been serving time for treason. A staunch conservative, in the 1930s he proclaimed his support for fascism and admiration of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. During the war, he had lived in Rome and recorded propaganda radio broadcasts for the Mussolini regime.
Although conservative herself, Marianne had denounced fascism long before America's entry into World War II and was revolted by Pound's anti-Semitism. Yet, she remained his friend. Pound would suffer a mental breakdown in prison, be declared insane, and transferred to a mental hospital.
Marianne Moore's first poetry collection, Poems, was published in London in 1921. It was actually published without her knowledge or consent by her friend H.D. as a surprise. When Marianne received her copy, she wasn't happy with the selection of poems, the editing, or the layout.
She continued to write and publish collections of her poetry, establishing herself as one of the finest poets of her generation. From 1925-29, she served as an editor for the famous literary magazine, The Dial (1840-1929). She won the Helen Haire Levinson Prize, awarded by the famous literary magazine Poetry, in 1931.
Marianne became a celebrity among the New York literati. She was quite a character; whenever she went out, no matter what the occasion, she'd wear her trademark black cape and matching tricorn hat.
She was a huge sports fan, and her favorite sports were baseball and boxing. She regularly attended ballgames and boxing matches. Her favorite boxer was Muhammad Ali, and she wrote the liner notes for his 1963 spoken word album, I Am The Greatest!
Marianne's fame also attracted the attention of the Ford Motor Company. The company's manager of marketing research asked her to name their newest car, a breakthrough model that they believed would make automotive history.
She came up with a list of names, including the Resilient Bullet, the Ford Silver Sword, the Varsity Stroke, the Andante con Moto, and the Utopian Turtletop.
None of Marianne's names for the new car were chosen. Instead, Ford named it the Edsel. It did make automotive history; with its open vulva-like grille and incredibly poor workmanship, it was the worst American car ever made. In its two years of production, Ford lost $350 million on the Edsel.
In 1951, Marianne published her most famous book, Collected Poems. It won her numerous awards, including a Pultizer Prize. She was a Modernist poet who believed that love of language and heartfelt expression were more important than meter, as you can see in her classic poem, Poetry:
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not be-
high sounding interpretation can be put upon them
but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to
become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us – that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll,
a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a
horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents
school-books;" all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
the imagination" – above
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads
in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,
in defiance of their opinion –
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
Quote Of The Day
"Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others." - Marianne Moore
Today's video features a rare recording of Marianne Moore reading her classic poem, Bird-Witted. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 14th, 1851, Moby Dick, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Herman Melville, was published in the United States. It had been published in England as The Whale a month earlier - a release that proved to be a disaster.
Melville's classic adventure novel was based in part on the true story of Mocha Dick, a giant albino sperm whale so named because his territory was the waters off the Chilean island of Mocha.
For many years, Mocha Dick terrorized the whaling ships that sailed through his territory. He was known to attack ships with incredible ferocity. He supposedly had around twenty harpoons stuck in his back by previous whalers.
By the time Mocha Dick was finally killed in the late 1830s, he had successfully fought off one hundred whaling crews and destroyed many ships. Sailors told stories about him in every port, and his legend grew.
When Herman Melville read a book about Mocha Dick, he became fascinated by the true story of a giant killer sperm whale and saw in it the potential for a great novel, one he hoped would prove to be his magnum opus. He had already become famous for such classic novels as Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).
The narrator of Moby Dick is Ishmael, an itinerant sailor who signs up for work on the whaling ship Pequod along with his new friend Queequeg, a master harpooner from a South Seas island where his father was the chief of a cannibal tribe.
Also on the crew of the Pequod are harpooners Tashtego and Daggoo, and chief mate Starbuck. The crew is under the command of Captain Ahab, a tyrant with a hidden agenda.
While on a whaling trip off the coast of Japan, Captain Ahab's ship was attacked by Moby Dick, a giant albino sperm whale. The ship was destroyed, and in the process, the giant whale bit off part of Captain Ahab's leg.
The crew of the Pequod has no idea that their captain plans to risk their lives to satisfy his monomaniacal desire for revenge against Moby Dick. When it becomes obvious that this is no ordinary whaling trip, Starbuck is the only one who objects.
Captain Ahab isn't deterred from his quest when Starbuck points out the madness of his plan and that revenge is against their religion - they're Quakers. In the novel's exciting climax, Ahab and nearly his entire crew pay the ultimate price for his revenge. Ishmael is the sole survivor of the Pequod's final battle with Moby Dick.
Although today Moby Dick is rightfully considered an epic masterpiece of American literature, the novel was savaged upon its first publication in England. Critics referred to it as "so much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature."
The scathing reviews were thanks to Melville's monumentally incompetent British publisher, who chopped up his already experimental manuscript for the censors, rearranged the ending, and forgot to include the crucial epilogue.
Melville had no idea that the UK version of his novel was so badly botched until it was too late. Shocked and confused by the bad reviews in British magazines, he was relieved when Moby Dick was published in America in its correct and unexpurgated original version.
Unfortunately, by then, the damage was done. The American reading public's interest had changed from sea adventures to tales of the American West and the Yukon gold rush, and though Moby Dick did receive good reviews from American critics, readers still remembered the bad reviews of the English critics.
The warm reception by American critics to the definitive version of Moby Dick was not enough to undo the damage done to the novel by its British publisher and make it the magnum opus Herman Melville had hoped for. It sold less than 3,000 copies during his lifetime. His total earnings from it were $556.37
He continued to write over the next several years, but after his novel The Confidence-Man was published in 1857, he plunged into alcoholism and depression and his writing came to a screeching halt.
In 1876, Melville published his classic epic poem Clarel, and it sold so poorly that he couldn't afford to buy back the unsold copies at cost, so they were burned. Unable to make money as a writer, he scraped by as a customs agent for New York City.
When Herman Melville died in 1891 at the age of 76, he had been completely forgotten as a writer. In a final insult, an article on Melville published in The New York Times ten days after his death mistakenly referred to him as Hiram Melville.
His last work, the classic novella Billy Budd, Sailor, was published posthumously in 1924 and became an instant classic that would rekindle an interest in his work. Moby Dick would finally receive its due as one of the greatest American novels of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." - Herman Melville
Today's video features a complete reading of Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick. Enjoy!
Monday, November 13, 2017
Joanna M. Weston
I have a poem up at Poets' Corner.
Thanks to everyone who helped me at the Niction list get my hub, Powerful Words Makes Powerful Prose, into shape at Hub Pages. Although I originally sent it to Letter Pile, they believed it would be a better fit at Hobby Lark for some reason. It’s now available at that niche site.
I’ve heard back from Calorie Bee via Hub Pages on my last Leafy green Vegetable hub last week. Thanks for everyone who helped me get it into shape last month.
Friday, November 10, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 10th, 1973, copies of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), the classic novel by the legendary American writer Kurt Vonnegut, were burned by administrators of a high school in Drake, North Dakota, as per the orders of the Drake School Board.
Slaughterhouse-Five, considered to be Vonnegut's masterpiece, was a landmark experimental novel. Opening during the Battle of the Bulge in the second World War, its main character is Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier.
A poorly trained soldier who hates war, Pilgrim is captured by the Nazis and becomes a prisoner of war. He and his comrades are interned in a prison camp whose quarters used to be a slaughterhouse.
Pilgrim soon finds himself "unstuck in time," as he travels through the past and the future, experiencing historical events out of sequence. He meets a failed science fiction writer named Kilgore Trout, who would return in Vonnegut's 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions.
In his most memorable adventure, Pilgrim is kidnapped by space aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who exhibit him in their zoo, along with his "mate" - a sex film starlet named Montana Wildhack.
Vonnegut's brilliant, fantastical, and scathing antiwar satire was controversial for its political themes. The novel explored the Allied extermination of thousands of German civilians in the Dresden bombings.
It was also one of the first major literary works to explore the fact that in addition to Jews, Gypsies, and political opponents, the Nazis also exterminated homosexuals during the Holocaust.
An English teacher at the Drake high school had assigned Slaughterhouse-Five to his students for classroom study. One student complained to her mother about profane language in the novel, and the disgruntled parent contacted the principal, who then brought the issue to the attention of the board of education.
The Drake School Board decided not only to ban Slaughterhouse-Five from the classroom and the school library, but also to confiscate students' personal copies of the novel and burn them.
Most of the students refused to turn over their copies of the book, so school officials just raided their lockers and took them.
All the seized copies of Slaughterhouse-Five (and other books banned by the Board, including James Dickey's classic suspense thriller Deliverance) were tossed into the school's furnace and burned.
When Kurt Vonnegut learned that copies of his novel had been burned, he wrote the following to a member of the Drake School Board:
Dear Mr. McCarthy:
I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.
If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life.
If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books — books you hadn't even read.
You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive. Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.
Nine years later, in the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment limits the authority of school boards to remove books from middle and high school libraries.
Students had sued the Island Trees School Board over their decision to ban Slaughterhouse-Five and other books, which the Board had declared "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-[Semitic], and just plain filthy."
Public burnings of books still take place in the United States. More recently, church groups conducted public burnings of J.K. Rowling's series of Harry Potter fantasy novels, which they accuse of encouraging children to practice real witchcraft and dabble in devil worship.
Quote Of The Day
"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae." - Kurt Vonnegut
Today's video features Kurt Vonnegut speaking as part of a panel discussion on the Dresden bombings at Florida State University in 1997. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 9, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 9th, 1928, the famous American poet Anne Sexton was born. She was born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts.
After graduating high school, Anne became a model for Boston's famous Hart Agency. In 1948, she married her husband, Alfred Sexton. She bore him two children and remained with him for twenty-five years.
Throughout her life, Anne Sexton suffered from severe mental illness. She suffered her first mental breakdown in 1954. After her second breakdown in 1955, she began seeing a therapist, Dr. Martin Orne, who diagnosed her with a condition now known as bipolar disorder.
It was Dr. Orne who suggested that Anne Sexton take up writing poetry. She decided to attend a poetry workshop, but was so nervous about it that she had a friend accompany her to the first session. The workshop was led by John Holmes - the poet, not the porn star.
It unlocked a talent Anne never knew she had; all of a sudden, her poems were being published in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and The Saturday Review.
She later attended Boston University, studying with Robert Lowell, alongside soon-to-be famous poets such as Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.D. Snodgrass became Anne's literary mentor.
When her first poetry collection,To Bedlam and Part Way Back, was published in 1960, it established her as one of the finest confessional poets of her generation.
In addition to her central themes of isolation, depression, and despair, she was a modernist poet ahead of her time - one of the first widely published female poets to write openly, honestly, and graphically about taboo subjects such as menstruation, abortion, adultery, and masturbation.
Anne Sexton's third poetry collection, Live or Die (1968), won her a Pulitzer Prize. Around this time, she became a counterculture celebrity. She would perform live readings accompanied by a jazz-rock group.
The ensemble billed itself as Anne Sexton and Her Kind. The name of her band, "Her Kind," is also the title of one of her most famous poems, which appeared in her first poetry collection. It was the signature piece of her performances:
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Unfortunately, while Anne's fame and fortunes grew, her mental illness grew worse. She committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning (she locked herself in her garage and started her car with the windows open) at the age of 45.
During her short life, Anne Sexton wrote over a dozen poetry collections and a play. She also co-wrote four children's books with her friend, Maxine Kumin.
After Anne's death, her troubled life would become the subject of controversy when her former therapist, Dr. Orne, gave biographer Diane Middlebrook audiotapes of his therapy sessions with Anne.
Middlebrook's biography - published with the approval of Anne's daughter Linda - revealed many troubling details, including the fact that Anne had been sexually abused by her mother and that a second personality called Elizabeth had emerged while Anne was hypnotized.
Anne's mother and some relatives vehemently denied that any abuse took place and accused her therapist of planting false memories during their hypnotherapy sessions, which involved the administration of sodium pentothol.
Other relatives, including Anne's daughter Linda, confirmed that Anne had been abused by her mother. The biography is still hotly debated to this day, as is the issue of whether doctor-patient confidentiality should remain in effect after the patient dies.
Anne Sexton's eighth poetry collection, The Awful Rowing Toward God, was published posthumously in 1975. The title came as a result of her meeting with a Catholic priest who had told her, "God is in your typewriter."
Quote Of The Day
"The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that's saying a lot." - Anne Sexton
Today's video features a complete recording of Anne Sexton's final public reading, taped at Goucher College in 1974. Enjoy!
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 8th, 1602, the world famous Bodleian Library, located at Oxford University in England, was opened to the public. Although one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library was not the first library that existed at Oxford.
The first library at Oxford was founded in the 14th century by Thomas Cobham, the Bishop of Worcester. It began as a small collection of books that were chained to prevent theft. The collection grew steadily, but modestly.
Then, around 1436, Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, (brother of King Henry V) donated a huge collection of manuscripts to the library.
There wasn't nearly enough room to store these manuscripts at the library's current location, above the north side of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. So, construction of a new library began.
The new library, located above the Divinity School, became known as Duke Humfrey's Library. By the late 16th century, the library had declined so dramatically that its furniture was being sold off due to lack of interest.
In 1598, Sir Thomas Bodley, a wealthy retired nobleman known for his work as a diplomat, determined to restore and expand the Oxford library as a much needed antidote to "the mediocrity of worldly living." He wrote the following to Oxford's Vice Chancellor:
"Where there hath bin hertofore a publike library in Oxford: which you know is apparent by the rome it self remayning, and by your statute records I will take the charge and cost upon me, to reduce it again to his former use."
Bodley pledged his own money and collected donations from his fellow nobles to finance the library project. He also donated a collection of his own books.
The new library, which took four years to build, was renamed the Bodleian Library. It was opened to the public in November of 1602.
A huge hit with students, the aristocracy, the royal family, and the general British public, the Bodleian Library's collection began to grow rapidly.
When Sir Francis Bacon donated a copy of his classic work Advancement of Learning to the library, he praised Bodley for "having built an ark to save learning from the deluge."
Bodley spent his remaining years acquiring manuscripts from around the world for his library. In 1603, he acquired the library's first Chinese language book.
In 1610, Bodley made a deal with Stationers' Company - England's largest publisher - to place a copy of every one of its volumes in the library.
The Bodleian Library's collection grew so quickly that its building needed to be expanded. Eventually, new buildings were constructed as part of the library's complex.
Although Bodley wouldn't live to see it - he died in 1613 - the Bodleian Library would ultimately become the United Kingdom's second largest library.
Today, the Bodleian Library boasts an incredible collection of over 11 million items, including books, periodicals, maps, sound and music recordings, drawings and prints, and rare handwritten manuscripts such as Shakespeare's First Folios.
Sir Thomas Bodley would have been angered by the Bodleian Library's Shakespeare holdings; he had originally banned play scripts from his library as "very unworthy matters." This and other policies would change over time.
One of the biggest changes in library policy occurred recently, as patrons are now allowed to photocopy or digitally scan library materials.
The library itself, working with the Oxford Digital Library, had already archived most of its pre-1801 holdings on microfilm and continues to digitize its collection.
The fantastic architecture of the Bodleian Library complex has made it an ideal location for filming. It served as the set for the library at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films.
Sir Thomas Bodley would have been horrified. He was an extremely devout Christian and banned all occult books and manuscripts from his library. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and the co-founder of Oxford's first library, wouldn't have been thrilled, either.
Humphrey was accused of witchcraft and hanged. His wife Eleanor was exiled to the Isle of Man - after being forced to march in a humiliating "parade of penance." Shakespeare depicted these events in his classic play, Henry VI, Part 2.
Quote Of The Day
"No university in the world has ever risen to greatness without a correspondingly great library. When this is no longer true, then will our civilization have come to an end." - Lawrence Clark Powell
Today's video features a presentation on one of the Bodleian Library's great treasures - a rare medieval manuscript of Dante's classic epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 7th, 1913, the legendary French writer, philosopher, and journalist Albert Camus was born in El Taref, Algeria. Throughout his life, Algeria was a French colony, and what he saw of colonial life was reflected in his writings and philosophy.
Camus never knew his father Lucien, who died when he was a year old. Lucien was killed in the Battle of the Marne during World War I. Albert and his mother, who was Spanish and half-deaf, lived in poverty in the Belcourt section of Algiers.
While studying at the University of Algiers, Camus excelled at both academics and soccer. His career as a star goalkeeper was cut short when he contracted tuberculosis. The disease would come and go over the years.
After graduating from university, Camus joined the French Communist Party. He was not a hardcore communist, and when he became involved with the Algerian People's Party, the Soviet Union denounced him as a Trotskyite and had the French Communist Party expel him.
The Algerian People's Party was a socialist party led by prominent Algerian nationalist Messali Hadji - one of many leftist parties that had formed a coalition centered around Algerian independence from French rule.
The fragile coalition would break apart due to infighting; the Soviet Union was determined to see a communist Algeria under its control, but the parties not allied with the Soviets were calling for a fully independent Algeria.
After being expelled by the French Communist Party, Albert Camus would associate himself with the French anarchist movement. He began a career in journalism and wrote for socialist newspapers. Meanwhile, the looming threat of Hitler increased.
Camus went to France and tried to enlist in the military but was disqualified because of his recurring tuberculosis. During the Nazi occupation of France, he joined the French Resistance.
The French Resistance cell Camus joined was called Combat, and he served as the editor-in-chief of its underground newspaper of the same name, writing under the pseudonym Beauchard.
When the Allies liberated France, Camus was there to witness and report on the defeat of the Nazis. Later, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he was one of the few French newspaper editors to speak out against the bombing and express disgust.
It was during the Nazi occupation of France that Albert Camus would publish his first novel. The Stranger (1942) was a classic work of existentialist philosophical fiction.
Meursault, a young Algerian, drifts aimlessly through the tumultuous French Algerian landscape. Unable to feel for anyone including himself, he attends his mother's funeral, meets a girl, becomes entangled in the life of a local pimp, and ends up inexplicably killing a man.
Arrested, jailed, and put through an absurd trial, Meursault's defense is obviously a deficiency of character - the product of his environment. In telling his story, Camus explores the paradox of existentialism - the search for meaning in a meaningless world.
A year after The Stranger was published, Camus met the legendary French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre at the dress rehearsal of Sartre's play, The Flies. The two men became close friends. Camus referred to Sartre as his "study partner."
In 1947, Camus published his second novel, The Plague. Although set in the 1940s, this classic novel was inspired by an epidemic of cholera that ravaged the population of the Algerian city of Oran in 1849 - right after France colonized Algeria.
In the novel, the streets of modern Oran become infested with rats carrying the plague. The rats start dying en masse, but not before transmitting the disease to the human population.
Dr. Bernard Rieux, a wealthy physician, is the first to recognize that a plague is spreading. He alerts the authorities, who waste time quibbling over what action to take. Rieux opens a plague ward in the town hospital, and its 80 beds are filled in three days.
As the city struggles to contain the plague, the authorities are left with no option but to seal the city to keep the plague from ravaging all of Algeria. One man tries to get criminals to smuggle him out of the city.
Dr. Rieux teams up with civil servant Joseph Grand and tourist Jean Tarrou to treat all the incoming plague cases. Meanwhile, Father Paneloux, an ambitious Catholic priest, declares that the plague is an act of God unleashed to punish the citizens for their sins.
The desperate people of Oran flock to the Church in droves and a new plague begins to ravage the city - the plague of religion. When Father Paneloux witnesses firsthand the efforts to contain the rat plague and the horrors that the disease causes, the priest has a change of heart.
In the 1950s, Camus devoted his life to human rights causes. He worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but resigned when the UN decided to recognize Spain's fascist dictatorship under General Franco.
When the Algerian War broke out in 1954, Camus found himself at a political crossroad. He was in favor of Algerian independence, but opposed the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) freedom fighters - Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas backed by the Soviet Union.
As the vicious FLN guerrillas fought the equally vicious French colonial army, Camus feared for the lives of the innocent Algerian and French citizens caught in the crossfire. He ultimately sided with the French, alienating himself from his friends, including Jean-Paul Sartre.
Undaunted by the criticism, Camus worked behind the scenes to save the lives of imprisoned Algerians who had been sentenced to death by the French colonial government. He was a vocal opponent of capital punishment, a position he expressed in his classic essay, Reflections on the Guillotine.
In 1956, The Fall, Camus' last novel published during his lifetime, was released. The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In addition to his novels, he wrote plays, short stories, essays, and works of non-fiction.
Four years later, on January 4th, 1960, Albert Camus was riding in a car driven by his publisher and friend, Michel Gallimard, when they were both killed in an accident. Camus had originally intended to travel by train with his wife and twin daughters, but decided to ride with Gallimard instead. He was 46 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself." - Albert Camus
Today's video features the full length documentary Albert Camus - The Madness of Sincerity. Enjoy!