This Day In Literary History
On December 29th, 1916, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the classic first novel by the legendary Irish writer James Joyce, was published in the United States.
It was the first publication of the novel in book form; it had previously been published in a serialized format in Ezra Pound's literary magazine, The Egoist, from 1914-15.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was a complete rewrite of Stephen Hero, an earlier novel Joyce had been working on from 1904-05. Frustrated, Joyce abandoned it, but an incomplete first draft of Stephen Hero would be published posthumously in 1944.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man introduced Joyce's dazzling stream of consciousness narrative style and trademark experimental grammar, which included the use of dashes in place of quotation marks.
An autobiographical novel, it told the story of the physical, intellectual, philosophical, political, and spiritual coming-of-age of its main character, Stephen Dedalus, named after the first Christian martyr who had conflicts with the established religion of his homeland.
His surname, Dedalus, refers to the architect of ancient Greek myth who became trapped in a labyrinth of his own design. Stephen Dedalus begins to question the Catholic doctrine he was raised to believe in. He soon rebels against the Church and renounces his religion.
In Dedalus' native Ireland, the Church exerts a tremendous amount of influence on and power over all aspects of secular life, including the government. Whether one is on the political left or right, or in the middle, one cannot escape the suffocating influence of the Catholic Church.
Realizing this, Stephen Dedalus refuses to commit himself to any political party or beliefs. Knowing that there is no future for him in Ireland, he leaves the country and moves abroad to pursue his artistic calling.
In a 1907 lecture, Joyce discussed the issues that Dedalus faces in the novel:
The Irishman, finding himself in another environment, outside Ireland, very often knows how to make his worth felt. The economic and intellectual conditions of his homeland do not permit the individual to develop.
The spirit of the country has been weakened by centuries of useless struggle and broken treaties. Individual initiative has been paralyzed by the influence and admonitions of the church, while the body has been shackled by peelers, duty officers and soldiers. No self-respecting person wants to stay in Ireland. Instead he will run from it, as if from a country that has been subjected to a visitation by an angry Jove.
A seminal early novel that established the literary style and personal philosophy of one of the world's greatest writers, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a must read for anyone interested in James Joyce or great novels.
Its main character, Stephen Dedalus, would reappear as one of the main characters in Joyce's classic and controversial epic masterpiece, Ulysses, which was banned for years in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ironically, nearly 100 years after James Joyce's first novel was written, the Catholic Church finally lost its power over Ireland when it was discovered that hundreds of Irish priests had molested thousands of children over the past several decades - crimes known and covered up by the Church.
Quote Of The Day
"Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an aesthetic end." - James Joyce
Today's video features a complete reading of James Joyce's classic novel, Finnegan's Wake. Enjoy!
Friday, December 29, 2017
Thursday, December 28, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 28th, 1917, A Neglected Anniversary, the classic satirical essay by the legendary American essayist, satirist, and journalist H.L. Mencken, was published in the New York Evening Mail.
The essay appeared to be a legitimate article on the American invention of the bathtub, but it was really a hoax - a practical joke on the American press and one of many classic Mencken jabs at the American bourgeoisie, which he liked to call the booboisie.
In a narrative parodying the style of an editorial, Mencken chided the public for failing to recognize such an important American cultural event as the anniversary of the invention of the bathtub.
"Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day," he lamented. To forget such an important anniversary was downright unpatriotic!
The nation had simply forgotten that the very first bathtubs appeared in Cincinnati. Why? Mencken believed it was because the bathtub had been denounced by the watchdogs of society.
These snobs had decried the venerable vessel as "an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic."
The bathtub was also denounced by the American medical establishment, which believed that bathing in a tub caused "phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases."
In a (seemingly) thoroughly researched account of the Great Bathtub Debate, Mencken observed:
The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes.
During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.
Mencken was surprised and delighted when newspapers across the country fell for his phony article on the history of the American bathtub and republished it. Not only that, the "facts" in the article were added to reference books and touted by the health and hygiene industry.
The makers of calendars for the White House observed Mencken's anniversary of the bathtub and his claim that Millard Fillmore had been the first U.S. President to install one at the White House.
Eight years after he wrote the bathtub article, Mencken decided it was time to end the joke and expose the hoax. He published a confession, but some people believed that was the real hoax, and his phony bathtub anniversary continued to be commemorated.
Mencken had written A Neglected Anniversary as a satirical slap at both the gullibility of the American booboisie and the American press, which had been acting as part of the government's propaganda machine.
In 1917, when the article was published, the United States had entered World War I. Unlike the second world war, the U.S. had not been attacked. Many Americans were apprehensive about entering the Great War to fight Germany and her allies.
So, for propaganda purposes, the press smeared everything German. American citizens of German descent were denounced as "dirty Huns" and their patriotism was questioned. Even prominent German-American writers like H.L. Mencken and his close friend Theodore Dreiser were denounced.
The propaganda machine went to such absurd lengths that sauerkraut, the popular German side dish, had been renamed "liberty cabbage" by the U.S. government. Sound familiar? Remember "freedom fries?"
When the press smeared him for daring to admit that he wasn't ashamed of his German heritage and that he admired German culture, Mencken had enough.
A Neglected Anniversary was his revenge on the press for being part of the propaganda machine instead of the objective journalists they were supposed to be.
What did Mencken think of Germany during the second World War? When Hitler first came to power, Mencken dismissed him as a buffoon. When the Nazis began persecuting Jews, Mencken compared Hitler's Third Reich to the American Ku Klux Klan.
And, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to admit Jewish refugees into the United States, Mencken blasted him publicly. He was one of the first American journalists to speak out against the persecution of Jews in Germany at a time when even the New York Times remained silent on the issue.
H.L. Mencken died in 1956 at the age of 75. One can only imagine what he'd think of the times we live in now, and of media outlets like the Fox News Channel that serve the propaganda machine, presenting lies as truths.
Quote Of The Day
"A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier." - H.L. Mencken
Today's video features a rare radio interview with H.L. Mencken - the only recording of his voice known to exist. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 27th, 1904, Peter Pan, the classic play by the legendary Scottish playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie, opened in London at the Duke of York's Theatre.
The play, whose full title was Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a beloved fairy tale which the author would novelize seven years after its stage premiere, actually had its roots in tragedy.
In 1866, when James M. Barrie was six years old, his 13-year-old brother David died suddenly. He was killed in an ice skating accident, leaving their mother devastated, as David had been her favorite son.
To ease his mother's grief, (and finally get some attention from her) James took to wearing David's clothes in her presence and whistling the way David always did. His mother was able to come to terms with her grief.
She took comfort in knowing that David would be a boy forever, and never grow up to leave her. James took similar comfort in dealing with his own grief over his brother's death.
Although the character wasn't named after him, it would be David that Barrie was thinking of when he conceived the character of Peter Pan - another boy who would never grow up. Peter Pan was named after Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys.
Barrie was a close friend of the Llewelyn Davies family; the boys - Peter, George, John, Michael, and Nicholas - called him Uncle Jim. After the sudden deaths of their parents, Barrie was named one of their guardians in their mother's will.
The play opens with Peter Pan making another of his secret nighttime visits to the Darling family of Kensington, London, to listen to Mrs. Darling tell her children a bedtime story.
Peter is a boy of about twelve years old. He never grew up, and doesn't want to. He has become an immortal child who can fly. He lives in a magical place called Neverland.
On this particular visit, Peter is accidentally spotted. He flees, but loses his shadow. When he returns later to get it back, he wakes Mrs. Darling's oldest child, Wendy - a girl of about Peter's age.
After she reattaches Peter's shadow to him, he invites Wendy and her two brothers, John (about ten years old) and Michael (about five) to Neverland. To get there, he teaches them how to fly.
In Neverland, the Darling children have many adventures. They meet the Lost Boys - whom Peter rescued after they got lost in Kensington Gardens - and Peter's fairy friend, Tinker Bell, who seethes with jealousy when Wendy falls in love with Peter and he begins to have romantic feelings for her.
Soon, however, Peter Pan finds himself once again battling his archenemy, the murderous pirate Captain James Hook, who blames Peter for his hand being bitten off by a crocodile.
First, Peter saves Indian (Native American) princess Tiger Lily from Captain Hook and his pirate crew, then he must save Wendy, John, and Michael when they're captured by Hook.
The most famous scene in the play finds Peter, not realizing she's been kidnapped, deciding to take his medicine to please Wendy. After kidnapping Wendy and her brothers, Captain Hook had poisoned the medicine. Tinker Bell, having no time to warn Peter, drinks the medicine herself.
As she lies near death, Tinker Bell tells Peter that her life could be saved if children believed in fairies. So, Peter turns to the audience and pleads with the children watching to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. This always results in an explosion of applause, and Tinker Bell is saved.
In the end, Peter saves Wendy and her brothers and feeds Captain Hook to the crocodile who bit off his hand. Then he sails Hook's ship back to London. Peter wants Wendy to stay with him in Neverland, but she knows that her place is at her home in London. She, like all children, must grow up.
Not wanting to lose Wendy, Peter decides to trick her into thinking that her mother has forgotten about her, but when he realizes how much Mrs. Darling misses her children, he reconsiders.
In a surprise twist, it's hinted that Mrs. Darling was Peter's friend before she decided to grow up. Peter promises to visit Wendy every spring. The play ends with Wendy looking out her window and calling to him, "You won't forget to come for me, Peter? Please, please don't forget!"
When Peter Pan premiered in London in 1904, Peter was played by a woman - Nina Boucicault, the daughter of playwright Dion Boucicault. When the play opened on Broadway the following year, Maude Adams was cast as Peter Pan. It became a tradition for Peter to be played by a woman.
In 1954, a new Broadway musical version of Peter Pan opened, featuring Mary Martin in the title role. She would become the most famous actress to play Peter Pan on stage. Other notable Peters include Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby.
Peter Pan would also be adapted several times as a feature film, including the famous 1953 Disney animated musical, with Peter voiced by Disney child star Bobby Driscoll.
Hook, a 1991 adaptation, was an unusual sequel that found Peter Pan (Robin Williams) finally grown up. Now a middle aged husband and father, Peter must return to Neverland to once again battle Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), who has kidnapped his two children.
In 2003, Peter Pan, a lavish, big budget live action feature film adaptation of the play, was released. The acclaimed film featured Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy, and Jason Issacs in a dual role as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. (It was also traditional for Hook and Mr. Darling to be played by the same actor.)
Twelve years later in 2015, another movie, Pan, was released. A prequel to Barrie's play, Pan tells the story of how Peter Pan (Levi Miller) first came to Neverland and battled another murderous pirate - Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
Pan received sharply mixed reviews, as some filmgoers failed to understand that it was intended to be a prequel, and parents complained about the PG rated film's dark tone and violence.
Seven years after his play debuted in London, J.M. Barrie published a novelization of Peter Pan called Peter and Wendy. It would be somewhat different from the original play script, as Barrie would continually revise the play. He would publish another novel, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906.
Throughout his literary career, J.M. Barrie authored many novels and plays. He died of pneumonia in June of 1937 at the age of 77. In his will, Barrie left all the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital - England's leading chidren's hospital.
Quote Of The Day
"All the world is made of faith and trust and pixie dust." - J.M. Barrie
Today's video features a complete live performance of the Broadway musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play, Peter Pan, featuring Cathy Rigby in the title role. Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 26th, 1891, the legendary American writer Henry Miller was born. He was born Heinrich Miller in New York City, the son of German immigrant parents. He had an older sister, Lauretta, whose grim fate would be chronicled in his classic autobiographical novel, Black Spring (1936).
As a young boy, Henry Miller proved to be intellectually gifted and an exceptional student, but he disliked his teachers. He educated himself, reading voraciously from a young age. He tried college, but dropped out after one semester.
Miller came of age in New York City's rough and seedy Bowery. He drifted from job to job and became an active member of the American Socialist Party. By 1917, he had landed a long term job at the Western Union Telegraph Company and married his first wife, Beatrice.
Seven years later, in 1924, Miller quit his job and had left his wife for his mistress, a Broadway dancer named June Smith, who would become his second wife. He had determined to become a writer, and June encouraged his literary endeavors.
His first two novels, Clipped Wings (1922) and Moloch, or This Gentile World (1927) were rejected. The latter would be published posthumously in 1992, creating a controversy over some allegedly anti-Semitic passages that were actually comic jabs at his wife June, who was Jewish.
At the time Miller wrote Moloch, or This Gentile World, his relationship with June had deteriorated due to her mental instability. She would leave him for another woman. In 1930, freed from the burden of marriage, he went to Paris.
There, a penniless but happy Henry Miller found work as a proofreader for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, thanks to his friend, Austrian writer Alfred Perles, who recognized his talent and supported him.
The literary scene of early 1930s Paris energized Miller's creative juices. He struck up friendships with other writers, including a young woman who would become his close friend, lover, and muse - a Frenchwoman of Danish and Spanish descent named Anaïs Nin.
She and Henry were both struggling, aspiring writers trying to make ends meet, as France had also fallen victim to the Great Depression. They and some of their writer friends soon discovered that they could make around $1 per page writing pornographic literature for an anonymous private collector.
That was the equivalent of $15 per page in today's money; not much today, but good money back then. At first, they wrote erotica just for their own amusement, but soon it became an important source of income during the dark days of the Depression when work was hard to come by.
Believe it or not, for Henry Miller, writing decent erotica in those days was a struggle. Anaïs Nin, however, was brilliant at it. When she let him read her now famous diaries, they were a revelation to him. Her writing had the poetry and passion that his lacked.
An excited Miller began writing a new novel. The muse seized him by the throat and wouldn't let go; as his fingers flew about the keys of his typewriter, he chain-smoked and listened to the jazz or Beethoven that blared out of his Victrola.
He would write as many as 20, 30, or even 45 pages a day. When he completed the manuscript, he and Anaïs Nin both knew he had written something special - a novel that would revolutionize literature as the world knew it and probably land its author in jail for obscenity.
Tropic of Cancer was a novel in the form of a memoir. Combining fiction with autobiography, the novel featured a narrative that alternated between conventional and experimental, combining sober accounts with dazzling stream of consciousness reflections.
Funny, sad, joyous, and mad, passionate and poetic, the novel is rightfully considered a masterpiece. In the opening pages, Miller described the book this way:
It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.
This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants of God, Man, Destiny, Time, Beauty... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse...
One of Miller's dirty corpses was that of his homeland, America. Predicting the uproar over the novel's graphic sexual content, he said:
America will call me the lowest of the low when they see my Cancer. What a laugh I'll have when they begin to spit and fume. I hope they'll learn something about death and futility, about hope, etc. I won't give them a fucking leg to stand on...
Miller was able to get Tropic of Cancer published unexpurgated in Paris in 1934, which was no easy task, even in the liberal, intellectual City of Lights. In his American homeland, the novel was immediately banned as obscene.
Tropic of Cancer would remain banned in the United States for over 30 years, available to American readers only in pirated editions sold under the counter in certain bookshops or on the black market.
Henry Miller followed his classic debut novel with another great book, Black Spring (1936), an autobiographical novel chronicling his childhood and young adulthood, including the haunting fate of his older sister, Lauretta.
Lauretta, a sweet-natured girl who'd been born mildly retarded, was considered an embarrassment and a burden by her parents. As a child and adolescent, she was mostly cared for by her younger brother Henry, who adored her. But her parents ultimately decided to have her locked up.
Forced to live along with raving lunatics in a grim, brutal asylum, Lauretta deteriorated quickly and died young. Henry never forgave his parents for locking her up. He never spoke to them again.
He followed Black Spring with more great novels, among his numerous works are Tropic of Capricorn (1939), The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), and his classic Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy of novels: Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1960).
Miller's classic novella Quiet Days in Clichy (1956), often paired with his classic novella length essay The World of Sex (1940), was an autobiographical comic novel based on the author's adventures in early 1930's Paris.
In Quiet Days in Clichy, the narrator and his best friend Carl are two broke, struggling aspiring writers living hand-to-mouth in Paris. They share an apartment and soon acquire another roommate - Colette, a fifteen-year-old French runaway that Carl brings home.
The young girl becomes their housekeeper and lover - until her parents track her down. Meanwhile, the narrator falls in love with two prostitutes, one of whom reminds him of a woman whom he regrets not marrying.
Henry Miller was no pornographer; he didn't write about sex to arouse his readers, he simply and honestly celebrated his sexual life. In his classic essay The World of Sex (1940), he explained that the sex in his writings was the product of the libertine philosophy that he believed in and based his life on.
He blasted the hypocritical American "values" that condemned sex as sinful. Instead of openly accepting and celebrating something as natural and beautiful as sex, Americans would rather decry it as sinful and suppress it, leaving the only outlet for sexual expression to smut peddlers.
Until a landmark censorship trial in 1961 acquitted Tropic of Cancer of obscenity charges, Henry Miller's novels went unseen in America except in pirated editions. That trial took place in the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court and was fought by legendary publisher Barney Rosset of Grove Press.
Three years later, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Ohio State Supreme Court's ruling that Tropic of Cancer was legally obscene, making it possible for all of Henry Miller's novels to be published in America.
Miller would marry three more times. His last great love was Brenda Venus, a young actress and dancer who had once posed for Playboy magazine. During the last four years of his life, he exchanged over 1,500 letters with Brenda. A book containing their correspondence was published in 1986.
Henry Miller died in 1980 at the age of 88.
Quote Of The Day
"A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation... A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold." - Henry Miller
Today's video features a full length documentary on Henry Miller called The Henry Miller Odyssey. Enjoy!
Monday, December 25, 2017
My review of By Gaslight, a novel by Steven Price, has been published by the Internet Review of Books. It appears along with Sue Ellis's review of the novel in a side by side comparison of contrasting reviews.
My review of By Gaslight, a novel by Steven Price, has been published by the Internet Review of Books. It appears along with Eric Petersen's review of the novel in a side by side comparison of contrasting reviews.
Cezarija E. Albartis
My short flash "Sleeping Beauty Is a Bad Girl" is up at Jellyfish Review.
My review of David Leite's "Notes On a Banana" is up at Book Club Babble.
An odd little poem of mine is up at Young Ravens Literary Review. Funny the things that stay in our minds forever.
Joanna M. Weston
A poem, I think the last for me at this site (for the moment), up at Friday's Poems. Scroll down to find "6 AM."
My story, "Leaving La Grange," originally published in Fabula Argentea, has been accepted for inclusion in the 2017 Silver Pen Anthology. The book will be available on Amazon in January. It will also be included in Fabula Argentea's Five Year Anniversary Anthology.
My flash story, "At the Zoo," has been accepted at FishFood Magazine and will be published in a forthcoming issue.
Theresa A. Cancro
One haiku of mine has been published in the December 2017 issue of Stardust Haiku Journal, on page 4. Click on the link for December 2017, then scroll down.
Friday, December 22, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 22nd, 1849, the legendary Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was forced to suffer the psychological torture of a mock execution at the hands of the Czar.
Dostoyevsky was prepared for execution and made to stand in front of a firing squad. Just as he thought the soldiers were about to fire, he was given a reprieve, taken away, and sentenced to four years of hard labor at a prison camp in Omsk, Siberia.
He had been arrested for being a member of the Petrashevsky Circle, a liberal intellectual group founded by Mikhail Petrashevsky, a follower of French utopian socialist Charles Fourier.
The Petrashevsky Circle opposed the czarist autocracy and Russian serfdom. Their members included writers, teachers, students, government officials, military officers, and others.
Czar Nicholas I, fearful that the revolutions being waged in other countries would spread to Russia, mistakenly believed that the Petrashevsky Circle was a subversive revolutionary organization and ordered the arrest of its members.
While serving his time at the squalid, freezing, and filthy prison camp, Dostoyevsky became disillusioned with Western ideas and converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity, planting the seeds for the next phase of his literary career.
He would later become famous for his classic novels Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), and The Brothers Karamazov, (1881) cementing his legacy as one of the greatest novelists of all time.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky died of a lung hemorrhage from emphysema and an epileptic seizure on February 9th, 1881, at the age of 59.
Quote Of The Day
"It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them - the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Today's video features a complete reading of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 21, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 21st, 1879, A Doll's House, the classic play by legendary Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, opened in Copenhagen. Ibsen, born into an affluent family in Skien, Norway, took up writing while studying as an apprentice pharmacist.
At this time, his parents, who were both descended from some of Norway's oldest and most respected families, experienced sudden financial ruin. Ibsen's father plunged into severe depression. His mother sought solace in religion.
They would both serve to inspire the characters in their son's plays, which often dealt with financial adversity, moral conflicts, and the hypocrisy and dark secrets that often lurk beneath cloaks of respectability.
Henrik Ibsen would become one of the greatest playwrights of all time - and one of the most controversial. A Doll's House would become his most famous play. It opens with Nora Helmer, a middle class housewife and mother, returning home after doing her Christmas shopping.
Her husband, Torvald, has a new job as a bank manager, and both he and Nora believe that their finances will improve. Torvald is terrified of debt; Nora behaves childishly, but her husband enjoys treating her like a child. He instructs her like a parent and indulges her whims.
Nora's old girlfriend Christine Linde arrives for a visit. Christine is a childless widow whose husband left her no money, so she has supported herself by doing various jobs. She's looking for more work, preferably work that's not too physically demanding.
Nora tells Christine the secret she's been keeping from her husband: when Torvald fell seriously ill, she borrowed money from disgraced lawyer Nils Krogstad to save his life.
To protect her husband's pride, Nora made him and everyone else believe that she inherited the money from her father, who had died at the time. Nora has been repaying her debt by skimming money from her housekeeping budget and secretly working, making handwritten copies of papers.
Being able to earn her own money "as if she were a man" makes Nora proud. Now that her husband has a new job, the extra money he'll give her, combined with her secret earnings, will finally enable Nora to pay off her debt completely.
Nora asks Torvald to give Christine a secretarial job at his bank. He agrees. Later, Nora is approached by Nils Krogstad, who also works at Torvald's bank. He fears that he will be laid off to make room for Christine's position.
Krogstad demands that Nora help him keep his job. When she refuses, he threatens to reveal that she forged her husband's name on the loan bond. He warns her that her reputation will be ruined like his if he exposes her forgery.
He doesn't go into detail about his own indiscretion, but says that he did it for the same reason as Nora - to provide for a seriously ill spouse. Krogstad leaves, but Torvald, who had seen him, asks Nora if Krogstad tried to get her to help save his job.
Nora asks about Krogstad's indiscretion, and Torvald tells her that he committed forgery, then escaped prosecution by playing a "cunning trick." Torvald would have trusted Krogstad had he admitted his guilt, but by continuing to feign innocence, Krogstad "has lost all moral character."
Torvald believes that a parent who "lives a lie" poisons his children and causes them to become criminals as well. This distresses Nora greatly. When Krogstad does lose his job, he arrives to tell Nora that he no longer cares about the loan he made her.
Instead, he intends to use the forged bond to blackmail Torvald into not only retaining his position but giving him a promotion as well. When Nora tells Christine of this, Christine reveals that she and Krogstad were in love once. She'll talk to him.
Christine tells Krogstad that she always loved him and was forced to marry her husband out of financial desperation. She blames herself for Krogstad's disgrace. Moved, Krogstad abandons his blackmail plan, but Christine believes that Torvald should know the truth, for the sake of his and Nora's marriage.
When Torvald learns the truth about Krogstad's loan to Nora, he explodes. He berates Nora, denouncing her as a dishonest and immoral woman and an unfit mother. He declares that their marriage is over, and will only be preserved for the sake of appearance.
When Krogstad tells him that he has no intention of blackmailing him, Torvald burns the incriminating evidence and takes back his harsh words to Nora. But instead of recognizing the agonizing choice Nora made for the sake of his health, he attributes her actions to her foolishness, which is one of her most endearing feminine traits.
Nora finally realizes that the strong and gallant man she thought she'd married is a weak-willed, hypocritical, self-absorbed narcissist whose love for her was really love for himself for being a wonderful husband.
The play ends with Nora declaring that her sham of a marriage is over. She's leaving Torvald and her children and will live alone while she tries to find out who she is and decide what to do with her life.
All her life, she's been treated like a doll - a plaything - first by her father, then by her husband, and she's not going to take it anymore. Torvald insists that Nora do her duties as wife and mother, but Nora says that her first duty is to herself.
She reveals that she had planned to kill herself to save Torvald's reputation because she thought that he would sacrifice his reputation to save hers. Now she knows that would have been a pointless act, as Torvald only cares about himself.
Before the curtain falls, Nora lets herself out of the house, leaving behind her wedding ring and keys. Her narcissistic husband is left behind as well, in a state of confusion.
A Doll's House was received with a mixture of high praise and loud cries of outrage. Ibsen's fellow playwright, George Bernard Shaw, found the play exhilarating. Most of Ibsen's fellow Scandinavians loved it.
At the time the play premiered in Copenhagen, sales of printed copies were record breaking. But some critics saw in the play a direct assault on the sanctity of marriage.
For the play's debut in Germany, Ibsen was forced to write an alternate ending. The lead actress refused to play Nora as she was written, and producers demanded that the ending be changed as well, to make the play more palatable to conservative German audiences.
So, in that production, instead of leaving her husband, Nora decides to stay with Torvald for the sake of their children. Ibsen later condemned the alternate ending as a disgrace to the original play, calling it a "barbaric outrage."
A Doll's House would later be adapted for the radio, screen, and television. It is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest plays ever written.
Quote Of The Day
"The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That's one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population -- the intelligent ones or the fools? I think we can agree it's the fools, no matter where you go in this world, it's the fools that form the overwhelming majority." - Henrik Ibsen
Today's video features a complete live performance of Henrik Ibsen's classic play A Doll's House. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 20th, 1929, Lady Chatterley's Lover, the classic novel by the legendary English writer D.H. Lawrence, was declared legally obscene and banned in the United States.
Lawrence's novel told the story of Lady Constance Chatterley, whose husband Sir Clifford's war injuries have left him crippled, impotent, and embittered. Lady Chatterley soon finds herself driven to the brink of madness by sexual frustration.
Finally, in desperation, she embarks on a passionate affair with her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. The affair leads her to realize that in order to truly live, she (and all human beings) needs to be alive not only intellectually and emotionally, but sexually as well.
Due to the novel's daring philosophy, explicit and erotic depictions of sexual encounters, and use of language considered obscene, including the words fuck and cunt, Lady Chatterley's Lover was declared legally obscene and banned in the United States.
When he wrote the novel, D.H. Lawrence was hoping to create a breakthrough work of literature that would set the literary world alight - a challenging, thought provoking novel that would open people's eyes and minds. He got his wish, though he wouldn't live to see it granted.
The content of Lady Chatterley's Lover made it impossible to publish in Lawrence's native England. The uncensored first edition was published in Italy in June of 1928, in an initial press run of 1,000 copies, all of them signed by the author. It sold out across Europe.
In early 1929, when British Customs agents learned that copies of the novel were being imported into the UK, they quickly began seizing them. As a result of the UK ban, and bans in other European countries, cheap pirated editions of the novel were produced.
Lawrence and his publisher didn't see a penny from the pirate books, which were sold on the black market and under the counter in certain bookshops.
In response to the pirated editions, Lawrence decided to self-publish a new, authorized uncensored second edition. Printed by a publisher friend of his in Paris, the signed second edition was released in a serialized version and sold via subscription.
The subscriptions were sold and shipped discreetly to countries where Lady Chatterley's Lover had been banned. As was typical for banned books, pirated editions were published and sold under the counter, cheating the author and his official publisher out of money.
Despite the continued presence of pirated editions, Lawrence's new official version of Lady Chatterley's Lover sold well and made him a healthy profit. But soon, Customs agents in various countries caught on to the subscription plan, and the novel was banned yet again.
Lawrence had hoped that in the United States, whose constitution's First Amendment guaranteed freedom of expression, he would have an unrestricted market for his novel.
Unfortunately, at the time, there was a federal law on the books called the Comstock Act which prohibited the shipment of obscene materials through the mail, and the conservative courts had long ruled that the First Amendment didn't cover allegedly obscene material.
The Comstock Act, which would remain in effect in various forms until the Supreme Court struck it down completely in 1965, was named after his creator, Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock.
It had a definition of obscenity so vague that its creator even used it to block the shipment of certain medical textbooks to medical students. Years earlier, Comstock used his law to have James Joyce's classic epic novel Ulysses declared obscene due to one brief but controversial chapter.
By December of 1929, U.S. Customs agents had begun seizing all copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover that came into America. D.H. Lawrence bemoaned the fate of his novel at the hands of "policemen, prudes, and swindlers."
He realized that he may have to do what he dreaded most - prepare a bowdlerized version of his novel: "So I begin to be tempted and start to expurgate. But impossible! I might as well try to clip my own nose into shape with scissors. The book bleeds."
D.H. Lawrence was suffering from tuberculosis before Lady Chatterley's Lover became embroiled in a censorship battle. The stress resulting from the persecution of the novel and his vigorous attempts to defend it caused his frail health to deteriorate quickly. He died in March of 1930 at the age of 44.
The United States government's ban of Lady Chatterley's Lover would remain in effect for thirty years. Then, in 1959, the legendary American publisher Barney Rosset of Grove Press decided to publish the original uncensored version of the novel in defiance of the ban.
Rosset wanted to include the novel as part of a republication of the complete works of D.H. Lawrence. He set the stage for a landmark trial where it would be ruled not legally obscene and the ban overturned. The ruling would be upheld by the Second Court of Appeals in March of 1960.
The obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover was a major victory for Barney Rosset. It gave him the legal ammunition to successfully challenge the bans on two other classic novels that he desperately wanted to publish: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (1934) and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch (1959).
Around the same time that Lady Chatterley's Lover was being tried for obscenity in the United States, the legendary British publishing house Penguin Books defied the ban on it in the UK and faced a similar trial.
In November of 1960, the novel was ruled not legally obscene by the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey.
Quote Of The Day
"The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted." - D.H. Lawrence
Today's video features a reading from D.H. Lawrence's famous novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, performed by Dame Judi Dench. Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 19th, 1732, the first issue of Poor Richard's Almanack, the famous annual publication by the legendary American writer, journalist, philosopher, scientist, and statesman Benjamin Franklin, was published.
Franklin wrote and edited his almanac under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, aka Poor Richard, a tribute to the real Richard Saunders, the 17th century English author of the Apollo Anglicanus, then London's most popular almanac.
The persona of "Poor Richard" was a nod to Isaac Bickerstaff, a pseudonym and persona once used by the legendary Anglo-Irish writer and satirist Jonathan Swift.
Poor Richard's Almanack featured a calendar, long range weather forecasts, astronomical and astrological information, brain teasers, poetry, and Ben Franklin's famous proverbs, aphorisms, and words of advice.
The almanac also included serialized news stories, essays, and other writings. You had to keep buying the almanac every year to find the conclusions to these serialized pieces, and lots of people kept buying it.
At its peak of sales and circulation, ten thousand copies were sold every year to readers around the world - an incredible circulation rate for an 18th century publication. Poor Richard's Almanack would have an amazing 25-year run, from 1732 to 1758.
In 1735, Ben Franklin's brother James died suddenly at the age of 38, leaving his widow destitute. So, Ben gave his sister-in-law 500 free copies of Poor Richard's Almanack that she could sell and keep the money to support herself and her five children.
After Poor Richard's Almanack was translated into French, one of its biggest fans was French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon established the Cisalpine Republic in Northern Italy in 1792, he ordered an Italian language translation of the almanac.
In 1812, Poor Richard's Almanack became the first English language publication to be translated into Slovene, a South Slavic language. It was translated by Janez Nepomuk Primic.
During the American Revolution, the King of France gave a ship to the legendary Scottish-American naval hero John Paul Jones named the Bonhomme Richard after his favorite publication, Poor Richard's Almanack.
In 1792, nearly 25 years after Poor Richard's Almanack ceased publication, a new almanac made its debut. Founded by Robert B. Thomas and inspired by Ben Franklin's classic almanac, it was called The Old Farmer's Almanac. It's still in publication today.
Benjamin Franklin would go on to become a founding father of the United States of America and one of its greatest statesmen. He died in 1790 at the age of 85.
Quote Of The Day
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin
Today's video features readings from various issues of The Old Farmer's Almanack. Enjoy!
Monday, December 18, 2017
My review of The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, An Anna Blanc Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Joanna M. Weston
A poem up at Friday's Poems and, again, it's top of the morning, called The height of cold.
Poeming Pigeon has published a print anthology of love poems which includes my poem, "Sixty-Six Years," about spreading our parents ashes and their long time love. The poem ends with:
On the night she died our father rose from his chair
Come on honey, he said. It's time for us to sleep now.
He walked from the room, his hand clasping air.
Friday, December 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 15th, 1936, the legendary English writer George Orwell (the pseudonym of Eric Blair) delivered the completed manuscript for his classic nonfiction book, The Road To Wigan Pier (1937), before leaving for Spain to help fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
The Road To Wigan Pier was Orwell's account of life in Wigan, a poor coal mining town in Northern England. To research his book, Orwell lived like one of the locals, in a dirty rented room above a tripe shop.
He met many Wiganers, took extensive notes on the living conditions and wages, explored the mine, and spent days in the library researching public health records, working conditions in mines, and other subjects.
The resulting book is divided into two parts; the first part is a straightforward documentary on life in Wigan. The second part is a philosophical treatise that asks and attempts to answer a question: if socialism can improve the appalling conditions in Wigan and towns like it around the world, then why aren't we all socialists?
George Orwell was a lifelong socialist, and he believed that socialism could improve the condition of towns like Wigan. Why then was socialism not universally accepted? Orwell blamed the ferocious prejudice of the white Christian working class against the people they associated with socialism.
Among these "undesirables" were the lower class poor, blacks and Jews, intellectuals, atheists and agnostics, libertines, hippies (or sandal-wearers, as Orwell called them), pacifists, feminists, and others.
Orwell concluded that "The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."
Orwell would later become famous for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), both of which were brilliant allegorical satires of Stalinism. Animal Farm was a modern fable, Nineteen Eighty-Four a work of dystopic science fiction.
In the years since their publication, right wingers in the United States and around the world embraced these novels as the bibles of anti-communism. George Orwell became their hero, even though he was actually a staunch socialist.
Why then did Orwell write his famous novels? During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell fought alongside the POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista - the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) which was allied with Britain's Labour Party, of which he was a member.
The POUM was one of several leftist factions which had formed a loose coalition to fight General Franco's fascist army. Another member of this coalition was the Spanish Communist Party, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.
At the Soviets' insistence, the Spanish Communist Party denounced the POUM as a Trotskyist organization and falsely claimed that its members were in cahoots with the fascists. Near the end of the war, the POUM was outlawed, and the Spanish Communist Party began attacking its members.
Tragically, this infighting would break apart the coalition and give the fascists the opportunity to win the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was wounded in action, shot in the throat by a sniper. While he recovered in a POUM hospital, he had a lot of time to think, and he came to hate Soviet communism.
The lesson Orwell teaches us in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four is that even an ideal as noble as socialism can become corrupted and twisted into something far worse than the ills it seeks to cure.
And yet, he remained a lifelong socialist and always hoped for a better world than the one of poverty, despair, and apathy that he experienced while researching and writing The Road To Wigan Pier.
George Orwell died of tuberculosis in January of 1950. He was 46 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell
Today's video features a BBC documentary on the writing of George Orwell's classic nonfiction book, The Road To Wigan Pier. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 14, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 14th, 1916, the famous American writer Shirley Jackson was born. She was born in San Francisco, California, to an upper-middle class family. When she was a young girl, the family moved across the country to Rochester, New York, where she later graduated from Brighton High School.
After high school, Shirley Jackson attended first the University of Rochester, then Syracuse University. While a student at Syracuse, her first published short story, Janice (1938), appeared.
Through her work with the university's literary magazine, she met Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would become both a famous literary critic and her husband.
Shirley and Stanley settled down in rural Vermont and had four children - two sons and two daughters - who would become somewhat famous themselves when their mother included fictionalized versions of them in her humorous memoirs, Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957).
Although Shirley's literary career - and sadly, her life - would be short lived, she wrote six novels, several children's books, and numerous short stories. She would famously quip, "Fifty percent of my life was spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, washing dishes and clothes, and mending."
Shirley Jackson's first novel, The Road Through the Wall, published in 1948, was inspired by the upper-middle class California suburb she had spent her early childhood in.
The novel tells the dark stories of the people who live in a seemingly ideal community that is tearing itself apart on the inside. Meanwhile, a new road being built threatens to expose the isolated community to the outside world.
Jackson's first novel introduced her trademark prose style and fascination with the dark side of human nature. In her later novels, such as The Bird's Nest (1954) and The Sundial (1958), Jackson ventured into all out horror.
These stories combined supernatural and psychological horror. This was nothing new to her. Jackson's most famous short story, The Lottery, dealt with similar themes.
The Lottery, first published in The New Yorker in 1948, told the story of a small, rural American town with a horrific secret. The story begins with the town's 300 residents acting strange and nervous, as June 27th approaches.
On that date, they will partake in their annual ritual, called "the lottery." In preparation for the ritual, children collect stones while the adults assemble for the event.
The reader soon learns that "the lottery" is an ancient ritual held to choose a human sacrifice to ensure a good harvest. In the first round, the head of each family chooses a slip of paper. Bill Hutchinson receives the paper with the black dot on it, so the sacrifice will come from his family.
In the second round, each Hutchinson family member chooses a slip of paper. Bill's wife Tessie receives the paper with the black dot. The townspeople stone her to death while she denounces the lottery to her dying breath.
The Lottery was quite a shocker for readers in 1948, and hundreds of letters poured in to the New Yorker. Shirley described reactions as "bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse." Some charged her with a calculated, subversive attack on American values and religious faith.
The story would be republished in book form as the title story of the collection, The Lottery and Other Stories (1949). It would be adapted as an acclaimed short film in 1969, a made-for-TV feature film in 1996, and as a short film again in 2007.
Shirley Jackson's most famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, was published in 1959. The brilliant supernatural horror story told the tale of Dr. John Montague, a parapsychologist who rents the famous and supposedly haunted Hill House for a summer.
Montague intends to prove that the house is in fact possessed by supernatural forces. Accompanying him are two people who have already experienced supernatural phenomena. They are Theodora, a psychic, and Eleanor, a shy, troubled recluse who as a girl witnessed poltergeist activity in and around her family's home.
The haunting soon begins, and as the novel progresses, it becomes obvious that the evil forces in Hill House are intent on possessing the vulnerable Eleanor, as frightening incidents begin to erode her sanity.
Dr. Montague's bossy, arrogant, and tactless wife later arrives to help her husband with his investigation, along with boys' school headmaster Arthur Parker, who is also interested in the supernatural. Will any of these people survive Hill House?
The Haunting of Hill House was adapted first as an acclaimed feature film called The Haunting in 1963, starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson, and again in a mediocre 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
In his classic 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, an analysis of horror in literature, comics, film, radio, and TV, legendary horror novelist Stephen King proclaimed The Haunting of Hill House to be one of the greatest horror novels of the late 20th century.
The novel's masterful prose and power to scare can be seen in the famous opening paragraph:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
As Shirley Jackson's reputation grew as a horror novelist, her husband Stanley started a myth that she practiced witchcraft. This was done as a publicity stunt to sell books, but many people took it seriously.
Shirley found their reaction funny. Later, the myth gave her the idea to write The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), a children's book based on the Salem witch trials.
Throughout her life, Shirley suffered from mental and psychosomatic illnesses. These illnesses, and the effects of the various prescription drugs she took to treat them caused her health to decline early in life. She was also overweight and a heavy smoker.
Shirley Jackson died in her sleep of heart failure in August of 1965 at the age of 48. In 1996, a crate of her unpublished short stories was found in the barn behind her home. The best of these stories were published later that year as the short story collection, Just An Ordinary Day.
In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Award was established, with permission from her estate, to honor her literary legacy and recognize outstanding achievement in psychological suspense, horror, and dark fantasy literature.
Quote Of The Day
"I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there." - Shirley Jackson
Today's video features a complete reading of Shirley Jackson's classic short story, The Lottery. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 13th, 1915, the famous Canadian-American writer Kenneth Millar, best known by his pseudonym Ross Macdonald, was born in Los Gatos, California, to Canadian parents who then moved back to their hometown of Kitchener, Ontario.
When Millar was a boy, his father suddenly walked out on the family. Millar found himself moving frequently, shuffled between his mother and various relatives. Years later, the themes of broken homes and domestic discord would feature prominently in his fiction.
In 1938, while living in Canada, the 23-year-old Kenneth Millar met and married his wife, Margaret Sturm, who would become a successful mystery writer under her married name, Margaret Millar. She bore him a daughter, Linda. Kenneth Millar began his literary career writing short stories for pulp magazines.
To avoid being confused with his wife, Kenneth Millar took the pen name John Macdonald. Then he learned that there was a famous writer called John D. Macdonald. To avoid confusion again, Millar changed his pseudonym to John Ross Macadonald before settling on Ross Macdonald as his permanent pen name.
For his college education, Kenneth Millar attended the University of Michigan in the United States, where he earned a degree in literature. In 1944, while doing his graduate work, his first novel was published.
The Dark Tunnel, aka I Die Slowly, published under his first pseudonym John Macdonald, was a spy thriller. In it, college professor Robert Branch ridicules his best friend for suspecting that a Nazi spy may be lurking in their sleepy Midwestern town.
Branch is more interested in the fact that his German ex-girlfriend has accepted a position at the university where he teaches. Trouble lands a one-two punch when first Branch's ex is suddenly engaged to marry the son of the university's German professor.
Then, Branch witnesses his suspicious best friend fall to his death from his office window. Branch is the only one who doesn't believe that his friend's death was a suicide. When the professor tries to solve the crime, he finds himself marked for death.
The same year that Kenneth Millar's first novel was published, he joined the Navy, as World War II was still raging. He served for two years as a communications officer. After his discharge in 1946, he returned to Michigan, earned his Ph.D., and continued with his literary career.
Millar's third novel, Blue City (1947), marked his transition to hard-boiled detective fiction. It told the story of Johnny Weather, a young soldier who returns from the war to find that his estranged father is dead.
His father, a nightclub owner, was a prominent figure involved in the corruption of the town, and the police are more than happy to let his murder remain unsolved.
As Johnny Weather tries to solve the crime, he finds that more people than just the cops prefer that his father's murder remains unsolved, even the man's ex-wife, who attempts to seduce Johnny. The novel would be adapted as a feature film in 1986.
In 1949, Kenneth Millar published The Moving Target, his first novel featuring a detective character who had been the subject of a short story series.
Lew Archer, named after writer Lew Wallace and Philip Marlowe's partner Miles Archer, was not your typical detective. We learn a lot about him in his first novel.
Big (6'2") and tough, yet intelligent and compassionate, Lew Archer possessed far greater depth and humanity than the average hard-boiled detective.
A troubled child (he claimed that he once "took the strap away from my old man") turned petty thief, Archer was befriended and reformed by a kindhearted older policeman.
Archer became a cop himself, training with the Long Beach (California) Police Department. When he finds that the department is a cesspool of corruption, he won't go along with it, and is kicked off the force.
With the war on, Archer joins the Army and serves in military intelligence. After the war ends, he returns home and becomes a private detective. While he solves crimes, Archer pines for his ex-wife Sue and drinks too much.
In his first novel, he's hired by the dispassionate wife of an eccentric oil tycoon who has mysteriously vanished. His attempts to solve the crime lead him to a strange cast of characters and numerous other crimes that must be solved before he can solve the one that he was hired to investigate.
What makes the Lew Archer novels so memorable is that they're more than just detective novels. Using incredibly complex plots and adding a great deal of psychological depth and insights to his characters' motivations, Millar's detective novels were essentially part whodunit and part psychological thriller.
A huge hit with genre fans and literary critics alike, Lew Archer's adventures would be adapted for the screen and television. The most famous film adaptations were Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975), which starred Paul Newman as the iconic detective.
In these films, Lew Archer's last name was changed to Harper. Some say it was because Paul Newman believed that the letter H was lucky for him, having previously starred in the classic films The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963).
However, others, including Harper screenwriter William Goldman, claimed that the producers changed the name to save money, as they hadn't bought the rights to the entire Lew Archer series, only a couple of novels.
Kenneth Millar, aka Ross Macdonald, wrote eighteen Lew Archer novels. His last, The Blue Hammer, was published in 1976. He died of Alzheimer's disease in 1983 at the age of 67.
Quote Of The Day
"There's nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure." - Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)
Today's video features a reading from Ross Macdonald's classic Lew Archer novel, The Ivory Grin (1952). Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 12th, 1821, the legendary French writer Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen, France. His father, Achille-Cléophas, was a surgeon. According to some sources, the young Gustave began writing stories at the age of eight.
After being educated at Lycée Pierre-Corneille, Flaubert went to Paris to study law. He didn't care much for law and preferred his hometown in Normandy to the City of Lights. He did make some friends in Paris, including fellow writer Victor Hugo.
In 1846, at the age of 25, Flaubert suffered an epileptic attack and left Paris. He settled in Croisset, near Rouen, where he would live with his mother for the rest of his life.
Flaubert was openly bisexual, but preferred women. His one and only great love was the poet Louise Colet. When their passionate affair came to an end, he lost interest in romance and never married.
He wasn't lonely. He caroused with prostitutes of both sexes, (often suffering from venereal disease as a result) he was close to his niece Caroline, and enjoyed the company of other writers, including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, George Sand, and Ivan Turgenev.
Gustave Flaubert's first published work of fiction was a semi-autobiographical novella called November (1842). The narrator is a schoolboy who meditates on his life, including his determination to become a man both physically and sexually.
The narrator ultimately loses his virginity to Marie, a worldly-wise courtesan who enthralls him with stories of her erotic experiences. Later, the narrator decides to see her again, only to find that she and her brothel have vanished.
Flaubert's first full length novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, written in 1849 but not published in its final version until 1874, was based on St. Anthony the Great's alleged temptation by supernatural forces in the Libyan Desert.
After completing his first draft, Flaubert read the novel aloud to his friends, writers Louis Bouilhet and Maxime Du Camp, over a period of four days, after which, he asked for their opinions on it. They encouraged him to burn the manuscript.
In 1857, Flaubert published what is considered his masterpiece, the classic, controversial novel Madame Bovary. It first appeared in a serialized form in the French literary magazine Le Revue de Paris, published from October 1st through December 15th, 1856.
The novel was considered scandalous and attacked for its alleged obscenity and immorality; Flaubert was accused of glorifying adultery. In January of 1857, the novel went on trial for obscenity. On February 7th, it was acquitted - found not legally obscene.
Flaubert's novel told the unforgettable story of Emma Rouault, a young woman who falls in love with a country doctor, Charles Bovary. Although a decent man, he turns out to be awkward, weak, and an insufferable bore. Emma becomes disillusioned and despondent.
When wealthy libertine landowner Rodolphe Boulanger seduces her, Emma finds the passionate romance she'd been craving. She risks exposing her affair with her indiscreet love letters and visits to her lover.
Emma plans to elope with Rodolphe, but he has no intention of marrying her. He dumps her, ending the relationship with a dear john letter enclosed in a basket of apricots. Her romantic fantasy world suddenly shattered, Emma falls severely ill.
After recovering her health, Emma seeks happiness in material possessions. The crafty merchant Monsieur Lheureux manipulates Emma into buying lots of luxury items from him on credit, and she quickly accrues a crushing amount of debt.
Lheureux arranges for Emma to get power of attorney over her husband's estate, then calls in her debt. Desperate for money, she tries prostituting herself to Rodolphe Boulanger. When that fails, she swallows arsenic. The romance of suicide even fails her; she dies an agonizing death.
As a writer, Flaubert's prose combined romanticism with realism. A perfectionist, he strictly avoided cliches and determined to find le mot juste - the right word. He worked in solitude and could spend a whole week writing and rewriting a single page.
With the publication of Madame Bovary, scandal would follow Flaubert for most of his life, but he continued to write great novels. Salammbô (1862) was a historical novel set in 3rd century Carthage amid the Mercenary Revolt, which took place shortly after the First Punic War broke out.
At the time Flaubert wrote his novel, this was a rarely studied period in history. The author went to Carthage to do his research; his primary source was book one of The Histories by the legendary ancient Greek historian Polybius.
Salammbô proved to be a masterpiece that restored the reputation of Flaubert as one of France's greatest writers. He had been denounced by the conservative establishment and the Church as a mere pornographer.
Gustave Flaubert's last great novel, Sentimental Education (1869) was set amid the French revolution of 1848 and the founding of the Second French Empire - the regime of Napoleon III, which would rule from 1852 to 1870 - as seen through the eyes of a young man named Frederic Moreau.
Flaubert died of a stroke in 1880 at the age of 58.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living." - Gustave Flaubert
Today's video features a complete reading of Gustave Flaubert's classic short story, A Simple Heart. Enjoy!
Monday, December 11, 2017
My poem, "Not a Good Day," is up at New Verse News, a site for current events poetry.
My somewhat autobiographical flash, "Doc," is up at Everyday Fiction.
My story, 'Hummingbird's Monster' has been published at Viewfinder Literary Magazine and is now online.
Thanks to my merry band of fiction critiquers for helping me to make this one submission-worthy.
Joanna M. Weston
My poem, 'Sewing lessons', is up at Friday's Poems, top of the morning too!
My review of Blockbuster Science - The Real Science in Science Fiction By David Siegel Bernstein, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Friday, December 8, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 8th, 1894, the famous American writer James Thurber was born. He was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a clerk and minor politician with dreams of becoming a lawyer or an actor.
His mother was a fun-loving practical joker whom he described as "a born comedienne... one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known." He had two brothers. When he was a boy, his brother William accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell.
Medical technology was primitive at the time, so James lost his eye. Since the injury prevented him from participating in sports and other recreational activities, Thurber channeled his energy into creative endeavors, taking up writing and drawing.
Thurber attended Ohio State University, but never graduated because his poor eyesight disqualified him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. He would be awarded a degree posthumously, in 1995.
After leaving university in 1918, near the close of World War I, James worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., then in Paris, a position he would hold until 1920.
After leaving his job as code clerk, Thurber moved back home to Columbus, where he began his writing career, first as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. In addition to reporting, he wrote book, film, and play reviews in a weekly column called Credos and Curios.
He moved back to Paris for a time and wrote for several major newspapers as a freelancer. Then, in 1925, he moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, taking a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post.
Two years later, James Thurber became an editor for the New Yorker magazine, with help from his friend, the famous writer E.B. White. In 1930, White found some of Thurber's drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication.
As a result, Thurber became both a writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker for the next thirty years. In 1935, he married his second wife, Helen, just one month after his divorce from his first wife was finalized.
His marriage to Helen would be a happy one and the couple would remain together until Thurber's death. They had no children, but Thurber's first wife, Althea, had bore him a daughter, Rosemary.
Although James Thurber's first published book, co-written with E.B. White, was a parody of sexual psychology manuals titled Is Sex Necessary, or Why You Feel The Way You Do, Thurber was best known for his short story collections, wherein he established himself as one of the masters of the form.
While dark tales such as The Whip-Poor-Will, The Dog Who Bit People, and The Night The Bed Fell are among his most famous works, his best known and most popular story was a poignant comic gem titled The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.
Walter Mitty (modeled after Thurber's father) is a mild-mannered nebbish en route to do his weekly shopping with his wife, who has an appointment at the beauty parlor. During this trip, Mitty escapes from his extremely mundane world (and his overbearing wife) through a series of fantastic daydreams.
In these daydreams, he becomes the pilot of a Navy seaplane caught in a storm, a brilliant surgeon performing a revolutionary medical procedure, a cool assassin on trial, and a daring RAF pilot on a secret suicide mission during World War I.
The theme of the story is summed up in the sentence "Success is a journey, not a destination." In 1947, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was adapted as a feature film starring Danny Kaye in the title role.
Though he served as script consultant, all of Thurber's suggestions were ignored by producer Samuel Goldwyn. The movie bore little resemblance to Thurber's story, and in a letter written to Life magazine, Thurber expressed his deep hatred of the film. Despite this, Goldwyn insisted that Thurber approved of the project.
Throughout his prolific literary career, James Thurber wrote numerous short stories which were published in dozens of collections. Among these were over 75 fables, the most famous being The Unicorn In The Garden.
In this humorous modern fable, a mild mannered husband sees a unicorn in his garden. When he tells his wife about it, she ridicules him and reminds him that "the unicorn is a mythical beast."
He persists, maintaining that the animal is real, so she threatens to have him committed. He doesn't believe her, but she makes good on her threat. The authorities arrive and the wife tells them that her husband saw a unicorn in the garden.
They ask her husband if he saw the unicorn and he says no, because "the unicorn is a mythical beast." So they take the wife away in a straight-jacket and "the husband lived happily ever after!"
Thurber's other writings include numerous nonfiction articles and essays, including humorous essays on the English language and a five-part 1947-48 series for the New Yorker on the popularity of radio soap operas.
In the late 1930s, he co-wrote the hit Broadway play The Male Animal with his college friend, actor-director-writer Elliot Nugent. It would be adapted as a feature film in 1942 that starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.
As a cartoonist, Thurber was known for his surreal, satirical drawings. With his eyesight failing, the last cartoon he drew was a self-portrait in yellow crayon on black paper, which appeared on the cover of the July 9th, 1951 issue of Time magazine.
Although he worked in other genres and mediums, James Thurber was best known as a master of the short story. He died on November 2nd, 1961, of complications from pneumonia, following a stroke. He was 66 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"Don't get it right, just get it written." - James Thurber
Today's video features a complete reading of James Thurber's most famous short story, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 7, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 7th, 1873, the famous American writer Willa Cather was born. The oldest of seven children, she was born Wilella Sibert Cather in Gore, Virginia.
When Willa was nine years old, her father moved the family to Nebraska, where he tried his hand first at farming, then at the real estate and insurance business.
The young Willa fell in love with the landscape and weather of the frontier. She also became interested in the cultures of the immigrant and Native American families who lived in the area. All of this would inspire her as a writer.
When Willa enrolled at the University of Nebraska, she chose science for her major, as she had initially planned to become a doctor. Then, during her freshman year, her first published work appeared.
An essay she'd written about Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle was published by the Nebraska State Journal. Willa became a regular contributor to the Journal and changed her major to English, determined to become a writer.
After graduating with a degree in English, Willa Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take a job writing for the Home Monthly, a women's magazine.
From there, she became a drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh Leader. She also taught high school English, Latin, and algebra. At the Allegheny High School, she became the head of the English department.
In 1906, at the age of 33, Willa moved to New York City to work as an editor for McClure's Magazine, a hugely popular liberal magazine that was famous for its muckraking exposes of corporate crimes and abuses.
In addition to her editing duties, her fiction was published alongside that of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Willa also co-authored the biography Mary Baker Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science which was published in a serialized format by McClure's in fourteen installments over an eighteen month period. It would later be republished in book form.
After several years working at her hectic editing position, Willa found her own writing output slowing to a crawl. So she bounced back and wrote her first novel.
Alexander's Bridge 1912, first published in a serialized format by McClure's, received great reviews from The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly.
Alexander's Bridge was way ahead of its time in its depiction of a man suffering from mid-life crisis. The middle-aged, married Bartley Alexander, a construction engineer famous for the bridges he's built, finds himself drawn into an affair with an old flame, Hilda Burgoyne.
Torn between two loves and tormented, Alexander's life literally comes crashing down around him when he is summoned to Canada to inspect his newest bridge, which is in danger of collapsing.
Willa Cather followed her memorable debut novel with her classic Prairie Trilogy - O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918).
O Pioneers! told the story of a Swedish immigrant farm family in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. In The Song of the Lark, the young heroine Thea Kronborg leaves her Colorado hometown, determined to become an opera star.
My Antonia, the third and most famous novel in the trilogy, chronicles the life of Antonia "Tony" Shimerda, a young Bohemian girl living in the small town of Black Hawk, Nebraska.
The novel, which incorporates several previously written short stories, is divided into five "books" and narrated by Jim Burden, a successful lawyer.
Antonia was his childhood sweetheart and remains his lifelong friend, though she marries another man and Jim has an affair with another childhood friend, Lena Lingard.
In 1922, Willa published the novel that would win her a Pulitzer Prize. One of Ours is a tale of existential angst set in Nebraska around the time of the first World War.
Claude Wheeler, the son of a successful farmer, is attending a Christian college, which he absolutely hates. He pleads with his parents to let him enroll at the state university in order to get a better education. They refuse.
Struggling to find meaning in his life, Claude strikes up a friendship with the Erlichs, a family who introduces him to classical music and progressive free thinking.
Unfortunately, Claude has the rug pulled out from under him when his father expands the family farm and orders him home to help work it. Pinned to the farm like a mounted butterfly, Claude grows bored and listless.
Finding no fulfillment in farm work, he marries Enid Royce, a childhood friend, but soon realizes that she cares more about her activism and Christian missionary work than him.
Enid ultimately leaves him and goes to China to care for her sister, a fellow missionary who has fallen ill. Devastated and disillusioned, the only thing that Claude has to take his mind off his miserable life is news of the war.
A world war has broken out in Europe, and Claude's entire family is obsessed with the conflict. When the United States enters the war in 1917, he volunteers for military service.
Ironically, despite the hardships and horrors of war, Claude finally finds meaning in his new life as a soldier. Despite all his new responsibilities and all the orders he must follow, he has never felt so free.
The idealist without an ideal to cling to now has something to fight for in the hellish trenches of France, as his regiment engages an overwhelming German force in a ferocious battle.
Willa Cather established herself as one of the best American writers of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, her work fell out of favor as the American landscape made a dramatic shift from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression.
Discouraged by criticism that her work had become irrelevant, her later writing output slowed to a crawl and she became a recluse. She died of a stroke in 1947 at the age of 73.
Quote Of The Day
"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." - Willa Cather
Today's video features a complete reading of Willa Cather's classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, One of Ours. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 6th, 1933, a federal judge ruled that Ulysses, the classic epic novel by legendary Irish writer James Joyce, was not legally obscene.
The novel, first published in a serialized format in the American literary magazine The Little Review in 1918, had been banned in the United States for over ten years.
In 1920, when the magazine published the novel's thirteenth episode, Nausicaä, a moralist group called The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV) objected to the content and determined to keep Ulysses from being published in America in any format.
The NYSSV was founded in 1873 by the notorious Anthony Comstock and his supporters in the Young Men's Christian Association. (Yes, that YMCA.) Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector.
The same year that he founded the NYSSV, he persuaded Congress to pass the Comstock Act, which made it illegal to send obscene materials through the mail.
The passage of the Comstock Act resulted in the enacting of "Comstock Laws" at the state and federal level. The last of these laws wouldn't be struck down by the Supreme Court until 1965.
The Comstock Act was a nightmare. His definition of obscenity was so vague that he even used the law and his power as a Postal Inspector to block the shipment of certain medical textbooks to medical students.
Comstock had copies of George Bernard Shaw's classic play Mrs. Warren's Profession blocked, calling Shaw "an Irish smut dealer." The furious playwright remarked:
Comstockery is the world's standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.
Although Comstock enjoyed a public reputation as a devout Christian guardian of morality, privately, he was corrupt - and notoriously so.
As a moralist, he destroyed the lives of many innocent people. He proudly admitted to being responsible for 4,000 arrests and 15 suicides.
In his later years, his health began deteriorating, the result of a severe blow to the head from an unknown attacker. Before he died in 1915, Comstock attracted the attention of an admirer.
The young man was a law student named J. Edgar Hoover. He agreed with Comstock's beliefs and was interested in his methods of investigation, prosecution, and conviction.
Unfortunately, Comstock's NYSSV was successful in its prosecution of The Little Review for publishing the offending episode from Ulysses.
At the first trial in 1921, the literary magazine was ruled legally obscene, and as a result, Ulysses was banned in the United States.
The ruling was a product of its time. The Nausicaä episode contained a scene which must have been shocking to 1920s sensibilities. Leopold Bloom, one of the main characters, meets a girl named Gerty MacDowell at the beach.
Gertie has come to watch a fireworks display. She soon notices Bloom staring at her. Her passion stirred by both him and the fireworks, Gerty deliberately exposes herself to Bloom. He becomes aroused and starts to masturbate, which arouses her in return.
They both reach orgasm as a Roman candle explodes overhead, gushing out "a stream of rain gold hair threads." Afterward, Gerty leaves and reveals herself to be lame, leaving Bloom to contemplate on the beach.
With Joyce's playful punning, the erotic scene becomes a parody of the Catholic Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ceremony, with Bloom acting out his own version of an Adoration.
In this parody, Gerty's body serves as the body of Christ. The revelation of her lameness is Joyce's biting metaphor for the Catholic Church. At the time, such satirical jabs at the Church or religion in general could easily spark a fire of outrage.
The trial that resulted in Ulysses being banned in the United States drew a huge amount of publicity. As a result, pirated editions of the novel were published.
These illegal editions were sold on the black market or under the counter in bookshops. They made the novel a bestseller, but Joyce and his publisher didn't earn a penny from the sales of the pirated books.
In 1933, after twelve years of frustration, Joyce's official U.S. publisher, Random House, decided to set up a test case. They imported an uncensored French edition of Ulysses and had Customs confiscate a copy after the ship was unloaded.
That year, the case of United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses came to trial. On December 6th, 1933, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was not legally obscene.
A furious NYSSV appealed the decision. The case reached the United States Second Court of Appeal, which affirmed it on August 7th, 1934.
Ulysses was finally published uncensored in the United States. Most of these editions - including the one that I have - feature the text of the Woolsey ruling as part of the forward.
Woolsey had ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic because it contained no "dirt for dirt's sake." Also, the novel was so hard to understand that people would be unlikely to read it for the purpose of titillation.
British literary scholar and translator Stuart Gilbert wrote that Woolsey's ruling was "epoch-making." He was right. The ruling made it much harder for would-be censors to get written works declared legally obscene.
Also, the ruling made it practically impossible for an entire novel to be declared legally obscene because of a few allegedly offending lines or passages contained within it.
Quote Of The Day
“[A writer is] a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” - James Joyce
Today's video features nonfiction writer Kevin Birmingham discussing his book, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses on the American radio show The Avid Reader. Enjoy!