Thursday, October 28, 2021

Notes For October 28th, 2021


This Day In Literary History

On October 28th, 1905, Mrs. Warren's Profession, the classic play by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened at the Garrick Theater in New York. The play, Shaw's second, was written in 1893.

Banned in Britain by the Lord Chamberlain (England's theater censor) because of its frank depiction of prostitution, the play would finally open in London on January 5th, 1902, behind closed doors at the New Lyric Club - a private, members-only organization.

Private theatrical clubs were exempt from the censorship laws regulating public theaters in England. The play couldn't be legally performed in a British public theater until 1926, when theatrical censorship was less strict.

Mrs. Warren's Profession centers on the relationship between Mrs. Warren, a middle-aged ex-prostitute turned brothel madam, and her prudish, conservative, Cambridge-educated daughter, Vivie.

Mrs. Warren has always hidden the truth about her profession from her daughter. When Vivie discovers that her mother's fortune was really made in the brothel business, she's horrified.

Eventually, the two strong willed women reconcile when Mrs. Warren explains that her childhood, spent in grinding poverty and despair, led her to become a prostitute because it was the only way to support herself. Vivie forgives her - until she finds out that Mom is still running brothels.

Though the play was inspired by Yvette, a novel by the legendary French writer Guy de Maupassant, George Bernard Shaw, a staunch socialist, said that he wrote Mrs. Warren's Profession for this reason:

To draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused not by female depravity and male licentiousness but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.

After opening in New York, Mrs. Warren's Profession would close after only one performance, as the play was promptly shut down by puritanical authorities.

A few days later, on October 31st, the producer and the entire cast of actors were arrested for obscenity. Fortunately, they were all acquitted of the charge in court - including George Bernard Shaw, who was tried in absentia.

Shaw would go on to write many more classic plays, including Candida (1894), Caesar And Cleopatra (1898), Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), Fanny's First Play (1911), and Pygmalion (1912), upon which the famous, award-winning musical My Fair Lady was based.

In all of his works, Shaw extolled the virtues of socialism and denounced all forms of capitalist exploitation, including the degradation of women. He also drew attention to the effects of poverty, violence, and war on both society and the individual.


Quote Of The Day

"The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people." - George Bernard Shaw


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete live performance of Mrs. Warren's Profession. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Notes For October 27th, 2021


This Day In Literary History

On October 27th, 1932, the legendary American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Her father, Otto Plath, a German immigrant, was a professor of biology and German at Boston University.

Her mother, Aurelia, was the daughter of Austrian immigrants. She was 21 years younger than Sylvia's father when she married him. When Sylvia Plath was four years old, the family moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, where she spent most of her childhood.

Otto Plath died of complications from diabetes when she was eight years old. The loss devastated his daughter and would affect Sylvia the rest of her life.

Her most famous poem, Daddy, reflects her grief over her father's death and her anger at him for leaving her. Plath's readers still visit her father's gravestone at Winthrop Cemetery.

The same year that she lost her father, the eight-year-old Sylvia Plath had her first poem published in the children's section of the Boston Herald. In addition to her writing talent, she also displayed artistic talent.

When she was 15 years old, her paintings won an award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and kept journaling up until her death.

Sylvia Plath attended Smith College in Massachusetts. During her junior year, she was awarded a position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She spent a month in New York City working for the magazine.

She hoped it would be a great experience, but instead, it marked the beginning of a downward spiral in her life and resulted in her first documented suicide attempt - she crawled under her house and took an overdose of sleeping pills.

She was briefly committed to a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy. All of these experiences would be used as the basis for her only novel, The Bell Jar.

After recovering from her first bout with mental illness, Sylvia graduated with honors from Smith College. She won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge. There, she continued writing poetry, and her work was occasionally published in the student newspaper, Varsity.

At a party at Cambridge, Sylvia met English poet and children's book writer Ted Hughes. After a brief courtship, they were married on June 16th, 1956. They spent the next couple of years living and working in the U.S., where Sylvia taught at her alma mater, Smith College.

When Sylvia found herself pregnant with their first child, Frieda, she and Ted returned to London. There, in 1960, her first poetry collection, The Colossus and Other Poems, was published.

Some of the poems contained in it had been previously submitted to magazines and rejected because the editors found them to be too strange and disturbing.

The year after her first poetry book was published, Sylvia, then pregnant with her second child, suffered a miscarriage. In 1962, she became pregnant again and gave birth to a son, Nicholas.

The birth of their second child did nothing to help Sylvia and Ted's already troubled marriage. News of her husband's affair devastated Sylvia, and Plath scholars believe that Ted was also physically abusive to her throughout their marriage, though Hughes' admirers dispute that. The couple separated in late 1962.

In 1963, Sylvia's first and only novel, The Bell Jar, was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The semi-autobiographical novel, based in part on Sylvia Plath's first struggle with mental illness, is considered a masterpiece.

The novel, which I read as a teenager and loved, was adapted as a feature film in 1979. A month after The Bell Jar was published, Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of 30.

She sealed herself in her kitchen, plunged her head into the oven, and turned on the gas. Family, friends, and scholars believe that Sylvia's suicide was the result of a combination of factors.

She suffered from mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder), she was devastated by her father's death and her own miscarriage, and she suffered at the hands of an unfaithful and physically abusive husband whom she still loved.

Six years after Sylvia's death, her husband's mistress, Assia Wevill, committed suicide herself - the same way that Sylvia did - after murdering her daughter.

Sylvia's son, Nicholas Hughes, a biologist, would commit suicide later at the age of 47 after suffering from depression. Her daughter, Frieda Hughes, would go on to become a poet, painter, and children's book writer.

As the result of Sylvia Plath's untimely suicide in 1963, her second poetry collection, Ariel, which featured her most famous poems, (Daddy, Lady Lazarus, and Tulips) was published posthumously in 1965.

More poetry collections, prose works, and four children's books would also be published posthumously.

In 1981, a complete collection of Sylvia Plath's poetry, The Collected Poems, would be published. It won her a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Sylvia became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

Sylvia's husband, Ted Hughes, spent the last years of his life preparing an unabridged version of her journals for publication. They were first published in an abridged version in 1980.

Hughes faced criticism for the way he handled Sylvia's journals; he claimed to have destroyed her last journal "because I did not want her children to have read it."

He was also accused of trying to cash in on his wife's death, though the proceeds from all of her posthumous publications were placed in a trust fund for her children.

In 2000, Anchor Books published The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, which writer Joyce Carol Oates called a "genuine literary event." To this day, Sylvia Plath remains a major influence on American poetic voice.


Quote Of The Day

"Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." - Sylvia Plath


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a rare recording of Sylvia Plath reading a collection of her poems. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Notes For October 26th, 2021


This Day In Literary History

On October 26th, 1945, the famous American writer Pat Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia. The eldest of seven children, he was born Donald Patrick Conroy, Jr., the son of a Marine Corps colonel.

Conroy's father was a domineering, emotionally and physically abusive monster who terrorized his children. He would later inspire the main character in his son's first novel.

Pat Conroy's mother, on the other hand, was loving to her children and tried to protect them from their father, who abused her as well. Conroy credits her for his early interest in reading and writing.

When Pat was five years old, she read him Margaret Mitchell's classic novel, Gone With The Wind, (1936) which became his favorite book.

In addition to the abuse Pat and his siblings suffered at the hands of their father, they also had few friends because Colonel Conroy's position required the family to move frequently. He claimed that by the time he turned 18, his father had moved the family 23 times.

While living in Orlando, Florida, Pat Conroy channeled his anger at his father into a constructive outlet: he became a star basketball player. That year, his fifth grade basketball team defeated the sixth grade team.

As a college student, Pat Conroy attended the Citadel, a famous military college in South Carolina. He would later base two of his most popular novels on his experiences at the Citadel.

After graduation, he became an English teacher and met and married Barbara Jones, a young widow who lost her husband to the Vietnam War, and adopted her children.

Conroy changed teaching positions, accepting an offer to teach in a one-room-schoolhouse in a remote location - Dafuskie Island, South Carolina.

At the end of his first year as a teacher on the island, Conroy was fired for refusing to administer corporal punishment to his students and disrespecting the school's administrators.

Pat Conroy's first book, The Boo, was published in 1970. It was a nonfiction work - a collection of letters, stories, and anecdotes about Lt. Colonel Thomas "The Boo" Courvoise, who had been Conroy's Commandant of Cadets at the Citadel. Courvoise was a close friend and father figure to his cadets, including Conroy.

In 1974, Conroy would publish his second nonfiction book, The Water is Wide, a memoir of his year as a teacher on Dafuskie Island, renamed Yamacraw Island. The book made Conroy's name as a writer.

In the year of its publication, it won him a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was adapted as an acclaimed feature film called Conrack (Most of Conroy's students called him Conrack) starring Jon Voight in the title role. It would be remade as a TV movie in 2006.

Though he had started out writing nonfiction, Pat Conroy soon began work on his first novel, which would be published in 1976. It would establish him as one of America's best and most popular novelists.

The Great Santini was based on Conroy's horrific childhood. It told the story of Ben Meecham, a boy coming of age as he and his siblings struggle to deal with their monstrously abusive father, tyrannical Marine Corps fighter pilot Lt. Colonel Wilbur "Bull" Meecham, who calls himself The Great Santini.

The novel would become a bestseller, earning Conroy rave reviews and the wrath of his family, who accused him of betraying them by writing about his father.

Some of Conroy's mother's relatives actually picketed his book signings and encouraged people not to buy his novel. The familial stress contributed to the failure of Conroy's marriage. Ironically, the novel helped him finally reconcile with his father, who was so troubled by his depiction in The Great Santini that he was moved to change his ways.

After reconciling with his son, Conroy's father would often sign copies of The Great Santini as "Donald Conroy - The Great Santini. I hope you enjoy my son's work of fiction!" The book would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1979, starring Robert Duvall in the title role.

Pat Conroy's next novel, published in 1980, was based on his years as a student at the Citadel in the 1960s. The Lords of Discipline told the story of Will McLean, a young Irish-Catholic cadet at the Citadel military college, renamed the South Carolina Military Institute.

Will runs afoul of a ruthless secret society of cadet upperclassmen called The Ten. They are the ones who really determine if a cadet will graduate from the Institute, and they put new cadets through a horrific hazing designed to run undesirables out of the college.

These undesirables include the Irish-Catholic Will and the college's first black cadet, whom the Commandant of Cadets, Colonel "Bear" Berrineau, has asked Will to mentor. When Will discovers the existence of The Ten and who they are, his and his roommates' lives are endangered.

The Lords of Discipline was adapted in 1983 as an acclaimed feature film starring David Keith as Will McLean. When the novel was published, it started a twenty-year rift between Pat Conroy and his former classmates at the Citadel, who were angered by Conroy's less than flattering depiction of campus life.

In 2000, Conroy was awarded an honorary degree by the Citadel and asked to give the commencement address. When he gave the address, he defended his novel, saying that as a proud graduate of the Citadel, he had every right to depict the negative aspects of life as a Citadel cadet in the 1960s.

In 1986, Pat Conroy published what many consider to be his greatest and most popular novel, The Prince of Tides. Once again using his experience as abused child from a dysfunctional family, Conroy tells another gut wrenching, emotional story.

Former star football player Tom Wingo goes to New York City to help his sister, Savannah, a published poet who has once again attempted suicide and suffers from severe depression in addition to the schizophrenia that has plagued her since early childhood.

Tom meets with Dr. Susan Lowenstein, Savannah's psychiatrist, who hopes to gain insight into Savannah's childhood from her brother. Tom tells Dr. Lowenstein stories of his and Savannah's childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family.

They and their brother Luke were the children of a savagely abusive ex-soldier father and a cold, unloving mother. As Tom tells his tales, Lowenstein suspects that there is something he's hiding, a huge childhood trauma that he is suppressing.

As Lowenstein tries to get him to open up to her, the married Tom finds himself falling in love with her. He finally reveals the secret he's been burdened with since he was a young boy - the brutal sexual attack on Savannah, himself, and their mother by a trio of escaped convicts.

They were saved by Luke, who unleashed the family's pet tiger on two of the men, while Tom killed the third. The family buried the bodies and the children's mother made them promise never to tell a soul what happened.

Alas, Luke grew up to become a disturbed Vietnam veteran (an ex-Navy SEAL) who waged guerrilla warfare against the local authorities when his land was seized to build a nuclear power plant.

Tom and Savannah had tracked Luke down and talked him into surrendering. Unfortunately, on his way to turn himself in, he was shot and killed. The death of Luke - Savannah's brother and hero - is what pushed her over the edge.

The Prince of Tides would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1991, starring Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo, Melinda Dillon as Savannah, Kate Nelligan as their mother, and Barbra Streisand (who also directed) as Dr. Lowenstein.

Pat Conroy followed The Prince of Tides with more great books, including novels and memoirs. He died of pancreatic cancer in March of 2016 at the age of 70. His final book, The Death of Santini, a nonfiction (memoir) sequel to his classic novel The Great Santini, was published in 2013.


Quote Of The Day

"My mother, Southern to the bone, once told me all Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to sister." - Pat Conroy


Vanguard Video

Today's video features An Evening With Pat Conroy, a live appearance recorded at the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College in 2014. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2021

IWW Members' Publishing Successes For The Week Ending 10/24/21


Amita Basu

My flash story "Fish" was accepted for publication at Bandit Fiction; this story was previously published in Kelp Magazine. Bandit doesn't pay, but they do a proper round of copy-editing, and also offer free and useful critiques on rejected pieces. (Note that this takes several weeks.)

My flash story "The Hours" was accepted for publication by The Bookends Review. This story was previously published by Scars / Down in the Dirt. Bookends has a high acceptance rate as per Duotrope, and they don't pay either. Thanks to everyone in the Workshop who critiqued it some months ago.


Friday, October 22, 2021

Notes For October 22nd, 2021


This Day In Literary History

On October 22nd, 1964, the legendary French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he declined. He was the first person to ever decline the award.

When Sartre learned that he was in contention to receive a Nobel Prize, he wrote to the Nobel Institute and asked that his name be removed from the list of candidates. The Swedish Academy had already made its decision to give him the prize.

Sartre didn't want to cause a scandal by refusing the Nobel Prize, nor did he want to offend the Swedish Academy, so he prepared a statement explaining that he always turned down "official distinctions."

He turned down such honors because "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in an honorable form."

Sartre believed that if a writer carried the authority of an institution along with his name, it wasn't fair to the reader, saying that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner."

He had previously turned down both the French Legion of Honor - the highest award given by his country's government - and a tenured teaching position at the prestigious College de France.

Jean-Paul Sartre was not only a novelist; he was also a playwright, a screenwriter, and most famously, an existentialist philosopher and founding father of the existentialist movement in 20th century literature.

As a young man studying at the elite École Normale Supérieure from 1924 to 1929, Sartre met legendary writer Simone de Beauvoir, who would become his lifelong companion. They would spend hours in cafes, talking and writing.

Sartre's first novel, Nausea, was published in 1938. A year later, he was drafted into the French Army. During World War II, he was captured and made a prisoner of war for almost a year.

After he was released and France fell to the Nazis, he became a fighter for the French Resistance. During the war years, he published his first major existentialist work, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943).

Sartre's most famous work was his classic 1945 novel, The Age of Reason, the first in a trilogy of existentialist novels called The Roads to Freedom. The other two novels in the trilogy were The Reprieve (1947) and Troubled Sleep (1949).

In the 1960s, Sartre became a political activist. A communist sympathizer, he sought to reconcile his existentialist philosophy and ideas of free will with communist principles. He went to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, and also met the legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Following Guevara's assassination, Sartre said of him, "[He was] not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age." Back in Paris, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir supported the radical student uprisings.

Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980 at the age of 74.


Quote Of The Day

"Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think." - Jean-Paul Sartre


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a lecture on the life and philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Notes For October 21st, 2021


This Day In Literary History


On October 21st, 1977, Bridge To Terabithia, the classic novel by the famous American children's book writer Katherine Paterson, was published. It was inspired by a real life tragedy that affected the author and her son.

Katherine Paterson had already established herself as an acclaimed and popular children's author with her first two books, The Sign Of The Chrysanthemum (1973) and Of Nightingales That Weep (1974), when her eight-year-old son David lost his best and only friend.

Her name was Lisa Hill. She was a bright, vivacious, and imaginative little girl. While at the beach with her family, Lisa was struck by lightning and killed. David Paterson was devastated and traumatized by his sudden loss, and his mother was deeply affected by it as well. She was battling breast cancer at the time.

After publishing her third novel, The Master Puppeteer (1975), Katherine Paterson and her son still struggled to cope with Lisa Hill's death. So, for her next book, she decided to write a story about a close friendship between a young boy and girl cut short by tragedy.

The boy learns the value of friendship, then must use the inner strength his friend gave him as he struggles to cope with his loss. Paterson would later say that writing the book was a therapeutic exercise that helped her and David make some sense out of a senseless tragedy.

Bridge To Terabithia is set in Lark Creek, a small town in rural Virginia. The novel opens with 10-year-old Jess Aarons, a poor farm boy, going out for a morning run before breakfast.

The introverted, artistically gifted Jess has no friends, but hopes to win his peers' admiration and respect when school starts by becoming the fastest boy in the fifth grade and winning the races held during recess.

When Jess returns from his practice run, we get a look at his bleak home life. His family is large and poor. His two older sisters, Brenda and Ellie, are mean to him. His younger sisters, May Belle and Joyce Ann, adore him, but also annoy him, as he must share a bedroom with them.

His mother favors her daughters over her son and always yells at him. Jess's father lavishes affection on his younger daughters but is emotionally distant from his son and shows him no affection. He's often gruff and foul tempered, especially to Jess.

With money so tight that he has to commute over an hour each way to Washington, D.C. to work as a day laborer because farming doesn't pay enough to support the family, Mr. Aarons is rarely in a good mood.

At school, Jess's teacher is a nasty, foul-tempered, obese older woman named Mrs. Myers, nicknamed "Monster Mouth" by her students for obvious reasons. The music teacher, Miss Edmunds, is young and pretty, and the only adult in Jess's world who seems to care about him.

She admires his artistic talent and encourages him to keep drawing. She's a non-conformist like Jess - she wears jeans to class and no lipstick. She's also a hippie and plays folk songs on her guitar for the kids. Jess sees Miss Edmunds as a "diamond in the rough," and has a huge crush on her.

Jess's artistic talent is a source of consternation for his ignorant father, who worries that a passion for drawing poses a threat to his only son's masculinity:

He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he had told his dad that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought his dad would be pleased. He wasn't. "What are they teaching in that damn school?" he had asked. "Bunch of old ladies turning my only son into some kind of a..." He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years.

Into Jess's bleak world comes a ray of sunshine in the form of a new girl who moves in next door. Leslie Burke is Jess's age. She's an intelligent, vivacious tomboy from the city whose parents are both writers.

The Burkes are wealthy, but don't own a TV set. They prefer that their daughter call them by their first names (Judy and Bill) instead of Mom and Dad. They're liberal and non-religious.

The Aaronses, like most people in Lark Creek, are Christian fundamentalists, but they only attend church once a year - on Easter Sunday - because Mrs. Aarons "got mad at the preacher."

Jess and Leslie don't become friends when they first meet. Leslie joins Mrs. Myers' class and then runs against the boys in the races at recess. Unfortunately, she beats Jess in the heat, eliminating him from the races and crushing his dream of being the fastest kid in the fifth grade.

Nevertheless, when Gary Fulcher, a bully, refuses to let Leslie run in the finals because she's a girl, Jess stands up for her. Fulcher lets her run, and she beats him. She outruns the other boys as well, humiliating them. That's no way to start a friendship, but soon, Jess and Leslie become inseparable.

Deciding that she and Jess need a place of their own, Leslie chooses a forest clearing on the other side of a creek bed near their homes. In order to reach their secret land, they swing across the creek bed on an old rope tied to a tree branch.

Leslie names their magical land Terabithia. There, they rule as king and queen, though Jess, who is in awe of Leslie, feels unworthy of being her king. In Terabithia, Jess and Leslie grow closer as she draws him into her world of imagination.

There, no enemies - not the imaginary giants from Leslie's stories or their real-life foes can defeat them. Leslie builds up Jess's low self-esteem and makes him feel good about himself. Nervous around them at first, Jess grows close to Leslie's parents as well, as they too introduce him to a world he never knew existed.

Together, there's nothing that Jess and Leslie can't do. When another bully, Janice Avery, steals food from Jess's little sister May Belle, he and Leslie get even by playing a brilliantly conceived and executed practical joke to humiliate Janice in front of the other kids.

Later, when Leslie tells Jess that she heard Janice crying in the girls' bathroom, he talks Leslie into reaching out to her. They learn that she is being abused by her father - brutally beaten - which is why she became a bully.

Though Jess likes Leslie's parents, he's uncomfortable having her over at his house. His sisters tease him about his "girlfriend," his mother hates Leslie's boyish looks and clothes, his father keeps "fretting that his only son did nothing but play with girls," and both his parents are "worried about what would become of it."

The most moving scenes between Jess and Leslie take place at Christmas. As the holiday approaches, while other kids are happy and excited, Jess is racked with anxiety and dread. There's so little money this year that he has to chip in with his older sisters to buy May Belle a Barbie doll. And, after he buys presents for his other family members, he won't have anything left to buy Leslie a present:

He was angry, too, because it would soon be Christmas and he had nothing to give Leslie. It was not that she would expect something expensive; it was that he needed to give her something as much as he needed to eat when he was hungry.

But then one day, on the way home from school, he sees a sign that says "Free Puppies." On Christmas Eve afternoon, Jess and Leslie exchange presents in Terabithia. She adores her new puppy, whom she names Prince Terrien. Then she gives Jess his present - a deluxe art set "with twenty-four tubes of color and three brushes and a pad of heavy art paper."

On Christmas morning, Jess is glad to see May Belle playing with her Barbie, but his father is less than happy with the electric car racing set that he gave Jess. It's a low-end model and doesn't work well, though Jess knows that his father probably spent more than he could afford to on it.

"Cheap junk," Mr. Aarons says. "Don't get nothing for your money these days." He comes perilously close to kicking the toy. Jess is relieved when his mother sends him out to milk the family's cow, Miss Bessie. As soon as he leaves the house, Leslie, who has been waiting for him, runs to him, followed by Prince Terrien, and "It felt like Christmas again."

In the spring, when Leslie asks if she can go to church with Jess and his family for Easter services, (she's never been to a church before) his mother grudgingly gives her permission. Leslie shows up for church nicely dressed and is well mannered.

On the way home, Leslie wonders why Jess, who is a Christian, hates church so much while she, a nonbeliever, thinks that the story of Jesus is beautiful. May Belle warns her that she has to believe in the Bible, or else God will send her to Hell when she dies. Leslie disagrees.

The closer Jess grows to Leslie, the less he thinks about Miss Edmunds, the music teacher he has a crush on. But one morning, Jess is stunned when she unexpectedly invites him out to an art gallery in Washington.

Thrilled to be able to spend time with Miss Edmunds outside of music class, he goes off with her, asking his sleeping mother for permission. He forgets to call Leslie and tell her that he won't be meeting her in Terabithia that day.

Jess loves the art gallery, but immediately chastises himself for not inviting Leslie along. It's just not the same without her. He promises himself that he will invite her next time. Sadly, there won't be a next time. When Jess returns home, he finds his family worried, his mother in tears.

His older sister Brenda breaks the news: Leslie is dead. His father explains that she had been swinging on the rope to Terabithia when it broke. She fell, struck her head, and drowned in the creek. The family thought that Jess had been killed, too.

Disbelieving them at first, the terrible realization hits Jess like a punch in the stomach and he takes off, as if by running, he could keep Leslie alive. His father brings him home. Jess experiences all the stages of the bereaved: denial, anger, fear, guilt, and sorrow.

He and his parents go to a gathering at the Burkes' house to pay respects. The experience is unreal to him. Afterward, Jess struggles hard to deal with his grief. The only way he can cope with his loss is to use all the inner strength that Leslie had given him.

He decides to repay her for her kindness by passing it along. He builds a bridge to Terabithia and brings his neglected little sister May Belle into the magical kingdom, making her the new queen.

Katherine Paterson's powerful, emotional story won the Newbery Award the year it was published. Over 40 years later, it continues to touch the hearts and minds of new generations of readers.

Surprisingly, Bridge To Terabithia holds the distinction of being the most banned and challenged children's book of all time, as it often appears on teachers' assigned reading lists for classroom study.

The novel still raises the ire of disgruntled parents and conservative groups who complain about its bleakness, stark realism, themes of death and grief, dialectic use of mildly profane language, alleged ridiculing of authority figures and negative depictions of Christians and Christianity.

These criticisms are surprising, considering that the author is the wife of a minister. Religious themes are handled in an honest, realistic way. Due to the religious dogma he was raised to believe in, Jess's faith is no comfort to him at all in his greatest time of need.

On the contrary, he's terrified that God will send Leslie Burke to Hell for being a nonbeliever. His father assures him otherwise, telling him that "God don't send no little girls to Hell." But Jess still worries about Leslie's soul.

Though Bridge To Terabithia is a very 1970s novel, its timeless themes of friendship, sudden, unexpected tragedy, and coping with loss are still relevant today, with the epidemic of school shootings and other unexpected acts of violence like terrorist attacks.

Katherine Paterson said that she agreed with the criticism that she only scratched the surface of the grieving and healing processes; her publisher had asked her to tread delicately in those waters.

In reality, the tragic death of Lisa Hill, the inspiration for the book, had a long lasting impact on her and her son David, and remains with them still.

Bridge To Terabithia has been adapted into other media over the years. The first adaptation was an audio dramatization released by Newbery Award Records in 1979. Sold only to schools as a study aid, this dramatization is excellent, with great voice acting, music, and sound effects.

I got my copy of the record on eBay. The 50-minute recording would be edited down to almost half its length and used as the soundtrack for a 1981 Bridge To Terabithia filmstrip set, which I also have.

There were two unabridged audiobook releases of Bridge To Terabithia. The first, released by Recorded Books in 1996, is read by actor Tom Stechschulte, who gives one of the best audiobook performances I've ever heard, his rich baritone voice resonating the power of the story.

The second audiobook, released in 2004 by Harper Children's Audio, features a flat and uninspired reading by actor Robert Sean Leonard. The 2007 movie tie-in re-release of this audiobook features a bonus interview with Katherine and David Paterson, which is the only reason to buy it.

In 1996, Katherine Paterson co-wrote a musical stage play adaptation of Bridge To Terabithia which her son David would produce and stage at elementary schools. The play would also be performed around the world in various languages.

The musical soundtrack appears on the cassette-only release, Bridge To Terabithia and Other Musicals, which includes the musical soundtracks for two other plays based on novels by Katherine Paterson: The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

I ordered my copy of the cassette from the only store that sold it - a children's bookstore in New York City called Books of Wonder. I also have a copy of the play script, which is sold by its publisher - Samuel French, Inc., America's largest publisher of plays.

Bridge To Terabithia was filmed twice. It was first adapted in 1985 as an episode of the PBS TV series, Wonderworks - a zero-budget, horribly written, poorly acted episode of a series that usually produced quality adaptations of children's literature.

David Paterson, who grew up to become a playwright, described it as being "the crazy cousin that nobody talks about... no one on our side was either involved with it or happy with the final product."

Fans of the book, myself included, believed that it would never be adapted as a quality film because of its controversial nature. However, in 2007, Disney's Walden Media division produced a feature film version of Bridge To Terabithia.

With David Paterson serving as producer and co-writer, the movie turned out to be a faithful (albeit modernized) adaptation that beautifully captured all the emotion of the story. It was lovingly directed by animator Gabor Csupo in his first live-action film.

The movie featured stunning performances by young leads Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb as Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke. They're backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Robert Patrick as Mr. Aarons and Zooey Deschanel as Miss Edmunds.

Although the "Disneyfied" screenplay tones down the story (the book is much darker) and omits or waters down the most controversial elements of the novel, (Disney originally wanted an alternate ending where Leslie Burke doesn't die) the movie still ignited a firestorm of controversy due to deceitful marketing practices over which the filmmakers had no control.

Hoping to attract a large audience, Disney falsely advertised the film as a fantasy similar to The Chronicles Of Narnia. Parents and children unfamiliar with the book went to the movie expecting to see what was advertised.

Instead, they saw a deep and sad story that really had little to do with fantasy. The marketing also drove away fans of the book (like me) who believed that the story they loved so much had been butchered yet again.

The Bridge To Terabithia movie is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services. I wholeheartedly recommend that you see it - after you read the book, which is a masterpiece of contemporary children's literature.

In 2017, a 40th Anniversary Special Edition of Bridge To Terabithia was released, featuring a foreward by novelist Kate DiCamillo, an author's note on the book's 40th anniversary, and the complete text of Katherine Paterson's Newbery Award acceptance speech.


Quote Of The Day

"When people ask me what qualifies me to be a writer for children, I say I was once a child. But I was not only a child, I was better still, a weird little kid." - Katherine Paterson


Vanguard Video

Today's video features Katherine Paterson discussing the writing of Bridge To Terabithia on Author Visits. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Notes For October 20th, 2021


This Day In Literary History

On October 20th, 1854, the legendary French poet Arthur Rimbaud was born. He was born Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud in Charleville, France. When he was six years old, his father abandoned the family.

Captain Frederic Rimbaud, a Legion D'Honneur award winning soldier, left to rejoin his regiment and never returned, having tired of domestic life. Arthur and his siblings were raised alone by their mother, a domineering, controlling, fanatically devout Catholic.

In 1862, believing that her children were spending too much time with the local poor kids and being influenced by them, Madame Rimbaud moved the family to the Cours D'Orleans, where the living conditions were better.

Instead of being taught at home by their mother, Arthur Rimbaud and his brother attended school for the first time at the Pension Rossatr. To push them to get good grades, Madame Rimbaud would force them to learn a hundred lines of Latin verse, then withhold their meals if they recited the verse incorrectly.

As a boy, Arthur Rimbaud hated school and his mother's constant control and supervision - he and his brother were not allowed to leave her sight until their late teens. At the age of nine, Arthur wrote a 700-word essay voicing his objections to having to learn Latin in school.

When he was eleven years old, he had his first communion. Despite his intellect and his fiercely individualistic nature, he became as fanatically devout a Catholic as his mother, which led his schoolmates to call him un sale petit cagot - a dirty little hypocrite.

Though most of his reading as a child was confined to the Bible, the young Arthur Rimbaud also enjoyed fairy tales and adventure stories. Though he disliked school, he became an outstanding student and was at the head of the class in all of his subjects except science and mathematics.

His schoolmasters noted with awe Arthur's ability to absorb large quantities of material. In 1869, at the age of fifteen, he won eight prizes in school. The following year, he won seven.

Around the same time, while studying at the College de Charleville, Arthur's mother hired a private tutor for him, Father Ariste Lheritier, who was the first person to encourage Arthur to write.

The teenage Rimbaud's first published poem, Les Etrennes des Orphelines, (The Orphans' New Year's Gift) appeared in the January 2nd, 1870 issue of the Revue pour Tous magazine. Two weeks later, a new teacher, Georges Izambard, arrived at Rimbaud's school and became his literary mentor.

When the Franco-Prussian War broke out, Izambard left to enlist, and Rimbaud was devastated. He ran away to Paris and was arrested and imprisoned for a week. After returning home, he ran away again to escape his mother. He became a different person; he drank, wrote vulgar poetry, and stole books from bookshops.

He abandoned his penchant for neatness and wore his hair long. Later, he wrote to his old teacher Izambard about his method of achieving poetic enlightenment through "a long, intimidating, immense, and rational derangement of the senses."

Rimbaud claimed that "the sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet." A friend encouraged him to write to Paul Verlaine, a prominent Symbolist poet, after Rimbaud's letters to other poets went unanswered.

So, he sent Verlaine two letters, which contained several of his poems, including the dazzling, hypnotic, and shocking Le Dormeur du Val - The Sleeper of the Vale. Impressed, Verlaine wrote back.

He sent Rimbaud a one-way ticket to Paris and told him to "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you." Rimbaud arrived in September of 1871 and stayed briefly at Verlaine's home.

Although Paul Verlaine had a pregnant wife, he and Arthur Rimbaud engaged in a brief but torrid gay affair. While Verlaine had previously engaged in homosexual relationships, there is no evidence that Rimbaud had gay affairs before he met Verlaine. He would later become involved with women.

While he and Verlaine were together, they led a wild, vagabond life that was enhanced by their frequent use of absinthe and hashish. Rimbaud's outrageous behavior brought scandal to the Parisian literati. He became the archetypal enfant terrible, yet at the same time, he wrote striking, visionary works of verse.

In September of 1872, Rimbaud and Verlaine arrived in London. They lived in poverty in Bloomsbury and Camden Town, scraping together a meager living, mostly through teaching. Their relationship grew increasingly bitter.

By June of 1873, a frustrated Verlaine returned to Paris. The following month, he wrote to Rimbaud, telling him to meet him at the Hotel Liege in Brussels. The reunion was a disaster.

They argued incessantly and Verlaine drank heavily. He bought a revolver and ammunition, and shot at Rimbaud twice in a drunken rage. The first shot missed him, but the second grazed his wrist.

Rimbaud dismissed his injury as superficial and declined to press charges. But after the shooting, when Verlaine accompanied Rimbaud to the train station in Brussels, his bizarre behavior made Rimbaud fear that he was going insane.

Rimbaud begged a policeman to arrest Verlaine for his own good - and for Rimbaud's safety. Verlaine was charged with attempted murder. In the resulting investigation, his intimate correspondences with Rimbaud were uncovered and used against him.

Rimbaud withdrew his criminal complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to two years imprisonment anyway, because of his wife's accusations of homosexuality. After the trial, Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his famous epic work Une Saison en Enfer (A Season In Hell), a masterpiece of Symbolist prose poetry.

In 1874, he returned to London with his friend, poet Germain Noveau. There, Rimbaud wrote and assembled his groundbreaking prose poetry collection, Les Illuminations (Illuminations). The following year, after Paul Verlaine was released from prison, Rimbaud met him for the last time.

Arthur Rimbaud later gave up writing and settled into a quiet, steady working life. Some say that he had become fed up with the wild life; others speculate that he intended to save up enough money so he could afford to live independently as a carefree poet.

He continued to travel extensively throughout Europe, mostly on foot. In May of 1876, he became a soldier for the Dutch Colonial Army in order to travel to Indonesia for free, after which, he promptly deserted and sailed back to France.

In December of 1878, Rimbaud went to Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as the foreman of a stone quarry. Five months later, he had to leave after contracting typhoid fever.

In 1880, Rimbaud settled in Aden, Yemen as an employee for the Bardey agency. Four years later, he left Bardey's and became an independent merchant in Harar, Ethiopia, dealing mostly in coffee and weapons.

He took native women as his lovers and lived with an Ethiopian mistress for a time.
He became close friends with Ras Makkonen, the governor of Harar and father of future Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

The following year, in February 1881, Rimbaud developed a pain in his right knee that he thought was arthritis. A British doctor in Aden mistakenly diagnosed Rimbaud's knee pain as tubercular synovitis.

When the pain grew agonizing, he returned to France for treatment. He was admitted to a hospital in Marseilles, where he was diagnosed with cancer. His right leg was amputated.

After a brief stay at the family home in Charleville, Rimbaud tried to return to Africa, but on the way, his health deteriorated and he found himself back at the same hospital in Marseilles in great pain.

Arthur Rimbaud was cared for by his younger sister, Isabelle, until he died in Marseilles on November 10th, 1891, at the age of 37.


Quote Of The Day

"Genius is the recovery of childhood at will." - Arthur Rimbaud


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Arthur Rimbaud's classic poetry collection A Season In Hell in English. Enjoy!


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