This Day In Literary History
On September 17th, 1935, the legendary American writer Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado. His parents, who were dairy farmers, moved the family to Springfield, Oregon, when he was eleven. Kesey attended Springfield High School, where he excelled at academics and became a champion wrestler.
In 1956, while attending the University of Oregon in Eugene, (where he also won wrestling championships) Kesey married his high school sweetheart, Norma "Faye" Haxby, whom he had first met in seventh grade. She would bear him three children.
A year after they married, Kesey received a degree in speech and communication from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism. In 1958, he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship grant to enroll in the creative writing program at Stanford University, which he did.
During his time at Stanford, Kesey volunteered to participate in Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hopital. Funded by the CIA, the project was a study of the effects of psychoactive drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline on the human mind.
(The study of hallucinogens was actually just one part of Project MKULTRA, a collaboration between the CIA and the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories. The main goal of the notorious project was to study and develop methods of mind control during the Cold War.)
Kesey would later write many accounts of his experiences with psychoactive drugs, both during Project MKULTRA and in private experimentation. His role as a guinea pig for the government project and his interaction with the patients at the veterans' hospital would serve as the inspiration for his classic debut novel.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, published in 1962, was narrated by a mental patient - a docile half-Indian giant known as Chief, who pretends to be a deaf-mute. He tells the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, an amiable transferee from a prison work farm.
Convicted on a battery charge, McMurphy feigns insanity in order to serve out the remainder of his sentence in a mental hospital. With no real medical authority in charge, the ward is run by "the Big Nurse," Nurse Ratched - a sadistic tyrant who rules with an iron fist and three strong young orderlies.
McMurphy constantly antagonizes Nurse Ratched with his rebellious attitude and disruptive behavior, which includes running poker games, making comments about her figure, and inciting his fellow patients to exercise their rights by voting to watch the World Series on TV.
McMurphy inspires Chief to open up to him and the big Indian reveals that he can hear and talk. The two men team up to challenge Nurse Ratched's authority and are later forced to endure electroshock therapy.
The horrific treatments do nothing to temper McMurphy's rebellious nature, as he smuggles in liquor and prostitutes for his fellow patients. After Nurse Ratched's mental cruelty provokes a young patient to commit suicide, McMurphy attacks her and tries to strangle her. He is sent to the Disturbed Ward.
Nurse Ratched recovers from her injuries but loses her voice - her most effective weapon for keeping the patients in line. McMurphy is lobotomized and left in a vegetative state, a condition that will surely frighten and demoralize the patients.
Not wanting his friend to serve as a horrifying example of what happens when you challenge authority, Chief smothers McMurphy with a pillow so he can die with dignity, robbing Nurse Ratched of her victory. Then he escapes from the hospital and returns to his tribal land.
Time magazine would include One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in its list of the 100 Best English Language Novels From 1925 To 2005. It was adapted as a Broadway play by Dale Wasserman in 1963 and as an acclaimed feature film in 1975.
Directed by Milos Forman and starring Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy, Will Sampson as Chief, and Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, the movie swept the Oscars, winning Academy Awards for Best Actor, (Nicholson) Best Actress, (Fletcher) Best Director (Forman), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Ken Kesey's second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion, published in 1964, has been compared to William Faulkner's novel, Absalom, Absalom! Set in the fictional Pacific Northwest logging town of Wakonda, Oregon, the novel tells the story of the Stampers.
The Stampers are an irascible family that owns and operates a logging company. After the invention and introduction of the chainsaw to the logging industry, the union loggers in Wakonda go on strike, demanding the same pay for shorter working hours due to a decreasing need for labor.
Since the Stamper family's logging company is non-union, they decide to keep working and supply the local mill with all the lumber that the union workers would have supplied, had they not gone out on strike.
The novel explores the details and ramifications of this fateful decision, no doubt the result of half-crazed old patriarch Henry Stamper's philosophy of "never give a inch," which has defined the Stamper family and its relationship with the town.
While more steeped in realism than Kesey's first novel, Sometimes A Great Notion is also more experimental, with alternating first-person narratives. A masterpiece of Northwestern American literature, it was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1970, directed by Paul Newman, who also starred as Henry Stamper.
Following the publication of Sometimes A Great Notion in 1964, Ken Kesey had to go to New York City for a promotional appearance. So, he planned a cross country road trip with some friends, including Beat icon Neal Cassady and legendary poet Allen Ginsberg.
Also along for the ride were counterculture icon Wavy Gravy (in his trademark jester's cap), Stewart Brand, Paul Krassner, and others. Calling themselves the Merry Pranksters, they drove to New York in an old school bus painted with psychedelic colors that they nicknamed Furthur.
When he returned to California, Kesey gave a series of famous psychedelic parties he called Acid Tests. Held in venues decorated with fluorescent paint, the Acid Tests featured light shows, music, and plenty of LSD.
The main house band for these events was a then little known jam band called The Grateful Dead. Tom Wolfe would write about the Acid Tests in his 1968 book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, so called because the LSD would be dispensed in sugar cubes added to cups of Kool-Aid.
In 1965, after being arrested for possession of marijuana, Kesey faked his own death to trick the police, then fled to Mexico. When he came back to the United States eight months later, he was caught and sentenced to five months at the San Mateo County Jail.
After serving his time, Kesey moved back to his family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, where he stayed for the rest of his life and continued to write. He published three more novels, Caverns (1989), Sailor Song (1992), and Last Go Round (1994). He also published a short story collection, Demon Box (1986), and two collections of essays.
Ken Kesey's last major work was an essay published in Rolling Stone magazine, where he called for peace following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. He died of complications from liver cancer surgery in November of 2001 at the age of 66.
Quote Of The Day
"Listen, wait, and be patient. Every shaman knows you have to deal with the fire that's in your audience's eye." - Ken Kesey
Today's video features Ken Kesey speaking at the University of Virginia. Enjoy!
Friday, September 17, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 16th, 1919, the famous Canadian writer and educator Dr. Laurence J. Peter was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He later emigrated to the United States.
In 1941, at the age of 22, Laurence J. Peter began a career as a teacher. In 1963, he received a doctorate in education from Washington State University. The following year, he moved to California.
There, he became an Associate Professor of Education, the Director of the Evelyn Frieden Centre for Prescriptive Teaching, and later, Coordinator of Programs for Emotionally Disturbed Children at the University of California.
In 1968, four years after he'd arrived in California, Peter wrote and published a book that made him famous. The Peter Principle was a masterpiece of shrewd satire and social science, examining the flaws of hierarchical organizations such as corporations.
The "Peter Principle" itself stated the following:
In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence ... in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties ... work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
Peter provides examples of how employees who are not qualified to manage are promoted to middle management because of the skills they showed in performing their previous jobs.
These skills usually don't qualify them to be managers. Thus, the middle manager has reached his highest level of competence, and further promotion simply raises him to incompetence.
In addition to his famous principle, Peter also coined the term hierarchiology - the study of hierarchies and the principles of hierarchical systems in human society. He described it this way:
Having formulated the Principle, I discovered that I had inadvertently founded a new science, hierarchiology, the study of hierarchies. The term hierarchy was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks.
The contemporary meaning includes any organization whose members or employees are arranged in order of rank, grade or class. Hierarchiology, although a relatively recent discipline, appears to have great applicability to the fields of public and private administration.
Peter's book has proven to be even more influential these days than when it was originally published. It inspired the work of cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, who titled one of his own books The Dilbert Principle.
Peter would follow The Peter Principle with more works, including The Peter Pyramid or Will We Ever Get The Point?, Why Things Go Wrong, The Peter Plan, and The Peter Prescription.
In his final years, up until his death, Peter became involved with and helped to manage the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Humboldt County, California.
The unique annual event is a race of sculptures that double as human powered, amphibious, all-terrain vehicles that can run on land or water.
Called "the triathlon of the art world," the event is a three day cross country race where the sculpture vehicles must cross sand, mud, pavement, a bay, a river, and some steep hills.
While Humboldt County hosts the World Championship race, other Kinetic Sculpture Races take place throughout the United States and around the world.
Laurence J. Peter died in 1990 from complications following a stroke. He was 70 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"Television has changed the American child from an irresistible force into an immovable object." - Laurence J. Peter
Today's video features Dr. Laurence J. Peter discussing his most famous book, The Peter Principle, on BBC TV. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 15th, 1890, the legendary English writer Agatha Christie was born. She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, England. Her mother was the daughter of a British Army captain, her father an American stockbroker.
During World War I, Agatha worked as a hospital nurse. She liked nursing, calling it "one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow." After the war, she worked as a pharmacist - a position that would prove helpful to her future writing career, as many murders in her books are committed by poisoning.
Although their courtship was rocky, on Christmas Eve, 1914, Agatha married her boyfriend, Archibald Christie, a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, which, along with the Royal Air Naval Service, would later be merged and renamed the Royal Air Force.
Agatha bore him one child, a daughter, Rosalind, who would found the Agatha Christie Society and serve as its president until her death.
In 1920, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Set in World War I England in a country manor called Styles Court, the novel introduced one of Christie's most famous characters - the brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Narrated by Poirot's lieutenant, Arthur Hastings, the story tells of a case where Poirot is called to investigate the mysterious poisoning of wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. The book is filled with a half-dozen suspects, red herrings, and surprise plot twists.
Christie's debut novel introduced her distinctive style of detective fiction to the world. It was a big hit with critics and readers alike. Christie would write 33 novels and 51 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
The public loved Poirot, though Christie described him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep." Yet, she refused to kill him off. She believed it was her duty to write what her readers liked, and what they liked was Poirot.
In her 1927 short story, The Tuesday Night Club, Agatha Christie introduced another detective character, one that would become just as beloved as Hercule Poirot. Her name was Jane Marple, and she was an elderly British spinster and amateur detective.
When she wasn't knitting or weeding her garden, Miss Marple was using her brilliant mind and keen understanding of human nature to solve crimes. Christie's first full-length Miss Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage, was published in 1930.
In the village of St. Mary Mead, Colonel Protheroe is so hated that even the local vicar once said that killing him would be a public service. He's soon found murdered in the vicar's study.
Two different people confess to killing Protheroe, so Miss Marple sets out to solve the crime and uncover the real killer. The Murder At The Vicarage would be the first of twelve Miss Marple crime novels.
In late 1926, Agatha Christie's life would imitate her fiction. Her husband, Archie, told her that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. After a nasty fight on December 3rd, Archie took off to spend the weekend with his mistress in Surrey.
Agatha also took off, leaving a note for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Instead, she mysteriously vanished. Her disappearance led to a public outcry; a massive manhunt took place and her husband was suspected of killing her.
Eleven days after she vanished, Agatha Christie was found at a hotel in Yorkshire, where she had checked in as Mrs. Teresa Neele. She gave no account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her with amnesia.
Some believe that she suffered a nervous breakdown, but at the time, most of the British public believed that Christie's disappearance was a staged publicity stunt. Others suspected she'd hatched an elaborate plot of revenge on her husband for the affair.
The couple was later divorced. In 1930, Christie married her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met at a dig. It was a happy marriage that lasted until Christie's death in 1976 at the age of 85.
In her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote over 80 mystery novels, as well as several romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She was also a playwright, and wrote over a dozen plays.
Her play The Mousetrap (1952), an adaptation of her classic 1948 short story Three Blind Mice, which opened in London on November 25th, 1952, is still running after more than 27,000 performances - a record for the longest initial run of a play.
Of course, Agatha Christie will always be known as the grand dame of crime fiction. Her novels and short stories, which have been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television, have sold approximately four billion copies combined - the only book to outsell her is the Bible.
Quote Of The Day
"Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it." - Agatha Christie
Today's video features a complete reading of Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, And Then There Were None. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 14th, 1814, the famous American poet Francis Scott Key wrote his most famous poem Defence of Fort McHenry, which would be renamed The Star-Spangled Banner and become the United States' national anthem.
Earlier unofficial national anthems included My Country, 'Tis of Thee, the lyrics of which, ironically, had been set to the music of the British national anthem, God Save the Queen.
The story of Francis Scott Key's poem begins with the War of 1812, which took place from 1812-1815. On September 3rd, 1814, Key and lawyer-publisher John Stuart Skinner set sail on the HMS Minden on a mission.
Their mission, approved by then President James Madison, was to exchange prisoners with the British, who were about to attack Baltimore after violently sacking Washington DC.
Key was intent on rescuing his friend, Dr. William Beanes - the popular and elderly town doctor of Upper Marlboro, Maryland - who was a prisoner of the British. So, four days later, they boarded the HMS Tonnant to speak with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane.
The British initially refused to release Beanes, because he had allegedly aided in the arrest of British soldiers. They changed their minds when Key showed them letters written by British prisoners praising the doctor for his kind treatment of them.
Unfortunately, while discussing the prisoner exchange during dinner on the British ship, Key and Skinner also heard British officers discuss the upcoming attack on Baltimore, so they were held captive until after the battle.
On September 13th, from a sloop behind the British fleet, Francis Scott Key watched the British attack Fort McHenry. Throughout the day and into the night, the fort was bombarded with over 1,500 bombs, rockets, and cannon balls. Fortunately, the Baltimore fort was well prepared for such an attack.
Key noticed the huge 30'x42' American flag atop the fort, flying like a beacon of defiance and courage throughout the attack. Using the only piece of paper he had - the back side of a letter that was in his pocket - Key began writing a poem about the battle. Later that night, when it became too dark for the British to see, they stopped firing on the fort.
When they went to sleep, Key and the other Americans aboard the British ships had no idea whether or not their enemies had won the battle. The next morning, Key noticed that the huge American flag was still perched atop Fort McHenry and flying proudly.
The British had been defeated. Key was released, and later that day at the Indian Queen Hotel, he completed his poem, The Defence of Fort McHenry.
Five days later, Key's patriotic poem was printed and circulated throughout Baltimore, with the author's instructions that the poem be sung to the music of the popular English drinking song, Anacreon in Heaven, also known as The Anacreontic Song.
Singing Key's poem to this particular song was supposedly the idea of Key's brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson. The poem and its musical accompaniment were then published as The Star-Spangled Banner by Thomas Carr of Baltimore's Carr Music Store.
The first public performance of The Star-Spangled Banner took place in October of 1814, when it was sung by actor Ferdinand Durang at Captain McCauley's Tavern.
The song's popularity surged throughout the 19th century; it was often played at public events - especially during Independence Day festivities. It was first performed before a major league baseball game in 1897 in Philadelphia.
Despite the popularity of The Star-Spangled Banner, it would not become the United States' official national anthem until 117 years after it was written.
Although then Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed an order in 1897 making The Star-Spangled Banner the official song to be played when raising the flag, it did not become the official national anthem.
It became the official United States national anthem on March 3rd, 1931, when then President Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so. Before then, the United States had no official national anthem.
Though Francis Scott Key's entire 4-verse poem had been published as The Star-Spangled Banner, only the first verse is traditionally sung as the United States' national anthem.
Quote Of The Day
"Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?" - Francis Scott Key
Today's video features actress-comedienne Roseanne Barr's highly controversial - and very funny - performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at a Chicago Cubs baseball game on July 25th, 1990. Also included is a clip of Madonna defending Roseanne's performance.
Ironically, many years later, Barr, fired from the reboot of her popular 1980s TV series for posting a racist tweet, would criticize black football players who refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against racism. She called them disrespectful.
Friday, September 10, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 10th, 1856, the legendary American writer, philosopher, and orator Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his famous "On the Affairs in Kansas" speech in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a Kansas Relief meeting.
The object of the meeting was to alert abolitionists to the plight of their fellow anti-slavery activists in the Kansas-Nebraska territory, and to raise money for the cause - and the work of legendary militant abolitionist John Brown, who would arrive in four months.
Two years earlier, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had been passed. It repealed the banning of slavery in new territories, as outlined in the Missouri Compromise, giving residents the right to decide whether or not to allow slavery in their territories.
Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, more violence broke out between the pro-slavery and abolitionist factions, with pro-slavery posses shooting and even scalping abolitionists.
In May of 1856, four months before Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his speech, the city of Lawrence, Kansas, was violently sacked by a pro-slavery force of 800 men led by the local sheriff. The small army surrounded the town, then invaded it.
They destroyed the offices of abolitionist newspapers, smashing their printing presses and dumping the types into the river. Private homes and a hotel were also destroyed, and the town was looted by the pro-slavery militants.
The legendary militant abolitionist John Brown, angered by both the violence of pro-slavery militants and the cowardly response of Lawrence's abolitionists, formed a posse of his own near the Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas.
He and his men killed seven pro-slavery militants in what came to be known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. It was one of many violent incidents that would occur in the Kansas-Nebraska territory prior to the Civil War.
Abolitionists across the country formed the Kansas Relief Movement to help their brothers in the Kansas-Nebraska territory, horrified by all the violence being wreaked in that area by pro-slavery militants.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated in his famous speech, "The people of Kansas ask for bread, clothes, arms, and men, to save them alive, and enable them to stand against these enemies of the human race."
The Kansas Relief Movement raised money and support for John Brown, who arrived the following January to visit Massachusetts, New York, and other Eastern states.
Emerson was a friend and admirer of John Brown, who would become famous for his ill-fated 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, which historians believe provoked the Southern states to secede from and ultimately wage war with the Union.
Although Brown's raid was initially successful - he and his men had seized the armory - his main plan, to arm slaves with weapons from the armory's arsenal so they could wage a violent revolt, ultimately collapsed.
Within 36 hours, his men were captured or killed by locals and U.S. Marines led by future Confederate General Robert E. Lee. John Brown was captured, tried for treason, convicted, and hung. At his trial, a defiant and passionate Brown stated:
Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments - I submit; so let it be done!
While Brown awaited his sentence, Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him, "[John Brown is] that new saint, than whom none purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death - the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross."
Quote Of The Day
"The South calls slavery an institution. I call it destitution. Emancipation is the demand of civilization." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today's video features a complete reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson's classic speech, The American Scholar. Enjoy!
Thursday, September 9, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 9th, 1828, the legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was born. He was born on his family's estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in Tula, Russia, the fourth of five children. The Tolstoys were a well known aristocratic family of the old Russian nobility.
Leo's parents died when he was young, so he and his siblings were raised by relatives. In 1844, Leo began studying law and oriental languages at Kazan University, but his teachers dismissed him as both unable and unwilling to learn, so he dropped out and returned to Yasnaya Polyana.
He later spent most of his time between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He became a compulsive gambler. In 1851, after running up large gambling debts, he and his older brother went to the Caucasus and joined the military. Around this time, he began to write.
After taking two trips around Europe, Leo Tolstoy experienced a literary and political transformation. During his first trip in 1857, while in Paris, Leo witnessed a public execution. It would prove to be a traumatic experience, one that would have a lifelong effect on him.
In a letter to his friend V.P. Botkin, Leo wrote of the execution, proclaiming "The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens... henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere."
During his next trip around Europe, which took place between 1860-61, Leo met novelist Victor Hugo. He had read Hugo's recently published masterpiece Les Miserables, and praised the author for his talents. Les Miserables would have a huge influence on Tolstoy's masterpiece, War and Peace.
In March of 1861, Leo met French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who was living in exile under an assumed name in Brussels, Belgium. Proudhon would inspire Leo's political philosophy.
His book, La Guerre et la Paix, also influenced the writing of War and Peace. The title of Proudhon's book translates into English as The War and The Peace, and Leo would borrow it for his own novel. He would also be inspired by the themes of Proudhon's book.
When he returned to Yasnaya Polyana, an enthusiastic and transformed Leo Tolstoy established over a dozen schools for his serfs' children, so that the poor peasant kids could receive an education.
In his 1862 essay, The School at Yasnaya Polyana, Leo discusses his principles in what could be considered the first coherent theory of libertarian education. Unfortunately, Leo's schools would prove to be short-lived, thanks to the harassment of the Tsar's secret police.
On September 23rd, 1862, Leo Tolstoy married his girlfriend, Sophia Andreevna Bers, the daughter of a court physician. At the time of their wedding, Leo was 34 and Sophia was 18. She would bear him thirteen children, five of whom would die in childhood.
The night before their wedding, Leo gave Sophia a collection of his diaries, which contained details of his sexual past, including the illegitimate son he fathered with one of his serfs. Still, their early marriage was happy and gave Leo the freedom to write, with Sophia serving as his secretary.
The Tolstoys' marriage would deteriorate as Leo's political beliefs grew more radical and he came to reject his inherited wealth and nobility. He became renowned among the peasantry for his generosity.
He would bring vagrants home to his country estate to give them a place to stay and a helping hand. When he visited the city, he would distribute large sums of money to street beggars. This infuriated his wife.
In 1862, Leo Tolstoy's first novel, Childhood, was published. It was the first in a trilogy of autobiographical novels, followed by Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856). After writing the novella Family Happiness (1859) and the novel The Cossacks (1863), Leo began work on what would prove to be his masterpiece.
The classic epic novel War and Peace was published in four volumes from 1865-69, and since then as one giant volume. Set during the era of Catherine the Great. It opens in 1805 and ends in 1820. It contains a whopping 580 characters.
Despite its huge cast of characters, War and Peace primarily tells the stories of five aristocratic families - the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins, and the Drubetskoys.
The families' personal lives entangle with the historical events of 1805-1813, which lead up to, take place around, and follow the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. It is rightfully considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
War and Peace was adapted for the screen, first in 1915, directed by Vladimir Gardin. The best known and most acclaimed film version was made by Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk.
Originally released in four parts between 1965 and 1967, it would later be edited into one six-hour long film and re-released in 1967. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year. In 1956, a Hollywood feature film adaptation of War and Peace was released.
The 208-minute epic was directed by King Vidor and starred Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Mel Ferrer, but the screenplay sanitized Tolstoy's novel considerably (as per Production Code requirements) and condensed the story. It pales in comparison to Bondarchuk's cinematic masterpiece.
Leo Tolstoy's next two novels also proved to be masterworks. Anna Karenina, originally published in serial format from 1873-77 in the literary magazine The Russian Messenger, told the story of Anna Karenina, a married aristocrat whose passionate affair with Count Vronsky leads to tragic consequences.
The Death Of Ivan Ilyich (1886), written shortly after Leo had converted to Christianity, is both a meditation on the meaning of life and a shrewd satire. 45-year-old High Court judge Ivan Ilyich Golovin takes a fall while hanging up curtains in his apartment.
Weeks later, he develops a bad taste in his mouth and a pain that won't go away. Numerous expensive doctors are called in, and numerous other people visit Ivan's bedside, but nobody can diagnose or treat his condition. It's obvious, though, that Ivan is dying.
Terrified of death, Ivan can't understand why a man like him - someone who has lived such a good life - should suffer such a fate. But as he begins to examine his life, he realizes that his so-called good life was anything but.
He dedicated most of his life to social climbing. He ignored his miserable family to concentrate on his work. His life was filled with hypocrisy. Only after Ivan begins to understand the true meaning of life does he lose his fear of death.
In addition to his novels, Leo Tolstoy also wrote three plays and works of nonfiction. His most famous work of nonfiction was The Kingdom Of God Is Within You (1894). The book was a mix of Christian spirituality and pacifist anarchist philosophy.
Tolstoy's aim was to separate the true teachings of Jesus Christ from Russian Orthodox Christianity, which had merged with the state and become corrupt. Indeed, all the modern churches were corrupt and had little to do with the teachings of Jesus.
Particularly offensive to Tolstoy was the use of religion by the state to justify war and domestic cruelty. Tolstoy also discussed the principles of non-violent resistance as a solution to these woes. Subsequently, the Russian government banned his book.
The Kingdom Of God Is Within You became an influential work throughout the world. One of its readers was a young Indian activist named Mohandas Ghandi.
Ghandi wrote to Tolstoy and the two began a correspondence in 1909 that would last for a year, until Tolstoy's death. He died of pneumonia on November 20th, 1910, at the age of 82. Leo Tolstoy is still considered one of the greatest writers of all time, and rightfully so.
Quote Of The Day
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy
Today's video features two documentaries on Leo Tolstoy. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
This Day In Literary History
On September 8th, 1924, the famous American writer Grace Metalious was born. She was born Marie Grace De Repentigny in Manchester, New Hampshire, which at the time of her birth was a poor mill town.
Grace was born to an impoverished family, the daughter of French Canadian immigrants, but as a child, she had big dreams and longed to be a famous writer. She would go to her aunt's house, sit in the bathtub, and spend hours writing stories. Her parents divorced when she was ten years old.
As a teenager, Grace attended Manchester Central High School, from which she graduated. When she was 18, she married her boyfriend, George Metalious. Her parents opposed the marriage because George was Greek. She would bear him three children, but the marriage was rocky from the start.
With World War II raging, George enlisted in the military, which kept him away from home for a long period of time. When he came back from the war, he was appalled to discover that instead of saving money, Grace had spent most of her salary supporting her sister, mother, and grandmother.
When George became a schoolteacher, Grace, a fierce nonconformist, refused to play the part of faculty wife. At a time when most women wore dresses, girdles, and bullet bras, Grace wore flannel shirts and blue jeans. She wore no makeup and kept her hair in a pony-tail. She was also a terrible housekeeper.
She would later write "I did not like belonging to Friendly Clubs and bridge clubs. I did not like being regarded as a freak because I spent time in front of a typewriter instead of a sink. And George did not like my not liking the things I was supposed to like."
Grace Metalious continued to write stories in her spare time, as she tried to build a writing career. When the family moved to Gilmanton, New Hampshire, where George accepted a job as school principal, Grace struck up a friendship with Laurie Wilkens, a writer for The Laconia Evening News.
Laurie told her all about a lurid murder case that was in the headlines: a young woman had murdered her father after being sexually abused by him since she was a child. Grace read all she could about the case and even researched the local gossip. It gave her an idea for a novel.
After she completed her novel, Grace tried to get it published. After receiving numerous rejections, Grace Metalious' classic debut novel was published in 1956.
It was called Peyton Place, and it caused a sensation - and an uproar. The novel was set in Peyton Place, a seemingly quiet and respectable small mill town in New England that proves to be neither quiet nor respectable.
The novel rips the lid off this picture-postcard-perfect town and exposes its seedy underbelly. It tells the stories of several different characters. Constance MacKenzie owns a dress shop. When she was young, she had an affair with a married man and became pregnant.
She returned to Peyton Place, claiming to be a widow, and forged her daughter's birth certificate. Constance lives in fear that her daughter Allison, now a young woman herself, will discover that she's illegitimate.
Selena Cross comes from "across the tracks" - the poor and tough area of Peyton Place. Her stepfather, Lucas Cross, has been sexually abusing her since she was 14. After he impregnates her, Selena tries to arrange an illegal abortion. She ends up murdering Lucas and is put on trial.
The wealthy Harrington family owns the town mill, and they have their own skeletons in the closet. Peyton Place became a huge bestseller; by 1960, it had sold over ten million copies, despite the fact that it was so controversial - or maybe because of it.
The reviews were mixed; critics either loved it or hated it. Described as "Tobacco Road with a Yankee accent," the sexually frank novel was denounced by the clergy as wicked and sordid trash. Libraries refused to stock it. Some bookstores refused to sell it.
The Canadian government banned it outright. But readers passed it on to their friends, and teenagers stole their parents' copies. Grace Metalious added to the controversy when she claimed that her husband George lost his job because of her novel.
While Grace had proved herself a capable novelist, she was a poor businesswoman. Her book contract gave her editor control of the final draft. As a result, Lucas Cross was changed from Selena's biological father to her stepfather, as the publisher feared that real incest would be far too shocking a subject for 1950s readers.
When Peyton Place was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1957, Grace was shocked and repulsed by the heavily sanitized screenplay, which bore little resemblance to her novel.
Unfortunately, when she sold the movie rights, she had given up creative control of the adaptation, so there was nothing she could do. When the novel was adapted as a popular TV series - a prime time soap opera that ran from 1964-69 - it too was sanitized.
By the time that the feature film was released in 1957, Grace Metalious had become a major celebrity. She was booked on a promotional tour, but in those days, publishers didn't teach their writers how to deal with the media.
Terrified of all the attention and insecure about her looks, Grace started drinking heavily. Although she and her husband both had affairs during their marriage, it was her alcoholism that broke them up.
Grace continued to write. Her next novel was a sequel, Return To Peyton Place (1959), that got slammed by critics. It sold well, but nowhere near as well as the original.
While she wrote it, Grace was still drinking heavily - so heavily that she had to hire a ghostwriter to help her complete the manuscript. After her divorce, Grace met and married her second husband, T.J. Martin, but the marriage lasted barely a year, as he tried in vain to mold Grace into what a successful writer should be.
Grace later reconciled with her first husband, George, and they bought a motel which they named the Peyton Place Motel. No one wanted to stay there, and it went bust, along with Grace and George's relationship, this time for good - she was drinking a fifth of whiskey a day.
She published two more novels, The Tight White Collar (1960) and No Adam In Eden (1963), neither of which were as successful as Peyton Place.
In late 1963, Grace met a British journalist named John Rees, who had come to interview her. They became lovers, but the relationship ended in early 1964 when, while traveling in Boston, Grace fell ill and was rushed to the hospital.
Three days later, on February 25th, 1964, Grace Metalious died of a hemorrhage that resulted from cirrhosis of the liver - the classic drunkard's death. She was 39 years old.
After her death, it was discovered that she had changed her will, leaving everything to John Rees. Grace's children contested the will. When they found that Rees was actually married with five children, he dropped his claim to the estate. The fact that Grace Metalious had accumulated far more debts than assets no doubt influenced his decision.
To this day, Peyton Place remains one of the great cult classic novels. In 2007, the University of Manchester honored Grace Metalious with an in-depth examination of her life and work.
The celebration included readings from her novels and screenings of the Peyton Place movie. It was the first time that the town of Manchester publicly acknowledged its native daughter.
The information in this article was sourced from the biography Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious by Emily Toth. You can find this book at Amazon or at a bookstore near you.
Quote Of The Day
"If I'm a lousy writer, then a hell of a lot of people have lousy taste!" - Grace Metalious
Today's video features an AMC documentary on Grace Metalious' classic novel, Peyton Place. Enjoy!