This Day In Literary History
On February 18th, 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Mark Twain, was published. It was a sequel to his previous classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Set in the pre-Civil War South, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn finds Tom Sawyer's best friend Huck Finn on an adventure of his own. The novel opens with Huck under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas.
The widow, along with her sister Miss Watson, are attempting to "sivilize" Huck. While he appreciates their efforts, he feels stifled by civilized life. With help from his best friend Tom Sawyer, Huck sneaks out one night.
When Huck's shiftless father Pap, an abusive drunkard, suddenly appears, Huck wants no part of him. Unfortunately, Pap regains custody of Huck and they move to the backwoods, where Pap keeps Huck locked in his cabin. Huck escapes and runs away down the Mississippi River.
He soon meets up with Miss Watson's slave, Jim, who has also run away, after Miss Watson threatened to sell him downriver, where life for slaves is brutal. Although he's headed for Cairo, Illinois, Jim's final destination is Ohio, a free state where slavery is illegal.
He hopes to buy his family's freedom and move them there. At first, Huck is unsure about whether or not he should report Jim for running away. Throughout the novel, as Huck travels with Jim and talks with him, the two form a close friendship.
Huck begins to change his mind about slavery, people, and life in general. He comes to believe that Jim is an intelligent, compassionate man who deserves his freedom. One day, Huck and Jim find an entire house floating down the river. They enter it, hoping to find food and valuables.
Instead, in one room, Jim finds the body of Huck's father, Pap, who was apparently shot in the back while robbing the house. Jim won't let Huck see the dead man's face and doesn't tell him that it's Pap.
Later, to find out what's going on in the area, Huck dresses up in drag and passes himself off as a girl named Sarah Williams. He meets a woman and enters her house, hoping that she won't recognize him as a boy.
She tells him that there's a $300 bounty on Jim's head, as he is accused of killing Huckleberry Finn! The woman becomes suspicious of Huck's disguise. When she tricks him into revealing that he's a boy, Huck runs off. He warns Jim of the manhunt, then they pack up and flee.
As Huck and Jim continue their journey, they encounter more people and more trouble. First, they get caught in the middle of a blood feud between two families, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. Then they rescue two clever con men and get caught up in their schemes.
Huck is outraged when one of the grifters turns Jim in for the reward. Even though it's against the law and a sin, (it's considered theft) Huck helps Jim escape after rejecting the advice of his conscience and boldly declaring, "All right, then, I'll go to Hell!"
Around this time, Huck witnesses the attempted lynching of a Southern gentleman, Colonel Sherburn. The Colonel turns back the lynch mob with his rifle - and a long speech about the cowardly nature of "Southern justice."
Although Huck had helped Jim escape from custody, he is soon recaptured. Later, Huck learns that Miss Watson died, and in her will, she freed Jim. When Jim tells Huck that the dead man they found in the floating house was his father, he realizes that he can finally go home.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rightfully considered an all-time classic work of American literature. Although geared toward young readers, the novel has become a favorite of readers of all ages. It has been adapted numerous times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.
A month after it was first published, a public library in Concord, Massachusetts, banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its shelves, calling the novel tawdry, coarse, and ignorant. It was the beginning of a controversy that continues to this day.
From its first publication through the early 1950s, bans and challenges to the novel were the result of its condemnations of slavery and lynching, and its depiction of a black slave who proves to be more intelligent and compassionate than the white Southerners who had enslaved him.
Since the late 1950s, (when the Civil Rights movement began to gain momentum) the novel has faced bans and challenges in classrooms and school libraries from black activists for its frequent use of the racial epithet nigger and for its allegedly racist stereotyping of blacks.
Twain scholars point out that in using the word nigger, the author criticizes his fellow Southerners' racism by letting them speak their own ugly language. Those who accuse the novel of racism fail to place it in its proper historical context.
Nevertheless, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains an all-time classic work of literature.
Quote Of The Day
"In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards." - Mark Twain
Today's video features a complete reading of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enjoy!
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Monday, February 17, 2020
My work is in two publications! (Both are print only.) "Saipan," based on a World War Two tragedy on a beautiful island in the Pacific, appears in Firewords Magazine (UK), issue #12 & has been illustrated by Claire Scully.
"The Arrow & the Turtle," another story first told by my father and embellished by me, appears in Crack The Spine's "Neighbors" Anthology (US). target=_blank"
Thanks to Paul, Charles & Lee for some big help with the Turtle story and Paul, Lee, Deepa, David, Jacki & Eric for their helpful feedback on Saipan. By the way, since joining the Fiction List in late 2017, I've made 1000 submissions of 56 short stories to 408 literary journals. 43 stories have been accepted for publication.
I got a prose poem, Rank Invasion, accepted by Better Than Starbucks. It will appear in their March issue.
I also got a microfiction piece, Blocked Sewage, accepted by the Centifictionist and it too will appear in the March issue. This publication takes stories 100 words or fewer and they are partial to work about the Holocaust. (That's what my story's about.) Plus, I'm to send them answers to a short interview with me that they'll also publish in March.
And I'll have a haibun piece, On Seas and Mirrors, in the March issue of Carmina magazine.
Oh, and I'll have a poem, Eve-Pandora, in the summer issue of Gargoyle.
I'm glad I decided to send out some last-minute things to finish up 2019. Turns out March (and this summer) will be a bit more interesting for me as a result.
Friday, February 14, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On February 14th, 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest, the classic play the by legendary Irish writer Oscar Wilde, opened in London. Wilde had written the first draft of the play in just three weeks. It was the fastest play he ever wrote.
The Importance of Being Earnest was also Wilde's most famous play. In this satire of the foibles and hypocrisy of the British upper class, young aristocrat Jack Worthing invents a fictional younger brother named Earnest.
Jack uses his fictitious sibling as a way of getting out of trouble. Sometimes he pretends to be Earnest when it suits his duplicitous purposes. When Jack's friend and fellow aristocrat Algernon Moncrieff learns about Earnest, he also assumes Earnest's identity for his own purposes.
Jack and Algernon's plans backfire when two women fall in love with them, but each girl thinks she's in love with a man called Earnest. In a surprise twist, it turns out that Algernon, who has been impersonating Jack's fictitious sibling, is actually his long lost brother.
The Importance of Being Earnest earned rave reviews and became a hit. It's considered Oscar Wilde's best play. It would also be his last. It closed after 83 performances because of a scandal that had ensnared the playwright.
Wilde was a bisexual who, although married to a woman and the father of her children, preferred men. During his time - the Victorian era in England - homosexuality was considered both a disgrace and a crime under British law punishable by imprisonment.
The Marquess of Queensberry, father of Wilde's male lover Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, publicly accused Wilde of being a "posing sodomite," so Wilde made a complaint of criminal libel against him. The Marquess was arrested and released on bail.
A team of detectives led his lawyers to London's gay underground and details of Wilde's associations with male prostitutes, transvestites, and gay brothels were soon uncovered and leaked to the press, which assailed him nonstop.
Queensberry's lawyers claimed that the alleged libel was done for the public good. He was acquitted and Wilde found himself arrested for "gross indecency" - a term for homosexual acts that were illegal under British law.
The jury in Wilde's first trial failed to reach a verdict. At his final trial, presided by Justice Sir Alfred Wills, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to the maximum of two years imprisonment - a sentence that the judge believed was too lenient for the crime of homosexuality.
Wilde served his sentence at three different prisons. By the time of his release, prison life had left him in poor health. He spent his last years abroad in self-imposed exile, living under the alias Sebastian Melmoth.
The name was based on St. Sebastian (a Christian martyr believed to have been gay) and the main character of Melmoth The Wanderer, a Gothic novel written by Wilde's great uncle, Charles Robert Maturin.
Wilde was broke, so his wife, who refused to meet with him or let him see his children, sent him money when she could. He took up with his first lover, Robert Ross, and they spent the summer of 1897 together in Northern France, where Wilde wrote his classic poem, The Battle Of Reading Gaol.
Despite the objections of their families and friends, Wilde later reunited with Bosie Douglas, and they lived together in Italy in late 1897. They soon broke up, this time for good.
Wilde settled at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris, where, it has been said, he lived the uninhibited gay lifestyle that had been denied him in England. He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30th, 1900, at the age of 46.
Some have speculated that the meningitis was a complication of syphilis, but Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, said that it was a complication of a surgical procedure, most likely a mastoidectomy. Wilde's own doctors blamed the meningitis on an old suppuration of the right ear.
Quote Of The Day
"By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community." - Oscar Wilde
Today's video features a complete live performance of Oscar Wilde's classic play The Importance of Being Earnest. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 13, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On February 13th, 1991, the famous auction house Sotheby's announced that the original draft of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) had been discovered. Specifically, the first half of Twain's original draft manuscript, which had been thought lost.
The story of this major discovery began with a 62-year-old librarian from Los Angeles. Her aunt, who had lived in upstate New York, recently passed away. Six trunks full of her papers were sent to her niece. When the librarian finally got around to sorting through these papers, she made an incredible find.
Her grandfather, James Gluck, a lawyer and rare book collector, had acted as Twain's literary agent. Twain had sent Gluck the second half of his completed first draft of Huckleberry Finn to sell to the Buffalo and Erie Library in Buffalo, New York. He had once lived in Buffalo.
Twain had lost the first half of his manuscript, which is why Gluck only received the second half. For many years, it was believed that the first half had been lost forever. Then a librarian in Los Angeles sorted through trunks filled with her late aunt's papers.
There, in one of the trunks, she found the lost first half of Twain's original draft of Huckleberry Finn. Stunned, she asked Sotheby's to authenticate the manuscript. They had it shipped by armored car and plane to New York City, and found that it was indeed Mark Twain's lost original first half of Huckleberry Finn.
Since the manuscript contained the author's handwritten corrections and notes, there could be only one explanation for its existence: Twain had found the lost first half of his manuscript and sent it on to James Gluck in Buffalo. By then, he was already working on his second draft and gave no further thought to the original.
Finally put together as a complete whole, the original version of Huckleberry Finn is an amazing discovery. In addition to extended original scenes with more detail, it also included additional scenes that did not appear in the final version of the novel.
One of these additional scenes was a 15-page passage where, on a stormy night, Jim the runaway slave tells Huck Finn stories of his encounters with ghosts and corpses. Deemed too dark and macabre for a novel geared toward children, this scene had to be cut.
After a legal battle between Gluck's heirs, the Buffalo and Erie Library, and the University of Berkeley's Mark Twain Papers Projects over the rights to the manuscript, an amicable settlement was reached between all three parties.
The Buffalo and Erie Library retained the physical manuscript papers and all three parties would share equally in the royalties when the manuscript was published. Many publishing houses were chomping at the bit for the opportunity to publish it.
In 1995, Random House won the the bidding war for the right to publish the original version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Quote Of The Day
"Substitute damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain
Today's video features a segment from the TV series 60 Minutes on a recent censorship controversy surrounding Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On February 12th, 1938, the famous American writer Judy Blume was born. She was born Judith Sussman in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a little girl, she recalled, "I spent most of my childhood making up stories inside of my head."
In 1961, she graduated New York University with a Bachelor's degree in education. Two years earlier, she married her first husband, John Blume, with whom she had two sons. They divorced in 1976; though Judy retained John's surname, she described their marriage as "suffocating."
Not long after her divorce in 1976, Blume married physicist Thomas Kitchens. The marriage ended two years later. She described it as "A disaster, a total disaster. After a couple years, I got out. I cried every day. Anyone who thinks my life is cupcakes is all wrong."
It wouldn't be until 1987 that Judy found her soul mate in George Cooper, a law professor turned nonfiction writer, and married him.
Judy Blume had been working as a teacher in 1969 when her first book was published, a funny picture book called The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo. Her children were in preschool at the time.
The following year, Blume established herself as one of the best young adult novelists of her time with two poignant and provocative novels, Iggie's House and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Iggie's House told the story of Winnie Barringer, a young tomboy who is devastated when her best friend Iggie moves away. The Garbers, an African-American family, move into Iggie's old house and Winnie makes friends with the kids - Glenn, Herbie, and Tina.
Winnie soon learns an unforgettable lesson in the evils of racism when another neighbor, Mrs. Landon, a virulent bigot, determines to drive the Garbers out of the neighborhood. Winnie also observes the effects of Mrs. Landon's racism on her daughter, Clarice.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a memorable coming of age story centered on 12-year-old Margaret Simon. Margaret is the child of an interfaith marriage - her father is Jewish, her mother Christian.
Though her grandparents seem to accept her parents' marriage on the surface, Margaret's maternal grandparents are determined that she be raised a Christian, while her paternal grandmother calls her "my Jewish girl" and drags her to temple.
Caught in the religious crossfire, Margaret tries to decide what one religion she believes in - or if she believes in God at all. She must also cope with the onset of puberty, including feelings for boys, having to wear a bra, and getting her period.
Freckle Juice (1971) is another funny children's picture book about a young boy named Andrew who wants freckles like his friend Nicky has. Sharon, a girl in Andrew's class, sells him a recipe for "Freckle Juice" for 50 cents.
Andrew makes a batch of Freckle Juice - which contains disgusting ingredients - and drinks it, but no freckles appear. He's been swindled. Meanwhile, Nicky, who hates his freckles, buys a recipe from Sharon that's guaranteed to remove them!
Other memorable Judy Blume young adult novels include It's Not the End of the World and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, both published in 1972. In It's Not the End of the World, sixth grader Karen finds her life suddenly turned upside down.
Karen is overjoyed when her teacher turns out to be Mrs. Singer, the very nice teacher she desperately wanted. Unfortunately, Mrs. Singer, who got married over the summer, now acts like a total witch.
Meanwhile, Karen's parents' marriage disintegrates. They fight constantly and seem to really hate each other. When Karen's father announces his plans to file for divorce, her mother is finally happy - until Karen's angry teenage brother Jeff blows up at Mom and runs away from home.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first in a series of memorable novels featuring the Hatcher family. Peter Hatcher is a smart yet naive nine-year-old boy in the fourth grade. His 2-year-old little brother Farley, known by his nickname Fudge, is a holy terror.
The irrepressible Fudge wreaks all sorts of havoc around the house and out in public, and always gets away with it - while Peter is expected to be his brother's well behaved keeper. When Fudge gets into trouble, Peter gets the blame. Angry and resentful, he still loves his brother.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing would be followed by Superfudge (1980), Fudge-a-Mania (1990), and Double Fudge (2002). A spinoff of the Fudge series, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, was published in 1972.
This memorable novel featured Peter Hatcher's annoying classmate and sort-of friend Sheila Tubman in her own coming of age story. Though she has an abrasive, self-confident personality, Sheila suffers from several crippling phobias - fears of spiders, dogs, and water - which are the source of her secret shame.
When Sheila's family stays at a big house in Tarrytown, New York for the summer, she goes to camp and strikes up a friendship with Merle "Mouse" Ellis, an easygoing, tomboyish girl her age whose genuine courage inspires Sheila to conquer her fears.
In addition to her young adult novels, Judy Blume has also written novels for teenage and adult readers, which remain controversial to this day. Her novels for teenagers, beginning with Deenie (1973), dealt honestly with teen sexuality, including masturbation.
For this reason, disgruntled individuals and conservative groups have often tried to ban Blume's teen novels from high school library shelves. Her first novel geared toward adult readers, Wifey (1978), also drew criticism.
Wifey was set in the time of its publication - the 1970s. The main character, Sandy Pressman, is a bored New Jersey housewife who decides to bring life to her stagnant existence by having a passionate affair with her old high school boyfriend.
This was a time when conservative social mores gave way to liberalism and couples began openly experimenting with swinging and open marriages. Sandy soon discovers evidence that her husband is having an affair of his own...
Blume was sharply criticized for publishing Wifey under her own name instead of using a pseudonym. Even though the book was subtitled "An Adult Novel by Judy Blume," the author's young readers - especially her adolescent readers - took an interest in it.
Depsite the controversy, Wifey and Blume's other adult oriented novels Smart Women (1983) and Summer Sisters (1998) all became critical and commercial successes. To date, her works have won over 90 literary awards.
Her most recent book, In The Unlikely Event, was published in June of 2015. Set in the early 1950s, it tells the story of Miri Ammerman, a fifteen year old girl struggling to deal with both adolescence and the three plane crashes that take place in her New Jersey hometown within a three month period.
The novel was based on actual events in Judy Blume's life. Three plane crashes took place in her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey, from late 1951 through early 1952, claiming a total of 118 lives. Her father, a dentist, was called on to help identify the remains.
Quote Of The Day
"Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear." - Judy Blume
Today's video features Judy Blume discussing her most recent novel, In The Unlikely Event, live at the Politics & Prose bookstore and coffeehouse. Enjoy!
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On February 11th, 1778, the legendary French writer and philosopher Voltaire made a triumphant return to Paris after a 28-year exile.
Voltaire (the pseudonym of Francois-Marie Arouet) was born to a middle class family. As a young man, he entered law school, but quit to become a writer. He began his literary career as a playwright.
He also wrote poetry and prose; these works were of a polemic nature, and he possessed a rapacious wit. In 1717, he published his classic epic poem La Henriade, a satirical attack on the French monarchy and the Church.
The poem resulted in Voltaire's arrest. He was jailed in the Bastille for almost a year. Imprisonment failed to temper his poison pen, and by 1726, he found himself in trouble again.
Outraged by Voltaire's retort to his insult, Chevalier de Rohan, a young aristocrat, obtained a royal lettre de cachet from King Louis XV - a warrant for Voltaire's arrest and imprisonment without trial.
To avoid serving more time at the Bastille, Voltaire fled to England. He returned to Paris almost three years later. He continued to write and publish polemical essays, poetry, and prose.
His essay collection Philosophical Letters on the English praised the constitutional monarchy of England for its respect for human rights and condemned the French monarchy for its violations of them.
Its publication marked the beginning of an escalating outrage over Voltaire's writings. He would flee arrest again, then return. Eventually, King Louis XV banned him entirely from France.
He moved first to Berlin, then settled in Switzerland, where he wrote his classic comic novel Candide and lived for 28 years.
When Voltaire finally returned to Paris in February of 1778, he was met with a hero's welcome. Around three hundred people came to visit him. He died three months later at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
"An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination." - Voltaire
Today's video features a complete reading of The Philosophy of Voltaire, an essay by the famous writer, philosopher, and historian Will Durant. Enjoy!
Monday, February 10, 2020
Better Than Starbucks will have a poem and short story of mine in the March issue. Many thanks to Pamelyn for telling us about Starbucks.
My review of *Boy on the Bridge: The Story of John Shalikashvili's American Success* by Andrew Marble has been published by the Internet Review of Books. Thanks to the NFiction members who helped improve this review. The author e-mailed me to say:
Thanks for the nice review. I think you did a great job of calling out many of things about his life, and the book, that would draw in readers. That's my biggest hope, given that many people aren't always interested in a biography of a military figure.