Friday, June 14, 2024

Notes For June 14th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 14th, 1811, the legendary American writer and activist Harriet Beecher Stowe was born. She was born Harriet Elisabeth Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother died when she was five years old.

Harriet and her nine siblings were left to be raised by their father, Hyman Beecher, a Presbyterian minister known for his evangelical fervor. He co-founded the American Temperance Society and preached about the evils of drink.

Beecher was an abolitionist - and a hypocrite. He preached against slavery from the pulpit, but was also a virulent racist and opposed to the forced emancipation of slaves by the federal government, believing that the institution of slavery would eventually die out.

When that time came, he believed that blacks should be repatriated to their African homeland rather than be allowed to live freely in America and integrate with whites. As president of the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, he refused to admit black students. Fifty white students left the seminary in protest.

Reverend Beecher's virulent intolerance was not limited to blacks. In 1834, he delivered a fiery anti-Catholic sermon in Boston that was believed to have inspired the burning of a nearby convent.

He also authored a notoriously racist Nativist tract, A Plea for the West, where he urged the federal government to strictly limit immigration or restrict it entirely to protect white Christian (Protestant) Americans from racial and religious undesirables. Sound familiar?

Harriet Beecher determined to become a writer at the age of seven, when she won a school essay contest. After completing her primary education, she enrolled in a progressive school for girls run by her older sister Catharine.

As an educator, Catharine was known for her feminist educational philosophy and her early advocacy for adopting the German kindergarten class for little children into the American public education system.

When she was 21, Harriet moved to Cincinnati to attend her father's seminary. There, she became a member of a writer's group called the Semi-Colon Club, whose membership also included her two sisters.

Another member was one of the seminary's professors, Calvin Stowe, with whom she fell in love. They were married, and she bore him seven children, including twin daughters. Unlike Harriet's father, Calvin was a ferocious abolitionist who called for immediate emancipation - freedom for all slaves.

She shared her husband's convictions, and their home soon became part of the Underground Railroad - the famous secret network of safe houses for fugitive slaves who would move from house to house as they traveled en route to free states, where slavery was illegal.

In 1850, Congress, bowing to pressure from the South, tried to tighten the screws on the Underground Railroad by passing the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal for people - even in free states - to assist fugitive slaves.

The law also compelled local law enforcement to arrest fugitive slaves and provide assistance to the vicious bounty hunters privately hired to track runaway slaves. The free states reacted with outrage to the Fugitive Slave Act, which resulted in gross abuses.

Many free states openly defied it. Several of them passed laws granting personal liberties, including the right to a fair trial, to fugitive slaves. Wisconsin's state Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

The law failed to disrupt the Underground Railroad; by the time it was passed, the network had become far more efficient. After the Act was passed, the Underground Railroad grew as the unjust law inspired scores of moderate abolitionists to become passionate activists.

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to do more than just dedicate her home to the Underground Railroad. She wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the abolitionist magazine The National Era, to tell him that she planned to write a story that would expose average white Americans to the true horrors of slavery.

A year later, the first installment of her novel was published in a serialized format in The National Era. Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) told the unforgettable story of a kind and noble slave whose hope, courage, and faith cannot be broken by the evils of slavery.

The novel opens on a Kentucky farm owned by Arthur and Emily Shelby, who like to think that they're kind to their slaves. But, when he needs money, Arthur has no problem selling two of his slaves down the river without regard to where they might end up.

The slaves in question are Uncle Tom, a wise and compassionate middle-aged man, and Harry, the son of Emily's maid, Eliza. The Shelbys' son George, who looked upon Uncle Tom as a friend and mentor, hates to see him go.

Uncle Tom and Harry are sold to a slave trader and shipped by riverboat down the Mississippi. While on the boat, Uncle Tom strikes up a friendship with Eva, a little white girl. When she falls into the river, he saves her life.

Eva's grateful father, Augustine St. Clare, buys Uncle Tom from the slave trader and takes him to his home in New Orleans. There, the friendship between Uncle Tom and Eva deepens. Sadly, Eva becomes severely ill and dies - but not before sharing her vision of heaven.

Moved by how much Uncle Tom meant to Eva, her father vows to help him become a free man. His racist cousin Ophelia is moved to reject her prejudice against blacks. Unfortunately, Augustine is killed at a tavern, and his wife reneges on his promise to help Uncle Tom. She sells him to Simon Legree, who owns a plantation in Louisiana.

Simon Legree is an evil, perverse, sadistic racist who tortures his male slaves and sexually abuses the women. When Uncle Tom refuses to follow Legree's order to whip another slave, Legree beats him savagely.

The beating fails to break Uncle Tom's spirit or his faith in God. The sight of Uncle Tom reading his bible and comforting other slaves makes Legree's blood boil. Legree determines to break Uncle Tom and nearly succeeds, as the daily horrors of life on the plantation erode the slave's faith and hope.

Just when it appears that Uncle Tom will succumb to hopelessness, he has two visions - one of little Eva and one of Jesus himself. Moved by these visions, Uncle Tom vows to remain a faithful Christian until the day he dies.

He encourages two fellow slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, to run away. Later, when Simon Legree demands that Uncle Tom reveal their whereabouts, he refuses. Legree orders his overseers to beat Uncle Tom to death.

As he lay dying, Uncle Tom forgives the overseers, which inspires them to repent. George Shelby arrives with money to buy Uncle Tom's freedom. Sadly, he is too late. Uncle Tom dies before he can become a free man.

George returns to his parents' farm in Kentucky and frees their slaves, telling them to always remember Uncle Tom's sacrifice and unshakable faith.

That's actually just a threadbare outline of this classic epic novel. The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin caused a national uproar. In the North, it was regarded as the bible of abolitionism.

The novel inspired many closet abolitionists to come out and join in the fight against slavery. In the South, the book was regarded as an outrage. It was called utterly false and slanderous - a criminal defamation of the South.

Many Southern writers who supported slavery took to writing literature dedicated to debunking Harriet Beecher Stowe's expose of the horrors of slavery. Their writings were called "Anti-Tom" literature.

This pro-Southern propaganda depicted white Southerners as benevolent supervisors of blacks, who were depicted as a helpless, child-like people unable to live without the direct supervision of their white masters.

To defend herself against the South's accusations of slander and defamation, Stowe wrote and published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), a nonfiction book documenting the horrors of slavery that she both witnessed herself and researched.

The book included surprisingly graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse of female slaves, who, in addition to being molested or raped by their white masters and overseers, were also prostituted and forced to "mate" with male slaves to produce offspring that would fetch a good price on the auction block.

When Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared in book form in 1852, it was published in an initial press run of 5,000 copies. That year, it sold 300,000 copies. Its London edition sold 200,000 copies throughout the United Kingdom. It became a hit throughout Europe as well.

Ironically, by the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, the book was out of print in the United States, as Stowe's original publisher had gone out of business. She found another publisher, and when the book was republished in 1862, the demand for copies became huge.

That same year, Harriet Beecher Stowe was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said to her, "so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

The novel would be adapted many times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.

In the 20th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin courted a new controversy that continues to this day. African-American activists have accused the abolitionist novel of being racist itself, with its racial stereotypes and epithets.

Like the accusations of racism leveled against Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), this came from a failure to place the novel in its proper historical perspective and consider its overall message.

Although Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote many books, both fiction and nonfiction, none of her other works came close to eclipsing the power and fame of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

During the last 23 years of her life, she lived in Hartford, Connecticut, next door to a friend and fellow writer - Mark Twain. She died in 1896 at the age of 85.

There are two historical landmarks dedicated to her; the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine, where she wrote her classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.


Quote Of The Day

"The power of fictitious writing, for good as well as for evil, is a thing which ought most seriously to be reflected upon."

- Harriet Beecher Stowe


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a 2-part lecture on the history and legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Professor Cyrus Patell of New York University. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Notes For June 13th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 13th, 1865, the legendary Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats was born. He was born in Dublin, but spent most of his early childhood living in County Sligo.

Yeats' father, John, was a famous painter. His brother Jack would become an acclaimed artist as well. Young William, however, was interested in poetry, Irish folklore, and the occult.

The Yeats family belonged to the Protestant aristocracy, who were British loyalists. While William was growing up, a nationalist revival in Ireland caused the Protestants to fall out of power.

The Catholic Church was able to take power in Ireland because most nationalists were middle class Catholics. Protestants were seen as traitors to Ireland. Many nationalists who hadn't been Catholic before were now converting.

Although the Protestant William Butler Yeats would become one of Ireland's greatest nationalist heroes, he never converted to Catholicism. Yeats loathed the Catholic Church, which he believed was more interested in grabbing power for itself than in Irish nationalism.

At the age of twelve, Yeats began his formal education after being educated at home by his father. He was a below average student. An early report card noted that he was "Only fair. Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling."

During his high school years, Yeats discovered a passion for poetry. Percy Shelley became one of his literary idols. By this time, his family had moved back to Dublin and William hung out with the city's writers and artists.

In 1885, at the age of twenty, Yeats had his first poems and an essay published in the Dublin University Review. His early work would be heavily influenced by Shelley, Edmund Spenser, and the pre-Raphaelite style.

Soon, however, Yeats would develop his trademark style of poetry, which was steeped deep in symbolism and influenced by Irish folklore, mythology, and the writings of William Blake.

Although other modernist poets were experimenting with free verse, Yeats preferred writing in traditional formats with rhyme and meter. One of his first major works was Mosada (1886), a play in verse.

While pursuing his interest in the occult, Yeats became a member of the famous Golden Dawn magical order and struck up a close friendship with fellow member and legendary occultist Aleister Crowley.

Around this time, Yeats struck up a friendship with Maude Gonne, an heiress, art student, and fellow Irish nationalist. He fell in love with her, but it was a mostly unrequited love.

Like Maude, Yeats had belonged to a then fledgling nationalist group called the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As the IRA became more militant, Yeats distanced himself from its violent wing.

He wanted no part of violence, believing that he and other writers could use their words to further the cause of Irish nationalism, which would be more effective than violence.

Yeats was devastated when Maude married another man, fellow nationalist Major John MacBride. However, the marriage soon came to an end - but not officially. Unable to divorce in Ireland, they went to Paris, only to be denied by the court there.

Maude remained in Paris with her son while John returned to Ireland. Maude and Yeats rekindled their friendship. They finally became lovers, but ultimately drifted apart.

By 1890, the Yeats family had moved to London, where William co-founded the Rhymers' Club, a group of poets that met regularly in a Fleet Street pub to read their work.

In 1899, Yeats and his friends Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and George Moore founded the Irish Literary Theatre, which was devoted to Irish and Celtic plays. Its first show was a double bill - Yeats's play The Countess Cathleen and Lady Gregory's Spreading the News.

Yeats would remain a lifelong Irish nationalist, but kept his political beliefs mostly to himself as violence escalated between the Irish nationalists and British police and soldiers. He continued to write nationalist poetry.

In 1916, Yeats proposed marriage to his old love Maude Gonne, whose estranged husband had been executed by the British. He really wanted to just take care of the poor woman, whose life had been ruined by her devotion to violent political activism and her addiction to drugs.

Yeats and Maude didn't marry. At 51 years of age, what he wanted most of all was to have a child. He ultimately married Georgie Hyde-Lees, a young woman of 25. Despite the age difference, their marriage was happy. They had two children.

Georgie shared Yeats's interest in the occult, especially spiritualism and automatic writing. They conducted seances in their home and experiments with trance states. This resulted in Yeats's nonfiction study of the paranormal, A Vision (1925).

By 1922, the Irish nationalists had won a surprising victory in the Irish War of Independence. Although the war actually ended in a truce, Southern Ireland was now a free state republic within the United Kingdom.

Yeats became a senator in the new republic; when the issue of legalizing divorce came up for debate, he fought hard against the Catholic Church's attempt to legislate its doctrine against divorce, comparing the effort to a modern inquisition.

In December of 1923, Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was a huge symbolic victory for an Irishman to win the award so soon after Southern Ireland won its independence.

For Yeats, winning the Nobel Prize also resulted in financial success. His publisher took advantage of the publicity, and his book sales took off. Though his later poetry would still be steeped deep in mysticism, it would also become devoted to more contemporary issues.

William Butler Yeats died in 1939 at the age of 73. He remains one of Ireland's greatest poets.


Quote Of The Day

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

- William Butler Yeats


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of William Butler Yeats' classic poem, The Stolen Child. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Notes For June 12th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 12th, 1929, the legendary German writer Anne Frank was born. She was born Anneliese Marie Frank in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father, Otto Frank, was a Jewish businessman and decorated veteran of World War I, where he served as an officer in the German Army.

In March of 1933, municipal council elections were held in Frankfurt, and Adolf Hitler won dictatorial control, becoming Chancellor of Germany. Anti-Semitic demonstrations began, and the Frank family feared for their safety.

Anne Frank, her older sister Margot, and their mother Edith went to stay with Anne's grandmother in Aachen. Later, after receiving an offer to start a company in Amsterdam, Otto moved the family to the Netherlands.

In February 1934, Edith and the girls arrived in Amsterdam. Anne Frank was enrolled in a Montessori school, where she showed advanced aptitude in reading and writing. Her friend, Hanneli Goslar, later recalled that Anne started writing in early childhood, but always kept her writings a secret and wouldn't discuss them.

In 1938, Otto Frank started a second company, Pentacon - a wholesaler of herbs, spices, and pickling salts used to make sausages. His spice adviser, Hermann Van Pels, was a Jewish kosher butcher who had also fled Germany with his family.

Edith Frank's mother came to Amsterdam to live with the family in 1939. Their quiet life would change forever when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May of 1940.

After defeating the Dutch army, the Nazis set up an occupation government and enacted discriminatory laws requiring Jews to register themselves and be segregated from the non-Jewish population.

In April of 1941, Otto Frank took steps to keep Pentacon from being confiscated as a Jewish-owned business, enabling him to earn a small income with which to support his family. Otto had the company liquidated and the assets transferred to his employee, Jan Gies. Jan and his wife Miep were close friends of the Frank family.

On June 12th, 1942, Anne Frank received a diary from her father as a gift for her 13th birthday. She had seen the handsome book, bound in red and green plaid cloth and with a small lock on the front, in a shop window. It was actually an autograph book, but Anne used it as a diary.

The following month, Margot Frank received a letter from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration ordering her to report for transportation to a work camp. So, on July 6th, the family fled after Otto planted a fake note to trick the Nazis into thinking they went to Switzerland.

(Ironically, if Otto had moved the family to Switzerland as he originally planned to do, his wife and daughters would have survived the Holocaust. His tragic determination to remain in the country he considered his adopted homeland would haunt him for the rest of his life.)

The Franks moved into a hiding place - a three-story space located above the offices of Otto Frank's previous company, the Opekta Works. Anne called it the Secret Annex. A week later, they were joined by Hermann Van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their 15-year-old son, Peter. In November, Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and Frank family friend, moved into the Secret Annex.

In her diary, (which she called Kitty, after the main character in her favorite series of children's novels) Anne wrote about the Van Pelses and Pfeffer, and their daily lives in the hiding place. She described Hermann Van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer as self-centered and foolish and Auguste Van Pels as a calculating sociopath.

She became friends with Peter Van Pels, developed a crush on him, and experienced her first kiss. Later, Anne questioned her feelings for Peter, wondering if she really did love him or if it was because there was no one else.

While in hiding, the Franks' only connections to the outside world were Jan and Miep Gies, and Otto's former employees Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, and Bep Voskuijl, and her father, Johannes Hendrik Voskuijl.

These contacts provided the Franks and their roommates with information, food, and supplies, all of them knowing that if they were caught, they would be executed for helping to hide Jews. The food and supplies had to be purchased on the black market.

Anne continued to write in her diary, expressing her feelings about her family and their roommates. She came to hate Fritz Pfeffer, with whom she had to share a room. She wrote of her strained relationships with her mother and sister, (her relationship with her cold, distant mother was especially strained) and she wrote about what it was like to be confined, hidden, and fearful of discovery.

The main theme of the book is Anne's coming of age - her transformation from a silly, immature, and timid schoolgirl into a wise, intelligent, strong, and empowered young woman full of confidence and hope. Which was bitterly ironic considering her tragic fate.

In August of 1944, two years after they went into hiding, someone betrayed the Franks and their roommates. On August 4th, the German Security Police raided the Secret Annex and arrested everyone.

When Miep Gies came for a visit, she found the Secret Annex vacant. She discovered Anne's diary and other writings (in notebooks and on looseleaf paper) and saved them, hoping that Anne would survive to reclaim them.

The hiders were ultimately sent to Auschwitz, where Hermann Van Pels was gassed and Edith Frank died of starvation and illness after giving her food rations to her sick daughters.

Before she died, Anne and Margot Frank and Auguste Van Pels were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Fritz Pfeffer was sent to the Neuengamme camp, where he died of a gastrointestinal infection.

At Bergen-Belsen, Anne caught a bad case of scabies. When typhus swept the camp, Margot contracted the disease and Anne cared for her until she died. Auguste Van Pels also died of typhus. Then Anne got it. With her health in severe decline and believing that her father had also died, she lost her will to live.

Anne Frank died of typhus in March of 1945, just three months before her sixteenth birthday - and just one month before Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the Allies.

At the end of the war, as the Red Army was about to liberate Auschwitz and the Nazis were evacuating, Peter Van Pels and other prisoners were forced into a long march and hard labor in a mine. Exhaustion and illness landed Peter in the sick barracks. He never recovered and died at 18 - just a few days after the liberation.

In 1945, Otto Frank, the only member of the Secret Annex hiders who survived, returned home to the Netherlands. After the Red Cross confirmed the deaths of Anne and Margot Frank, Miep Gies gave Anne's diary and other writings to her father.

Impressed with Anne's writing talent, the depth of her thoughts and feelings, and the way she chronicled the family's life in hiding - and remembering how she longed to be a writer - Otto considered having the diary published.

Anne herself had wanted to publish her diary; she'd heard a radio broadcast in March of 1944 by Gerrit Bolkestein, a member of the Dutch government-in-exile who planned (after the war ended) to create a public record of the Dutch people's oppression under Nazi occupation.

Anne prepared her diary for future publication by editing, rewriting, and using pseudonyms for her family and their roommates. The Van Pels family became the Van Daans, and Fritz Pfeffer's name was changed to Albert Dussell - Dussell being the German word for idiot.

After Anne's death, Otto Frank edited her diary himself, restoring the Frank family's names, but retaining the other pseudonyms. He cut some sections, including Anne's harsh criticisms of her mother and biting comments about her parents' strained marriage. He also removed sections dealing with Anne's growing sexual awareness and her experiences with puberty.

Otto gave the edited manuscript to historian Annie Romein-Verschoor, and she tried, unsuccessfully, to get it published. When her husband Jan wrote an article about the diary titled Kinderstern (A Child's Voice), which was published in the Het Parool newspaper in April 1946, it attracted the attention of publishers.

Anne Frank's diary was first published in the Netherlands as Het Achterhuis (The Diary) in 1947, then again in 1950. It was published in Germany and France in 1950, and then in the UK in 1952, though in the UK, it was unsuccessful and went out of print the following year.

Surprisingly, the diary's first edition was most successful in Japan, where it sold over 100,000 copies. The first American edition was published in 1952 as Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl. In the U.S., the book was just as successful and critically acclaimed as it was in Germany and France.

In October of 1955, The Diary Of Anne Frank, a stage play adaptation by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, premiered on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Producers had originally asked Lillian Hellman to adapt the diary for the stage, but she turned them down, fearing that her adaptation would be too bleak.

A feature film adaptation of the play, starring a badly miscast but earnest Millie Perkins as Anne Frank and Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan, was released in 1959. More adaptations followed, including a TV miniseries.

Over the years, the book's popularity has grown exponentially, selling over 25,000,000 copies worldwide. It often appears on middle school English and social studies teachers' assigned reading lists. I first read this amazing book in eighth grade, at the age of thirteen.

In 1999, Cornelius Suijk, a former director of the Anne Frank Foundation and president of the U.S. Center for Holocaust Education Foundation, announced that he possessed the sections of Anne Frank's diary deleted by her father, Otto, prior to the book's initial publication.

Suijk claimed that Otto Frank had given them to him and claimed the right to publish the missing pages. He planned to use the proceeds to help fund his U.S. foundation.

After a court battle, Suijk agreed to turn over the pages to the Dutch Ministry of Education in exchange for a $300,000 donation to his foundation. He did so in 2001, and the diary has since been republished in an uncut special edition called the Definitive Edition.

A companion volume was also published - Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex (1949) - a collection of short stories and an unfinished novel called Cady's Life, all written by Anne during her two years in hiding. It's a fascinating book that showcases her writing talent, which was considerable.

But her diary was her legacy, and it continues to inspire nearly 80 years after her death. It's a profoundly moving testament to the courage of an ordinary teenage girl trapped in extraordinary circumstances and a testament to the evils of racism and fascism - one of the most important documents of the Holocaust.

The Secret Annex in Amsterdam where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis and wrote her famous diary was turned into a museum called the Anne Frank House by the Dutch government. First opened to the public in 1960, it was rededicated by the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix after its second renovation in 1999.

In one year alone, over a million people visit the Anne Frank House. If you go there, you can still see the pictures of movie stars that Anne tacked up on her bedroom wall.

In January of 2022, a team of experts, including historians and an ex-FBI agent, identified the man they believe betrayed Anne Frank, her family, and their roommates. His name was Arnold van den Bergh, and he had been a member of Amsterdam's Jewish Council.

The team also claimed that Otto Frank knew that van den Bergh, who died in 1950, was the informer, but kept it a secret for two reasons: he didn't want to ruin the lives of the man's children, and he knew that like many other Jews, van den Bergh had been forced to make a Faustian bargain with the Nazis in order to save his family.

Otto was also concerned that revealing van den Bergh's identity to the world - revealing that his daughter was sold out and sent to her death by another Jew - would only serve to stoke the fires of anti-Semitism.

To this day, Holocaust deniers insist that Anne Frank's diary is a work of fiction - propaganda fabricated by her father or others - in a pathetic attempt to discredit it, despite the fact that handwriting analysis proved conclusively that it was Anne who wrote the diary.


Quote Of The Day

"For someone like me, it is a very strange habit to write in a diary. Not only that I have never written before, but it strikes me that later neither I, nor anyone else, will care for the outpouring of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl."

- Anne Frank



Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of The Diary of Anne Frank. Enjoy!


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Notes For June 11th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 11th, 1925, the famous American writer William Styron was born in Newport News, Virginia. His paternal grandparents were conservative slave owners, but his father and mother raised him to be liberal.

His father was a shipyard engineer who suffered from depression, an illness Styron would later struggle with himself. Styron's mother died when he was a boy, after a long battle with breast cancer.

When Styron was in third grade, his father took him out of public school and enrolled him in an Episcopal prep school, which he enjoyed immensely. He later enrolled in Davidson College, but dropped out to join the Marines near the end of World War II.

He was promoted to lieutenant, but Japan surrendered before his ship was to depart from San Francisco. The war over, Styron enrolled at Duke University, where he earned a degree in English and published his first short story in a student anthology. The story was heavily influenced by the writings of William Faulkner.

In 1947, after graduating from Duke, Styron took a job for the McGraw-Hill publishing house in New York City - a position he came to hate. Styron got himself fired and began writing his first novel, Lie Down In Darkness, which was published in 1951.

The novel, which received great critical acclaim, told the story (partly in a stream-of-consciousness narrative) of a troubled young woman named Peyton Loftis, whose emotionally distant, oppressive, and dysfunctional Virginia family ultimately drives her to suicide.

Lie Down In Darkness won William Styron the prestigious Rome Prize, which was awarded by the American Academy In Rome and the American Academy Of Arts And Letters. Unfortunately, he couldn't go to Rome to accept the award because he was recalled to active duty in the Korean War.

He was discharged a year later due to eye problems. Styron used his experience at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as the basis for his novella The Long March, which was published in serial format in 1953. The novella would be adapted as a play for an episode of the famous Playhouse 90 TV series in 1958.

After his discharge from the Marines in 1952, Styron embarked on an extended trip to Europe. In Paris, he met and became friends with a group of writers including James Baldwin, Romain Gary, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, James Jones, Irving Shaw, and others.

The group founded the famous literary magazine The Paris Review in 1953. That same year, Styron went to Italy and finally accepted his Rome Prize for Lie Down In Darkness. At the American Academy, he was reunited with a young poet from Baltimore whom he had met before. Her name was Rose Burgunder, and he married her that same year.

Styron used his experiences in Europe as the basis for his novel Set This House On Fire, which was published in 1960. It told the story of a group of American expatriate intellectuals living on the Riviera. In the U.S., the novel received mixed reviews at best, but it was successful in Europe. The French translation was a bestseller.

Several years later, in 1967, Styron published his most controversial novel, The Confessions Of Nat Turner. It was a fictional memoir of Nat Turner, a real life historical figure who led his fellow slaves in a violent revolt against their evil white masters.

James Baldwin accurately predicted that the book would be controversial with black and white readers alike, saying that "Bill's going to catch it from both sides." Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, who were both prominent and respected black writers, defended Styron's novel publicly.

Despite this, several black critics assailed The Confessions Of Nat Turner for its allegedly racist stereotyping and a scene where Turner fantasizes about raping a white woman. Southern white readers weren't thrilled with the book, either. Nevertheless, it became a huge critical and commercial success, and won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In 1979, Styron published Sophie's Choice, another acclaimed novel that sparked controversy. Narrated by Stingo, a Southern writer Styron modeled after himself, the novel told the story of Stingo's love triangle with Sophie, a Polish Catholic who survived Auschwitz, and her Jewish lover Nathan, a paranoid schizophrenic.

Though he medicates himself with drugs (including cocaine) that he obtains from his employer, Pfizer, Nathan sometimes becomes frighteningly jealous, violent, and delusional. Haunted by her experiences during the Holocaust, Sophie finally reveals the secret that continues to torment her.

In Auschwitz, Sophie was forced to choose which of her two children would live. She sacrificed her daughter Eva so that her blond, blue-eyed, German-speaking son Jan could leave the death camp and be raised as a German.

Three years after its publication, Sophie's Choice was adapted as an acclaimed feature film that was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Meryl Streep winning the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Sophie. In 1998, Styron's short story Shadrach was also adapted as a feature film.

In 1985, Styron won the Prix Mondial Cino Del Luca, a major international literary award. That same year, he suffered from severe depression. He wrote a memoir of his struggle with the mental illness called Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness. It was first published in Vanity Fair magazine in December, 1989.

William Styron died in of pneumonia in 2006, at the age of 81.


Quote Of The Day

"The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis."

- William Styron


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a Paris Review interview with William Styron. Enjoy!


Monday, June 10, 2024

IWW Members' Publishing Successes For The Week Ending 6/9/24


Pamelyn Casto

Earlier this month my exploration of a story by a talented writer and important contributor to Canadian literature was published. For my latest A Close Reading piece, I explored Lorna Crozier's "Another Bear Story."

This brilliant little story is a combination of prose poem, fable, and metafiction.


Friday, June 7, 2024

Notes For June 7th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 7th, 1977, Delta of Venus, the classic short story collection by the legendary French writer Anaïs Nin, was published. It was published posthumously, as Nin had died six months earlier at the age of 73.

Anaïs Nin was born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in Neuilly, France, in 1903. Her father, Joaquin Nin, was a Spanish concert pianist and composer.

Her mother, Rosa Culmell, was a classically trained singer of French and Danish descent. As a young girl, Anaïs and her family lived in Spain and America before moving back to her mother's French homeland.

When the Nins moved back to France, they first lived in an apartment rented from an American friend who had gone away for the summer.

Anaïs, then in her teens, stumbled across the man's collection of erotic French paperbacks and read them all. By then, she had already determined to become a writer, and had begun keeping the diaries for which she would become most famous.

In the early 1930s, Anaïs Nin was living the bohemian life in Paris when she met the legendary American writer Henry Miller, then a down-and-out expatriate trying to start his own career as a novelist. She let him read her diaries, and they were a revelation to him.

Her writing had the poetry and passion that his lacked. With Anaïs serving as his muse, Miller wrote his classic debut novel, Tropic of Cancer (1934), which made his name as a writer. Meanwhile, Anaïs worked on her own fiction.

While they tried to get their writing careers going, Anaïs and Henry struggled to make ends meet, as France had also fallen victim to the Great Depression. They and some of their writer friends soon discovered that they could make $1 per page writing pornographic literature for an anonymous private collector.

That was the equivalent of $22 per page in today's money; though at first, they wrote erotica just for their own amusement, soon it became an important source of income during the dark days of the Depression when work was hard to come by.

Believe it or not, for Henry Miller, writing decent erotica in those days was a struggle. Anaïs Nin, however, was brilliant at it. Her erotic stories, told from a woman's perspective, were dazzling, poetic, sensual, and even philosophical at times, while also surprisingly graphic.

She explored all the known sexual taboos, including male and female homosexuality, sadomasochism, and incest. Though she retained her original manuscripts for these stories, she never intended to have them published.

During her amazing career, Anaïs Nin wrote many great novels, including House of Incest (1936), The Four-Chambered Heart (1950), and A Spy in the House of Love (1954), but she was most famous for her diaries.

The diaries were published in a series of eleven volumes over the years. They would also appear as collections of excerpts, the most famous of which was Henry and June: From a Journal of Love (1986).

Henry and June: From a Journal of Love contained excerpts from Anaïs's diaries chronicling her relationship with Henry Miller, which began as a close friendship and evolved into a passionate love affair.

The affair would become a ménage à trois of sorts when Miller's wife June arrived in Paris to live with him. Anaïs was fascinated by June and attracted to her, but mostly preferred sex with men.

This memorable volume would be adapted by director Philip Kaufman as the highly acclaimed and controversial 1990 feature film Henry & June, starring Fred Ward as Henry Miller, Uma Thurman as June, and, in a bravura performance, Maria de Medeiros as Anaïs Nin.

Though it contained no hardcore sexual content, Henry & June became the first feature film to be rated NC-17, which had replaced the X rating. Most critics and filmgoers agreed that the rating was undeserved.

On their classic movie review TV series Siskel & Ebert At The Movies, the legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert blasted the MPAA's ratings panel for rating Henry & June NC-17 - and for introducing the unnecessary rating in the first place.

By 1976, Anaïs Nin was losing her battle with cancer when a publisher approached her about releasing a volume of her famous erotic short stories, which everyone knew about but nobody had seen - except for the patron who had paid her to write them. She still didn't want to publish them.

Knowing that her ex-husbands Hugh Parker Guiler and Rupert Pole, both of whom she still loved, had fallen into poverty, she changed her mind and agreed to have the erotic stories published so they could have some money to live on. She died in January of 1977 at the age of 73. Six months later, Delta of Venus was published.

As the publisher had expected, the short story collection was a huge hit, though Anaïs Nin had considered the stories embarrassing because they were more caricature than serious writing and had been penned for a private patron's money rather than written for publication.

Nevertheless, they possessed a literary quality, providing a memorable exhibition of Nin's talent for erotic literature and adding to her legacy as a feminist icon. With the success of Delta of Venus, a second erotic short story collection, Little Birds, was published in 1979.


Quote Of The Day

"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it."

- Anaïs Nin


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Artists and Models, one of the erotic short stories from Anaïs Nin's classic collection, Delta of Venus. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Notes For June 6th, 2024


This Day In Literary History

On June 6th, 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the classic novel by the legendary English writer George Orwell, was published. A masterpiece of dystopic science fiction and potent political satire, Nineteen Eighty-Four remains one of the most acclaimed, influential, misunderstood, and controversial novels of the 20th century.

To truly understand this novel, one must first look at how it came to be. George Orwell, born Eric Blair to English parents living in India, had volunteered to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

Orwell fought alongside the POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista - the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) which was allied with Britain's Labour Party, of which he was a member.

The POUM was one of several leftist factions which had formed a loose coalition to fight General Franco's fascist army. Another member of this coalition was the Spanish Communist Party, controlled by the Soviet Union.

At the Soviets' insistence, the Spanish Communist Party denounced the POUM as a Trotskyist organization and falsely claimed that its members were in cahoots with the fascists. Near the end of the war, the POUM was outlawed, and the Spanish Communist Party began attacking its members.

Tragically, this infighting would break apart the coalition and give the fascists the opportunity to win the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was wounded in action, shot in the throat by a sniper. While he recovered in a POUM hospital, he had a lot of time to think, and he came to hate Soviet communism.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, a nonfiction book he published just before he left for Spain, Orwell, a lifelong socialist, chronicled the time he spent in a poor Northern England coal mining town called Wigan and discussed how socialism could improve living and working conditions in such a town. Why then was it resisted?

He blamed the ferocious prejudices of the white Christian middle class against the people they associate with socialism (blacks, Jews, the lower class poor, atheists, hippies, feminists, pacifists, etc.) as the reason why socialism was not widely accepted.

Although a socialist himself, Orwell was often critical of England's social welfare system, which often proved itself a failure, smothered by the weight of its own bureaucracy and stymied by the conservative leadership it must answer to, which primarily served the interests of the rich.

After his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was concerned that the British government, in a good faith attempt to provide for its citizens' social welfare, could become corrupted and engage in the same brutal totalitarian rule that governed the Soviet Union.

His earlier novel, Animal Farm (1945), was a satire of Stalinism in the guise of a modern fable. Nineteen Eighty-Four was a work of dystopic science fiction where a post nuclear war England of the future became absorbed into the state of Oceania by the United States, which is waging a war with Eurasia, the Soviet state.

Oceania, a state just as brutal as Eurasia, is ruled by an enigmatic dictator known only as Big Brother. Posters proclaim that BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, and indeed he is, as the state and its citizens are under constant video surveillance - just like England is today. Big Brother's face often appears on the video screens.

The main character is Winston Smith, a middle class intellectual who lives in the ruins of London in a one-room apartment where he subsists on a diet of black bread, synthetic meals, and Victory brand gin. Winston is a mid-level bureaucrat who works for the Ministry of Truth - the state's propaganda ministry.

Winston secretly despises the Inner Party - the ruling elite party of Big Brother - and the Thought Police. Citizens, especially young children, are indoctrinated to spy on their family, friends, and others, and report them as "thought criminals" if they express a thought that might be in opposition to the regime.

Though it's against the law and could get him killed, Winston keeps a secret diary of his discontent with the state. He hates his job as a historical revisionist, where he rewrites records and doctors photographs to create a history in line with regime ideology.

Winston is fascinated by the true history of the past and determines to learn all he can about it. One day, his life changes forever when a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth - a woman named Julia who maintains the Ministry's novel writing machines - slips him a note that reads I LOVE YOU.

This is quite a shock for Winston - he had always hated Julia because she wore the red sash of the Junior Anti-Sex League, as the regime believes that the best way to control citizens is to suppress their libido.

Winston later learns that state neurologists are working on biologically eliminating orgasm in humans. Nevertheless, he and Julia begin a passionate affair. They secretly rent a room to escape detection.

Unfortunately, the lovers are caught in bed by the Thought Police. The man who had rented them the room was actually a Thought Police officer who had been spying on them. Winston and Julia are taken to the Ministry of Love to be re-educated through torture.

The final stage is the dreaded Room 101, where one must face one's worst fear. Although they fight it bravely at first, Winston and Julia ultimately succumb to the torture and denounce each other. The novel ends with Winston accepted back into the state after his re-education is complete:

The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long hoped for bullet was entering his brain.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.


Over the years, due to misunderstandings over what its author was trying to say, Nineteen Eighty-Four became the bible of anti-communism for the right. Its author, George Orwell, has been mistaken for a staunch conservative and even a fascist.

And yet, he was a lifelong socialist who always hoped for a just future where all people were truly equal and the extremes of wealth and poverty didn't exist.

A favorite subject of study for middle and high school English classes, Nineteen Eighty-Four has often been banned and challenged by disgruntled parents and pressure groups due to its sexual content and violent imagery. Sadly, it would be George Orwell's last novel. He died from complications of tuberculosis in January of 1950 at the age of 46.

Nineteen Eighty-Four would leave a lasting cultural impact, from its concept of Big Brother to the term Orwellian, which has been added to the English lexicon. It would be adapted for the stage, radio, and screen.

The novel has become relevant again today, read more than ever following the election of the thoroughly corrupt, depraved, ignorant, racist, and mentally unstable would-be dictator Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. He's still the Republican candidate for president, despite being convicted of 34 felonies related to a hush money payout and falsifying business records.

Meanwhile, in conservative states such as Florida and Texas, Republican governors have become mini Big Brothers, setting up their own totalitarian dictatorships where anything not in line with their white, straight, cisgender, and misogynistic Christian nationalist ideology is outlawed.


Quote Of The Day

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."

- George Orwell


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of George Orwell's classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Enjoy!