Thursday, February 25, 2021

Notes For February 25th, 2021

This Day In Writing History

On February 25th, 1917, the legendary English writer and composer Anthony Burgess was born. He was born John Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England. His confirmation name, Anthony, would be added to his legal name.

The next year, in November of 1918, Burgess' eight-year-old sister Muriel died of Spanish Flu, which had become a pandemic. Four days after his sister's death, his mother died of the disease. His aunt Ann (his mother's sister) raised him while his father worked as a bookkeeper and part-time musician.

He would later say that he believed his father resented him for surviving the pandemic that killed his sister and mother. When his father remarried, he was raised by his stepmother.

As a young boy, Anthony Burgess was a loner, despised by other children because he liked to dress well and could read before he started elementary school. Although his father was a musician, Burgess didn't care about music until he heard a dazzling flute solo while listening to classical music on the radio.

After the piece ended, a voice announced that he had been listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) by legendary French composer Claude Debussy. Awestruck, Burgess told his family that he wanted to be a composer.

Burgess' family refused to let him study music because there was no money in it. Music wasn't taught at his school, so when he was around fourteen, he taught himself to play the piano. Later, he enrolled at Victoria University of Manchester as a music major.

Unfortunately, the music department turned him down because of his poor grade in physics. So, he switched his major to English. While at university, Burgess met Llewela "Lynne" Isherwood Jones, whom he would marry after they graduated.

During World War II, Anthony Burgess served as a nursing orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was disliked for his practical joking and anti-authoritarian nature. Once, he knocked off a corporal's cap; another time, he deliberately overpolished a floor to make the other men slip and fall.

In 1942, he asked for a transfer to the Army Education Corps. He excelled as an instructor, and though he loathed authority, he was promoted to sergeant. He was stationed in Gibraltar, where his talent for languages came in handy.

Burgess debriefed Dutch expatriates and Free French for army intelligence. His anti-authoritarianism got him into trouble again while on leave in a nearby Spanish town: he was arrested for insulting the fascist leader Generalissimo Franco. He was soon released.

While he was serving in the Army, his pregnant wife Lynne was attacked during the blackout by four GI soldiers who had deserted. She lost the baby, and the Army denied Burgess' request for leave to see her.

When Burgess left the Army in 1946, he had attained the rank of sergeant-major. He spent the next four years as a lecturer in speech and drama, then took a job as a secondary school teacher.

In 1954, he joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer. He was first stationed in Malaya, an experience that would serve as the inspiration for his first three novels.

The first book in the trilogy, Time For A Tiger, was published in 1956. The novel is set at the Mansor School in Kuala Hantu, where British resident teacher Victor Crabbe determines to neutralize the threat posed by a young communist student who's been influencing his classmates and indoctrinating them in his cause.

The second book in the trilogy, The Enemy In The Blanket (1958), proved to be controversial for, of all things, its cover art. Burgess was shocked and appalled by his publishers' choice for the book's cover art.

They had chosen an illustration of a Sikh rickshaw driver pulling a white man and woman in his rickshaw. This was unheard of in Malaya, and considered extremely insulting. Burgess found himself falsely accused of racism.

In 1962, Anthony Burgess published what is considered his greatest novel - a bold, brilliant, experimental work of dystopic science fiction. A Clockwork Orange The title comes from the British slang expression, "queer as a clockwork orange."

The novel is set in a dystopic fascist England of the future. The novel is narrated by its main character, Alex, a brilliant but psychopathic teenager who leads a gang of "droogs" that includes his friends Pete, Georgie, and Dim.

Alex and his gang meet at a milk bar, where they drink drugged milk to get them ready "for a bit of the old ultra-violence." One night, while joyriding in a stolen car, the gang breaks into an isolated cottage. They terrorize the couple that lives there, beating the husband and raping his wife.

When he's not out with his gang, Alex passes the time in his dreary home, escaping his poor excuse for parents by blasting the works of his favorite composer, "Ludwig Van," (Beethoven) and masturbating to violent sexual fantasies.

Later, Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang, but is beaten in their fight and Dim's hand is slashed open. After putting down the rebellion, Alex takes his gang out for drinks at the milk bar.

Georgie and Dim have had enough, but Alex demands that the gang follow through with Georgie's plan for a "man-sized" job and rob a rich old woman who lives alone. The robbery is botched when the old woman calls the police - but not before she is assaulted and knocked unconscious.

The gang then turns on Alex, attacking him and leaving him to take the fall when the police arrive. The old woman later dies of her injuries and Alex is charged with murder. He's sent to a brutal prison to serve his time.

After serving a couple years in prison, Alex becomes an involuntary participant in an experimental rehabilitation procedure called the Ludovico Technique, which, in two weeks, is supposed to remove all violent and criminal impulses from the human psyche.

The prison chaplain is opposed to the Ludovico Technique, arguing that conscious, willing moral choice is a necessary component of humanity. Nevertheless, Alex undergoes the procedure.

For two weeks, in a horrific kind of aversion therapy, Alex's eyes are wired open and he is forced to watch violent images on a screen while being given a drug that induces extreme nausea.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack to the violent film presentation includes works by Beethoven, and Alex begs the doctors to turn off the sound, telling them that's a sin to take away his love of music, and Beethoven never did anything wrong. They refuse.

After the procedure is completed, Alex is brought before an audience of prison and government officials and declared successfully rehabilitated. They demonstrate how Alex is unable to react with violence even in self defense, and is crippled by nausea whenever he becomes sexually aroused.

The outraged prison chaplain again protests the Ludovico Technique, accusing the state of taking away Alex's God-given ability to choose good over evil. "Padre," a government official replies, "There are subtleties. The point is that it works."

Alex is released from prison, but his life plunges into a downward spiral. He finds that the Ludovico Technique has rendered him physically unable to listen to his Beethoven and incapable of defending himself from attack.

First, he is beaten by a former victim, then when the police are called, they turn out to be Alex's old gang member Dim and rival gang member Billyboy. They beat him, too.

Later, Alex is befriended by a political activist who turns out to be the man whose wife Alex had raped during the home invasion. When he finally recognizes Alex as the gang leader, he tortures him with the classical music he once loved.

Alex attempts suicide, and a scandal erupts. The embarrassed government agrees to reverse the Ludovico Technique in order to quell all the bad publicity. They offer Alex a cushy job at a high salary, but he looks forward to returning to his life of ultra-violence.

He forms a new gang, but after watching them beat a stranger, he finds that he has tired of violence. Alex contemplates giving up gang life, becoming a productive citizen, and doing what he secretly always wanted to do - start a family of his own. He wonders if his children would inherit the violent tendencies he once had.

In the U.S. edition of the novel, the last chapter was omitted by the publisher, who wanted the story to end on a dark note (with Alex looking forward to resuming his life of violence) because he believed that the original UK edition ending (with Alex realizing the errors of his ways) was unrealistic.

When the legendary English filmmaker Stanley Kubrick adapted the novel as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, he felt the same way, and based his screenplay on the U.S. edition of the novel. It was a huge critical and commercial success.

Featuring Malcolm McDowell in the career making starring role as Alex, the film was rated X for its original theatrical release. Though controversial for its explicit sexual content and extreme violence, the film won numerous awards and was nominated for several Oscars.

In the UK, the movie was passed uncut, but a conservative outcry erupted over the film's negative influence on teenage boys and dark humored sexual violence. It resulted in Kubrick and his family receiving death threats.

Their home was also besieged by protesters, so Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from circulation in the UK, and it wouldn't be seen there again for nearly thirty years, until after the director's death.

Today, both editions of A Clockwork Orange are available in the U.S., and it remains a classic work of literature, famous for its dazzling experimental narrative. Alex speaks Nadsat, a lyrical dialect that combines English with modified Slavic and Russian slang and words specifically invented by the author.

Burgess would go on to write many more great novels, including The Wanting Seed (1962), Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (1966), M/F (1971), and The End of the World News: An Entertainment (1982).

As a playwright, he would adapt A Clockwork Orange as a stage play; as a screenwriter, he wrote the screenplays for the popular TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and A.D. (1985) and contributed to the screenplays of feature films.

As a composer, his classical pieces were broadcast on BBC Radio. He translated Bizet's Carmen into English, and wrote an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses called Blooms of Dublin.

He also wrote a new libretto for Weber's opera, Oberon and wrote the book for the 1973 Broadway musical, Cyrano, basing it on his own adaptation of the classic play by Edmond Rostand.

Anthony Burgess' other literary works included poetry collections, children's books, and nonfiction works. He died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 76.

Quote Of The Day

"A work of fiction should be, for its author, a journey into the unknown, and the prose should convey the difficulties of the journey." - Anthony Burgess

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a full length BBC documentary on Anthony Burgess called The Burgess Variations. Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Notes For February 24th, 2021

This Day In Literary History

On February 24th, 1786, the legendary German writer and folklorist Wilhelm Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany. As a boy, Wilhelm was strong and healthy, but over the years, he would suffer from an increasingly severe illness that left him weak. He and his older brother Jacob were inseparable.

In 1803, Wilhelm enrolled at the University of Marburg to study law, one year after Jacob began his studies there. Around 1807, Wilhelm and Jacob began collecting folktales.

They were inspired by The Youth's Magic Horn, a multi volume collection of German folk songs and poems edited by Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. The first volume was published in 1805.

The Grimm brothers would invite storytellers to tell their tales, which the Grimms then transcribed and edited, adding their own distinctive touches to the stories.

By 1812, their first collection of folk tales was published as Kinder und Hausmärchen. (Children's and Household Tales) It contained 86 stories.

A second volume, containing 70 tales, was published in 1814. During the Grimm brothers' lifetime, five more editions of their story collections would be released, some containing new stories.

Since then, all 211 stories would be published in one volume as Grimms' Fairy Tales. Some scholars believe that the Grimm brothers, both devout Christians, cut the salacious elements from the stories they collected.

They did not, however, tone down the dark and violent elements of the stories, which led to complaints that the stories were inappropriate for children. Thus, since their initial publication, the Grimms' Fairy Tales have been softened and changed considerably by publishers.

The original, unaltered Grimms' Fairy Tales are still published, and parents who buy the book for their children are quite shocked by the content, as are other readers who remember the softer versions.

Classic tales as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as in all the Grimms' original stories, had different endings, with the villains often tortured horribly and / or put to death.

Little Red Riding Hood (her original name was Little Red-Cap) and her grandmother are saved when a huntsman cuts open the wolf's stomach. He later skins the dead wolf and keeps the skin as a souvenir.

In Cinderella, (Cinderella was her nickname; her real name was Ashputtel) the nasty stepsisters mutilate their feet to try and fit into the glass slipper. Later, they get their eyes pecked out by doves as punishment for their cruelty and vanity.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs originally ends with the Wicked Queen lured to Snow White and Prince Charming's wedding - where she's forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

Despite their dark and sometimes gruesome nature, the Grimms' Fairy Tales remain an all-time classic work of literature, inspiring generations of writers.

Though his older brother remained a lifelong bachelor, Wilhelm Grimm married his girlfriend, Henriette "Dortchen" Wild, in 1825. She bore him four children. Their firstborn son was named after his uncle Jacob.

In addition to the fairy tales he compiled with his brother, Wilhelm published three books under his own name, a collection of Danish folk songs, a study of German runes, and a study of German folk legends.

(The Grimms' Fairy Tales were also criticized as being "not German enough.")

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm later became professors at the University of Gottingen. They joined five of their colleagues and formed the "Gottingen Seven," an activist group that protested against Ernst August, the King of Hanover, over his abrogation of the constitution. The King fired them all from the university.

Wilhelm Grimm died of an infection in 1859. He was 73 years old.

Quote Of The Day

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." - Wilhelm Grimm

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a dramatization of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, performed by English actor-comedian Rik Mayall. Complete with the story's original ending, this one must be seen to be believed! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Notes For February 23rd, 2021

This Day In Literary History

On February 23rd, 1633, the famous English writer Samuel Pepys was born in London, England. His father, John Pepys, was a tailor. His father's cousin, Richard Pepys, was an elected Member of Parliament who would later become the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

Samuel Pepys was the fifth of eleven children, but because of the high child mortality rate of the time, several of his siblings died, making him the eldest. He was sent to live with a nurse in Kingsland, north of London.

Around the age of eleven, he began his formal education at Huntingdon Grammar School. He attended St. Paul's school in London from 1646-50.

In 1649, at the age of sixteen, he witnessed the execution of Charles I, following the end of the English Civil War. This paved the way for the rule of Oliver Cromwell.

Pepys enrolled at Cambridge University in 1650. A year later, he transferred to Magdalene College, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. In 1655, he came to live with another of his father's cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who would become the first Earl of Sandwich.

That same year, Pepys married Elisabeth de St Michel, first in a religious ceremony, then in a civil ceremony. She was fourteen years old at the time.

From a very young age, Samuel Pepys suffered from painful kidney stones and hematuria. By 1657, his condition was so severe that he decided to undergo a risky procedure to surgically remove a very large kidney stone.

The operation took place at the home of Pepys' cousin, Jane Turner, and was a success. However, he did suffer from complications late in life. After he recovered from the operation, Pepys took a job working as a teller in the exchequer under George Downing.

On January 1st, 1660, Samuel Pepys embarked on an endeavor that would make him famous to this day: he began keeping a diary. Like most diaries, he used it to record the personal details of his daily life, including his business dealings.

He also recorded meetings with friends, his trivial concerns, jealousies, insecurities, his troubled marriage, and his extramarital affairs. These personal details would be intertwined with detailed commentary on the politics and national events of the time.

Within the first few months of entries, Samuel Pepys' diary chronicled General George Monck's march on London and Pepys' trip (he was a clerk for the Navy Board) with Sir Edward Montagu to the Netherlands to bring Charles II back from exile.

Over the next ten years, Pepys' diary would provide the most detailed account of the history of late 17th century England, including the Restoration, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The diary also painted a revealing portrait of Pepys the man. He loved the theater. He was a connoisseur of good wine, literature, and music. He enjoyed the company of friends. He would often evaluate his life and finances, promising to work harder and abstain from wine and the theater, then later, he'd record his lapses.

He was a talented singer and musician. He played the lute, violin, viola, flageolet, recorder, and harpsichord, with varying levels of proficiency. As a singer, he performed at home, at coffee houses, and at Westminster Abbey.

Pepys also chronicled, sometimes in surprisingly graphic detail, his extramarital affairs. In one entry, he described how his wife Elisabeth caught him in a compromising position with her friend, Deborah Willet.

He wrote that Elisabeth, "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also...." When he wrote about his affairs, Pepys was always filled with remorse - but that didn't stop his philandering.

Samuel Pepys kept his diary for nearly ten years. By 1669, his health began to suffer from all the work he put into it. He eyesight deteriorated, and he feared he might go blind, so for a while, he dictated his diary to his clerks before ending it altogether.

After he ended it, he would become an elected Member of Parliament and Secretary to the Admiralty. He also helped found the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital and was made its Governor. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and served as its president from 1684-86.

Pepys was attacked off and on by his political enemies and arrested twice on unsubstantiated charges of being a Jacobite - a radical plotting to restore the Stuart kings to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

He was released both times, as no charges brought against him could be proven in court. After his second release in 1690, he retired from public life at the age of 57. He died in 1703 at the age of 70. Having no children, he willed his estate to his nephew, John Jackson.

Samuel Pepys' diaries would remain unpublished until 1825. He'd used tachygraphy to write his diary entries - one of many forms of shorthand employed at the time. This required translation into standard English.

The first to translate Pepys' diaries was Reverend John Smith. He didn't know that the key to the tachygraphy system was stored in Pepys' library a few shelves above the diaries. So it took Smith several years, from 1819-1822, to finish his translation.

It was an incomplete translation, as the clergyman refused to translate the salacious sections of Pepys' diaries - especially the entries about his extramarital affairs.

A complete and definitive edition of Samuel Pepys' diaries was translated by Robert Latham and William Matthews and published in nine volumes, along with companion and index volumes, between 1970 and 1983.

Quote Of The Day

“Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.” - Samuel Pepys

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of Samuel Pepys' diaries. Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Notes For February 19th, 2021

This Day In Literary History

On February 19th, 1917, the famous American writer Carson McCullers was born. She was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia. Her mother was the granddaughter of a Confederate war hero, her father a watchmaker and jeweler.

As a child, Carson McCullers was a musical prodigy. She began taking piano lessons at the age of ten. For her fifteenth birthday, her father gave her a typewriter. Nevertheless, she aspired to become a concert pianist.

In September of 1934, when she was seventeen years old, McCullers left home on a steamship bound for New York City, where she planned to study piano at Julliard. Unfortunately, she lost her tuition money and was unable to attend the school.

McCullers then worked menial jobs while she taking creative writing classes at both Columbia University and New York University. By 1936, at the age of nineteen, her first short story, Wunderkind, was published in Story magazine.

She'd found a new passion and decided to become a writer. A year later, in 1937, she married her husband, Reeves McCullers, an ex-soldier turned aspiring writer. They would separate in 1940. That year, Carson McCullers published her breakthrough debut novel, which established her as one of the greatest writers of her generation.

Set in the Depression-era American South, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter told the story of four ragtag misfits whose varied lives have several things in common - loneliness, isolation, and seemingly unattainable dreams.

Mick Kelly is a restless 14-year-old tomboy with androgynous looks and musical talent forced to be a mother to her siblings and go to work to support her family; Jake Blount is an alcoholic itinerant laborer whose socialist convictions get him into trouble.

Dr. Benedict Copeland, a black physician, suffers from both tuberculosis and his desire to help free his people from racist oppression. Biff Brannon is a married cafe owner whose masculine appearance masks his inner struggle with his bisexuality.

All four characters are connected by a mutual friend, John Singer, an intelligent deaf-mute who can write, sign, and read lips. They all find peace in Singer's kindness, wisdom, and willingness to listen to and understand them. What they don't know is that Singer is just like them, suffering in silence.

His companion of ten years - a big Greek man and fellow deaf-mute named Spiros Antonapoulos - became mentally ill and was institutionalized by a relative. While Singer was there to listen to other people's problems and comfort them, there is no one to listen to Singer and comfort him, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

All the characters in the novel are sad and intriguing, but there is nothing sentimental about their sadness. In fact, one of the novel's main themes is the selfish nature of loneliness and emotional detachment. The most intriguing characters are Mick Kelly and Biff Brannon, with their sexual ambiguity.

At first, Mick dresses like a boy and acts like one, too. But after experiencing her first romantic relationship with Harry, a Jewish neighbor boy, which results in her first sexual experience, Mick changes her appearance, dressing and acting more like a lady.

Biff Brannon, impotent and emotionally distant from his wife, finds himself sexually attracted to the boyish-looking Mick, but rather than act on his impulses, he keeps his emotional distance.

When Mick starts dressing and acting like a woman, Biff loses sexual interest in her, but warms up to her emotionally. After his wife Alice dies, Biff feels little grief - their marriage was loveless - but he starts wearing her clothes and perfume.

There is also a strong homoerotic tone to the relationship between John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos - in the beginning, the two deaf-mute men walk together arm in arm, and later, Singer longs for his institutionalized companion - but they are not specifically described as a gay couple.

Carson McCullers was only 23 years old when The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was published. For such a young novelist to have crafted such a deep and profound novel is amazing. The book became an overnight success, receiving rave reviews.

Critics admired McCullers' handling of racial issues (Dr. Copeland is angry with his fellow blacks who refuse to stand up for their rights and choose to accept their unequal status in society with aplomb) and the evils of anti-communist hysteria.

Her novel would foreshadow the coming of both the civil rights movement and the anti-communist witch hunts that would take place a decade after its publication, conducted by Joseph McCarthy, the notoriously corrupt Republican Senator from Wisconsin.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter would be adapted as a feature film in 1968, (starring Alan Arkin as John Singer) and as a stage play in 2005.

In 1946, McCullers published another classic novel, The Member of the Wedding. It told the story of Frankie Addams, a lonely and alienated 12-year-old tomboy who dreams of running away to join her brother and his new wife on their honeymoon in Alaska.

The semi-autobiographical novel was based on McCullers' childhood. It explores the nature of racial and sexual identity, as Frankie is close to her family's black maid and wishes that people could "change back and forth from boys to girls." She would later adapt her novel as a Broadway play.

The issues of sexual identity raised in The Member of the Wedding came from the fact that McCullers herself was bisexual and had struggled with her own identity. Her volatile marriage didn't help matters.

After her separation, she moved in with George Davis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar, but ended up remarrying Reeves McCullers in 1945. Three years later, while suffering from depression, she attempted suicide.

Five years after that, in 1953, Reeves tried to convince Carson to commit suicide with him. She left him and he killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Her 1957 play, The Square Root of Wonderful, was an attempt to come to terms with these painful experiences.

Carson McCullers was sickly throughout her life; she suffered strokes since childhood and contracted rheumatic fever when she was fifteen. By the time she was 31, strokes had paralyzed her left side completely.

She died of a brain hemorrhage in 1967 at the age of fifty. Her unfinished autobiography, Illumination and Night Glare, which she dictated during the last few months of her life, was published posthumously in 1999.

Quote Of The Day

"The thinking mind is best controlled by the imagination." - Carson McCullers

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a rare 1956 interview with Carson McCullers. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Notes For February 18th, 2021

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 (1876).

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

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Notes For February 17th. 2021

This Day In Literary History

On February 17th, 1864, the legendary Australian writer Banjo Paterson was born. He was born Andrew Barton Paterson in New South Wales, Australia. When Banjo was five, his family lost their wool crop. After his uncle died, the family took over his farm in Illalong.

The farm was close to the main route between Melbourne and Sydney; Banjo grew up around horses and horsemen of all sorts, including coachmen, drovers, and polo players. Thus began his love for horses and the inspiration for his future writings.

He was tutored by a governess until he was old enough to ride a pony and could ride to the bush school for his education. Banjo was a good student and athlete but failed to win a scholarship to the University of Sydney.

So, he took a job as a law clerk, which he would use as a stepping stone toward becoming a solicitor. While working as a solicitor, Banjo took up writing and began his literary career as a poet. He described himself as a "bush poet."

His first published poem, which appeared in the Australian nationalist literary magazine The Bulletin, blasted the British government's war in the Sudan. He struck up friendships with other great Australian writers such as E.J. Brady, Breaker Morant, and Henry Lawson.

In 1895, Banjo Paterson's classic first poetry collection, The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses was published. The title poem, written when Australia was at the cusp of gaining independence from England, would come to symbolize the national identity of Australia and her people.

The title character of this classic ballad is an Australian horseman who embarks on a heroic quest to capture a racehorse who escaped from its paddock and is now living with wild horses in the mountains. The poem and its author were honored on the Australian $10 note.

The Man From Snowy River would be adapted as a classic Australian feature film in 1982, directed by George Miller and starring Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, and Terence Donovan.

Another of Paterson's classic bush ballads would be set to music and become the most popular Australian song of all time, affectionately referred to as "the unofficial national anthem of Australia."

Waltzing Matilda told the story of a hungry swagman (Australian itinerant laborer) camping in the bush who catches a jumbuck (sheep) to eat. The sheep's owner arrives with three policemen to arrest the swagman, who commits suicide. His ghost then haunts the site.

Paterson sold the rights to the song, and the lyrics would be modified somewhat over the years. This is the original version:

Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabong
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Who'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water hole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee
And he said as he put him away in the tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Down came the squatter a riding on his thoroughbred
Down came policemen one, two and three
Where is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag?
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

But the swagman he ups and he jumps in the water hole
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree
And his ghost can be heard as it sings in the billabong
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

During the Second Boer War, Banjo Paterson became a war correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He also served as a war correspondent during the Boxer Rebellion in China, where he met Australian writer and adventurer George "Chinese" Morrison.

Back home in Australia, Paterson married his girlfriend Alice Emily Walker, who bore him two children, Grace and Hugh. Continuing his journalism career, he became editor of the Sydney Evening News (1904–06) and of the Town and Country Journal (1907–08).

During the first world war, unable to get a job as a war correspondent in Flanders, he became an ambulance driver for the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux, France.

Paterson went home, but later returned to the French front as a commissioned officer with 2nd Remount Unit, Australian Imperial Force. He was wounded, went temporarily missing in action, and served again in Cairo. He would be discharged with the rank of major.

He kept writing. Though primarily known as a poet, he also published essays, short story collections, two novels, An Outback Marriage (1906) and The Shearer's Colt (1936), and a children's book called The Animals Noah Forgot (1933).

Banjo Paterson's classic bush ballads were originally published without sheet music. They would be set to sheet music by many different performers over the years, establishing him as one of the all time great folk song writers.

He died of a heart attack in 1941, at the age of 76.

Quote Of The Day

"I have followed the wandering teamster's track, and it always led to a pub." - Banjo Paterson

Vanguard Video

Today's video is a "virtual movie" of Banjo Paterson reading his classic poem, The Man From Snowy River, the soundtrack taken from a rare recording of the author. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Notes For February 16th, 2021

This Day In Literary History

On February 16th, 1944, the famous American writer Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi. His father, Parker Ford, was a traveling salesman for a starch company. When Richard was eight years old, his father had a serious heart attack.

While Parker recovered and afterward, Richard spent a lot of time with his grandfather, an ex-boxer turned hotel owner, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He would lose his father to a second heart attack when he was sixteen.

As a boy, Richard Ford suffered from partial dyslexia. To cope with his learning disability, he learned to read slowly, but thoroughly. This led him to develop a passion for literature.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Michigan to study hotel management. He soon switched his major to English. At university, he met Kristina Hensley, whom he would marry in 1968.

After graduating from university, Richard became a middle school teacher in Flint, Michigan. He enlisted in the Marines, but was discharged after contracting hepatitis.

Ford then enrolled in law school, but dropped out to enroll in the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, where he earned a Master's degree in Fine Arts.

In 1976, Richard Ford's first novel, A Piece of My Heart, was published. His second novel, The Ultimate Good Luck, was published five years later.

Neither novel was successful, so he gave up writing and became a journalist. He took a job as sportswriter for Inside Sports magazine. A year later, the magazine folded. When Sports Illustrated wouldn't hire him, Richard Ford returned to writing. He based his next novel on his experiences as a sportswriter.

The Sportswriter (1986) proved to be a breakthrough novel that made Richard Ford's name as a writer. In it, Frank Bascombe, a 38-year-old failed novelist turned sportswriter, suffers an emotional crisis when first his son dies, then his marriage crumbles after his wife (whom he refers to only as X) finds proof of his infidelity.

The novel made Ford a finalist for the PEN / Faulkner Award for fiction. It was named one of the five best books of 1986 by Time magazine.

Nine years later, Richard Ford published Independence Day, a sequel to The Sportswriter. It won both the 1996 PEN / Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize, becoming the first novel to win both awards in the same year.

Independence Day finds Frank Bascombe, now a real estate agent, evaluating his life over a long July 4th weekend as he visits his ex-wife and troubled teenage son, as well as some clients and renters of one of his properties. Frank wrestles with the question of whether he should rekindle his relationship with his ex, or stay with his current girlfriend.

In 2006, Ford published the third novel in his Frank Bascombe trilogy. The Lay of the Land finds Frank preparing for Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Sea Clift, New Jersey. Attending the dinner will be his bisexual daughter Clarissa, his son Paul, now a greeting card designer, and Paul's girlfriend.

Frank's second wife, Sally, has left him and reunited with her ex-husband, who went AWOL and was presumed dead. Meanwhile, Frank has started his own real estate company and is fighting a tough battle with prostate cancer.

From 2008 to 2011, Richard Ford served as Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, where he taught the Masters Programme in creative writing.

In the fall of 2011, he returned to the United States, where he became the new senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi. His most recent book, Sorry For Your Trouble, a short story collection, was published last year.

Quote Of The Day

"Writing is the only thing I've ever done with persistence, except for being married." - Richard Ford

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Richard Ford discussing his most recent book, Sorry For Your Trouble, as part of last year's (virtual) National Book Festival. Enjoy!

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