Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Notes For March 21st, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 21st, 1556, the famous English writer and cleric Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake. Cranmer, a leader of the English Reformation and the Archbishop of Canterbury, was part of the Oxford Martyrs - three men who were executed by order of Queen Mary I.

The other two Oxford Martyrs were Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Worcester, and Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of Rochester. They had all run afoul of the queen's heresy laws.

Mary I, England's notorious Catholic monarch, would be known as "Bloody Mary" for executing over 300 Protestant clerics and reformers during her five-year reign as Queen.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was Queen Mary's most prized target, for he had championed William Tyndale's English language Bible, deemed heretical by the Vatican, which had declared the Latin Bible to be the true Bible. The Old Testament was originally written in Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Ancient Greek.

Cranmer had also been partly responsible for the Church of England's break with the Holy See by building a case for the divorce of Mary's father, King Henry VIII, from her mother, Catherine of Aragon.

Worst of all, Cranmer had written and compiled the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer which contained not just prayers but also the complete liturgy of the Anglican Church. This was the ultimate violation of Queen Mary's heresy laws.

The Queen had not originally intended to execute Cranmer; she had a different plan for him which she hoped would result in a huge propaganda coup against the Anglican Church.

First, Cranmer was forced to watch his friends Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley be tried, convicted, and executed by burning right after the verdicts were delivered.

Then, Cranmer himself was tried for heresy and treason. He appealed to Rome to be tried by a papal court instead of the Queen's secular court. His appeal was denied.

After his conviction, he was sent to prison to await execution. He was offered a commutation of his death sentence if he would recant his Protestant faith in writing.

Thomas Cranmer would write not one, not two, but four recantations during the two years he spent in prison. The authorities believed that his fourth recantation was most likely genuine.

He was released to the custody of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. While living at the Dean's house, Cranmer was counselled by a Dominican friar, Juan de Villagarcia.

Although Cranmer had in writing pledged his loyalty to the English monarchy and recognized the Pope's authority as head of the Church, he had conceded little in the matter of Protestant versus Catholic doctrine, so he was returned to prison.

Two days after a writ for Cranmer's execution was issued, he wrote a fifth recantation which was deemed genuine. He was a broken old man so desperate to save his life that he wrote a sweeping confession.

In his detailed catalog of his sins against the Catholic Church, Cranmer begged for mercy, but Queen Mary would have none. She ordered his execution to take place, though he was told that he could make one final, public recantation to plead for his life. So he wrote one.

Then, the day before his execution, while on the pulpit at University Church to make his final recantation, Thomas Cranmer changed his mind and decided to go out in a blaze of glory - literally.

Instead of delivering a final, ultimate recantation of his Protestant faith, he renounced all of his previous recantations, blasted the Catholic Church, and denounced the Pope.

Cranmer was seized, removed from the pulpit, taken to the place where Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake before him, and executed. He put his right hand, which had written his recantations, into the fire before it consumed the rest of his body.

Two years later, Queen Mary I died of influenza at the age of 42. Her successor and half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I, restored the Anglican Church to power, repealed the heresy laws, and brokered a settlement between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

An adapted version of Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer would be designated the new Anglican Church's official liturgy.

The burning of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley would inspire the legendary American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury to write his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

The hero, Guy Montag, resists the government's attempts to force him to recant his belief that books shouldn't be burned. Bradbury quotes Latimer's last words to Ridley before their execution:

Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

Quote Of The Day

"I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." - Thomas Cranmer, his last words

Vanguard Video

Today's video features the final speech given by Thomas Cranmer before his execution. Note: you'll want to expand this video to full screen. Enjoy!

Monday, March 20, 2023

IWW Members' Publishing Successes For The Week Ending 3/19/23

Paul S. Fein

I'm pleased to tell you that the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) writing contest longlisted two of my essays, "Roger Federer: Tennis God and man of the People" and "Serena, An Enigma."

Rest assured, I could not have done it without the many excellent critiques from members of our Nonfiction group and others in the Workshop. These critiques improved the clarity, grammar, punctuation, word choice, transitions, you name it.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Notes For March 17th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 17th, 1948, the legendary American science fiction writer William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina. Though he spent most of his childhood in Wytheville, Virginia - his parents' hometown - his family moved frequently due to his father's position as a manager for a large construction company.

While his family lived in Norfolk, Virginia, Gibson attended Pines Elementary School, where his teachers never encouraged him to read, much to the chagrin of his parents. Around this time, his father died, choking to death in a restaurant while on a business trip.

The family returned to Wytheville, which was a small Appalachian town, a place that Gibson described as "a place where modernity had arrived to some extent, but was deeply distrusted." He hated it.

Living in such a disturbing and surreal atmosphere led William Gibson to become a shy, withdrawn adolescent who kept to himself. When he was twelve, he "wanted nothing more than to become a science fiction writer."

A year later, without his mother's knowledge or permission, he bought an anthology featuring works by the Beat generation's greatest writers - William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs would become Gibson's favorite writer and a major influence on his work.

As a teenager, Gibson rejected his religion and read voraciously, with the works of Burroughs and Henry Miller being his favorites. However, at school, his grades were poor. His mother threatened to send him to a boarding school.

To her surprise, he was enthusiastic about going to boarding school, so she sent him to the Southern Arizona School for Boys in Tucson. Gibson hated the structure of the school, but he was glad to escape from Wytheville and his "chronically anxious and depressive" mother.

He was also glad that the school forced him to come out of his shell and develop social skills. His academic performance was strangely uneven. When he took the SAT (Standard Achievement Test) exams, his teachers were baffled by his scores. In math, he scored near zero, but his score on the written test was near perfect.

When Gibson was eighteen, his mother died. He left school without graduating and drifted through the United States and Europe, choosing a mostly solitary life and becoming part of the late 1960s counterculture.

In 1967, he was called to appear at a draft hearing, and honestly told the interviewers that his goal in life was to indulge in every mind-altering substance known to man. He was never drafted, but moved to Canada anyway.

He would later quip that he avoided the draft not out of conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, but to remain free to "sleep with hippie chicks" and smoke hashish.

After arriving in Canada, Gibson met a girl in Vancouver and spent the rest of the 1960s traveling with her, as he couldn't stand living amongst the community of his fellow American expatriates, which was was rife with depression, suicide, and hardcore drug abuse.

He financed most of his travels with the $500 he was paid for appearing in a CBC newsreel story about the hippie subculture in Yorkville, Toronto. During their travels, Gibson and and his girlfriend spent time in countries such as Greece and Turkey.

In 1972, Gibson and his girlfriend returned to Canada. They settled in Vancouver and married. Gibson earned most of his living by scouring thrift stores for rare items priced well below their value, which he would resell to collectors at a huge profit.

When he realized that instead of working, he could receive generous financial aid from the government by going to college, he enrolled at the University of British Columbia, (UBC) from which he graduated in 1977 with a degree in English.

Gibson considered entering a Master's degree program with the topic of his thesis being hard science fiction novels as a form of fascist literature, but he changed his mind and worked at various jobs including a three-year stint as a teaching assistant in a film history course at UBC.

He also indulged in his passion for punk rock music. Around 1980, he attended a science fiction convention in Vancouver, which turned him off the genre, even though he had already written several early works of science fiction.

Around this time, Gibson met John Shirley, who would become his lifelong friend. Shirley was a punk rock musician turned sci-fi / horror writer. He encouraged Gibson to submit his stories for publication and introduced him to fellow sci-fi writers Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner.

When they read Gibson's stories, they proclaimed them to be "breakthrough material." So, Gibson began submitting his work, and soon, his short stories were appearing regularly in magazines such as Omni and Universe 11.

William Gibson's stories were indeed breakthrough material, far outside the mainstream of science fiction. They were in the cyberpunk tradition, akin to the legendary early 1960s "cut-up" novels of Gibson's idol, William S. Burroughs.

Gibson's stories dealt with concepts like cyberspace - a term coined by Gibson which refers to a computer-simulated reality - and were written in the style of the pulp novels and noir films of the 1940s and 50s.

In 1984, Gibson's first novel was published. Neuromancer wasn't a commercial success, but word of mouth spread quickly and made the novel an overnight underground hit - a cult classic that sold over 6,500,000 copies worldwide.

It became the first novel to win all three major science fiction awards - the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Neuromancer was the first novel in Gibson's classic Sprawl trilogy. It eerily predicts the development of the Internet and its World Wide Web. Set in a futuristic, dystopic Chiba, Japan, the novel tells the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a small time hustler who was once a talented computer hacker.

Then his employer caught him stealing, and as punishment, damaged his central nervous system with a mycotoxin, leaving him unable to access the global computer network with his brain-computer interface. Now, Case is an unemployable, suicidal drug addict.

While searching for a cure for his damaged nervous system in Chiba's "black clinics," Case is saved by Molly Millions, a "street samurai" and mercenary who works for Armitage, a shadowy ex-Green Beret officer.

Armitage offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Armitage fixes Case's nervous system but installs in his body sacs of mycotoxin that will burst if he fails to complete his work in time.

So, Case and Molly work together and form a close relationship. They don't know what Armitage really has planned, but they investigate and eventually discover the truth - he plans to merge two AI (Artificial Intelligence) entities, Wintermute and Neuromancer, into one all-powerful, godlike being.

William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy would include the novels Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). The trilogy brought the author out of obscurity and made his name as one of the all time great science fiction writers.

He would write more great novels, including the Bridge trilogy, Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996) and All Tomorrow's Parties (1999) as well as other novels and short stories.

In 1993, he wrote his first major nonfiction work, an article for Wired magazine called Disneyland with the Death Penalty, which was a stinging critique of life in modern Singapore.

Gibson describes Singapore as having a government that functions like a mega-corporation and is fixated on constraint and conformity, with a marked lack of creativity and humor. Life in Singapore is a "relentlessly G-rated experience."

It's a conservative Republican wet dream of meticulously clean streets, practically nonexistent crime, (thanks to a harsh capital punishment system where one can be executed for offenses such as drug smuggling) and a culture of mindless, vapid materialism where shopping becomes a nearly religious experience.

And yet, there are also no slums in Singapore, and instead of a visible sex trade, there are government sanctioned "health centers" which are really massage parlors where one can get far more than a massage.

The government enforces morality with strict censorship of movies, music, and the media. It places great value on marriage and procreation, and both organizes and enforces mandatory dating policies.

In his 1993 essay, Gibson predicted the explosion of online pornography and cast doubt on the resilience of Singapore's controlled, conservative society in the face of the mass exposure of its citizenry to the coming "wilds of X-rated cyberspace."

He speculated that "Singapore's destiny will be to become nothing more than a smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity, amid a sea of unthinkable weirdness." Creative Review hailed Gibson's essay as "fabulously damning."

Singapore reacted to it with outrage, banning the sale of Wired magazine there. "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" became a famous catch phrase used to describe Singapore - especially by Singaporeans opposed to their country's authoritarian conservative government.

Two of Gibson's short stories were adapted as feature films. Johnny Mnemonic (1995), featuring a screenplay by William Gibson, starred Keanu Reeves in the title role. New Rose Hotel (1998), directed by Abel Ferrara, starred Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe.

Gibson also wrote for television. He penned the teleplays for two classic episodes of The X-Files (1993-2002) - Kill Switch and First Person Shooter.

William Gibson's latest novel, Agency, was published in January of 2020.

Quote of the Day

"To present a whole world that doesn’t exist and make it seem real, we have to more or less pretend we’re polymaths. That’s just the act of all good writing." - William Gibson

Vanguard Video

Today's video features William Gibson discussing his most recent novel, Agency, at the Politics and Prose bookstore and coffeehouse. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Notes For March 16th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 16th, 1850, The Scarlet Letter, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, was published in the United States.

The author, born in Salem, Massachusetts, changed the spelling of his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne to distance himself from the shameful acts of his relatives. His great-great-great grandfather, William Hathorne, was a magistrate infamous for his lack of compassion and extremely harsh sentences.

Hathorne's son John was even worse. John Hathorne served as a judge during the notorious Salem Witch Trials, where many innocent people were falsely accused of witchcraft, convicted in kangaroo courts, then tortured and executed.

John Hathorne was the only judge who refused to repent or express any regret for his contemptible actions during the Salem Witch Trials. His infamy would besmirch the Hathorne family name for generations.

The shame and guilt that Nathaniel Hawtorne felt for the actions of his ancestors and his own contempt for Puritanism moved him to write this, his greatest novel.

Set in a Puritan village in 17th century Boston, The Scarlet Letter told the story of Hester Prynne, a married woman whose much older husband had sent her ahead to America while he settled some business affairs.

He never came to join her in Boston and is presumed dead, lost at sea. In the meantime, the lonely Hester had an affair and became pregnant as a result.

The novel opens with Hester led from the town prison with her baby daughter Pearl in her arms and a piece of scarlet cloth in the shape of the capital letter A pinned to the breast of her dress - a penalty for her adultery.

The scarlet letter is a badge of shame that she must wear for all to see. Hester is led to the town scaffold, where she is forced to endure the verbal abuse of the town fathers. An elderly spectator asks what's going on, and a man in the crowd tells him.

The elderly spectator is actually Hester's missing husband, now a doctor living under the assumed name of Roger Chillingworth. He wants to take revenge on the man who seduced his wife. He reveals his true identity to Hester, but she won't reveal the identity of her lover.

Several years pass, and Pearl has become a willful and impish little girl. Hester supports herself and her daughter by working as a seamstress.

Still scorned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. When town officials try to take Pearl away from her mother, the young, eloquent minister Arthur Dimmesdale intervenes to thwart their plans.

Dimmesdale appears to be dying, wasting away from a mysterious heart condition. Chillingworth takes him on as a patient, later moving in with him to provide round-the-clock medical care. The doctor believes that Dimmesdale's condition is psychosomatic, perhaps caused by guilt.

He begins to suspect that the minister is his wife's lover. One day, while Dimmesdale sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something that convinces him that his suspicions are correct - supposedly the capital letter A burned into the minister's chest.

Meanwhile, Hester Prynne's kindness, charity, and quiet humility finally earn her a reprieve from public scorn. When she and Pearl return home one night, they find Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. They join him there.

The three hold hands, and Pearl asks the minister to publicly acknowledge that she is his daughter. He refuses. A streaking meteor forms a dull letter A in the night sky. Dimmesdale believes it's the sign of adultery, but the townspeople think that it means "angel," as a prominent member of the community died that night.

When Chillingworth refuses to abandon his plan for revenge, Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is really her missing husband. The lovers decide to flee with Pearl to Europe, where they can live as a family.

They both feel a great sense of release and relief. Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. In one of the novel's most striking metaphors, sunlight immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate Hester's joyous release.

The day before their ship is to sail, Dimmesdale gives his most eloquent sermon ever. Hester finds out that her husband has learned of her plans and booked passage on her ship. When Dimmesdale leaves the church, he sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold.

Dimmesdale impulsively takes them to the top and publicly confesses to being Hester's lover and the father of her child, exposing the mark supposedly seared into his chest. Pearl kisses him. Relieved of his burden, Dimmesdale collapses and dies.

Frustrated over being denied his revenge, a bitter Chillingworth dies a year later, and Hester and Pearl leave Boston. Although she is not his daughter, Pearl inherits all of Chillingworth's money.

Many years later, Hester Prynne returns to her old cottage alone and resumes her charity work. She receives letters from Pearl, now married to a European aristocrat and with children of her own. The townspeople finally forgive Hester for her indiscretion, and she - and the other women in town - feel a strong sense of liberation.

The Scarlet Letter is rightfully considered one of the greatest works of 19th century literature, and is still widely read and appreciated. It would be adapted numerous times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.

The most famous feature film adaptations were the brilliant 1973 version directed by legendary German filmmaker Wim Wenders, and the dreadful 1995 Hollywood version starring Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, which took great liberties with the novel and was widely - and rightfully - panned by critics.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the greatest writers of his generation. His other great works include the novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and the short story collections Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Tanglewood Tales (1853). He died in 1864 at age 59.

Quote Of The Day

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Notes For March 15th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 15th, 1956, My Fair Lady, the acclaimed hit musical based on the classic 1913 play Pygmalion by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened on Broadway.

It premiered at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City. The production then moved to the Broadhurst Theatre, and finally, to the Broadway Theatre, where it closed in 1962 after 2,717 performances.

Set in Edwardian London, My Fair Lady told the story of Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics who meets a young flower seller named Eliza Dolittle when she tells off a young man named Freddy Eynsford-Hill for spilling her violets.

The ill-mannered Eliza speaks with an ear-torturing Cockney accent, her words filled with slang expressions and colloquialisms.

Professor Higgins makes a wager with his linguist friend Colonel Pickering, betting that Eliza could be taught to speak and act like a proper lady, after which, he will introduce her at the Embassy Ball. Pickering doesn't believe that he can make a lady out of such a vulgar girl.

Eliza moves into Higgins' house and begins taking lessons from him. Her father soon pays a visit, concerned that the Professor is compromising her virtue. Higgins buys him off with five pounds.

As Eliza's lessons progress, she grows frustrated and fantasizes about killing Higgins. But soon, the flower seller begins to bloom.

Eliza's first public presentation, at the Ascot Racecourse, proves successful, but then she suffers a relapse, returning to her Cockney vulgarity. This charms Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young man she had met and scolded earlier. He falls in love with her.

Higgins continues with Eliza's lessons. She faces her final test at the Embassy Ball and passes with flying colors. Afterward, Colonel Pickering praises Higgins for his triumph in making a lady out of Eliza.

When she learns of their bet, she feels that Higgins used her and is now abandoning her. Their relationship ends in a huff when Higgins insults Eliza and she storms off. Soon, even Colonel Pickering becomes annoyed with Higgins, who has always been a self-absorbed misogynist.

When Eliza plans to marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Higgins realizes that he loves her, but can't bring himself to confess his true feelings to her. The musical ends on an ambiguous note, suggesting a possible reconciliation between Higgins and Eliza.

My Fair Lady became a huge hit, one of Broadway's most famous and popular musicals. It was written by the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe.

The original cast featured Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, and a young, virtually unknown British actress named Julie Andrews as Eliza. The Original Cast Recording became the best selling album of 1957 and 1958.

George Bernard Shaw died in 1950; he never lived to see the Broadway musical adaptation of his play, Pygmalion. If he had, there wouldn't have been a musical for him to see.

In 1908, Shaw's classic play The Chocolate Soldier was adapted as an operetta, and he hated it so much that he vowed that none of his plays would ever be set to music again. He kept that vow for the rest of his life.

In 1964, eight years after the musical debuted on Broadway, My Fair Lady was adapted as a feature film, directed by George Cukor.

Rex Harrison reprised his role as Professor Higgins, but producer and studio boss Jack Warner decided to cast Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle instead of Julie Andrews.

This decision angered fans of the musical, but Warner was concerned that casting Andrews would be risky because she had no film experience. Then he found that Audrey Hepburn couldn't sing, so her vocals had to be dubbed by Marni Nixon.

But Julie Andrews got the last laugh - she gave an Oscar winning performance in the title role of the classic Disney movie musical Mary Poppins that year - beating Hepburn for the Academy Award!

Quote Of The Day

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." - George Bernard Shaw

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete live performance of My Fair Lady. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Notes For March 14th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 14th, 1916, the famous American playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote was born. He was born Albert Horton Foote, Jr in Wharton, Texas. When he was ten years old, he determined to become an actor.

By the age of sixteen, Foote had convinced his parents to let him go to acting school. So, he moved to California, where he studied at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Two years later, he moved to New York City to continue his studies and begin his acting career in the theater. He scored several minor roles that got him noticed, but good parts were few and far between.

Foote decided that the best way to get good parts was to write his own plays, so he took up play writing. His first play, Wharton Dance, debuted in 1940. It was the first of many plays that were set in his Texas hometown.

Wharton Dance and Foote's other early plays would be produced Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and at many local theaters. He often acted in his own plays. In 1944, he debuted on Broadway with his play Only the Heart.

Although Horton Foote had originally become a playwright to help his acting career along, he found that he got far better reviews for his writing than his acting. So, he decided to become a full time playwright, and spent the rest of the 1940s writing for the theater. He wrote both mainstream and experimental plays.

By 1948, Foote found a new dramatic medium that he could write for, which would allow him to support himself and subsidize his theatrical career. It was called television, and in its golden age, live TV theater was hugely popular.

Foote wrote his first "teleplay" for the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1948. He would also write for other celebrated live drama series, including The United States Steel Hour and Playhouse 90, where Rod Serling made his name as a playwright before he created the legendary TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Besides writing original teleplays, Foote also adapted classic novels as teleplays. His skill at adapting novels as teleplays would lead him to become a screenwriter. He would also adapt his own plays for the screen and write original screenplays as well.

In 1962, Foote adapted Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird as a feature film. The movie, which starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and featured an incredible performance by 8-year-old Mary Badham as Scout Finch, is rightfully considered one of the greatest films of all time and one of the greatest novel adaptations of all time.

Foote personally recommended a young actor named Robert Duvall for the part of Boo Radley, and Duvall's stunning performance made his name as an actor. Gregory Peck would win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Atticus Finch.

Horton Foote also won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation, but he didn't go to the Oscars ceremony because he was sure that he wouldn't win. It was a mistake that he wouldn't make again.

Years later, in 1984, Foote won another Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies, which featured his old friend Robert Duvall as a broken down, has-been country singer struggling to rebuild his troubled personal life. This time, Foote attended the ceremony and accepted his Oscar in person.

Actress Tess Harper, who co-starred as Rosa Lee in Tender Mercies, famously described Horton Foote as "America's Chekhov," saying that "If he didn't study the Russians, he's a reincarnation of the Russians. He's a quiet man who writes quiet people."

The year after his original screenplay for Tender Mercies won him a second Oscar, he was nominated for a third Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of his own play, The Trip to Bountiful, which he wrote in 1962.

Throughout his incredible theatrical career, Horton Foote wrote nearly 60 plays. He was most famous for The Orphans' Home Cycle, a trilogy of plays that were each comprised of three one act plays.

All these works were written between the early 1960s and mid 1990s. They were set in Foote's Texas hometown and took place between the turn of the 20th century and the early 1930s.

In 1995, Foote brought back characters from The Orphans' Home Cycle for a new play called The Young Man From Atlanta that would win him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Horton Foote died in March of 2009, ten days short of his 92nd birthday. The following year, the last feature film he wrote was released. It was called Main Street.

Quote Of The Day

"I've redone plays of mine and made changes. A play is a living thing, and I'd never say I wouldn't rewrite years later. Tennessee Williams did that all the time and it's distressing, because I'd like the play to be out there in its finished form. And then you also have new interpretations. At the same time, you do realize how much you are at the mercy of your interpreters." - Horton Foote

Vanguard Video

Today's video features the first part of a 3+ hour interview with Horton Foote. Enjoy! Note: you can watch the whole interview on this site.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Notes For March 10th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On March 10th, 1926, the Book of the Month Club published its first selection through Viking Press. The Book of the Month Club was a mail order service for book lovers, founded by ad copywriter Harry Scherman and his partners, Max Sackheim and Robert Haas.

They first broke into the mail order book selling business in 1916 with their Little Leather Library, which contained "30 Great Books for $2.98" (about $82 in today's money) - miniature reprints of classic novels "bound in limp Redcroft."

In its first five years, the Little Leather Library sold 40,000 copies. After that, business slowed down, and customers clamored for new additions to their collection of "30 Great Books."

So, Scherman and his partners came up with an idea for a new mail order business, one that would automatically ship a new book to customers once a month for them to review. The customer could choose from the main selection or an alternate selection.

Both selections would be chosen by a panel of judges based on literary merit. If the customer didn't like a particular book after reviewing it for a period of time, he could mail it back and not be charged for it.

The new service was called the Book of the Month Club. To induce customers to join the Club, they would be given a list of available books and invited to chose a few of them for one ridiculously low price.

Then, as part of their membership, the customers would agree to purchase a few books "at regular Club prices" within a certain period of time. The so-called "regular" prices were always higher than those of other booksellers.

The Club published a monthly newsletter that allowed members to send in their own book reviews for others to read. The service would have a lasting impact on the publishing industry and the way books were marketed.

The first selection offered by the Book of the Month Club proved to be a shocker for the Club's 4,000+ members. It was Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman, the first novel of English writer Sylvia Townsend Warner.

In it, Laura "Lolly" Willowes is a 28-year-old spinster who suffers from the suspicion and disdain with which Edwardian (early 20th century English) society viewed unmarried women.

In Edwardian England, unmarried women couldn't be independent and self-reliant. They couldn't go out and earn their own money to support themselves. Instead, they had to live with relatives and perform thankless chores to earn their keep.

Lolly Willowes faces just such a situation, as she lives with her brother Henry, his wife, and their children. When she finally tires of living a life dedicated to meeting other people's expectations, she rebels in a rather unique way.

She becomes a witch, adopts a black cat, and makes a pact with the Devil to be a self-reliant woman and enjoy a life of peace, quiet, solitude, and independence. Or so she thinks.

The novel is actually a dreamlike Jane Austen-esque dark comedy written in an elegant, lyrical prose style. When Lolly meets a man she thinks is the Devil, she's surprised to find that he's handsome, charming, intelligent, understanding, and a good neighbor!

Lolly Willowes is a clever, darkly funny, metaphorical, existentialist novel of feminist determination that was way ahead of its time. It outraged the members of the fledgling Book of the Month club in 1926 who failed to grasp its metaphors and symbolism.

They saw it as a mockery of Christian family values - the very fabric of proper society - and a glorification of witchcraft, even though the supernatural elements were very understated.

The author, Sylvia Townsend Warner, was a controversial figure herself - she was an openly lesbian, outspoken feminist with an interest and expertise in the occult. Needless to say, she was the object of scorn and gossip in Edwardian England.

Although its first selection shocked and outraged its members, the Book of the Month Club became a huge success. Twenty years after it was founded, the Club had nearly a million members and its stock was traded publicly for the first time.

The Club would later merge with Doubleday and become Bookspan. Its business model would be used by other mail order services, including music and movie clubs, most famously the Columbia House Record and Tape Club, aka the Columbia House Music Club.

These successor services would come under fire for their shady business practices, including charging customers' credit cards for items they didn't want and refusing to honor membership cancellation requests.

Ironically, the services would be scammed out of their own money - a lot of money - by clever customers engaging in fraud schemes of their own. Ultimately, many services went out of business for these reasons.

Quote Of The Day

"Truth has beauty, power, and necessity." - Sylvia Townsend Warner

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a lecture on Sylvia Townsend Warner and her classic novel Lolly Willowes - the Book of the Month Club's first title - recorded at the University of Glasgow. Enjoy!