This Day In Literary History
On January 17th, 1904, The Cherry Orchard, the classic play by the legendary Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre. It would be the playwright's most challenging work - that is, challenging for the directors who stage it.
The Cherry Orchard was a product of its time in Russian history - the years after serfdom was abolished and before the Bolshevik revolution. It was a time when the aristocracy was losing power and the bourgeoisie was gaining it, and struggling to find meaning in its new status.
In the play, Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevsky, a middle aged aristocrat, and her family return to their country estate, which is scheduled to go on the auction block, as the family can't afford to pay the delinquent taxes on it. They can't even afford the upkeep of the estate, which is crumbling.
Madame Ranevsky's clan is not the only aristocratic family to fall on hard times, (the abolition of serfdom deprived the aristocracy of its slave labor supply) but she cannot come to terms with her financial predicament.
Her aristocratic pride makes her spend money she doesn't have to maintain the lavish lifestyle to which people of her class are accustomed. She still grieves for her husband and one of her sons, who drowned a month after his father died.
Family friend Yermolay Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant, suggests that to make the money she needs to pay off her taxes, Madame Ranevsky should parcel out the vast lands of her estate, build a cottage on each parcel, and lease them all for summer rental.
She rejects the idea because it would mean cutting down her beloved (and huge) cherry orchard; Before he leaves, Lopahkin offers to lend Madame Ranevsky fifty thousand rubles to buy her estate back at the auction if she changes her mind and agrees to his plan for parceling out her land.
Her feeble brother Leonid Gayev suggests some alternative solutions, such as a financing scheme involving some banker friends and hitting up a wealthy aunt for the money.
In the end, the stubborn, foolish Madame Ranevsky's plans to save her estate and her beloved cherry orchard fall through and Lopakhin buys the estate at the auction.
He tells Madame Ranevsky that he plans to go ahead with the destruction of the cherry orchard and parcel out the land. Before the curtain falls, as Madame Renevsky and her family weep, the sound of the cherry trees being chopped is heard.
The characters in The Cherry Orchard are walking, talking metaphors. Madame Ranevsky represents the stubborn pride of the waning Russian aristocracy, while her brother Gayev, with his addiction to billiards, symbolizes the aristocracy's addiction to decadent pleasures - another weakness.
Lopakhin represents the bourgeoisie, the middle class who profited most from the weakening of the aristocracy in the years before the Bolshevik revolution. He's a self-made man who rose from working class roots to become a wealthy merchant. He wears a fine, expensive white suit and gaudy yellow shoes.
Lopakhin has a kind of love-hate relationship with Madame Ranevsky. He's grateful for the kindness she's shown him over the years, but he also resents her condescending attitude.
Although he's wealthy - wealthier, in fact, than she is now - Madame Ranevsky still sees Lopakhin as the lower class, because of his peasant roots. This is one of the reasons why she rejected his plan to save her estate.
Anton Chekhov was less than thrilled with the premiere of The Cherry Orchard at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904. During rehearsals, the director of the production, Constantin Stanislavski, completely rewrote the second act, turning Chekov's comedy into a tragedy. The playwright was furious.
"In the second act there are tears in their eyes, but the tone is happy, lively. Why did you put so many tears in my play? Where are they?" Chekhov wrote to complain. He later went to the theater in person to supervise the production and work out a compromise with the director.
Although a comedy at heart, The Cherry Orchard delicately balances farce with elements of tragedy. Stanislavski insisted on doing the play strictly as a tragedy.
To this day, some directors still struggle to interpret the complex play. Audiences at the Moscow Art Theatre gave the premiere a rousing applause, but the critics' reviews were mixed.
When the play debuted in St. Petersburg at Panin's People's House theater, the audience of pre-revolutionary working class Russians, who understood Chekhov's scathing satire, cheered at the end, when the aristocrats wept over the demise of their cherry orchard, which was felled onstage.
The Cherry Orchard would be Anton Chekhov's last play. It was inspired by incidents in his own life, including the demise of a cherry orchard he'd planted on his own country estate.
The play was written over a period of several years, as the playwright began to lose his battle with tuberculosis. He died six months after its Moscow premiere, at the age of 44.
Quote Of The Day
"The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them." - Anton Chekhov
Today's video features a 1981 British production of The Cherry Orchard, starring Dame Judi Dench. Enjoy!
Friday, January 17, 2020
Thursday, January 16, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On January 16th, 1933, the famous American writer, filmmaker, and activist Susan Sontag was born. She was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York City. Her childhood was unhappy; her father, a wealthy fur trader, died of tuberculosis when she was five. Her mother, cold and distant, was "always away."
When Susan was twelve, her mother married an Army captain, Nathan Sontag. Susan and her sister were given his surname, though he never officially adopted them. He moved the family around the country, finally settling in Los Angeles.
After graduating Hollywood High School at the age of 15, the intellectually gifted Susan Sontag enrolled at Berkeley University. She later transferred to the University of Chicago. There, after engaging in a brief but passionate courtship, she got married at seventeen.
Her new husband, Philip Rieff, was a writer and sociology professor at the university. They would remain together for eight years and have one child, a son named David. Susan continued her education and earned a Master's degree in philosophy.
In 1957, she was awarded a fellowship at St. Anne's College, Oxford, and traveled to England alone to take classes. She didn't care for Oxford and transferred to the University of Paris.
She considered her time in Paris the most important time in her life, both intellectually and artistically, as she struck up friendships with expatriate academics and artists, one of which, Cuban-American avant garde playwright María Irene Fornés, became her lover.
Susan and María moved to New York City and lived together for seven years. During that time, Susan had regained custody of her son and begun working on her first novel, The Benefactor (1963).
It was a novel in the form of a memoir. The protagonist, a Candide-esque bohemian named Hippolyte, takes the reader along for the ride as his dream world gradually becomes indistinguishable from reality.
Susan's second novel, Death Kit (1967), is a dark Kafka like tale that takes place on a train. One of the passengers, a thirtysomething year old businessman with the ironic nickname Diddy, (It sounds like "Did he?") becomes convinced that he might be a murderer.
Diddy, who recently attempted suicide, fears that he may have beaten a railroad worker to death while the train was stopped in a dark tunnel. Hester, the lovely yet apathetic blind girl sitting next to him, tells him that he never left his seat. Diddy examines his memories and dreams, trying to answer the question: did he do it?
Susan Sontag would publish two more novels, a short story collection, and nonfiction books. She was also known as an essayist and published six essay collections. Her second and most famous collection, Styles of Radical Will (1969), contained her most controversial essay.
Trip to Hanoi was the culmination of Susan's activism against the Vietnam War. She had first signed the Writers and Editors War Tax pledge, refusing to pay taxes to support the war. Like actress Jane Fonda, she went to Hanoi to tell the North Vietnamese side of the story.
Susan sympathized with the North Vietnamese, writing in her essay that the Vietcong could not be compared to the Soviets or the Maoist Chinese, whose communism she would later describe as "fascism with a human face." The Vietcong were fighting for their independence.
No stranger to controversy, Susan had previously published an essay in the Partisan Review where she said:
Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.
Susan would later retract that statement, but only because she believed that it was insulting to cancer patients.
She continued her activist work; in 1986, she vigorously defended the legendary Indian writer Salman Rushdie when his classic novel The Satanic Verses resulted in the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa calling for his death.
A few years later, during the Bosnian War, Susan declared that the Serbian Orthodox Christian forces were the real war criminals in that conflict, not the Bosnian / Albanian Muslim resistance. She went to Sarajevo and directed a production of Samuel Beckett's classic play, Waiting For Godot.
When the AIDS epidemic began to spread in the 1980s, Susan brought it to attention with her play The Way We Live Now and her nonfiction book, AIDS and Its Metaphors, where she harshly criticized the idea that AIDS was a "gay disease" and a divine judgement against homosexuals.
Susan was also a filmmaker. Between 1969 and 1983, she wrote and directed four feature films. Three were produced in Sweden, one in Italy. Her first film, Duet for Cannibals (1969), was a Swedish production.
It told the story of a professor who hires a young man to organize his papers for publication. The young man discovers that the professor's wife, tired of being abused and degraded by him, is planning to murder him. The wife and the young man become lovers. Meanwhile, the professor pursues the young man's girlfriend.
Susan followed Duet for Cannibals with Brother Carl (1971), Promised Lands (1974), and Unguided Tour (1983). Unfortunately, all of her movies are hard to find.
Never afraid to voice her often controversial opinions, on September 24th, 2001 - thirteen days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks - in the New Yorker magazine, Susan asked:
Where is the acknowledgment that this was... an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?
That year, she won the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded biannually at the Jerusalem International Book Fair to writers whose works have dealt with the subject of human freedom in society.
Susan Sontag died of leukemia in 2004 at the age of 71.
Quote Of The Day
"The writer is either a practicing recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one - or both. Usually both." - Susan Sontag
Today's video features Susan Sontag speaking at the San Francisco Public Library in 2001. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On January 15th, 1891, the famous Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was born in Warsaw, Poland. He came from a wealthy Jewish family; his father was a leather merchant.
Because of his wealth and position, Osip's father was able to get a special dispensation exempting the family from having to relocate with other Jews to the "pale of settlement" region of Russia. So, not long after Osip was born, the Mandelstams moved to Saint Petersburg.
In 1908, at the age of seventeen, Osip Mandelstam entered the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) to study literature and philosophy, but left the following year and went to the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
In 1911, Mandelstam decided to finish his education at the University of Saint Petersburg. In order to enroll at the Methodist university, he converted to Methodism, but never practiced the religion.
That same year, Mandelstam and several other young poets formed the Poets' Guild. The group, led by Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky, would later be known as the Acmeists. Mandelstam wrote their manifesto, The Morning Of Acmeism, in 1913.
Acmeism was a Russian poetic movement that served as a counter to the works of Russian symbolist poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as Andrei Bely and Vyacheslav Ivanov. Acmeism stressed compactness of form and clarity of expression.
Osip Mandelstam's Acmeist manifesto wouldn't be published until 1919. However, his first poetry collection, The Stone, would be published in 1913, and re-released in an expanded edition in 1916.
By 1922, he had married his girlfriend Nadezhda Yakovlevna and moved to Moscow. At that time, his second poetry collection, Tristia, was published. For the next several years, Mandelstam nearly abandoned poetry, as he mostly wrote essays, literary criticism, short prose, and memoirs.
He took a job as a translator and translated 19 books in a period of six months. His marriage began to sour and he had affairs, but he and his wife reconciled. Mandelstam started writing poetry again. In November of 1933, he wrote his most famous poem, Stalin Epigram.
The poem was a harsh criticism of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whom he referred to as the "Kremlin highlander." The poem was likely inspired by the effects of the Holodomor (the Great Famine) which Mandelstam had witnessed while vacationing in Crimea.
The Holodomor was caused by Stalin's drive to exterminate the kulaks - the affluent peasant farmers - and collectivize all of Russia's farms. Six months after Stalin Epigram appeared in print, Osip Mandelstam was arrested.
Amazingly, he was neither condemned to death nor sent to the Gulag. Instead, he was exiled, along with his wife, to Cherdyn in Northern Ural. After a suicide attempt, his sentence was softened; he was banned from the big cities, but allowed to choose another place of residence. He and his wife chose to move to Voronezh.
Unfortunately, this proved to be a temporary reprieve. Although Mandelstam wrote poems glorifying Stalin in 1937, (as was required of him and all Soviet poets) the Great Purge was beginning.
The pro-Soviet literary establishment assailed him in print, accusing him of harboring anti-Soviet sentiments. A year later, he and his wife received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow.
When they arrived, Mandelstam was arrested again and charged with counter-revolutionary activities. In August of 1938, Osip Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in the Gulag and taken to a transit camp in Vladivostok at the Second River.
He died several months later, on December 27th, 1938. The official cause of death was an unspecified illness. In 1956, during the Khrushchev thaw, Mandelstam was officially "rehabilitated" - cleared of the charges brought against him during his 1938 arrest.
Thirty years later, he would be cleared of the charges stemming from his first arrest in 1934.
Quote Of The Day
"Only in Russia is poetry respected - it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" - Osip Mandelstam
Today's video features a reading of five of Osip Mandelstam's poems. Enjoy!
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On January 14th, 1886, the famous Anglo-Irish writer Hugh Lofting was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England. As a boy, he developed a love of animals and kept "a combination zoo and natural history museum" in his mother's linen closet.
He received his education in Jesuit-run private schools. He later went to the United States, where he studied civil engineering at MIT - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After graduating from MIT, Lofting returned to England and became a civil engineer, traveling throughout the British Empire as his job required him to do. When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Irish Guards, a Foot Guards regiment in the British Army.
In his service as a soldier, he became horrified by not only the human carnage he witnessed, but also by the sufferings of horses and other animals used at the front. During the war, Lofting wrote letters to his children frequently.
Wishing to spare them the horrors of war, (and to escape from them himself) he would tell his children stories about John Dolittle, a country doctor who learned how to talk to animals. Lofting illustrated the stories in his letters.
When he returned home from the war, Lofting reworked his stories into a book he illustrated himself, the first in a hugely popular series that made him world famous. The Story of Doctor Dolittle was published in 1920.
In it, we meet Dr. John Dolittle, a young country doctor who lives with his sister in the small English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Over the years, his love of animals grows; he acquires a menagerie of exotic pets. Unfortunately, his animals scare off his human patients.
After he learns how to speak to animals from his parrot Polynesia, Dolittle gives up his human medical practice and becomes a veterinarian, only to see his new practice start failing after he adopts a crocodile.
In the animal kingdom, he becomes world famous. Just as he's about to go bankrupt, the British government conscripts Doctor Dolittle and orders him to go to Africa and contain an epidemic that's ravaging the monkey population.
So, Dolittle borrows a ship and supplies and sets sail for Africa with a crew of his animal friends. The group is shipwrecked upon their arrival. As they journey toward the monkey kingdom, they're arrested by the king of Jolligingki.
The king, after being victimized and exploited by Europeans, wants no white men in his country. Dolittle and the animals escape through a ruse and reach the monkey kingdom, which is in dire straits due to the raging epidemic.
Dolittle vaccinates the well monkeys and nurses the sick ones back to health, containing the disease. In appreciation, the monkeys give him a pushmi-pullyu - a rare and valuable two-headed animal that's a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn.
Unfortunately, Dolittle and his friends are arrested again in Jolligingki upon their return. This time, they escape with the help of the king's son, Prince Bumpo, after Dolittle bleaches Bumpo's face white so he can be like the European fairy tale princes and hopefully marry his white Sleeping Beauty.
Bumpo gives Dolittle and his animal crew a new ship. After having a couple run-ins with pirates, Dolittle wins a pirate ship filled with treasures. When he finally returns home to England, he exhibits the pushmi-pullyu in a traveling circus and makes enough money to retire.
Hugh Lofting would write a total of twelve Doctor Dolittle books, the last three of which would be published posthumously. They would be adapted numerous times for the radio, screen, and television.
Many years after their first publication, the Doctor Dolittle books would court controversy due to certain language, scenes, and illustrations now considered racially offensive and politically incorrect.
Beginning in the 1960s, certain words and scenes would be changed or removed in some reprint editions of the books in both the UK and the U.S. By 1981, the original, unexpurgated versions would go out of print in both countries.
In 1986, to mark the 100th anniversary of Lofting's birth, the Doctor Dolittle books were republished in a special edition - a severely bowdlerized version with passages of text rewritten or removed and some illustrations altered or replaced.
Ironically, Lofting himself was no racist; black African characters were portrayed sympathetically. In the first Doctor Dolittle book, the king of Jolligingki bemoans his country's exploitation by the white man:
Many years ago a white man came to these shores; and I was very kind to him. But after he had dug holes in the ground to get the gold, and killed all the elephants to get their ivory tusks, he went away secretly in his ship - without so much as saying `Thank you.'
In addition to his Doctor Dolittle books, Hugh Lofting wrote other children's books, including a book of children's poems called Porridge Poetry (1924). His only book geared toward adult readers was Victory For the Slain (1942), an antiwar epic poem. He died in 1947 at the age of 61.
Quote Of The Day
"For years it was a constant source of shock to me to find my writings amongst 'Juveniles.' It does not bother me any more now, but I still feel there should be a category of 'Seniles' to offset the epithet." - Hugh Lofting
Today's video features a complete reading of Hugh Lofting's first book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle - the original version, now in the public domain. Enjoy!
Monday, January 13, 2020
1. I got my first acceptance for 2020 from Carmina Magazine. They published two of my haiku in their September issue (their inaugural issue) and now they've accepted one of my haibun, On Seas and Mirrors, for their March issue.
It feels good to get my first acceptance of the new year. At the end of last year I pushed myself to send a few extra things out and this acceptance is the result of that push. (Still waiting to hear about the other.)
Nice to see work in Carmina Magazine from Joanna West and Cezarija Abartis too.
2. I just discovered that MacQueen's Quinterly, a new publication that's sister publication to KYSO: Flash Fiction, lists my ekphrastic piece, A Crucible of Sighs, as one of the editor's favorite 100 pieces (out of the over 1300 published at KYSO). That was a nice surprise to find that information at the new publication's site.
See the editor's favorite 100 list at MacQueen's Quinterly and see my ekphrastic piece at KYSO Flash. I was looking around at the new publication after the editor contacted me to be sure she had my correct home address so she could mail me my free anthology that will contain my ekphrastic prose poem. Seeing my work listed as a favorite at the new publication is a nice surprise.
Two short stories of mine, "Taking Care of Business," and "Stepping Out," have been accepted by The Literary Hatchet. Here are their Submission details.
Just so you know, most of the stories of mine they have accepted are not horror or mystery.
Friday, January 10, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On January 10th, 1845, the famous English poet and playwright Robert Browning wrote his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, a fellow poet who would become his soul mate. Ironically, at the time they first began corresponding, it was unlikely that Elizabeth would become anybody's anything.
As a young girl, Elizabeth Barrett was both intellectually gifted and physically weak. By the age of six, she was reading novels and writing poetry. At fifteen, she was struck with an illness that doctors were unable to diagnose.
Some have speculated that it was a debilitating heart condition that causes pain and weakness, such as angina. All three of her sisters contracted the illness as well, but for them, it didn't last long. They recovered quickly, but Elizabeth did not. She had a severe case.
Whatever the illness was, it and the opiates she took to relieve the pain made Elizabeth pretty much an invalid. She spent most of her time in her room, either in bed or writing at her desk. She earned a modest income writing poetry, essays, and literary criticism.
She saw few people except for her family, but she had a lot of family to keep her company - three sisters and seven brothers. Despite her illness, Elizabeth Barrett became one of the greatest poets of her generation.
When her classic poetry collection Poems was published in 1844, she became one of the most famous poets in England. Although she saw few visitors, she kept up a huge amount of correspondence.
One of Elizabeth Barrett's greatest admirers was the poet Robert Browning. Not only did he love her poetry, but she was one of the very few literary critics who had given his first poetry collection, Dramatic Lyrics (1842), a good review. A glowing review, in fact.
So, Robert wrote to thank her - and to proclaim his great admiration of her poetry. "The fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought" is how he described her talent. Then he proclaimed his love for her:
I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart... and I love you too. Do you know I was once not very far from seeing - really seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "Would you like to see Miss Barrett?" then he went to announce me... then he returned... you were too unwell, and now it is years ago, and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels, as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel or crypt, only a screen to push and I might have entered, but there was some slight, so it now seems, slight and just sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be?
Thus, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett began a correspondence that would result in nearly six hundred letters exchanged between them. It would also result in a courtship, and a miraculous improvement in Elizabeth's health.
Though she would not recover completely from her illness, she would regain her strength, leave her invalid's bed, marry, have a child, and live to the age of 55 - far longer than was expected for someone with her condition.
Elizabeth's courtship with Robert Browning had to be carried out in secret, as her father, a domineering tyrant, had forbidden all his eleven children from ever marrying under penalty of disinheritance. Why? The answer lies in the family history.
The wealthy, aristocratic Barrett family came from a long line of plantation owners. Elizabeth Barrett's grandfather, who owned sugar plantations and other businesses in the West Indies, was known for his humane treatment of his slaves.
He was also known to take slave women as his mistresses. Elizabeth's father, Edward Barrett, believed that his father may have adopted the light skinned babies of his slave mistresses, and that he may have been one of them.
Politically conservative and a virulent racist, Edward Barrett was greatly shamed by the thought that Negro blood may be running through his and his children's veins. His children were white, but he feared that they might one day produce dark skinned offspring. So he forbade them all from marrying.
Elizabeth Barrett was the polar opposite of her father. A liberal intellectual, she despised slavery, wrote abolitionist poetry, and rejoiced when England outlawed slavery completely in 1833. This resulted in a huge rift between father and daughter.
Elizabeth never gave much thought to her father's decree forbidding marriage because she figured that her illness rendered her too sick too marry. She didn't plan on falling in love with Robert Browning. When they eloped, her father disinherited her and never spoke to her again. Her brothers didn't speak to her for years.
The happy couple settled in Italy, where Elizabeth regained her strength and after several miscarriages, bore their only child, a boy named Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, but known by his nickname, Pen.
Many years later, the Brownings' son published all but one of their letters to each other. The one missing letter was believed to have been burned by Robert Browning at Elizabeth Barrett's insistence because it was so passionate that she feared he might be arrested for sending it through the mail.
Quote Of The Day
"Love is the energy of life." - Robert Browning
Today's video features a reading from the first letter of Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett. Enjoy!
Thursday, January 9, 2020
This Day In Literary History
On January 9th, 1908, the legendary French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France. Her father was a legal secretary and aspiring actor. Her mother, the daughter of a wealthy banker, raised her children to be devout Catholics like herself.
Simone was devoutly religious as a child, but at the age of fourteen, she lost her faith and would remain an atheist for the rest of her life. An intellectually gifted child, she passed advanced exams in mathematics and philosophy at the age of seventeen.
After studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, she studied for her teacher's exams at the Institut Catholique and Institut Sainte-Marie. She also sat in on courses at the École Normale Supérieure, though she wasn't enrolled there.
At the École Normale Supérieure, Simone struck up friendships with fellow students Paul Nizan and René Maheu, who would become noted writers and philosophers. Another student she met would become her lifelong lover. His name was Jean-Paul Sartre.
Although Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre became lifelong lovers and soul mates who influenced each other as writers and existentialist philosophers, they never married nor lived together as a couple.
Theirs was a very complex relationship. They both had separate lovers. Simone was openly bisexual and often shared her female lovers with Sartre. Her first novel, She Came to Stay (1943), was a fictionalized chronicle of her and Sartre's romantic entanglements with two sisters, one of whom was her student.
Simone's second novel, The Blood of Others (1945) was an existentialist classic set in Nazi-occupied France. As his lover Hélène lies dying, the protagonist Jean Blomart looks back on his own life. Guilty over his comfortable upper middle class upbringing, Blomart breaks ties with his family.
He joins the Communist Party, then leaves it when his friend is killed in a political protest. While he devotes himself to trade union activities, he meets Hélène, but initially rejects her advances.
After she has a reckless affair with another man, gets pregnant, and has an abortion, Blomart tells her that he loves her and proposes marriage, though deep inside, he doubts that he really loves her. But he wants her to be happy.
When France enters World War II, Blomart enlists and becomes a soldier. Against his will, Hélène arranges for him to be posted away from the combat zone. Furious, he breaks up with her. After the defeat of France, the couple is reunited when Hélène seeks to join the French Resistance.
Blomart has become the leader of a Resistance group. Hélène joins the group and is shot during a mission. As he maintains a deathbed vigil, Blomart must come to terms with his guilt, the consequences of his actions, and his feelings for Hélène. He decides to continue with his Resistance work.
In 1944, Simone published her first philosophical essay, Pyrrhus et Cinéas, a discussion of existentialist ethics, concepts she would expand on in her second essay, The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947).
The Ethics of Ambiguity was perhaps the most accessible writing on existentialism during that time, far more accessible than Jean-Paul Sartre's brooding, abstruse classic, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943).
In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex, her classic 800-page epic work of feminist philosophy. After debunking the theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, she looks at the misogynistic philosophies of St. Paul, St. Ambrose, and John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.
The misogyny that forms the foundation of Christianity is in direct contrast to the goddess worship that preceded it. The subordination of women in the name of God is nothing more than a way to maintain patriarchal power for Pope and common man alike.
This need to control women's sexuality to maintain the patriarchy reflects the deep seated fear of the power of a woman's body - her ability to create life within her, her ability to receive sexual pleasure without having intercourse with a man, etc.
After centuries of male domination, Woman still yearns for her freedom from reproductive slavery. Abortion, Simone argues, is one means of achieving that freedom. It is not an issue of morality, and making it illegal is an act of "masculine sadism" against women.
The Second Sex became a hugely influential work of feminist philosophy that laid the groundwork for the 1970s women's liberation movement. Simone would join France's women's liberation movement.
In 1971, she signed the Manifest of the 343, a list of famous women who had abortions even though it was illegal in France at the time. Other signers included actress Catherine Deneuve and actress-director Delphine Seyrig. Three years later, abortion was legalized in France.
After Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980, Simone wrote A Farewell to Sartre (1981), an account of his final years. It was the only major published work of hers that he didn't read prior to publication. She also published a collection of his letters to her.
Simone de Beauvoir died in 1986 at the age of 78.
Quote Of The Day
"The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels." - Simone de Beauvoir
Today's video features a 1959 interview with Simone de Beauvoir, in French with English subtitles. Enjoy!