Friday, December 2, 2022

Notes For December 2nd, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On December 2nd, 1867, the legendary English writer Charles Dickens gave the first performance of his public reading tour of the United States. It wasn't Dickens' first visit to America.

He previously visited the United States and Canada in 1842. He spent that time in the U.S. giving lectures, publicly denouncing slavery, and raising support for the enacting of copyright laws.

Dickens' fierce abolitionist convictions didn't endear him to many Americans during his first visit - he even met with then President John Tyler at the White House to discuss the atrocities he'd witnessed while passing through the Southern slave states.

When he returned to England, Dickens wrote American Notes for General Circulation, a travelogue of his visit to America. Filled with scathing satire, the book described not only the horrors of slavery, but also the vulgarity and ill manners of white Southerners.

He also chronicled his visits to prisons and mental institutions and criticized the American press and the poor sanitary conditions of American cities. Despite all this, Dickens had a generally favorable impression of America, though he couldn't forgive the country's insistence on maintaining the practice of slavery.

Twenty-five years later, for his next visit to America, Dickens had planned his first public reading tour. At this time, the 55-year-old writer had become hugely popular in America.

He was moved that the country had finally abolished slavery. So, on November 9th, 1867, Dickens set sail for the United States. He landed in Boston, where he began his public reading tour in America.

Dickens' first reading, like almost of all of his performances on the tour, was sold out. Some fans had slept outside the night before tickets went on sale; as they'd expected, the line for tickets was literally half a mile long.

In attendance for Dickens' first reading in Boston were New England's literary elite, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton.

Emerson complained that Dickens' performance was too polished for his taste. The legendary American writer Mark Twain saw Dickens read and dismissed the performance as "glittering frostwork." Mostly, however, the performances earned rave reviews.

That Emerson should criticize Dickens' performance as too polished was surprising considering the fact that he was quite ill for most of the tour, suffering from insomnia, exhaustion, the flu, catarrh, and a limp from neuralgia of the foot. He handed out printed cards of apology to his audiences for his sickness.

Dickens' illness didn't prevent him from reaching his audience and delivering his message. When he read his classic novella, A Christmas Carol (1843) in Boston on Christmas Eve, a local factory owner in attendance experienced a Scrooge-like transformation and sent every one of his employees a turkey.

There were some funny experiences on the tour as well. A little girl recognized him on a train, sat down next to him, and told him how much she loved his books.

She also said, "Of course, I do skip some of the very dull parts, once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones." Dickens laughed heartily, then took out his notebook and asked her to elaborate.

Another humorous incident found Dickens recognized by the janitor of the hotel he stayed at in New York. The janitor, a German immigrant, struck up a conversation with him, saying, "Mr. Digguns, you are great, mein herr. Dere is no ent to you! Bedder and bedder. Vot next!"

Realizing that his health was declining and believing that there would be no more American tours for him, at his last performance in New York, Dickens ended his show with the following announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen, the shadow of one word has impended over me all this evening, and the time has come at last when the shadow must fall. It is but a very short one, but the weight of such things is not measurable by their length, and two much shorter words express the whole round of our human existence. Ladies and gentlemen, I beg to bid you farewell - and I pray God bless you, and God bless the land in which I leave you.

Charles Dickens died three years later in 1870, at the age of 58.

Quote Of The Day

“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” - Charles Dickens

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a clip from Dickens Reading Dickens, actor Tim Tully's one man show which depicts Charles Dickens giving one of his public reading performances. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Notes For December 1st, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On December 1st, 1821, Adonais, the classic epic poem by the legendary English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was published. It appeared in the Literary Chronicle and became known as one of the greatest Romantic poems ever written.

Adonais was Shelley's elegy to his close friend, the legendary English poet John Keats, who had died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Shelley believed that scathing reviews of his poetry, not tuberculosis, had actually killed Keats.

During his short life, Keats' work was loudly derided by critics. It wouldn't be until after his death that Keats was finally recognized as the one of the greatest English Romantic poets of all time.

In Adonais, Shelley metaphorically depicted Keats' critics as loathsome creatures such as worms, reptiles, and dragons. Other scathing metaphors included "carrion kite" and "a noteless blot on a remembered name."

Keats' girlfriend, Fanny Browne, complained that Adonais made Keats appear overly sensitive and gave him "a weakness of character that only belonged to his ill-health."

The great poet Lord Byron, a mutual friend of Shelley and Keats, recalled his own reaction to negative reviews and quipped, "Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of claret and began an answer." In his classic epic poem Don Juan, Byron described Keats' fate:

'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.

Shelley's poem wasn't really to blame for the resulting myth of Keats' fragility. Keats had wanted his tombstone to read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," but this is how his executors had it engraved:

This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone.

By the time the engraving was completed on Keats's tombstone, Percy Bysshe Shelley had also died, drowning at sea after his ship went down in a storm.

Quote Of The Day

"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic epic poem, Adonais. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Notes For November 30th, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On November 30th, 1835, the legendary American writer Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the son of a lawyer and judge. He was the sixth of seven children; only three of his siblings would survive childhood.

When Twain was four years old, his father moved the family to Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River. Growing up in Hannibal, Twain came to love the town and would model the fictional town of St. Petersberg, Missouri, after it.

Twain's father contracted pneumonia and died when he was eleven years old. A year later, Twain went to work as a printer's devil, (apprentice) where he learned the printing and typesetting trade.

By the age of sixteen, he was working as a typesetter and writing articles and humorous pieces for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother, Orion.

When he turned eighteen, Twain left Hannibal and moved East, living in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York City. He worked as a printer by day and educated himself at night.

Twain educated himself at public libraries, where he found a wider spectrum of information available to him than in conventional schools. He would return to Hannibal four years later.

While traveling by steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, Twain befriended the pilot, Horace E. Bixby, who inspired him to become a steamboat pilot himself. At the time, steamboat piloting was a very prominent and respected position.

It also paid well - around $3000 per year, which is equivalent to about $108,000 in today's money. In order to obtain a steamboat pilot's license, one had to go through extensive training.

While Twain was training, his younger brother Henry was killed on another steamboat when it exploded. A month before the explosion, Twain had had a dream where his brother died.

After he was killed, Twain was racked with guilt because he had encouraged Henry to train on the ill-fated steamboat and never took the dream seriously. He would develop an interest in parapsychology as a result.

Despite this tragedy, Twain worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until 1861, when the Civil War broke out. His famous pen name, Mark Twain, was a term used by steamboat captains to note that the water was at least two fathoms deep, and thus safe to travel on.

Twain's experiences as a steamboat pilot would lead him to write his classic book, Life on the Mississippi (1883), a combination of non-fiction and fiction in which he mixed autobiography and history with folklore.

In 1861, Twain moved out West and joined his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the governor of the Nevada Territory. To get there, Twain and Orion traveled two weeks by stagecoach across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

The trip would inspire him to write his classic first short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865) and his famous travelogue, Roughing It (1872).

When they arrived in Virginia City, Nevada, Twain found work as a miner. He failed at mining, so he switched gears and began working as a journalist for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he first used his famous pen name, Mark Twain.

He moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he met famous writers such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Dan DeQuille, and Ina Coolbrith. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County would be published a year later in The Saturday Press, a weekly literary newspaper based in New York City.

In 1867, Twain was still working as a journalist when a newspaper sponsored him to take a tour of Europe and the Middle East, during which he wrote a series of popular travel letters.

These letters would be compiled and published in book form as his classic travelogue, The Innocents Abroad (1869). While on his tour, Twain met Charles Langdon, whose sister, Olivia, he would later marry.

Twain met Olivia in 1868. It was love at first sight, and within two years, they would be married. She bore him a son and three daughters. Twain's son Langdon died at the age of two from diphtheria. His daughter Susy would die suddenly from meningitis at 24.

Daughter Jean, an epileptic, would die at 29 after suffering a seizure in the bathtub. Though oldest daughter Clara, an aspiring opera singer, would live a long life, her relationship with her father was tempestuous due to her scandalous behavior.

Mark Twain's wife, Olivia, came from a wealthy, liberal, intellectual family, and through them, he met fellow abolitionists and "socialists, principled atheists, and activists for women's rights and social equality."

These influential people included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and the famous utopian socialist, William Dean, who became a lifelong friend.

Olivia's family and their friends would have a strong influence on Twain's philosophy and writings. Although a Presbyterian, Twain was often critical of religion and once quipped that "if Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian."

Twain would become most famous for his classic novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Prince and the Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), Eve's Diary (1906), and many others.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), considered by many to be Twain's greatest novel, was attacked for its abolitionist themes when it was first published.

The novel finds Tom's friend Huckleberry Finn on an adventure of his own. While running away from his guardians, Huck meets Jim, an escaped slave who hopes to make it to Ohio - a free state - and eventually buy his family's freedom so they can join him there.

Through initially opposed to the idea of Jim becoming a free man, when he befriends and travels with him, Huck comes to realize that Jim is a good, intelligent man who deserves to be free.

When Jim is betrayed by some grifters and recaptured, Huck helps him escape again even though it's against the law - it's considered a form of theft. In one of the novel's most famous lines, Huck, knowing that stealing is a sin, defiantly says, "All right then, I'll go to hell!"

Ironically, Twain's novel would be attacked again some seventy years after it was first published - this time for its alleged racism. The NAACP has denounced the novel for its use of the racial epithet nigger and alleged racist stereotyping of blacks.

The novel is often targeted by African-American activists who want it banned from classrooms and school libraries, but Twain scholars point out that the author let his white Southern characters speak their own ugly language as a way of denouncing slavery and the Southern notion that black people were subhuman.

In 2011, NewSouth Books, a publishing house in Alabama, issued a controversial new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - a bowdlerized edition with all uses of the word nigger changed to slave, and the word injun deleted entirely.

Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder of NewSouth Books, claimed that the changes would make the novel more acceptable for the classroom, but scholars derided the new edition as an attempt to whitewash the long history of white Southerners' virulent racism, which continues to this day.

In addition to his writings, Mark Twain was also a world famous lecturer, and his lecture tours helped to establish his reputation as America's greatest humorist and iconoclast. When he ran into financial troubles from bad investments, he would go out on more lecture tours to earn back the money he lost.

During one European tour, Twain was invited to speak as the guest of the Concordia Press Club in Vienna, Austria. In typical Twain style, he gave a speech in German - Die Schrecken der Deutschen Sprache, which means The Horrors of the German Language.

Mark Twain died in 1910 at the age of 74. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest writers of all time and a founding father of American literature.

Quote Of The Day

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." - Mark Twain

Vanguard Video

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Notes For November 29th, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On November 29th, 1832, the legendary American writer Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She had three sisters, Anna, Elizabeth, and Abigail, and would base her most famous novel on her experiences growing up with them in New England.

Louisa's father was Amos Bronson Alcott, who called himself Bronson. He was a famous teacher and transcendentalist philosopher who belonged to Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalist Club.

In addition to his spiritual beliefs, Bronson shared Emerson's ferocious abolitionist convictions. The Alcott family would host a runaway slave in their home. In 1840, when Louisa was eight years old, Bronson moved the family to Concord, Massachusetts.

Growing up in a liberal, intellectual family, Louisa was tutored mostly by her father's friend, the legendary writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. She also received instruction from Ralph Waldo Emerson and family friends Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller.

Louisa would write of these experiences in an early newspaper article, Transcendental Wild Oats. She would also write of the brief time her family lived in the Utopian Fruitlands commune co-founded by her father.

The commune would fail not only because of the members' philosophical extremes, but also due to the severe New England winter for which most of them were unprepared.

Economic hardship would require Louisa to go to work at a very young age, and she worked at such various jobs as governess, seamstress, domestic servant, and occasionally, as a teacher. What she really wanted to be was a writer.

Her first book, Flower Fables, was published in 1849, when she was seventeen years old. It was a collection of short stories originally written for Ralph Waldo Emerson's young daughter, Ellen. A year later, she began writing for the Atlantic Monthly magazine.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Louisa served as a Union hospital nurse, caring for wounded and sick soldiers in Georgetown, D.C. She wrote vivid detailed letters home chronicling her experiences.

These letters would be revised and published in the Commonwealth newspaper. When they appeared in book form as Hospital Sketches (1863), they brought their author to the attention of critics, who praised her talent.

While she worked to build her career as a writer of traditional fiction, Louisa also wrote sensational, passionate stories and novels strictly for money. They were published under the pseudonym A.M. Bernard.

These early novels were torrid Gothic potboilers with titles like Behind a Mask, or A Woman's Power, A Long Fatal Love Chase, and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. One novel she published anonymously was called A Modern Mephistopheles.

When her collections of children's stories became successful, Louisa was able to devote herself to traditional fiction. In 1868, she published her most famous novel. Originally intended for young adult readers, it would prove to be not only a critical and commercial success, but also a classic work of American literature.

Little Women told the story of the four March sisters, (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, was based on Alcott's experiences growing up with her own three sisters in Concord and Boston. Louisa modeled the character of Jo after herself.

Fifteen-year-old Jo March is the second oldest of the sisters. Intelligent, outspoken, and tomboyish, Jo longs to be a writer. An early feminist, Jo finds herself at odds with the restrictions placed on women in the late 19th century, including not being able to go to college and being pressured to marry.

Through the course of the novel, the March sisters become friends with Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the handsome, charming, affluent boy next door. An orphan, Laurie lives with his grandfather. He becomes especially close to Jo. They get into various scrapes as Laurie joins in the March sisters' adventures.

The sisters also struggle to overcome their particular character flaws (Jo has a temper, Meg is vain, Beth is shy, and Amy selfish) in order to live up to their parents' expectations and become, well, little women.

The first part of Little Women became a huge hit with both critics and readers, and an overnight sensation, selling over 2,000 copies in 1868. Louisa May Alcott received many letters from fans (and visits from them at her home) clamoring for a sequel.

So, in 1869, Alcott published the second part, Good Wives. Although her fans were begging for Jo to get married - especially to Laurie - she initially resisted the idea, believing that Jo should remain a "literary spinster."

Louisa changed her mind, and in Good Wives, married off not only Jo, but Meg and Amy as well. However, in a surprising twist, Jo marries Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer, the poor German immigrant and professor who encouraged her to be a serious writer, while Amy marries Laurie.

Louisa would later write, "Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn't dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her."

As for her own spinsterhood, in an interview with literary critic Louise Chandler Moulton, she joked that the reason she herself was a spinster was because she had "fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man."

In reality, while traveling through Europe, she'd had a passionate affair with a young man she'd met in Switzerland, a Polish freedom fighter named Ladislas "Laddie" Wisniewski.

Louisa would base the character of Laurie on Laddie. Though she had written of her affair with Laddie in her journal, she tore out those pages prior to her death. The details of their relationship remain unknown.

Little Women would be followed by two sequels: Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Louisa also wrote other memorable novels including Eight Cousins (1875), Under The Lilacs (1878), and Jack and Jill: A Village Story (1880).

Jack and Jill, Alcott's last full length novel published under her own name, is set in the quaint New England town of Harmony Village. Inseparable best friends and next door neighbors John "Jack" Minot and Jane Pecq are so close that the other kids call them Jack and Jill.

As the novel opens, Jack and Jill go sledding together on a steep, dangerous hill one winter day. Like their nursery rhyme namesakes, they take a nasty fall. Jack breaks his leg and Jill is left with a broken back.

Both kids are bedridden, and everyone fears that Jill will never walk again. Jack keeps her spirits up while they both recover. They exchange letters often and Jack visits Jill when he's well enough to leave his bed.

Their parents and friends also try to help Jill. As their love for each other deepens, Jack, who recovers from his injury, can't bear the idea that Jill might never walk again. Will she be crippled for life?

Louisa May Alcott suffered from chronically poor health in her later years, which she attributed to mercury poisoning from a typhoid fever treatment. She ultimately died of a stroke in March of 1888 at the age of 55.

Although her early biographers had agreed with her assessment of mercury poisoning, a more recent analysis of her chronic illness indicated that she most likely suffered from lupus.

Quote Of The Day

“Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can." - Louisa May Alcott

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, Jack and Jill. Enjoy!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Notes For November 25th, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On November 25th, 1952, The Mousetrap, the classic play by the legendary English mystery writer Agatha Christie, opened in London at the Ambassadors Theatre.

The play, a murder mystery, was Christie's adaptation of her own short story, Three Blind Mice. It was first written as a radio play, performed on May 30th, 1947, in honor of the 80th birthday of England's Queen Mary. Then it was turned into a short story in 1950.

Agatha Christie had to change the title of her stage adaptation because there was another play running at the time called Three Blind Mice. The author of that work, Emile Littler, didn't want Christie's play confused with his.

The title The Mousetrap was suggested by Christie's son-in-law, Anthony Hicks, who observed that it was Hamlet's metaphoric description of the play he uses to "catch the conscience of the King."

In Agatha Christie's deliciously macabre play, a young couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston, have turned the old Monkswell Manor into a successful hotel. One winter day, the Ralstons find themselves snowed in with some guests and a stranded traveler who crashed his car into a snowbank.

A policeman, Detective Sergeant Trotter, arrives on skis to warn everyone that a murderer is on the loose and headed for the hotel. When one of the guests (Mrs. Boyle) is killed, the others realize that the murderer is already there. Detective Sergeant Trotter begins his investigation.

Suspicion falls on the troubled Christopher Wren, but soon it seems that any one of the snowed-in group could be the murderer. As the play progresses, we learn that the killer's first victim was a woman who served time in prison for abusing the three foster children placed in her care.

The body count continues, the plot thickens, and red herrings abound. Detective Sergeant Trotter plans to set a trap for the killer. Finally, in a shocking surprise twist ending, the murderer is revealed to be...

What, did you think I was going to tell you and ruin the play? Traditionally, after the play ends at the theater, the audience is asked not to reveal the identity of the murderer to those who haven't seen the play. I'm going to observe that tradition. You'll have to see the play for yourself to find out "who done it" and why.

The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run of any play in history, with over 27,000 performances and counting. The original 1952 cast featured Sir Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife, Sheila Sim, as Mollie Ralston.

In 1974, after 9,000 performances, the production was moved to St. Martin's Theatre, where it still runs today. It even ran during the height of the Covid pandemic, albeit with limited seating.

Quote Of The Day

"I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest." - Agatha Christie

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete live performance of Agatha Christie's classic play, The Mousetrap. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Notes For November 24th, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On November 24th, 1859, The Origin Of Species, the classic scientific textbook by the legendary English scientist Charles Darwin, was published.

Its full title was On The Origin Of Species By Means Of Natural Selection, or The Preservation Of Favoured Races In The Struggle For Life. When the sixth edition of the book was published in 1872, the title was shortened to The Origin Of Species.

Charles Darwin was a brilliant scientist, a former medical student turned biologist who had previously published textbook studies of subjects such as fossils, volcanic islands, and coral reefs.

With The Origin Of Species, he laid down the groundwork for his theories of evolution, which, although accepted by the scientific community, remain controversial to this day. The main theme is natural selection.

Natural selection is the process of evolution whereby organisms acquire heritable traits that make it more likely that the organisms will survive and reproduce - traits that allow organisms to adapt to their ever changing environment.

The organism that cannot adapt to its changing evironment is bound to become extinct - to perish entirely from the Earth. This is what's known as the law of survival of the fittest.

It was nothing new to science; theories of natural selection go back to the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers, from Empedocles to Aristotle, but Darwin's study of natural selection was revolutionary.

What made it controversial were his theories of evolution concerning common ancestry of species. In the late 18th century, Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, proposed a similar theory of how, through evolution, one species can become another.

In 1809, French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck took the idea further with his theory of the transmutation of species. But it was Charles Darwin's landmark study that defined this aspect of evolution as we know it today. He posited that humans evolved from a common ancestor that we share with lower primates like apes and monkeys - a link that still remains missing.

In the mid-19th century, when he published The Origin Of Species, the scientific community in Britain was closely tied to the Church of England. Reactions to Darwin's book were sharply mixed.

Liberal clergymen accepted Darwin's theories, declaring evolution to be God's plan of creation. Conservative (fundamentalist) clergymen decried evolution as blasphemous, taking the Bible's book of Genesis to be the literal truth and scientific fact, a pseudoscience they dubbed creationism. It would later be known as intelligent design.

Creationism and evolution would clash most famously in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher from Tennessee, had been charged with violating that state's Butler Act.

The Butler Act made it unlawful to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals" in any state-funded school or university.

Despite a brilliant defense mounted by legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, Scopes was convicted and fined $100, the equivalent of about $1,700 in today's money. The case was appealed to the Tennessee State Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction, but threw out the fine on a technicality.

The Butler Act would remain on the books in Tennessee until it was voluntarily repealed in 1967. A year later, in the precedent-setting case of Epperson vs. Arkansas, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state's law forbidding the teaching of evolution unconstitutional.

The hotly contested battle between creationism and evolution, which began with the publication of The Origin Of Species over 150 years ago, continues today.

Quote Of The Day

"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic." - Charles Darwin

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Charles Darwin's classic scientific textbook, The Origin Of Species. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Notes For November 23rd, 2022

This Day In Literary History

On November 23rd, 1874, Far From The Madding Crowd, the classic novel by the legendary English writer Thomas Hardy, was published in London.

It first appeared in a serialized format, published by Cornhill Magazine, which at the time was the main rival of All The Year Round, the literary magazine founded by Charles Dickens.

Far From The Madding Crowd is not only one of the greatest love stories ever written, it's also a classic tale of rural English life during the Victorian era. It tells a tale of true love complicated and delayed by stubbornness, pride, and circumstance.

Gabriel Oak is a successful sheep farmer nearing thirty years of age who falls in love with Bathsheba Everdene, a proud, vain, determined, and independent woman eight years his junior who has come to live with her aunt.

Bathsheba grows close to Gabriel - she even saves his life - but when he proposes marriage, she refuses, as she values her independence more than his love. She moves away miles out of town.

When Bathsheba and Gabriel are reunited sometime later, things have changed drastically for both of them. Gabriel is ruined when an inexperienced sheepdog runs his flock over the edge of a cliff.

After being forced to sell off all his possessions to settle his debts, Gabriel wanders about looking for work. He happens upon a dangerous fire ravaging a farm and helps to put it out.

When the owner of the farm comes over to thank him, it turns out to be Bathsheba, who inherited her uncle's estate. In need of a capable shepherd, she hires Gabriel, although it makes her uncomfortable.

Bathsheba has another admirer - a lonely, repressed, middle-aged farmer named William Boldwood. She decides to play a joke on him and sends him a valentine with the words "Marry Me" written on it. Boldwood, not realizing that it's just a joke, proposes marriage.

Bathsheba doesn't love him, but toys with the idea of marrying him. Despite his shortcomings, he's also affluent and the most eligible bachelor in town.

Instead of accepting Boldwood's proposal right away, she puts off giving him an answer and plays with his affections. When Gabriel finds out, he chides Bathsheba for her thoughtlessness. She fires him.

Later, when bloat threatens to kill all of her sheep, Bathsheba is finally forced to swallow her pride and beg Gabriel for help. He saves her flock, she hires him back, and they become friends again.

Soon, however, Bathsheba falls for a dashing soldier, Sgt. Francis "Frank" Troy. Gabriel tries to discourage her from marrying him, telling her that she'd be better of with William Boldwood. In love with Troy, Bathsheba elopes with him.

When they return from their honeymoon, Troy is approached by Boldwood, who offers him a huge bribe in exchange for Bathsheba. He refuses, and Boldwood vows revenge.

Unfortunately for Bathsheba, her gallant husband soon shows his true colors - he's a compulsive gambler in love with another woman, whom he was going to marry. Her name was Fanny Robin.

On their wedding day, Fanny accidentally went to the wrong church. Mistakenly believing that she jilted him, a humiliated Troy called off the wedding, not knowing that Fanny was pregnant with his child.

Months later, Troy meets Fanny on the road. A destitute wreck about to give birth, Troy takes pity on her and gives her all the money he has on him. He plans to support her and their child, but she dies in childbirth, along with the baby.

Gabriel tries to conceal all of this from Bathsheba, but she finds out and has the coffin brought to her house. She opens it and sees both mother and child. Troy kisses Fanny's corpse.

Telling Bathsheba, "This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be," Troy leaves her. He takes a long walk to the coast, strips off his clothes, and bathes in the ocean. A riptide carries him out to sea and he's presumed dead.

William Boldwood still determines to marry Bathsheba. This time, out of guilt over all the pain she's caused him, (and others) she agrees to marry him in a few years, when she can have her husband declared legally dead. What she doesn't know is that he's still alive.

When Troy learns that Boldwood has forced Bathsheba to marry him, he returns on Christmas Eve to claim her. He finds her at Boldwood's house and she screams in horror when she sees him.

Boldwood, refusing to give her up, shoots Troy and kills him. He attempts suicide and is later sentenced to hang. Boldwood's death sentence is commuted on the grounds of insanity after his friends petition the Home Secretary for mercy.

Through all of her tribulations, Bathsheba came to rely more and more on her oldest and dearest friend, Gabriel Oak. But one day, he gives notice that he's resigning from her employ.

When she presses him for an explanation, Gabriel reluctantly admits that he's quitting to protect her good name, as people are gossiping that he wants to marry her.

Bathsheba finally realizes that he is the only one who ever truly cared about her - the only one who really loved her. When he summons the courage to ask for her hand again, she accepts without hesitation, and they marry quietly.

A huge hit with Victorian readers and critics, Far From the Madding Crowd would become an all-time classic novel, adapted for the stage, screen, radio, and television.

Thomas Hardy would write more classic novels, including Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). He died in 1928 at the age of 87.

Quote Of The Day

"The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." - Thomas Hardy

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Thomas Hardy's classic novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. Enjoy!