Displaying articles for: November 2010

Shelley, Keats, "Adonais"

December 1: Percy Shelley's "Adonais," a cornerstone document for those interested in the narrative of Romanticism, was published on this day in 1821. Keats had died at age twenty-five earlier that year; in borrowing the Adonis myth to elegize him, Shelley helped to immortalize the idea of the 'Tortured Romantic,' he who has one eye upwards on the pursuit of Beauty and Truth, and one downwards on all that is in pursuit of him.

Read more...

Marking Mark Twain

November 30: Mark Twain was born on this day in 1835, and on this day in 1905, his seventieth birthday, 175 gathered at Delmonico's in New York to HEAR WHY HE LIVED SO LONG (the headline in the New York Times report of the occasion). The secret, Twain said, was not just scotch and cigars, but morals: "Morals are an acquirement—like music, like a foreign language, like piety, poker, paralysis—no man is born with them. I wasn't myself, I started poor. I hadn't a single moral…."

Read more...

Bronson & Louisa May Alcott

November 29: Bronson Alcott was born on this day in 1799, and Louisa May Alcott was born on this day in 1832. Given the shared birthday and a nearly shared death day (his on March 4, 1888, hers two days later), the father-daughter relationship is much explored in the biographies, a common view being that Louisa May's writing was partly an escape from, and then a practical solution to, her father's high-principled but naive projects.

Read more...

The Art of Agee

November 27: James Agee was born on this day in 1909. In his introduction to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee asks his readers not to give the book the ultimate, middlebrow death-kiss: "In God's name, don't think of it as Art." He then offers a simple test by which we can determine whether a work has lost its "fury" and "soul" through cultural "castration."

Read more...

Dodgson's Alice

November 26: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland made its first appearance on this day in 1864, in the form of a handmade, author-illustrated book given by Charles Dodgson to twelve-year-old Alice Liddell as a Christmas present. Dodgson's biographers continue to debate his relationship with the young girls who posed for his portraits, one recent book claiming that he was more interested in Mrs. Liddell than her daughter.

Read more...

EAR & Mr. Flood

November 25: Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Mr. Flood's Party" was published for Thanksgiving Day, 1920 by the weekly magazine, The Nation. It is one of his most anthologized and highly-praised poems, categorized by Robinson himself near the end of his career as probably the best thing he'd written. His biographers note that Robinson himself shared some of Eban Flood's struggles with alcohol and loneliness.

Read more...

The Oulipians

November 24: The French experimental writing group "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" was founded on this day in 1960. The name translates as "Workshop of Potential Literature," but the group is known internationally as OuLiPo, if only to reflect its enthusiasm for the lipogram—writing constrained by the disallowance of a letter. One of the most well-known examples is a 100,000-word novel by Georges Perec which is not only lipogrammatic but a playful whodunit: Anton Vowl has inexplicably vanished, taking "e" along with him….

Read more...

Arthur Miller's Debut

November 23: The Man Who Had All the Luck, Arthur Miller's first Broadway play, opened on this day in 1944. It closed after four performances and, as remembered in Miller's memoir Timebends, not a minute too soon: "Standing at the back of the house during the single performance I could bear to watch, I could blame nobody. All I knew was that the whole thing was a well-meant botch, like music played on the wrong instruments in a false scale. I would never write another play, that was sure."

Read more...

GBS on the ABCs

November 22: On this day in 1962, George Bernard Shaw's version of Androcles and the Lion was published, showcasing the "fonetic alfabet" for which he had argued over his last decades.  James Essinger concludes, in his recent book Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling, that Shaw and all "those would-be reformers who have suggested replacing English letters with a new alphabet seem to me, frankly, completely bananas."

Read more...

Hellman, Hammett & The Children's Hour

November 20: On this day in 1934, Lillian Hellman's first play, The Children's Hour, opened on Broadway. It was an enormous success, running for twenty-one months and beginning the string of hits—The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, Toys in the Attic—that made Hellman one of the most popular playwrights in mid-century American theater. It was Dashiell Hammett, Hellman's lifetime friend and sometime-partner, who suggested the Children's Hour topic, and with whom Hellman subsequently became a target of McCarthy and the HUAC investigations.

Read more...

Lieutenant Fitzgerald

November 19: F. Scott Fitzgerald's political-military satire The Vegetable, his only professional play, got its only performance in his lifetime on this day in 1923—a tryout in Atlantic City at which no producer expressed interest. By all accounts, Fitzgerald's own year-long military career, which began in Fort Leavenworth on this day in 1917, was just as undistinguished.

Read more...

Twain, Smiley, Frogs

November 18: On this day in 1865 Mark Twain published "Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog" in the New York Saturday Press. The story was immediately popular nationally and then internationally, establishing Twain's yarn-spinner persona and giving him the centerpiece for his first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches.

Read more...

Praising Peake

November 17: Mervyn Peake died on this day in 1968, aged fifty-seven. Peake's career as a writer and artist was prolific, varied and, during his lifetime at least, too eccentric for mainstream popularity. The year before his death, one reviewer who had praised his most recent book of poetry was accused by a prominent London daily of having made the author up; in 2008, the London Times named Peake on its list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945."

Read more...

Making Up for Lost Time

November 16: Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, was self-published on this day in 1913. Among the publishers who had rejected the novel was André Gide, who just several months later wrote Proust to say that he was now "unable to put your book down," and that his rejection would surely be "one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life." By the time of Proust's death a decade later he was already approaching cult status.

Read more...

Boswell in London

November 15: On this day in 1762 James Boswell left Edinburgh for London, beginning the eight-and-a-half-month stay that would be recorded in his London Journal. When this and most of Boswell's other journals—some 8,000 pages of manuscript—were discovered in the 1920s and 30s, they earned him a reputation as one of the great British diarists, to go with his longstanding reputation as one of the great biographers for The Life of Samuel Johnson.

Read more...

Growing Up RLS

November 13: Robert Louis Stevenson was born on this day in 1850. Chronic poor health dominated Stevenson's childhood, eventually inspiring a taste for adventure in his writing and his lifestyle. But sea-travel was also in the family blood: Stevenson's father was a fourth-generation lighthouse designer, and when well enough young RLS would tour the Scottish islands with him.

Read more...

Gaskell, Dickens & Austen

November 12: Elizabeth Gaskell died on this day in 1865. Gaskell's wide popularity in Victorian England was partly due to her association with Charles Dickens, the two of them committed to "the raising up of those that are down, and the general improvement of our social condition." The other writer most often linked to Gaskell is Jane Austen, the two of them sharing a talent for the "English Provincial novel."

Read more...

Baldwin's Mountain

November 11: On this day in 1948 twenty-five-year-old James Baldwin left the U.S. on a one-way plane ticket to Paris. The aim of the move was partly to enjoy being part of "The New Lost Generation," as one of Baldwin's essays would later describe those expat years. But the primary goal was to become a writer, the result being Go Tell It on the Mountain, the autobiographical novel that "I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else."

Read more...

Saro-Wiwa & Niger Oil

November 10: The writer-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian government on this day in 1995, a punishment regarded by most as a political rather than a judicial act. Saro-Wiwa and eight others had been too outspoken in their criticism of those who were developing and polluting the oil-rich Niger Delta, and had accused too many—federal politicians, tribal chiefs, Shell oil—of having their fingers in the "lootocracy" pie.

Read more...

Defending The Well of Loneliness

November 9: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, regarded as a classic of lesbian literature, went on trial in England on this day in 1928. Among those eminent writers who came to the novel's defense was Virginia Woolf, though motivated by principle rather than art: "The dullness of the book is such that any indecency may lurk there—one simply can't keep one's eyes on the page."

Read more...

Looking for Sister Carrie

November 8: Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie was published on this day in 1900, under conditions that became famous and controversial. Believing that the novel's sexual material would make it too risky for prospective publishers, Dreiser felt forced to cut some 40,000 words and made many plot changes; Doubleday, Page and Company did agree to publish, then got cold feet and effectively suppressed the book by refusing to advertise it. Only 456 copies were sold.

Read more...

Frost in the Swamp

November 6: On this day in 1894 twenty-year-old Robert Frost departed for the Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina border. He was poor, jobless, unpublished, expelled from Dartmouth College and, pretty much for all of the above reasons, recently spurned by his high school sweetheart and chosen mate, Elinor White. Traveling south by train and steamer, he was soon at the Swamp, and he embarked upon an unclear ten-mile walk into its soggy heart of darkness.

Read more...

Tarbell & Standard Oil

November 5: Ida Tarbell was born on this day in 1857. Tarbell disliked her reputation as a muckraker, regarding that term as a disservice to her painstaking research. Her History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), the book which established her fame, builds a dispassionate, documentary case against Standard Oil's monopolistic practices, though it clearly sympathizes with the unions, the sincere politicians, and the small oil producers who experienced "the hush of defeat, of cowardice, of hopelessness."

Read more...

James's Portrait of a Lady

November 4: Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady was published on this day in 1881. Many commentators regard the novel as the best of his early works, Isabel Archer one of his most engaging heroines. In his preface to the 1908 New York edition, James discusses one passage from the novel at length, because it is "obviously the best thing in the book" and "a supreme illustration of the general plan" by which he hoped to achieve his distinctive style of "psychological realism."

Read more...

Walt Whitman & Mrs. Gilchrist

November 3: On this day in 1871, Walt Whitman wrote to the British essayist Mrs. Anne Gilchrist to delicately decline her offer of marriage. Gilchrist was a forty-three-year-old widow, author of "An Englishwoman's Defense of Walt Whitman." Her ardent reading of Leaves of Grass imagined its author as "the voice of my mate"; her letters to Whitman imagined that voice saying, "My Mate. The one I so much want. Bride, Wife…."

Read more...

The Last of GBS

November 2: On this day in 1950 George Bernard Shaw died, aged ninety-four, venerated on all sides, and unwilling to go quietly: "Restful!!! Restful, with the telephone and the door bell ringing all day! With the postmen staggering under bushels of letters and telegrams! With the lane blocked by cameramen, televisors, photographers, newsreelers, interviewers, all refusing to take No for an answer. And I with a hard day's work to finish in time for the village post."

Read more...

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).