Displaying articles for: December 2010

Tristram Shandy at 250

January 1: The first installment of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy was published 250 years ago today. Some of the novel's first critics dismissed it—"Nothing odd will do long," Samuel Johnson sniffed—but the book was an immediate hit, and it is now seen as patriarch of the postmodern for its structural inventions and oddities—misplaced chapters, sentences that begin in one volume and finish in the next, doodles, and empty black pages.

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Ringing Out, Ringing In

December 31: Among the poems commemorating this day, or the moment of this day's passing, is Tennyson's In Memoriam: "Ring out the want, the care, the sin, / The faithless coldness of the times: / Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes, / But ring the fuller minstrel in."

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Rudyard & Jack Kipling

December 30: Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on this day in 1856. Although once one of England's most popular writers, by the time of his death in 1936 Kipling was not merely forgotten but scorned as a political dinosaur and a jingoist tale-teller. More recent critics say that the later Kipling was a more complex man and writer, and some trace the complexity to the death of Kipling's only son, Jack, on his first day of combat in WWI.

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Remembering Wounded Knee

December 29: The massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota was on this day in 1890, the U. S. 7th Calvary gunning down hundreds of unarmed Lakota Indian warriors and their families. The last paragraph of Dee Brown’s influential, <i>Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee</i> notes that the wounded survivors were taken to an Episcopal church, its rafters hung with Christmas decorations, the pulpit draped in a PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN banner.

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In Dreiser's Footsteps

December 28: Theodore Dreiser died on this day in 1945. H. L. Mencken eulogized Dreiser as one who left American writing changed "almost as much as biology before and after Darwin." Sherwood Anderson allowed that it was "easy to pick some of his books to pieces," but hard not to follow him: "The feet of Theodore are making a path, the heavy brutal feet. They are tramping through the wilderness of lies, making a path…."

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Synge at the Abbey

December 27: On this day in 1904 Dublin's Abbey Theatre opened, premiering one-act plays by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, both of them Abby founders.  The Abbey quickly rose to international fame for both the quality of its productions and the controversies which often surrounded them. Perhaps the most famous example of such clashes is that which consumed the 1907 premiere of The Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge, another of the Abbey’s founders.

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Dancing With Dickens

December 25: On this day in 1992 Monica Dickens died. In her introduction to a 1967 edition of A Christmas Carol, Monica writes that the book changed her great-grandfather's personality, "because he found that he believed in the moral as he gave it life." He believed in the festivities, too, and after publishing the Carol, Dickens broke into "such dinings, such dancings, such conjurings, such blind-man's-bluffings, such theatre-goings, such kissings-out of old years and kissings-in of new ones [as] never took place in these parts before…."

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Warbling Whitman

December 24: Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," eventually one of the most well-known poems in Leaves of Grass, was published on this day in 1859 in a New York newspaper, offered as a seasonal gift in song: "Our readers may, if they choose, consider as our Christmas or New Year's present to them, the curious warble, by Walt Whitman…. [T]he purport of this wild and plaintive song, well-enveloped, and eluding definition, is positive and unquestionable, like the effect of music."

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Maclean in the Classroom

December 23: Norman Maclean was born on this day in 1902. Maclean's only book of fiction, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, was written and published when Maclean was seventy-four, after he had retired from teaching. In his forty-five years in the English Department at the University of Chicago, Maclean won a prestigious Quantrell Award for undergraduate teaching three times, and learned to define a great teacher as "a tough guy who cares deeply about something that is difficult to understand."

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Dostoevsky & the Czar

December 22: On this day in 1849 twenty-eight-year-old Fyodor Dostoevsky was, at the last moment, granted pardon from a mock-execution orchestrated by Czar Nicholas I. Dostoevsky had been arrested eight months earlier for belonging to an underground group of political revolutionaries. Most in the group expected to receive a few months exile; instead they fell victim to a macabre drama staged by the Czar as a way of instilling loyalty, gratitude, and fear in his wayward subjects.

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Fitzgerald as Pat Hobby

December 21: F. Scott Fitzgerald died in Los Angeles on this day in 1940. Over his last year or so, Fitzgerald published seventeen "Pat Hobby" stories in Esquire magazine which were later collected in book form in 1962. The stories feature a screenwriter who inhabits a circle of Hollywood hell not many rungs below their author's, his days spent adding a line of dialogue here, schmoozing his way to a drink or a dame there, and trying to avoid being booted even lower down the hack writer list.

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Lawrence, Chatterley, America

December 20: On this day in 1929 D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in the United States. This was neither the first nor last of a string of bannings dating from the novel's first publication the year before, but for Lawrence personally it may have been the most devastating. Lawrence saw the U.S. ban as the end of his hope for a return to his ranch in New Mexico, looking for a cure to the tuberculosis that would kill him ten weeks later.

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Six to Five Against

December 18: On this day in 1946 Damon Runyon's ashes were scattered over Broadway by his son, in a plane flown by Eddie Rickenbacker. Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Runyon was thirty when he arrived in New York to be a sportswriter, and to try out at Mindy's, the Stork Club, and any betting window available his crap-shoot worldview: "All of life is six to five against."

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Caldwell's South

December 17: Erskine Caldwell was born on this day in 1903 in rural Georgia. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Caldwell often accompanied his father as he spread his Social Gospel among the farmers and blue collar workers of the American South. Both Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre, Caldwell's two most famous novels, combine generational poverty and fundamentalist, if often bent, religion, though they made the bestseller lists based more on Caldwell's skill as a "master of rural ribaldry."

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Woolf on Austen

December 16: Jane Austen was born 235 years ago today. Among her teenaged writing is a short novel entitled Love and Freindship [sic], described by Virginia Woolf as "Spirited, easy, full of fun, verging with freedom upon sheer nonsense…. [B]ut what is this note which never merges in the rest, which sounds distinctly and penetratingly all through the volume? It is the sound of laughter. The girl of fifteen is laughing, in her corner, at the world."

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Edna O'Brien's Ireland

December 15: Edna O'Brien turns eighty today, and her first novel, The Country Girls turns fifty this year. For her style and her unrivalled insight into relationships—among contemporary writers, says the New York Times, she is "the major cardiologist of broken hearts"—O'Brien has won virtually every literary prize Ireland has to offer, but The Country Girls and other earlier books provoked outrage at home when they first appeared.

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Early Shirley Jackson

December 14: Shirley Jackson was born on this day in 1919. Jackson says that her first story was a murder-mystery written in such haste that she chose her murderer lottery-style, by putting the names of all her characters in a hat. After finishing off her victim as best she could, she looked about for an audience: "My mother was knitting, my father was reading a newspaper, and my brother was doing something—probably carving his initials in the coffee table…."

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Johnson, Great & Strange

December 13: On this day in 1784 Samuel Johnson died, aged seventy-five. The details of Johnson's last years have been told by James Boswell and any number of biographers, but his large personality seems to escape any one perspective. According to Harold Bloom, Johnson may be beyond reach in all ways: "There is no bad faith in or about Dr. Johnson, who was as good as he was great, yet also refreshingly, wildly strange to the highest degree."

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Twain & the Pilgrims

December 11: The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on this day in 1620. Among those who have borrowed the event for their art or agenda is Mark Twain: "I rise to protest. I have kept still for years, but really I think there is no sufficient justification for this sort of thing. What do you want to celebrate those people for?—those ancestors of yours of 1620—the Mayflower tribe, I mean. What do you want to celebrate them for?"

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Jarry & Ubu

December 10: On this day in 1896, Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi opened and closed in Paris, the play having caused a near-riot in the audience and then a tempest in the press. A slap at not just bourgeois values but the well-made play, the Ubu premiere is now regarded as a landmark moment in the history of modern theater, and Jarry is regarded as a legendary figure in the history of bohemianism.

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Sitwellism

December 9: Dame Edith Sitwell died on this day in 1964, and Sir Osbert Sitwell, her younger brother, was born earlier this week—December 6, 1892. Edith and Osbert published two-dozen books between them, and Sacheverell, the third and youngest of the famous siblings, published fifty more. Beyond Edith's Collected Poems, few are now in print, but the Sitwells' place in modern literary and cultural history is based as much on their role as patrons, and on their unusual personalities.

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The Thurber Prize

December 8: James Thurber was born on this day in 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. The birthplace has been demolished, but Thurber's other Columbus home is now a museum and writing center. This year's winner of the museum's annual Thurber Prize for American Humor is Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist, a lampoon of the best/worst in contemporary fiction.

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Crane & the Crosbys

December 7: On this day in 1929, Hart Crane hosted a party for Harry and Caresse Crosby attended by E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, and others in celebration of the publication of Crane's The Bridge by the Crosbys' Black Sun Press. Among the richest and most lost of the Lost Generation, Harry Crosby killed himself in a double suicide two-and-a-half days later.

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Trumpeting Trollope

December 6: On this day in 1882 Anthony Trollope died. Trollope wrote forty-seven novels, ten more than the other literary giants of his time—Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, the Brontës—combined. Virtually all of them are currently in print, bought in unrivalled quantities, says one biographer, "not by students, forced to do so, but by people who read them because they enjoy them."

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Woolrich Noir

December 4: On this day in 1903 the crime writer Cornell Woolrich was born. Over his three-decade career Woolrich wrote two dozen novels and over two hundred stories, many of them recently back in print. Most are so dark that he has been called "the Poe of the 20th century," and many of the movies made from his work—perhaps most well-known are Hitchcock's Rear Window and Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black—have earned him fame as the "Father of Film Noir."

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Crane & Conrad

December 3: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage first appeared in print in serialized form on this day in 1894. Also on this day in 1857, Joseph Conrad was born. Conrad was Crane's closest literary friend in England. The two men first met after Conrad had expressed admiration for Crane's Red Badge and Crane had admired Conrad's just-published Nigger of the Narcissus.

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Declining de Sade

December 2: On this day in 1814 the Marquis de Sade died at the age of seventy-four. The last days of de Sade's twenty-seven years of confinement were spent pretty much routinely, writing protest notes and contriving assignations with his latest and final inamorata, a seventeen-year-old laundress at the Charenton asylum. This journal entry hopes that the girl's vow to be only his is sincere, this one fears that she and her mother are just after the 3 francs per visit.

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Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.