Displaying articles for: December 2011

The East India Company

December 31: The East India Company was created by royal charter on this day in 1600; over the next 250 years the company became, as the title of Nick Robins's recent study puts it, The Corporation that Changed the World.

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Becky in Vienna

December 30: William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair began serialization on this day in 1847. Thackeray makes clear that his Becky Sharp is meant to represent the generation of climbers and court gazers who danced through Regency England, and would have felt at home in David King's recent Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna.

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The Politics of Wounded Knee

December 29: The massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, took place on this day in 1890. In the recent Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre, Heather Cox Richardson connects the tragedy to newspapers looking for reader-pleasing stories, to westerners who kept helping themselves from the Indian Agency's pork barrel, and most of all to the machinery of federal party politics.

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The Solzhenitsyn Gulag

December 28: The first volume of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris on this day in 1973. With his book, Solzhenitsyn said that he had "fulfilled my duty to those who perished." In this group were members of his own family, two uncles who, a generation earlier, had been sent to the gulag for being "kulaks" -- peasant-farmers who resisted collectivization.

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Barrie & the Lost Boys

December 27: J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan opened on this day in 1904. Most biographies of Barrie explore the connections between his most famous play and his personal life, most notably his relationship to the five sons of his friends Arthur and Sylvia Davies -- the models for the "Lost Boys" of his signature work.

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Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

December 26: Mary Darby Robinson died on this day in 1800. After a half century of disinterest from biographers and two centuries of neglect from literary scholars, there has been an explosion of interest in Robinson lately, from all angles. Rightly so: even setting aside the eight novels and dozen collections of poetry (written before she died in her early forties), it is hard to imagine a life so connected, various, and cram-full.

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Thurber & Hemingway

December 24: James Thurber's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas, in the Ernest Hemingway Manner" was first published in The New Yorker on this day in 1927. Although Hemingway was still a new name, his style was already a target. Thurber's parody appears in Christmas at the New Yorker (2004), an anthology that includes many of the magazine's most famous writers over eighty years, as well as seasonal cartoons and art.

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Revising van Gogh

December 23: Vincent van Gogh sliced off the lower portion of his right ear on this day in 1888 -- or perhaps Gauguin did it, when defending himself from one of van Gogh's outbursts. Recent books on van Gogh have proposed not only this theory but the idea that the painter did not fatally shoot himself two and a half years later.

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Eliot's Shaky Pedestal

December 22: On this day in 1880, George Eliot died, aged sixty-one. Except for one last, difficult series of events, Eliot's final decade was a literary and social triumph, one that she regarded as a mixed blessing. The last difficulty came just seven months before her death when, still at the height of popularity, she decided to marry a man twenty years younger.

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Graduate Class

December 21: On this day in 1967, the movie The Graduate premiered in New York. If not quite what Charles Webb, author of the 1963 novel, had in mind, and if not still ranking as "the biggest success in the history of the movies," the film made careers, fortunes and hit songs and temporarily turned a generation away from careers in plastics.

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A Square in Flatland

December 20: Edwin Abbott was born on this day in 1838. A theologian, a schoolmaster, and the author of dozens of books, Abbott's fame today is based on Flatland, a "mathematical satire" that is surely a candidate for the most offbeat contribution to the genre of fantasy literature.

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Franklin's Poor Richard

December 19: Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack was first issued on this day in 1732, becoming over the next quarter century one of the most popular and lucrative publications in the colonies. Good thing, said Poor Richard in his first preface to the reader: "The plain Truth of the Matter is, I am excessive poor, and my Wife, good Woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud…."

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Praising Penelope

December 17: Biographer and novelist Penelope Fitzgerald was born on this day in 1916. Fitzgerald didn't begin her twenty-year writing career until age fifty-eight, but she ranks twenty-third on the London Times 2008 list of "Britain's Fifty Greatest Writers Since WWII," and her peers have described her as "the jam-making grandmother" who became the best novelist of her generation.

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Reading the Tea Leaves

December 16: The Boston Tea Party occurred on this day in 1773, brought to a boil by a handbill posted all over Boston several weeks earlier: "Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! -- That worst of plagues, the detested tea…is now arrived in the harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face."

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Mad Madge Cavendish

December 15: Margaret "Mad Madge" Cavendish, "the first woman to live by her pen," died on this day in 1673, leaving one of the oddest literary legacies -- the first science fiction written by a woman and an armful of publications on gender injustice, good manners, animal protection, etc.: "On and on, from subject to subject she flies," wrote Virginia Woolf, "never stopping to correct…talking aloud to herself of all those matters that filled her brain."

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Going South

December 14: Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team arrived at the South Pole a hundred years ago today. After several days of taking measurements, the five men headed north and home -- not crossing paths with Robert Scott and the rival British team, still heading southward, to disappointment and disaster.

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Tale of Two Fannys

December 13: The Scottish freethinker, feminist, and social reformer Fanny Wright died on this day in 1852. In Edmund White's 2003 novel, Fanny, Wright's friend Fanny Trollope pens Wright's first biography and hears her deliver her eventual epitaph: "I have wedded the cause of human improvement, staked on it my fortune, my reputation and my life."

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Texting Queen Vic

December 12: Guglielmo Marconi successfully transmitted the first radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean a hundred years ago today. As told in Gavin Weightman's Signor Marconi's Magic Box (2003), Queen Victoria was a recipient of some of Marconi's first-ever text messages: "Very anxious to have cricket match between Crescent and Royal Yachts Officers. Please ask the Queen…."

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A Gift for Story

December 10: O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" was first published on this day in 1905. The author's seasonal stories, tenement settings, and sentimental themes have earned comparisons to Dickens, his style praised as the place where "American journalism and the Victorian tradition meet." Though some biographical details are unreliable, O. Henry's life has its own Dickensian elements.

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A Stroll with Seume

December 9: The German writer-scholar-adventurer Johann Gottfried Seume left Saxony for Sicily on this day in 1801, the nine-month hike described in Strolling to Syracuse (1803), one of the earliest and most famous books on the joys of walking. Seume’s interest in 4,000 miles worth of fresh air is partly explained by his having been press-ganged into the Hessian army, and sardined aboard a troop ship headed for America.

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Thurber & Rakoff

December 8: James Thurber was born on a "night of wild portent and high wind in the year 1894, at 147 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio." Thurber viewed the homestead and the portents as fleeting, Mitty-ish things, but his legacy lives on through Thurber House and the Thurber Prize for American Humor, won this year by David Rakoff's Half Empty.

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Cather's Nebraska

December 7: Willa Cather was born on this day in 1873. Biographer Hermione Lee notes Cather's modernity, her "ruthless drive towards independence, her ambitiousness, her…adventurousness"; Lee also remarks upon Cather's deep ties to her home state, Nebraska, and its pioneer values.

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Sylvia Townsend Warner

December 6: The British poet-novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner was born on this day in 1893. Warner has made a comeback in the last decade, with the NYRB Classics series describing her as "one of the indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature" and scholars placing her in the forefront of an "alternative modernist tradition" of subversive "crosswriting."

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Didion & Trillin

December 5: Joan Didion was born on this day in 1934, and Calvin Trillin was born on this day in 1935. In addition to being friends, the two writers are linked by their acclaimed memoirs, published just a few months apart, about the deaths of their spouses. More recently, Didion has continued to explore loss, while Trillin has returned to his sardonic form.

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Becoming Conrad

December 3: Joseph Conrad (Konrad Korzeniowski) was born on this day in 1857, to Polish parents living under Russian rule in Berdichev, now a city in Ukraine. Conrad’s father was a militant and eventually exiled Polish nationalist; orphaned at age eleven, Conrad chose traveling the world to fighting for or remaining in his homeland -- in all, two decades of sea travel and attendant adventures.

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The Enron Chronicles

December 2: Enron Corporation filed for bankruptcy ten years ago today. Books attempting to explain the sudden and spectacular collapse of the Houston-based energy company must attempt to chronicle not only the specific crooks but their corporate culture -- executives addicted to big-wheeling and risky dealing, to playing hanky-panky with more than the books, to being systematically overpaid….

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

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
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).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.