Displaying articles for: February 2010

Young Robert Lowell

March 1: Robert Lowell was born on this day in 1917. The people and places of Lowell's historic and distinguished clan are featured in a number of his poems and prose pieces. The memoir "91 Revere Street" recalls the Lowell house in Boston's prestigious Beacon Hill district. Though "barely perched on the outer rim of the hub of decency" as far as his mother was concerned, the neighborhood was all too gentlemanly for young Robert. Read more...

At First Sight

February 26: On this day in 1956 Sylvia Plath described in her journal her first meeting with Ted Hughes: “Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes….” Read more...

Sinclair’s Jungle

February 25: On this day in 1905 the first installment of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle appeared. Before the year was out, the Pure Food and Drugs Act, and the Meat Inspection Act were in force across the country, and Sinclair was on his way to a series of investigative novels which “put to the American public the fundamental questions raised by capitalism in such a way that they could not escape them” (Edmund Wilson). Read more...

Bowdler & the Bard

February 24: Thomas Bowdler died on this day in 1825. Though not the patron saint of censorship — that would be St. Anastasia, who resisted her Roman persecutors so vociferously that they cut out her tongue — Bowdler has a secure, if scorned, place in literary history for his “castrated” Shakespearean plays, which aimed to cut “everything that can raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.” Read more...

"The Incarnation of Humanism"

February 23: The bodies of expatriate Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his wife were discovered on this day in 1942, the two having committing double suicide in Brazil. Zweig’s work was popular during the pre-war decades, but being Jewish, a man of letters, a pacifist, a humanist and an internationalist, he had come to represent all that Hitler wished to destroy, and his death made international headlines. Read more...

Punching Papa

February 22: On this day in 1903 the Canadian novelist and short story writer, Morley Callaghan was born. Callaghan may be “the most unjustly neglected writer in the English language” (Edmund Wilson), but That Summer in Paris, his Lost Generation memoir, is highly regarded, if only for revealing “the charm, the mystery, and the curious perversity of Hemingway's personality” (Norman Mailer). Read more...

Marinetti & Futurism

February 20: On this day in 1909 the Italian poet F. T. Marinetti published "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism," launching the movement which spread across Europe, influencing modern art, literature, and a variety of cultural forms. The Manifesto celebrated the car, the rush of change, and a new aesthetic: "We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed." Read more...

Lowry's Volcano

February 19: On this day in 1947 Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano was published. The novel had been a difficult decade in the making, but the early reviews praised it highly -- comparable to Thomas Wolfe, better than Hemingway, second only to Joyce -- and it remains near the top of most 'books of the century' lists. Thirty-seven-year-old Lowry hoped that it might be the first book in a seven-novel "drunken Divine Comedy," but the idea, and the author himself, did not get much past the drunkenness stage. Read more...

"The Wilderness Idea"

February 18: The American writer, teacher, and conservationist Wallace Stegner was born on this day in 1909. Stegner's three dozen books include two award-winning novels -- Angle of Repose (1972 Pulitzer) and The Spectator Bird (1977 National Book Award) -- but he may be more remembered for his ten-page "Wilderness Letter," written in 1960 and now "the conscience of the conservation movement." Read more...

Potok & Agnon

February 17: Chaim Potok, most famous for The Chosen, -- a 1967 bestseller, then a popular movie and musical -- was born on this day in 1929. Potok said that one of the major literary influences on his writing was the Hebrew novelist and short story writer S. Y. Agnon, who died on this day in 1970. Read more...

Marking Mardi Gras

February 16: Today is Mardi Gras, a party not always celebrated in literature. Both Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, each of them once resident in New Orleans, hated what they saw as organized and desperate gaiety. But a twenty-three-year-old Samuel Clemens loved every minute, mask, and madame of it, declaring that "an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans." Read more...

The Death of Socrates

February 15: Socrates was sentenced to death on this day in 399 BC, his crime that of irreverence towards the Greek gods. Many commentators interpret the irreverence conviction more politically, seeing it as a reflection of the degree to which Socrates had become an irritant to the power elite and, given the popularity of his philosophical skepticism among the young, even a social threat. Over the years, the attack upon him had been taken up on many sides. Read more...

Vonnegut's Dresden

February 13: On the evening of this day in 1945, British and U.S. air forces began their 48-hour bombing of Dresden, Germany. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is the most famous fictional record of what resulted -- a firestorm that destroyed 85% of the "Florence by the Elbe" and killed upwards of 135,000 people, most of them civilians and prisoners-of-war. Read more...

Sandburg's Lincoln

February 12: On this day in 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born, and on this day in 1926 Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, the first installment of his six-volume biography, was published. Sandburg researched, wrote and talked about Lincoln his entire life, and he clearly felt not only admiration but affinity: "…don't he know all us strugglers and wasn't he a kind of a tough struggler all his life right up to the finish?" Read more...

Siddal Among the Pre-Raphaelites

February 11: On this day in 1862 Elizabeth Siddal died at the age of thirty-two, almost certainly a suicide. Husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti discovered her body after returning home from an evening out; several days later, he was stirred by grief and guilt to the last-minute gesture of placing the only manuscript copies of many of his poems in his wife's coffin; seven years later, in one of the most notorious second-thoughts of love and literature, Rossetti retrieved and published the poems. Read more...

Knowing Mr. Lear

February 10: On this day in 1846, Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense was published. Lear was the first in a golden half-century of English nonsensicality that would include Lewis Carroll and Hilaire Belloc. His contemporaries, his letters and his biographers all portray him less as the avuncular eccentric than as a lonely bachelor plagued by epilepsy, asthma, melancholia and a tangle of maladjustments. Read more...

The Hemingway Puzzle

February 9: On this day in 1926 Ernest Hemingway ended his contract with his first publisher, Boni & Liveright; this enabled him to sign with Scribners a week later, and so complete the double-deal he had orchestrated by means of his satiric novella, The Torrents of Spring. While the novella is little-read now, scholars regard it and the double-dealing as an early peek into the puzzle of Hemingway's personality. Read more...

Evermore "Nevermore"

February 8: Twenty-two-year-old Edgar Allan Poe was court-martialed out of West Point on this day in 1831. Although it cannot compete for drama, Poe's military career is consistent with and indicative of his later misadventures. As such, it occasioned the death's door despair and the "nevermore" refrain that would, in various applications -- loving, drinking, borrowing, surviving -- be repeated throughout his life. Read more...

The Debut of Philip Marlowe

February 6: On this day in 1939 Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep was published. Chandler was fifty-one, an ex-oil company executive who had taken up writing at the age of forty-five, after being fired for alcohol-inspired absenteeism. This was his first novel, the first of seven featuring the much-copied and ever-inimitable Philip Marlowe, a tough guy who "went to college once and can still speak English if there's any demand for it." Read more...

Dinesen, McCullers & Monroe

February 5: On this day in 1959, Carson McCullers hosted a small luncheon party in order that Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) could meet Marilyn Monroe. By all accounts, the three women hit it off wonderfully -- though Arthur Miller says the legend of them dancing together on the marble-topped dinner table is an exaggeration. Read more...

"Fastestmanalive"

February 4: Neal Cassady died on this day in 1968, four days before his forty-second birthday. The direct cause seems to have been a drug overdose, but the death of "Fastestmanalive" on the railway tracks outside the Mexican mountain town of San Miguel de Allende is buried in obscurity and legend. Read more...

The Family Stein

February 3: Gertrude Stein was born on this day in 1874. Although as targeted in her homeland as elsewhere, Stein seemed proud to be an American, though not just any American: "In the month of February were born Washington, Lincoln and I...." A few sentences later in The Geographical History of America she gives us the more famous and ambivalent Steinism, "In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. This is what makes America what it is."

Read more...

Bloomsday to Doomsday

February 2: On this day in 1922, James Joyce's fortieth birthday, Ulysses was first published. Joyce was very superstitious, and very apprehensive of a hostile reception for the novel that had been seven years in writing and sixteen years in gestation. Just as he had chosen his first date with Nora Barnacle as the day for the story, he chose the birthday publication for luck. Read more...

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…

advertisement
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.