Displaying articles for: February 2012

Richard Wilbur, 91

March 1: Richard Wilbur turns ninety-one today. Wilbur is a two-time Pulitzer winner, a respected translator, and a Poet Laureate with a range that includes children's books. Though his latest collection, Anterooms, contains mostly adult (and sometimes dark) poems, "Some Words Inside Words" is for wordsmiths of all ages: "In every ice cube there's a cub…."

Read more...

Happy Leap Day!

February 29: The plot of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance turns upon the Leap Year baby's built-in, young-old paradox: "A paradox? / A paradox, / That most ingenious paradox! / We've quips and quibbles heard in flocks, / But none to beat that paradox!…"

Read more...

The Family James

February 28: Henry James died on this day in 1916. In his correspondence over his last decade, James refers often to his declining health as "the black devils of Nervousness, direst, damnedest demons, that ride me so cruelly and that I have perpetually to reckon with." In House of Wits (2008), his composite biography of the James family, Paul Fisher adds the further blow of brother William's death, which compounded Henry's "profound, essential solitude, with all its deep and tangled roots."

Read more...

Multicultural Momaday

February 27: N. Scott Momaday was born on this day in 1934. Many of the poems included in Momaday's most recent collection, Again the Far Morning, step from and imagine a return to the ancestral past. So too does Momaday's Rainy Mountain Foundation and Buffalo Trust, which attempts to redress the "theft of the sacred" from Native life.

Read more...

Essex, Elizabeth, Shakespeare

February 25: Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was beheaded for treason on this day in 1601. Essex's dramatic life, particularly his relationship to Queen Elizabeth I, has been told by book, opera, play, movie and minseries; perhaps fittingly, his death was theatrical in all ways.

Read more...

Drury Lane, Sheridan Go Out

February 24: On this day in 1809 London's Drury Lane Theatre burned down; when those watching the spectacle from a nearby pub with theater owner-parliamentarian Richard Brinsley Sheridan remarked on his composure, he famously responded, "A man may surely take a glass of wine by his own fireside."

Read more...

Posthumous Keats

February 23: John Keats died in Rome on this day in 1821. In his last letter, three months before his death, Keats shared premonitions of his famous "writ in water" epitaph: "I have an habitual feeling of my real life having [passed], and that I am leading a posthumous existence."

Read more...

Glimpsing Gorey

February 22: Edward Gorey was born on this day in 1925. Although glimpses of the odd and enigmatic Gorey are available in several recent books, those looking for the full portrait must heed his evasions and forewarnings: "There is a strong streak in me that wishes not to exist and really does not believe that I do."

Read more...

Gogol, Sholokhov, Communism

February 21: Nikolai Gogol died on this day in 1852. Based on his satiric novel Dead Souls and other works, Gogol became the father of Russian literature; Nobel winner Mikhail Sholokhov, who died on this day in 1984, urged his generation of writers to escape being "dead souls" by writing literature that glorified "the all-conquering ideas of Communism, the greatest hope of mankind."

Read more...

"Fan"-ing the Flames

February 20: Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan opened on this day in 1892. This was the first of Wilde's plays to find popular and commercial success; it also set in motion the persecution and trial that would dominate the last years of his life.

Read more...

Rand's America

February 18: Ayn Rand (then Alisa Rosenbaum) arrived in the United States from Russia on this day in 1926. Rand left vowing to spread the word about communism; two of the recent studies of her, Ayn Rand and the World She Made and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, suggest that she was successful in getting her message out.

Read more...

Agnon, Israel

February 17: The Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon, winner of the 1966 Nobel Prize, died on this day in 1970. Many regard Agnon's Only Yesterday (1945) as his best novel, and essential reading for those who wish to understand the complexities of modern Israel. It begins as an exploration of the 1907-13 wave of Jewish emigration to Palestine; it ends with a mad, talking dog wandering the Arab-Jewish-Christian neighborhoods as a pariah.

Read more...

The Margins of Memory

February 16: Richard Ford was born on this day in 1944. Ford's novels and stories feature a gallery of outside-looking-in heroes, as suggested by an encompassing comment in his 1981 novel The Ultimate Good Luck: "Everyone is marginal." Based on his autobiographical fragment "My Mother, In Memory" (included in the 2004 collection Vintage Ford), Ford certainly places himself in the "everyone" category.

Read more...

Hellman, Foxes

February 15: Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes opened on this day in 1939. The play is often described as Hellman's best, and her biographers frequently use it as a springboard for broader analyses of her life, as reflected in Deborah Martinson's recent Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels. Hellman's title is from the Bible: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." Looking at the author and her circle, the biographers find hardly a tender grape in the bunch.

Read more...

A Valentine's Assortment

February 14: The modern concept of Valentine's Day entered the historical record with Chaucer's "Parliament of Fowls," written to honor the marriage of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. There are also lovebirds in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and the musical Grease, both of which opened on this day; in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, published on this day, not so much….

Read more...

MacDiarmid, Scotland

February 13: Hugh MacDiarmid published A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle on this day in 1926. The poem is regarded as his best, and a cornerstone of the twentieth-century Scottish literary renaissance; and MacDiarmid is regarded as an inspiration for the Scottish independence movement -- as is the infamous Glencoe Massacre, which occurred on this day in 1692.

Read more...

Mandela's Conversations

February 11: Nelson Mandela was released from prison on this day in 1990. The recent anthology Conversations with Myself samples from decades of archived material in an attempt to "give readers access to the Nelson Mandela behind the public figure." "Here is not the icon or saint elevated far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals," says the introduction. "Here he is like you and me." It would be nice to think so.

Read more...

The Dreadnought Hoax

February 10: The Dreadnought Hoax, a practical joke at the British Navy's expense, occurred on this day in 1910. Among the young Bloomsbury conspirators was Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) and, though she played only a minor Abyssinian potentate, she afterward expressed pride in her contribution: "I am glad to think that I too have been of help to my country."

Read more...

Walker, Womanism

February 9: Alice Walker was born on this day in 1944. Thirty years after her Pulitzer winner The Color Purple, Walker continues to publish in many genres. Her most recent book is The Chicken Chronicles, a memoir-meditation that continues to reflect the "womanist" spirit first articulated in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (1983), her first nonfiction collection.

Read more...

Burton's Rhapsody of Rags

February 8: Robert Burton was born on this day in 1577. Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) was an immediate bestseller and is now regarded as one of the most indispensable, enjoyable, and uncategorizable of Renaissance texts, described by the author as "a rhapsody of rags gathered from several dunghills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out."

Read more...

Birth of Boz

February 7: Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago today, and his Sketches by Boz was published on this day in 1836. This first book is a collection of magazine articles reassembled into two categories, one more documentary and the other more fictional. Taken together, they offer an early showcase of the social concerns and comedic talents that would make Dickens famous.

Read more...

Proust's Pistols

February 6: Marcel Proust fought a duel on this day in 1897 -- pistols at twenty-five paces, his opponent a gossip journalist who had mocked his habits and homosexuality, describing him as "one of those pretty little society boys who've managed to get themselves pregnant with literature."

Read more...

Taking Tania

February 4: Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army on this day in 1974, so beginning one of the strangest tales of the American counterculture. Though Hearst herself has faded from view, glimpsed only in the odd movie or newspaper account, the story of her transformation to "Tania" the revolutionary, and then back again, continues to attract interest and interpretation.

Read more...

Runaway Rickshaw

February 3: The Chinese novelist and playwright Lao She was born on this day in 1899. Lao She is regarded as one of the most important twentieth-century Chinese writers and was one of the first to gain popular fame in America, where his novel Rickshaw Boy (1936) was a bestseller. The story presents the author's belief that China needed a social conscience and collective action, not the runaway rickshaw of a free-market economy.

Read more...

Mark & Livy

February 2: Mark Twain married Olivia Langdon on this day in 1870. When the two began courting, Livy was a twenty-three-year-old semi-invalid with waning hope of finding full health or a suitable husband. Twain was ten years older and a rising star, known as the author of Innocents Abroad and as the lecture hall's "Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope." When he tried to move the winning, wild-man style into the Langdons' drawing room, there were mixed results.

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.