Displaying articles for: June 2010

Sand & Chopin

July 1: On this day in 1804 George Sand (Aurore Dupin) was born. Sand's novels were as popular in nineteenth-century France as Charles Dickens's were in England, but for many now it is her life which attracts most attention—her cross-dressing, her cigars, her feminism, her bisexuality, her relationships with many leading figures in literary-artistic Paris, especially Chopin. Read more...

Mitchell, Fitzgerald, West

June 30: On this day in 1936 Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was published. Because the novel had been extensively promoted and chosen as the July selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, it was certain to sell, though few predicted the sustained, record-breaking numbers. This elevated the first-time author to such fame and power that F. Scott Fitzgerald, assigned to the movie script, said it was like working on "The Gospel According to Margaret." Read more...

"All this is true…"

June 29: On this day in 1613 flames destroyed the Globe playhouse, where Shakespeare was not only playwright but part-owner. The fire started during a performance of his Henry the Eighth when sparks from a cannon set off to announce the King's entrance in Act I ignited the thatched roof, destroying the building in an hour and, almost as quickly, inspiring some fresh satirical poetry. Read more...

Jeeves & Goebbels

June 28: On this day in 1941 P. G. Wodehouse made the first of his infamous "Berlin Broadcasts," the series of radio talks that the Nazis had coaxed from him. Wodehouse had aimed for humor, but with the Blitz just ended the idea that war might be funny or even "quite an agreeable experience" went over in England like a squadron of Luftwaffe bombers. Read more...

Ford & James

June 26: Ford Madox Ford died on this day in 1939. As founder and editor of both the English Review and the transatlantic review, and as "everybody's blessed Uncle and Headmaster" (D. H. Lawrence), Ford was a central figure in early twentieth-century British literature. Among his seventy-seven books are eight volumes of memoirs containing many "impressions" of the famous writers of the day. Read more...

Down and Out with Orwell

June 25: Eric Blair was born on this day in 1903, becoming "George Orwell" with the 1933 publication of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London. Seven books later, in his 1946 essay "Why I Write," Orwell gives this summary of his career objective: "What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art." Read more...

"But Yesterday a King!"

June 24: Napoleon crossed into Russia on this day in 1812, beginning the disastrous six-month invasion that became a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, and his own fortunes. Byron's "Ode to Napoleon," written just after the Emperor's 1814 surrender, describes one "but yesterday a King! / And arm'd with Kings to strive – / And now thou art a nameless thing…." Read more...

Steinbeck's Discontent

June 23: John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent was published on this day in 1961. Steinbeck enjoyed reading Shakespeare, and he approached the publication of his novel with the hope that it might very well make "glorious summer" of his various discontents. Some celebrated the result, Saul Bellow saying that Steinbeck had returned to Grapes of Wrath form: "Critics who said of him that he had seen his best days had better tie on their napkins and prepare to eat crow."

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Remembering Remarque

June 22: Erich Maria Remarque was born on this day in 1898. Although many of Remarque's fifteen novels were popular upon publication, none were as acclaimed or enduring as his 1929 international bestseller All Quiet on the Western Front. Remarque described his autobiographical novel as a memorial to "a generation that was destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells."

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Sartre & Sagan

June 21: Jean-Paul Sartre was born on this day in 1905, and Françoise Sagan was born on this day in 1935. Though some described Sagan as merely "a luxury hotel existentialist," her "Love Letter to Jean-Paul Sartre," published in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday, spoke for many who viewed Sartre as the intellectual-political hero of mid-century France. Read more...

At Villa Diodati

June 19: On this day in 1816, the Shelleys, Lord Byron, and entourage gathered at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva to tell the ghost stories that would trigger Frankenstein. This most legendary of storm-tossed evenings inspired more than Mary Shelley's story, and connects not only backward to John Milton but forward to the language of computer programming. Read more...

Orwell & Churchill

June 18: George Orwell's "As One Non-Combatant to Another" was published on this day in 1943. Orwell's poem arguing against pacifism quotes from Churchill's "finest hour" speech, delivered to Parliament and the nation on this day in 1940—the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and just days after Nazi troops had marched into Paris. Read more...

Perkins & Sons

June 17: Maxwell Perkins died on this day in 1947. His decades at Charles Scribner's Sons have been chronicled in a handful of letter collections, the title of The Sons of Maxwell Perkins (2004) coming from F. Scott Fitzgerald's letter of April 23, 1938: "What a time you've had with your sons, Max—Ernest gone to Spain, me gone to Hollywood, Tom Wolfe reverting to an artistic hill-billy." Read more...

Happy Bloomsday

June 16: Today is Bloomsday, Dublin and the literary world's most celebrated event, commemorating the day on which Ulysses takes place, itself a commemoration by James Joyce of the day in 1904 on which he had his first date with Nora Barnacle—technically, his second first date, given that she had stood him up a few days earlier. Read more...

Divine Payback

June 15: On this day in 1300, Dante was made one of the six Priors of Florence, the top political office in the city-state. Though only a two-month term—the legal limit, so suspicious were the citizenry of corruption and power plays—Dante's appointment set in motion the series of events that would eventually cause his permanent banishment and inspire some of the most memorable lines in the Divine Comedy. Read more...

Being and Not Being There

June 14: On this day in 1933 Jerzy Kosinski was born Jerzy Lewinkopf, in Lodz, Poland. Kosinski's father changed the family name at the beginning of World War II in an effort to escape persecution as Jews. As described later in Kosinski's international bestseller, The Painted Bird (1965), this plan went horribly wrong; as described decades later, it was never carried out at all…. Read more...

Djuna Barnes

June 12: Djuna Barnes was born on this day in 1892. If "the unknown legend of American literature," Barnes earned her self-description on a number of fronts: for the 1936 cult lesbian novel, Nightwood; for her poetry and artwork; for her sensationalist journalism and off-beat interviews; and for being at the center of the eccentric, bohemian crowd in between-the-wars Paris. Read more...

Declining Ulysses

June 11: On this day in 1921 George Bernard Shaw wrote to Sylvia Beach to decline her invitation to pre-order a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses. As Beach tells the amusing story, she approached Shaw because he was a fellow Irishman, a kind heart, and one to whom "the revolutionary aspect of Ulysses should appeal." When she told Joyce that she was sure Shaw would sign, he bet a box of cigars against a silk handkerchief that he wouldn't…. Read more...

Tolstoy Reborn

June 10: On this day in 1881, and in the grip of the religious-political mania which would dominate his writing and trouble his life over his last three decades, Leo Tolstoy donned his peasant coat and homemade bark shoes, gathered his walking staff and two bodyguards, and set out from his estate for the Optina Pustyn monastery. Read more...

Copying Dickens

June 9: The first American book to be copyrighted was registered on this day in 1790, just days after President Washington signed the Copyright Act into law. The new copyright law protected only domestic publications, however; foreign-published books were not protected for another century—two decades after the death of Charles Dickens, on this day in 1870. Read more...

Pushkin & Dostoevsky

June 8: On this day in 1880 Fyodor Dostoevsky delivered his speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin Monument in Moscow. The speech, or the wild enthusiasm which it inspired, is regarded as a historic moment in Russian literary history, and as the event came just six months before Dostoevsky's death, it eventually represented as much a memorial to him as to Pushkin. Read more...

Nin, Miller, Venus

June 7: On this day in 1977 Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus was published, and on this day in 1980 Henry Miller died. Based on her journal entries, and originally written as Nin's contribution to the dollar-a-page pornography that she, Miller and others contracted to write for an anonymous client in the 1940s, Delta of Venus became Nin's first bestseller. Miller's Venus was a last "paramour and muse," and a former Playmate. Read more...

Going Home in the Dark

June 5: O. Henry's death from alcoholism one hundred years ago today was the farthest thing from a surprise ending, but it came with some characteristic and now-legendary lines: "The train for happiness is late," and "Here I am going to die and only worth 23 cents," and, asking the hospital nurse to turn the light back on, "I don't want to go home in the dark." Read more...

Of Pulitzers and Pull-Overs

June 4: The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on this day in 1917. Even when not tied by Pulitzer's original stipulation that the fiction prize go to a book reflecting "the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood," the Pulitzer jury has made some odd and controversial selections. Read more...

Tom & Groucho

June 3: On this day in 1964, T. S. Eliot wrote to Groucho Marx to confirm that a car would be waiting at the Savoy to pick "you and Mrs. Groucho" up for dinner. The event had been much- postponed, and Groucho arrived fully armed: "During the week I had read Murder in the Cathedral twice, The Waste Land three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on King Lear…." Read more...

In Praise of Pym

June 2: The British novelist Barbara Pym was born on this day in 1913. Pym's writing career divides into three stages: considerable success for a handful of novels in the 1950s, a fifteen-year period during which no one would publish her, then—just three years before her death by cancer at age sixty-six—sudden rediscovery and international fame. 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…

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