Displaying articles for: September 2010

The Ripening of E. B. White

October 1: On this day in 1985 E. B. White died at the age of eighty-six. Interviewed at his farm on his 70th birthday, White said he was only writing a little, and when he did "I wish instead I were doing what my dog is doing at this moment, rolling in something ripe he has found on the beach in order to take on its smell. His is such an easy, simple way to increase one's stature and enlarge one's personality."

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Alcott's Women

September 30: On this day in 1868 Louisa May Alcott's Little Women was published. It was an immediate bestseller, against all her expectations during the writing: "I plod away," she says in one journal entry, "though I don't really enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters, but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it."

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Auden Alone

September 29: W. H. Auden died on this day in 1973, aged sixty-six. His brother paints a bleak final portrait: "Seen unawares in an armchair, with The Times crossword puzzle on his knee, a vodka martini by his side and cigarette-ends covering large dishes, there was an isolation and sadness which arose from his uprooted and solitary existence."

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Mourning Melville

September 28: Seventy-two-year-old Herman Melville died on this day in 1891, decades after his popularity had waned. The few obituary notices which appeared labored to describe the basis of Melville's earlier fame, but retrospective articles published over the following week were full of headshakes at his literary fate, and tribute for a literary accomplishment that was "as Moby Dick himself among a school of minnows."

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A Farewell to Arms, Scott, Agnes

September 27: On this day in 1929 Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms was published. For Frederic Henry, Hemingway's hero, the arms were those he gladly dropped in the 1917 retreat from Caporetto, and those of his beloved Catherine; for Hemingway himself, the arms were those extended by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and those withdrawn by his WWI nurse-lover, Ages von Kurowsky.

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Talking Ring Lardner

September 25: On this day in 1933 Ring Lardner died at the age of forty-eight, from a heart attack, tuberculosis, and the cumulative effects of alcoholism. Lardner's obituary notices ignored his alcoholism and lauded his unique achievement—"grotesque tales of baseball players" which exposed "a mine of authentic Americana" (H. L. Mencken), and  became "the chief instrument in a revolution in American fiction" (Jonathan Yardley).

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Devouring Welty

September 24: Eudora Welty's A Sweet Devouring was published on this day in 1969. Originally an essay—one often reprinted, recently in Joyce Carol Oates's edition of Best American Essays of the Century—this book version was a signed, limited edition aimed at collectors. Ordinary Welty fans prize the essay/book as another One Writer's Beginnings, though here we meet the author as a voracious young reader.

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"Sea Fever"

September 23: On this day in 1891, at the age of thirteen, John Masefield began his first sea apprenticeship. Masefield had been orphaned, and his aunt thought that his dreamy, bookish ways might be corrected by English naval discipline. Four years later, Masefield deserted ship in New York, vowing to "be a writer, come what might."

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RLS & Modestine

September 22: On this day in 1878, twenty-eight-year-old Robert Louis Stevenson and Modestine began their journey through the hills of southern France. Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), apart from becoming a nineteenth-century classic in the off-road genre,  helped to popularize the hiking-camping holiday and the sleeping bag.

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King On Writing

September 21: On this day in 1947 Stephen King was born. As told in On Writing, his 2000 "memoir of the craft," King's childhood was "a kind of curriculum vitae" of the man and his themes—"a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees … the kind that look as if they might like to grab and eat you."

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Eliot & Hall

September 20: On this day in 1923 an unsigned review in the Times Literary Supplement dismissed T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land as "a zig-zag of allusion" by a writer who was "parodying without taste or skill," and "walking very near the limits of coherency." The American poet Donald Hall, born on this day in 1928, interviewed Eliot near the end of his publishing career, eliciting Eliot's own doubts of his accomplishment.

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"I Am Inevitable"

September 18: On this day in 1940 Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again was published, two years and three days after his death from tubercular meningitis at the age of thirty-seven. Wolfe left a mammoth manuscript behind, in jumbled piles and boxes—some 1.5 million words, about a dozen novels of ordinary length. The manuscript bears out the self-chronicling, world-wandering mission which Wolfe announced while still a student at Harvard: "I know this now: I am inevitable, I sincerely believe. The only thing that can stop me now is insanity, disease or death…."

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Swatting Flies

September 17: On this day in 1954 William Golding's first novel, The Lord of the Flies, was published. The novel had lukewarm reviews but it was immediately popular, despite its bleak view of human nature. Many of Golding's other nine novels are also read as a confirmation of his view that "man produces evil as a bee produces honey." His 1983 Nobel Lecture takes a swat at the doom-saying reputation, offering this corrective: "I am a universal pessimist but a cosmic optimist."

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Bradstreet & Berryman

September 16: On this day in 1672 Anne Bradstreet died. In 1650, Bradstreet became the first published poet of the American colonies when her first collection, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was published in England. John Berryman's first fame was for Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, a series of fifty-seven, eight-line verses in which he comments on, converses with, courts, and speaks as a woman locked away by gender and circumstance.

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Hallam & Tennyson

September 15: On this day in 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly at the age of twenty-two. Although a promising poet and essayist, Hallam is chiefly remembered as the one eulogized in Tennyson's "In Memoriam A. H. H." Sixteen years in the writing, the poem was overwhelmingly popular when published in 1850—60,000 copies sold in six months—and was soon regarded as a monument not just to Hallam but to the Victorian Age.

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Gardner & Grendel

September 14: On this day in 1982 the novelist and scholar John Gardner died at the age of forty-nine in a motorcycle accident. Academically, Gardner was a medievalist, as is reflected in his first popular novel, Grendel (1971), which retells the Beowulf story from the point of view of the monster, made over into a philosopher: "I observe myself observing what I observe. It startles me. 'Then I am not that which observes!' I am lack. Alack!"

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Montaigne's Solitarium

September 13: On this day in 1592 Michel de Montaigne died. While in his late thirties Montaigne retreated to the tower rooms of his family estate to write the first two books of his Essays. When these were published in 1580, they introduced a new literary genre to European letters. The tower retreat or "solitarium" has evolved into something of an icon for bibliophiles, and is today a popular museum for the literary traveler.

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Perforating Dan

September 11: Robert Service died on this day in 1958. Service sometimes regretted that few of his readers went beyond his Yukon poems; on the other hand, he knew what had made him the most highly paid poet of his day: "My turning point in luck I see / Refulgently began / The night I roasted Sam McGee / And perforated Dan."

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Emerson & Brown

September 10: On this day in 1856 Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke "On the Affairs in Kansas" at a fundraising meeting in Cambridge, Mass. While Emerson did not become one of the "Secret Six"—those Boston-Concord citizens who actively supported John Brown's violent plans—some of his biographers regard his idealized support for the "Kansas Cid" as his most extreme venture into radical politics, perhaps his most misguided and naive.

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Joyce at the Martello

September 9: On this day in 1904, twenty-two-year-old James Joyce moved into the Martello Tower in Sandycove (just outside Dublin) with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty. Joyce only stayed with Gogarty for a week—there were disagreements, and in October Joyce and Nora Barnacle left for Europe—but their relationship and the Tower setting would become the opening chapter of Ulysses, and the building is now a Joyce museum.

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International Literacy Day

September 8: Today is International Literacy Day, as first proclaimed by UNESCO forty-five years ago. Recognizing that women comprise two thirds of the 776 million adults worldwide who are still unable to read and write, UNESCO has directed this year's campaign towards "The Power of Women's Literacy."

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Hemingway's Across the River

September 7: Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees was published on this day in 1950. It had been a decade since his last book, but few were convinced that the wait had been worth it. Instead of finding a polished masterpiece or anything resembling a return to form, the critics dismissed with "pity and embarrassment" the book's "self-parodying style and theme."

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Thoreau's Cabin

September 6: Henry David Thoreau left his Walden Pond cabin on this day in 1847, after a stay of two years, two months and two days. "Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live," he says in Walden, "and could not spare any more time for that one." He goes on to reflect that his life in the woods had grown customary, his adventure in danger of becoming bogged down by "the ruts of tradition and conformity."

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Wordsworth's Wild Oat

September 3: On this day in 1802 William Wordsworth completed the sonnet, "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge." Apart from its reputation as a model of the poet's style and themes, the sonnet is regarded as an interesting window upon Wordsworth's early passions, revolutionary and sexual.

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Tolkien as Bilbo Baggins

September 2: J.R.R. Tolkien died on this day in 1973, aged eighty-four. Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon/English Language and Literature at Oxford for thirty-four years, staying on there for over two decades after his novels had swept him to fame and wealth. There were Tolkien Societies from Iceland to North Borneo by this time, but Tolkien always ran from his popularity, if not from the modern world itself.

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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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