This Day In Literary History
On April 28th, 1926, the legendary American writer Harper Lee was born. She was born Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama. The youngest of four children, her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer.
He also served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938 and was a former newspaper editor. As a child, Harper Lee was a precocious tomboy and a voracious reader. Her best friend, neighbor, and classmate was the legendary writer Truman Capote.
After graduating from Monroe County High School, Harper Lee enrolled in the Huntingdon College for women, then transferred to the University of Alabama to study law.
She wrote for several student newspapers and edited the campus humor magazine, Rammer Jammer. After studying for a year in Oxford, she left college without obtaining a law degree.
In 1950, Harper moved to New York City and took a job as reservation clerk, first for Eastern Airlines, then BOAC. She divided her time between her cold water flat in New York and her family home in Alabama, where she cared for her ailing father.
By 1956, determined to become a writer, she began writing stories and found herself an agent. In December of 1956, she received a year's wages and time off from work as a Christmas present.
The gift came with a note that said, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Harper Lee used her time off to write a novel. Within a year, she completed the first draft.
Working with Tay Hohoff, an editor for J.B. Lippincott & Co., she completed her final draft in the summer of 1959. A year later, in July of 1960, her novel was published. It was called To Kill A Mockingbird.
Set in 1930s Alabama, the semi autobiographical novel is narrated by eight-year-old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, a precocious tomboy. She lives with her older brother Jeremy "Jem" Finch and their widower father, Atticus Finch, a prominent, liberal attorney.
Scout's best friend is Charles Baker "Dill" Harris, who, although small for his age, has a big imagination. Together, the spend their days fantasizing about a mysterious neighbor - an enigmatic recluse named Arthur "Boo" Radley who never comes out of his home.
Wondering if he really is a monster, the kids try to draw him out. Meanwhile, a poor black man named Tom Robinson is falsely accused of raping a white woman, and Atticus Finch agrees to defend him. His determination to see justice done inflames the community against him.
As the trial progresses, the once respected and loved Atticus becomes the most hated man in town. As Scout's big brother Jem reaches adolescence, the climate of violent racism and the injustice meted out by a bigoted all-white jury disturbs him greatly.
Tom Robinson is convicted of rape despite the truth uncovered by Atticus Finch: when Tom's accuser, the lonely, abused Mayella Ewell, was caught making sexual advances to a black man, she falsely accused him of rape out of fear of her father Bob, a violent racist and alcoholic.
Later, Tom Robinson is shot and killed while trying to escape from prison. (Earlier, Atticus, Scout, Jem, and Dill had prevented a mob from lynching him.) Meanwhile, Bob Ewell, humiliated by Atticus' public revelations about his daughter, vows revenge.
He spits in Atticus' face and later attacks his children on their way home from a school Halloween pageant. Jem defends his little sister and gets his arm broken. Suddenly, someone appears out of the shadows and saves the kids.
Bob Ewell is attacked and killed by a strange, silent man who then scoops up the injured Jem and carries him home. Scout realizes that their savior is none other than Boo Radley, who finally came out of his house.
To Kill a Mockingbird became an overnight sensation - an immediate bestseller that received rave reviews from both readers and critics. The following year, Harper Lee was stunned when her novel won her the Pulitzer Prize.
She moved on to her next project, accompanying her childhood friend Truman Capote to Kansas for what they had originally planned to be an article about a small town shocked by the murders of a local farmer and his family.
Capote later turned the true story into an acclaimed non-fiction book, In Cold Blood (1966). In 1962, a feature film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird was released. The highly acclaimed film starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and featured an incredible performance by eight-year-old newcomer Mary Badham as Scout.
Harper Lee loved the film and called Horton Foote's screenplay "one of the best translations of a book to film ever made." The movie would win Gregory Peck the Best Actor Oscar and Horton Foote the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Peck and Harper Lee would become lifelong friends; his grandson Harper Peck Voll is named after her. In June of 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson named Harper Lee to the National Council on the Arts.
That same year, she experienced one of the first attempts at censoring her novel. A school board in Richmond, Virginia voted to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from classroom study and school libraries, denouncing the novel as "immoral literature."
Lee wrote the following response in a letter to the editor of Richmond's largest newspaper:
Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.
Over the years, To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a staple of study for eighth grade English classes, has faced similar attempts by disgruntled would-be censors to remove it from school libraries and classrooms.
Harper Lee originally planned to write another novel, but her manuscript for The Long Goodbye would be filed away unfinished. During the mid 1980s, she began writing a non-fiction book about an Alabama serial killer, but she gave up on that as well.
Her writing output since To Kill a Mockingbird consisted of just a few essays and articles. In 2006, she wrote a letter to legendary talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey, which would be published in O, the Oprah Magazine.
In it, she spoke of her childhood love of books and her dedication to the written word. She wrote: "Now, 75 years later, in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."
In November of 2007, Harper Lee was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush at a ceremony in the White House. It appeared that To Kill A Mockingbird would be her only novel.
Then, on February 3rd, 2015, Harper Lee announced that she would be publishing another novel. The book, titled Go Set A Watchman and published a few months later in July, was a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird that follows Scout as a grown woman.
Watchman was actually written before Mockingbird, which was intended to be its prequel. Lee thought the manuscript had been lost forever, but it was found by her lawyer in a safe deposit box in 2011. The manuscript was published exactly as written, with no revisions.
It's 20 years later, and the Civil Rights movement is just starting to become a major force for change. With racial tensions escalating across the country, especially in Scout Finch's home state of Alabama, she can't help but recall the lessons she learned in childhood.
Scout, now going by her proper name Jean Louise, joins the Civil Rights movement and is stunned to discover that her now elderly father Atticus, whom she idolized and who risked everything to defend an innocent black man from racist injustice, is opposed to civil rights.
What's more, he's determined to fight school integration and has been consorting with the Ku Klux Klan. For the first time, Jean Louise begins to see her father through the eyes of an intelligent grown woman instead of the rose colored glasses of a naive, adoring little girl.
She finds that Atticus is flawed like any other person and, like other white Southerners, fears the sudden end of the only way of life he's ever known. Can it really be true? Will Jean Louise's relationship with her father be shattered forever?
The announcement of a second Harper Lee novel came as quite a shock to the literary community. The 89-year-old author had been residing in a nursing home, having suffered a stroke a while back. Her vision and hearing were deteriorating.
The timing of Watchman's publication made some wonder if Lee, perhaps senile, was being exploited by her publisher. Suspicion of elder abuse led the state of Alabama to conduct an investigation. They interviewed Lee and determined that no abuse had taken place.
Her longtime friend, historian Wayne Flynt, said that the "narrative of senility, exploitation of this helpless little old lady is just hogwash. It's just complete bunk."
Needless to say, the publication of Go Set A Watchman caused quite a stir. Many readers believed that Lee had betrayed them and soiled the legacy of one of America's most beloved literary characters.
Others, like this writer, found Watchman to be a powerful read and a worthy successor to To Kill A Mockingbird that truthfully explores the insidious nature of intolerance.
Harper Lee died in February 2016 at the age of 89.
Quote Of The Day
"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected." - Harper Lee
Today's video features an episode of Duke University's DukeReads TV series, with Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird the subject of discussion. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On April 27th, 1759, the famous Anglo-Irish writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London, England. She was born into an upper middle class family.
At first, the Wollstonecrafts had a comfortable income, but then Mary's father squandered most of their money away on bad investments. As a result, the family moved frequently to avoid creditors.
Mary Wollstonecraft's father was also a violent alcoholic and often beat his wife in drunken rages. As a teenager, Mary would stand guard outside her mother's door to protect her from her father.
She would continue to be a protector, later convincing her sister Eliza to leave her husband. Unfortunately, at the time, divorce was considered disgraceful by society, so even though Eliza was able to escape her husband, her decision to leave him doomed her to a life of poverty and hard work.
Mary would have two close relationships that shaped her early life, philosophy, and writings. The first was with her friend Jane Arden. The two women developed a love of reading and read voraciously.
They also attended lectures by Jane's father, a philosopher and scientist. The insecurities of Mary's childhood, being caught in the middle of her parents' volatile marriage, led her to be emotionally possessive of her friend and prone to mood swings and depression.
Mary's next great friend was Fanny Blood. Together, they envisioned living in a female utopia free from the control and influence of men. The economic realities of the day made that dream impossible.
So, to support themselves, Mary, Fanny, and Mary's sisters set up a school for girls in Newington Green, which at the time was a community of Dissenters - English Protestants who had broken away from the Church of England.
Not long after the school was in operation, Fanny became engaged. She had been in chronically poor health, so after they were married, Fanny's husband took her on a trip through Europe in the hopes of restoring her health. Unfortunately, after she became pregnant, Fanny's health began to deteriorate.
Mary Wollstonecraft nursed her ailing friend, and was devastated when Fanny died. Meanwhile, during her absence, her school failed. These experiences would play a part in her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788) which was a fictionalization of her life.
After Fanny Blood's death, Mary took a job as governess for a family in Ireland. She loved the children that were placed in her care, but she hated their mother, so she eventually resigned. This experience resulted in Mary's only children's book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788).
After leaving her job as governess, Mary became frustrated by the few options available for a poor but respectable single woman to support herself. She would write about it in her first work of feminist philosophy, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787).
While living in London, Mary fell in love with the artist Henry Fuseli, with whom she had struck up a friendship. Unfortunately, Fuseli was married. When Mary proposed a platonic living arrangement where she would move in with Fuseli and his wife, Mrs. Fuseli was outraged. Henry broke off all ties with Mary.
Hurt and humiliated by his total rejection, she decided to travel to Paris. She supported the French Revolution and had written a political pamphlet, Vindication of the Rights of Men (1791), where she attacked the aristocracy and the monarchy.
She promoted the constitutional republic form of government in a scathing retort to an essay by British conservative Edmund Burke where he defended the rule of the monarchy and the aristocracy.
Mary would use her ideas of freedom, equality, and civil rights as the backbone of her next work, which would be her most famous book. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is considered to be one of the first major works of feminist philosophy.
In it, Mary proclaimed men and women equal in the eyes of God and called for equal rights for women, including the right to an education and the right to work. She believed that women should neither deny their natural sexual impulses nor allow themselves to be enslaved by them. A woman should be sensible, and sensibility meant do what you will, but harm none - including yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist manifesto was mostly well received when it was published, as the subject of women's rights was a prominent issue at the time - it was even being debated in Parliament. Of course, Mary was loudly derided by staunch conservatives, including conservative women.
When she arrived in Paris in December of 1792, Mary found France in turmoil, as King Louis XVI would be guillotined a month later. Nevertheless, she decided to stay and joined in the community of British and American expatriates living in Paris.
Later, she met and fell in love with American adventurer Gilbert Imlay. She became pregnant with his child and gave birth in May of 1794, naming her baby daughter after her old and dear friend, Fanny Blood. Unfortunately, Imlay had no intention of becoming a husband and father.
After England declared war on France, British subjects living in France found themselves in danger. Though they weren't married, Imlay registered Mary as his wife to protect her and the baby.
Some of her friends, including legendary writer Thomas Paine, weren't as lucky. They were arrested and some were even guillotined. Eventually, Imlay left Mary. He promised he would return, but never did.
Mary returned to England in 1795 and found Imlay living in London, but he rejected her. She attempted suicide - most likely by an overdose of laudanum (tincture of opium) - and Imlay saved her life. When her last attempt at winning Imlay back failed, Mary tried to drown herself in the Thames.
Her desperate act was thwarted when a stranger saw her jump into the river and rescued her. Though she had deemed suicide a rational solution to her predicament, she gave up on the idea of killing herself.
Gradually, Mary resumed her writing career and rejoined Joseph Johnson's literary circle, which at the time included novelist and philosopher William Godwin. Their courtship started slowly, but soon blossomed into a passionate love affair. When Mary became pregnant, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate.
Their marriage would reveal the fact that Mary had never been married to her daughter Fanny's father, Gilbert Imlay. They lost many friends in the ensuing scandal. William Godwin didn't care; no stranger to controversy, he was an outspoken anarchist who had advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise, Political Justice (1793).
Mary and William Godwin's marriage would prove to be happy, loving, and stable. Sadly, it would also be tragically cut short. After she gave birth to their child, a daughter she named after herself, Mary suffered serious complications.
She contracted a severe infection when the placenta broke apart during delivery, which was a common occurrence in the 18th century. After enduring several days of agony, Mary Wollstonecraft died in September of 1797 at the age of 38. Her husband was devastated.
Though she wouldn't live to see it, her new baby daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin would grow up to marry legendary poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and become a famous writer like her mother, authoring the classic horror novel, Frankenstein (1818).
Quote Of The Day
"The being cannot be termed rational or virtuous who obeys any authority but that of reason." - Mary Wollstonecraft
Today's video features a complete reading of Mary Wollstonecraft's classic work of feminist philosophy, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Enjoy!
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On April 26th, 1914, the famous American writer Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. He had a younger brother named Eugene.
In 1932, Malamud graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. He worked as a teacher-in-training before enrolling at City College of New York on a government loan. From there, he attended Columbia University.
After completing his education, Malamud taught high school English, mostly to adult night school students. He later taught freshman composition at Oregon State University.
Although he had earned a Master's degree in literature at Columbia, Oregon State would not allow him to teach literature because he lacked a Ph.D.
In 1942, Malamud met an Italian Catholic girl named Ann De Chiara. They fell in love and married, despite the strong opposition of their respective parents. They had a happy marriage. Ann bore him two children (Paul and Janna) and served as his typist and editor.
Bernard Malamud completed his first novel in 1948. Published four years later, the book would prove to be his most popular novel. The Natural, inspired by the life of a real baseball player, (Chicago Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges) takes a haunting look at the dark side of America's national pastime.
The novel opens with 19-year-old pitching phenom Roy Hobbs en route to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. On the train with Hobbs are his manager Sam, sportswriter Max Mercy, superstar slugger Walter "The Whammer" Whambold, and a beautiful, mysterious woman called Harriet Bird.
When the train stops at a carnival, The Whammer challenges Hobbs to strike him out. The equally arrogant Hobbs accepts the challenge - and strikes The Whammer out, humiliating him. Harriet Bird comes on to Hobbs and later invites him to her hotel room.
What Hobbs doesn't know is that she's a homicidal maniac determined to kill the best player in the game. The Whammer was her original target. When the womanizing Hobbs goes to Harriet's room, she shoots him.
The novel flashes forward 15 years. Roy Hobbs, now in his mid-thirties and past his prime as a player, has just been signed as the new right fielder for the New York Knights, a slumping National League team.
As the new player on the team, Hobbs is subjected to mean spirited practical jokes by his teammates, including the theft of his favorite bat, Wonderboy.
Hobbs gets a chance to reclaim his past glory when team manager Pop Fisher chooses him to pinch hit instead of slumping slugger Bump Bailey. On his first at-bat, Hobbs smacks a triple. A few days later, Bump Bailey, now an outfielder, is killed when he crashes into the outfield wall trying to catch a fly ball.
Sportswriter Max Mercy, who had known Hobbs as a young pitching phenom, arrives and tries to get him to talk about his troubled past. He even offers him five thousand dollars for the story.
Hobbs turns Mercy down, telling him that "all the public is entitled to is my best game of baseball." When the arrogant Hobbs fails to persuade the Knights' ruthless co-owner Judge Banner to grant him a raise, Mercy writes about it in his column, resulting in a fan uprising.
Hobbs falls into a slump, then breaks out of it and plays brilliantly, leading his team to a 17-game winning streak. With the Knights one game away from winning the National League pennant, Hobbs goes to a party, binges on food, and collapses.
He wakes up in a hospital bed, and the doctor tells him that he must retire after the league championship game if he wants to live. Judge Banner had been offering Hobbs increasing amounts of money to throw the championship game because he wants to fire Pop Fisher as manager.
Facing the prospect of early retirement and no way to support the family he wants to build with love interest Memo Paris, Hobbs makes Banner an offer: he'll throw the game for $35,000. Although his conscience troubles him, it can't save him from self-destruction.
The Natural was adapted as a feature film in 1984, starring Robert Redford in the title role. Mostly panned by critics, including Roger Ebert, who denounced it as "idolatry on behalf of Robert Redford," as a novel adaptation, the film is a travesty.
With a completely different ending, it sacrifices Malamud's dark, mythological story of one man's downfall at the hands of his own hubris in favor of a typical Hollywood happy ending.
And yet, the film remains one of the most popular sports movies of all time. Surprisingly, Malamud himself liked it. The film's producers later claimed that it was never meant to be a literal adaptation of the novel.
While his first novel made his name as a writer, Bernard Malamud's fourth novel, The Fixer (1966) won him both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Inspired by both the author's own experiences with anti-Semitism and a true story of anti-Semitic persecution in Tzarist Russia, the novel tells the tale of Yakov Bok, a Jewish fixer (handyman) living and working in Kiev - without the proper papers.
When a Christian boy is murdered during Passover, the police assume that the killer is a Jew. This is what's known as the blood libel - the hateful false accusation that Jews murder Christian children as part of their religious practices and celebrations. Yakov Bok is soon rounded up for questioning.
When asked about his political views, he claims to be apolitical. Although there is no evidence against him, because he's an undocumented Jew, Bok becomes the prime suspect. He's arrested on suspicion of murder, jailed indefinitely without being charged, and denied counsel or visitors.
As he spends many months in jail, Bok contemplates his entire sad life in particular and human nature in general. Despite his fate, he finds himself growing spiritually, and is at last able to forgive his wife, who had left him just before the opening of the novel.
The novel ends with Bok finally being charged and brought to trial. In the last scene, as he's being taken to court, Bok has an imaginary conversation with the Tzar.
Bok rebukes him as the ruler of the most oppressive and backward regime in Europe, famously concluding that "there is no such thing as an apolitical man, especially a Jew."
The Fixer was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1968, starring Alan Bates as Yakov Bok and directed by John Frankenheimer, working from a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. Bates' excellent performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Though he wrote seven novels, Malamud was also known as a master of the short story. He published several collections of short stories, including The Magic Barrel (1958) and Pictures of Fidelman (1969). His classic short story Man in the Drawer (1969) won him the O. Henry Award.
Flannery O'Connor once said of him, "I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself." In 1988, the PEN/Malamud Award was established in the author's memory. The award recognizes excellence in the short story.
Bernard Malamud died in 1986 at the age of 71.
Quote Of The Day
“A writer is a spectator, looking at everything with a highly critical eye.” - Bernard Malamud
Today's video features a tribute to Bernard Malamud, recorded live at The Center for Fiction. Enjoy!
Monday, April 25, 2016
Flash Fiction Press has just accepted my story, "Southern Charm," for a future issue. I subbed the story yesterday afternoon and received an acceptance in the evening. And they pay $3. Thanks to Chioma for informing us of this market.
"Southern Charm" was written for Practice just a couple of weeks ago, so thanks also to the good people on that site. I fiddled with it as they had suggested in their critiques.
Joanna M. Weston
Three short pieces at Nailpolish. Scroll down a bit and enjoy!
Montana Scribbler has quoted me on essential reading for anyone aspiring to become a professional writer/author.
My review of Sharon Tate: A Life is up at the Internet Review of Books.
Friday, April 22, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On April 22nd, 1960, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, the classic first poetry collection by the famous American poet Anne Sexton, was published. Throughout her short life, Sexton, a former model, suffered from severe mental illness.
After her second mental breakdown in 1955, she began seeing a therapist, Dr. Martin Orne, who diagnosed her with a condition now known as bipolar disorder. It was Dr. Orne who suggested that Anne Sexton take up writing poetry.
She decided to attend a poetry workshop, but was so nervous about it that she had a friend accompany her to the first session. The workshop was led by John Holmes - the poet, not the porn star.
It unlocked a talent Anne never knew she had. All of a sudden, her poems were being published in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and The Saturday Review.
She later attended Boston University, studying with Robert Lowell, alongside soon-to-be famous poets such as Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.D. Snodgrass became Anne's literary mentor.
When Anne's first poetry collection was published in 1960, it established her as one of the finest confessional poets of her generation. Her third poetry collection, Live or Die (1968), won her a Pulitzer Prize. Around this time, she had become a counterculture celebrity.
She would perform live readings accompanied by a jazz-rock group. The ensemble billed itself as "Anne Sexton and Her Kind." The name of her band is also the title of one of her most famous poems, which appeared in her first poetry collection. It was the signature piece of her performances:
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Unfortunately, while Anne's fame and fortunes grew, her mental illness grew worse. She committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning (she locked herself in her garage and started her car with the windows open) at the age of 45.
During her short life, Anne Sexton wrote over a dozen poetry collections and a play. She also co-wrote four children's books with her friend, Maxine Kumin. After her death, her troubled life would become the subject of controversy.
Her former therapist, Dr. Orne, gave audiotapes of his sessions with Anne to biographer Diane Middlebrook, whose book revealed many troubling details, including the fact that Anne had been sexually abused by her mother.
Her mother and some of her relatives vehemently denied that any abuse took place and accused her therapist of planting false memories during their hypnotherapy sessions.
Other relatives, including Anne's daughter Linda - who approved the biography - confirmed that Anne had in fact been abused by her mother. The biography is still hotly debated to this day, as is the issue of whether doctor-patient confidentiality should remain in effect after the patient dies.
Quote Of The Day
"The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that's saying a lot." - Anne Sexton
Today's video features rare documentary footage of Anne Sexton reading her poems. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On April 21st, 1894, Arms and the Man, the classic play by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened at the Playhouse Theatre in London.
Arms and the Man (the title comes from the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid) was set during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. The play's heroine is a Bulgarian girl, Raina Petkoff. Her fiance is Sergius Saranoff, a war hero whom she idolizes.
One night, Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary soldier in the Serbian army, bursts in through Raina's bedroom window. After threatening her, Bluntschli begs Raina to hide him.
She complies, though she thinks he's a coward - especially when he tells her that he is armed with chocolates instead of bullets. After the battle dies down, Raina and her mother sneak Bluntschli out of the house, disguising him in a housecoat.
The war ends and Sergius returns to Raina - and flirts with her servant girl Louka. Raina finds the man she once idolized to be tiresome and foolhardy. Then, Bluntschli unexpectedly returns to give Raina back the housecoat.
Raina comes to realize that Bluntschli respects her as a woman, where Sergius does not. She tells Bluntschli that she left a picture of herself in a pocket of the housecoat for him, with the inscription "To my chocolate-cream soldier." Unfortunately, Bluntschli never found it.
Later, Bluntschli receives word that his father has died and he has inherited considerable wealth. Louka then tells Sergius that Bluntschli was the man whom Raina protected - and is in love with.
Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel, but the men avoid fighting when Sergius and Raina break off their engagement amicably. To Raina's father's horror, Sergius proposes to Louka.
Meanwhile, Bluntschli is now a wealthy businessman. Raina, recognizing the shallowness of her romantic ideals and her ex-fiance's values, tells him that she would rather have her poor chocolate-cream soldier instead.
He convinces her that he's still the same person. The play ends with Raina proclaiming her love for Bluntschli, who then proclaims to everyone that he will marry Raina when he returns in two weeks.
The opening performance of Arms and the Man received a standing ovation - and loud boos from one lone heckler, to whom the playwright quipped, "My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we two against so many?"
When a group of Bulgarian students complained about Shaw using their country's military history as a vehicle for satirizing the absurdities of war, the playwright made the following apology:
I greatly regret that my play, Arms and the Man, has wounded the susceptibilities of Bulgarian students in Berlin and Vienna. But I ask them to remember that it is the business of the writer of comedy to wound the susceptibilities of his audience. When the Bulgarian students, with my friendly assistance, have developed a sense of humor, there will be no more trouble.
Quote Of The Day
"Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads." - George Bernard Shaw
Today's video a complete performance of George Bernard Shaw's classic play, Arms and the Man, taped live in London. Enjoy!
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On April 20th, 1953, the famous English writer Sebastian Faulks was born in Newbury, England. His father Peter Faulks was a lawyer and decorated World War II veteran who became a judge. His maternal grandfather was a decorated veteran of World War I.
Sebastian Faulks would not follow in the family tradition and become a lawyer or a judge. His first ambition was to be a taxi driver.
Then, at the age of fifteen, he read George Orwell and determined to become a novelist. He first attended Wellington College, then studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he would later be elected as an honorary fellow.
After university, Faulks took a teaching job at the Dwight-Franklin International School. He also took up journalism, becoming a features writer for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.
Later, he would be recruited as Literary Editor by The Independent, then become Deputy Editor of its Sunday edition, The Independent on Sunday. He would also write columns for The Guardian and The Evening Standard.
Sebastian Faulks' first published novel was released in 1984. It was titled A Trick of the Light. Had it not been published, Faulks claimed he would have given up on writing, as two previous novels had been rejected.
While A Trick of the Light wasn't hugely successful, it did get the author noticed. His next novel, The Girl at the Lion d'Or, made his name as a writer.
The first in a trilogy of novels - the French Trilogy - The Girl at the Lion d'Or was set in 1930s France. It told the story of Anne Louvert, a French girl left orphaned and homeless when her legal guardian abandons her after she refuses to be his mistress.
This so-called guardian was a Nazi sympathizer who moved to America, deserting his right wing comrades as well as Anne. She finds work at the village inn, The Lion d'Or, where she meets Charles Hartmann, a kind, sensitive, wealthy older Jewish man.
Hartmann is a decorated veteran of the Great War, where Anne's father was executed for mutiny, an event that drove her mother to suicide. Although Hartmann is married, he and Anne fall in love and have a passionate affair.
When Hartmann ends the affair, Anne is devastated but refuses to commit suicide like her mother did. Instead, she courageously faces the dark days ahead, as the rise of the Nazis threatens France.
The second novel in Sebastian Faulks' French Trilogy, Birdsong (1993), proved to be a huge commercial success, selling three million copies. Ten years after its publication, it would be ranked at #13 on the BBC's "Big Read" list of Britain's 200 best loved novels.
Birdsong told the story of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman living in France just before the outbreak of World War I, as his granddaughter Elizabeth researches his experiences during the Great War.
The third volume of the French Trilogy, Charlotte Gray, was published in 1998. The tale of a young Scotswoman's involvement with the French Resistance during World War II was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 2001, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role.
Faulks' 2001 novel On Green Dolphin Street was a Cold War drama set in the 1950s. The main character, Mary van der Linden, is the wife of a British diplomat stationed in Washington. Her husband Charlie is a talented and effective diplomat.
Unfortunately, he's also a self-loathing alcoholic suffering from existential angst. When Mary meets American journalist Frank Renzo at a party, he becomes attracted to her. They have an affair, which troubles Mary deeply, as she still loves her husband. She finds herself torn between both men.
Faulks continues to write great novels. In 2007, he was commissioned by the trustees of the Ian Fleming estate to write an official James Bond novel. The result, Devil May Care, was published in 2008 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Fleming's birth.
Set in the 1960s, the novel pitted the legendary British secret agent against the evil Dr. Gorner, a manufacturer of legitimate pharmaceuticals who plans to flood Europe with cheap narcotics and launch a terrorist attack against the Soviet Union, the retaliation for which would devastate the UK.
Faulks' most recent novel, Where My Heart Used to Beat, was released this January. Set in London circa 1980, it tells the story of Dr. Robert Hendricks, a psychiatrist and writer who has plunged into a quagmire of loneliness and depression.
Then he receives a letter from Dr. Alexander Pereira, a neurologist and World War I veteran, who proclaims his admiration for Hendricks' published work. Hendricks travels to Pereira's home on a secluded island off the South of France to meet him.
There, Hendricks is forced to confront his traumatic memories of the carnage and injury he experienced as a young British officer during World War II and of the Italian woman he met and fell deeply in love with during the conflict. Confronting these memories could lead Hendricks to insanity - or redemption.
Sebastian Faulks has also written nonfiction works. He remains one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom.
Quote Of The Day
"The difference between a peasant community in fourteenth-century Iran and modern London, though, is that if with their meager resources the villagers occasionally slipped backward, it was not for lack of trying. But with us, here in England, it was a positive choice. We chose to know less." - Sebastian Faulks
Today's video features Sebastian Faulks reading from and discussing his most recent novel, Where My Heart Used to Beat on BBC Newsnight. Enjoy!