This Day In Writing History
On July 3rd, 1883, the legendary Austro-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The eldest child of a wealthy Jewish family, Kafka's two brothers would die in infancy, and his three sisters would perish in the Holocaust.
All of his life, Franz Kafka would suffer severe emotional abuse at the hands of his father, Hermann. In 1919, five years before his father died, Kafka wrote him a 45-page letter and asked his mother to deliver it. She refused. He opened the letter this way:
You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete...
The letter would later be published as Letter To His Father along with other correspondence after Kafka's death.
Franz Kafka was of Austrian and Hungarian descent and spoke German as his primary language, but quickly became fluent in Czech. He would later study the French language and culture, as Gustave Flaubert was one of his favorite writers.
Kafka's family rarely practiced their Jewish religion; he received his bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen, but the family only went to temple four times a year.
He loathed going to temple, but he loved Yiddish literature and theater, and would later attend the Eleventh Zionist Congress. He considered moving to Israel.
Kafka attended the Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague, where he originally planned to study chemistry. Two weeks into his first semester, he switched his major to law. It was a longer course of study that would give him the opportunity to take classes in German studies and art history.
At the end of his freshman year, he met Max Brod, who would become his lifelong friend and later, literary executor. He would meet another lifelong friend at university - journalist Felix Weltsch.
Together, Kafka, Brod, and Weltsch would become members of the Prague Circle, a loosely knit group of German-Jewish writers who lived in Prague and contributed to its culture.
In 1906, Kafka earned his Doctor of Law degree and began a year-long internship as a law clerk for the civil and criminal courts. A year later, he took a job at a large Italian-owned insurance company, the Assicurazioni Generali.
The job required Kafka to work from 8PM to 6AM, which he hated because it made writing difficult. After less than a year, Kafka resigned and was later hired as an insurance officer for the Workers' Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia.
He was a very competent and diligent employee and proud of his work, but he really considered his position a brotberuf - a "bread job" he worked just to pay his bills.
By 1911, Kafka quit his insurance job to help his brother-in-law run an asbestos factory. He devoted much of his free time to running the business, but still found time to write.
During his life, his writing didn't attract much attention. He published only a few short stories and didn't complete any of his novels, except for his classic novella The Metamorphosis (1915).
Two years after completing it, Kafka contracted tuberculosis. After a seven year battle with the disease, Franz Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 40.
He had left instructions to his executor Max Brod that his all his letters, diaries, and manuscripts be burned unread. Knowing that Kafka didn't really mean what he said, Brod didn't honor his last wishes.
He prepared Kafka's three unfinished novels for publication, editing them for coherency. Kafka's previously unpublished short stories, diaries, and letters, were also published posthumously.
Kafka's girlfriend, Dora Diamant, also kept a collection of his writings, even though he'd asked her to destroy them. Unfortunately, these writings - a collection of 20 notebooks and 35 letters - were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933.
The search for these missing writings is ongoing, as they are suspected to have survived, and may be locked away somewhere in the world, long forgotten.
Kafka's writings were very much the product of his poor relationship with his father, whose years of emotional abuse left Franz a psychological wreck.
He suffered from clinical depression, social anxiety, migraines, insomnia, and psychosomatic illnesses. Some scholars believe that he may have been schizophrenic as well.
Even though he lived with his parents for most of his life, he felt a profound sense of alienation from them, and alienation is a theme that runs deep in his writing.
In his classic novella The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed into a giant insect.
His first concern is not that he has become a monstrous bug, but how he will get to work. Instead of compassion, Samsa's condition inspires his family to react with repulsion and reject him, locking him up in his room.
His sister, Grete, to whom he is close, cares for him at first, bringing him food and water. But as his condition becomes more of a social and financial burden to his family, even Grete rejects him.
Samsa's father proves to be the most cruel. He resents having to come out of retirement and work to help pay off his son's debts.
He chases Gregor around the dinner table and pelts him with apples. One of them becomes lodged in his back and results in an infection that kills him slowly and painfully.
The Trial (1925) tells the story of Josef K, a senior bank clerk who, on his 30th birthday, suddenly finds himself arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime.
As he awaits trial on charges that are not revealed to him, K soon realizes that nothing is as it seems. When he goes to visit the Magistrate - a pillar of integrity and morality - he finds a collection of pornography hidden amongst the man's books.
When K complains to the Magistrate that the agents who arrested him asked for bribes, he later witnesses the two men being flogged in a store room at his bank. K pleads for mercy for the men, but the flogger won't be swayed.
K thinks that the whipping may have been staged to frighten him, but the next day, in the bank store room, K again witnesses the agents being flogged.
In The Castle (1926), a man known only as K arrives at a village to work as a land surveyor, summoned by the village authorities who rule from a place called the Castle.
The gigantic, castle-like structure houses a monstrously huge, impossibly complex bureaucracy that thrives on endless, incredibly detailed paperwork.
The authorities maintain that their system is flawless, but that's a lie - K was mistakenly summoned to the village as the result of a clerical error.
In this one-man-against-the-system story, Kafka cleverly maintains ambiguity as to exactly what duties the authorities and the other workers at the Castle perform.
Franz Kafka was a brilliant writer way ahead of his time, a master of surrealism and political allegory. One can only imagine what he might have written had he lived to witness the horrors of the Holocaust that would claim the lives of his sisters.
Quote Of The Day
“A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” - Franz Kafka
Today's video features a complete reading of Franz Kafka's classic novella, The Metamorphosis. Enjoy!
Friday, July 3, 2015
Thursday, July 2, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On July 2nd, 1877, the legendary German writer and painter Hermann Hesse was born in Calw, Germany. His parents, Johannes and Marie Hesse, were Lutheran missionaries. As a boy, Hermann got into intense conflicts with them.
In 1891, after doing well in Latin school, Hesse was enrolled in the Maulbronn Evangelical Theological Seminary. The following year, at the age of 15, he rebelled and ran away from the seminary. He was found a day later, hiding in a field.
Two months after Hesse was found, he attempted suicide. He began a journey through various mental institutions and schools, and completed his primary education in 1893. From there, Hesse began an apprenticeship at a bookshop, but only lasted three days.
He tried his hand as an apprentice at a clock tower factory, but after a year, he could no longer stand the monotony of the job. So, in October of 1895, Hesse decided to make a fresh start and become an apprentice bookseller again. He would use the experience as fodder for his second novel, Beneath The Wheel (1906).
Hermann Hesse next apprenticed at the Heckenhauer Bookshop in Tubingen. The bookshop specialized in books on theology, philology, and law. Hesse's job was to organize the books, archive them, and pack them for sale.
After work, Hesse preferred to spend his time with books instead of people, studying Greek mythology and the works of Goethe, Lessing, and Schiller. He also took an interest in the German Romantics; German Romanticism was an intellectual movement that tried to create a new synthesis of art, philosophy, and science.
In the summer of 1899, Hesse published his first book, a poetry collection called Romantic Songs. It was followed shortly by a prose collection, One Hour After Midnight. Neither book was commercially successful. By this time, Hesse had established himself as a respected antiquarian bookseller.
He moved to Basel and landed a job working for a famous antique bookshop. Though he lived with the town's most intellectual families, Hesse's new job and home offered the solitary writer the opportunities for private artistic self-exploration.
He soon made a name for himself as a writer, his poetry and prose frequently appearing in literary magazines. In 1904, following the publication of his first novel, Peter Camenzind, Hesse was soon able to quit his job and write full time. The poetic novel was a precursor of Hesse's future writings.
Peter Camenzind is a young poet with a desire to experience the world. In addition to a physical journey through the landscapes of Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland, Peter also takes an intellectual and spiritual journey through the course of the novel, enhancing his ability to love life and see the beauty in all things.
Hesse soon married, and his wife Maria Bernoulli bore him three sons. In 1906, his second novel, Beneath The Wheel was published, followed by Gertrude in 1910. Hesse later disowned Gertrude, calling it "a miscarriage."
He had struggled to write the book amid a personal crisis - his wife began exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, and it took a toll on their marriage. Hesse began delving into Buddhism, which would be the subject of one of his greatest novels.
In 1911, he went alone on a trip to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. When he came back, he moved his family to Bern, but the change did little to help his marriage. When World War I broke out in 1914, Hesse couldn't sit idly by while young writers were dying on the front.
So, he enlisted in the Imperial Army, but was declared unfit for combat duty because of an eye condition. Assigned to care for prisoners of war, Hesse found himself becoming bitterly opposed to Germany's war, which he correctly saw as nothing more than a power grab.
In November of 1914, he published an essay, O Friends, Not These Tones, where he appealed to his country's intellectuals to not let patriotism cloud their minds and make them support an unjust war. Hesse was vilified by the German press, bombarded with hate mail, and saw old friends turn their backs on him.
Personal crisis reared its head again in 1916. First, Hesse's father died, then his son Martin fell ill, and his wife's schizophrenia grew worse. Hesse was forced to leave the military and receive psychotherapy. This began his fascination with psychoanalysis.
He would soon become friends with the legendary Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. His creativity rose to new heights, and during a three-week period between September and October 1917, he wrote his next novel, Demian, which was published in 1919 under the pseudonym Emil Sinclair - who was the main character and narrator.
When he returned to civilian life, Hesse found that his marriage was over. His wife suffered a severe psychotic episode, and though she recovered, he saw no future with her. They divorced, and Hesse moved to a small farm in Ticino, Switzerland, where he lived alone.
From there, he moved to Montagnola, where he rented four small rooms in a castle-like building called Casa Camuzzi. At the Casa, Hesse painted and wrote, and the result was his great novel, Siddhartha (1922).
Siddhartha is based on the true story of a young Indian boy called Siddhartha - a prince who renounces his title and wealth, and embarks on a spiritual journey where he achieves enlightenment and becomes the Buddha.
Siddhartha was adapted as a feature film in 1972, directed by Conrad Rooks and starring Shashi Kapoor as Siddhartha. It was shot by the legendary Swedish cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. In 1923, Hermann Hesse became a Swiss citizen. He married Swiss singer Ruth Wenger, but the marriage was never stable.
Hesse continued to write. In 1927, he published another classic novel, Steppenwolf. The novel is a manuscript written by its main character, a writer named Harry Haller. Haller is a sad and withdrawn man - physically, emotionally, and spiritually ill.
One day, while aimlessly wandering about the city where he lives. Haller receives a pamphlet. Its text addresses him by name and provides an uncannily accurate description of him as a "wolf of the steppes," embroiled in a struggle between his spiritual and animal natures.
He was given the pamphlet by a person advertising something called The Magic Theatre. Later, Haller meets an old friend who invites him to his home. Disgusted by his friend's nationalism, Harry resumes his wandering to avoid going home and killing himself. He stops to rest at a dance hall.
There, he meets a young woman named Hermine who acts as his spirit guide, mocking his self-pity, then teaching him how to live. She introduces him to Pablo, a mysterious saxophonist who leads him to the Magic Theatre - a metaphoric extension of Haller's psyche, where he can live out his fantasies and explore all the possibilities of life.
A brilliant and dazzling novel regarded as a classic work of literature today, Steppenwolf was harshly criticized at the time of its publication. Patriots and political activists railed against its anti-nationalist themes, while others condemned it as too pessimistic.
Some decried the book as immoral because of its hedonistic philosophy and depictions of sex and drug use. Haller learns to accept that casual sex and drug use are legitimate components of a full and happy life.
In this regard, and with the psychedelic nature of the narrative, Steppenwolf became a classic of the 1960s American counterculture. That wasn't really the author's intention, which is why Hermann Hesse said that Steppenwolf was his most misunderstood novel.
Steppenwolf was adapted as a feature film in 1974. It was written and directed by Fred Haines and starred Max Von Sydow as Harry Haller.
In the 1930s, when Hitler rose to power in Germany, Hermann Hesse denounced Nazi ideology and aided exiled writers such as Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Hesse had already been widely published in German literary magazines and newspapers and used that notoriety to speak out against Nazism.
He publicly supported Jewish writers and artists, and others persecuted by Hitler. The Nazi regime banned all of Hesse's works, including his last and greatest novel, The Glass Bead Game, which was published in 1943. Originally published in two volumes, it's a futuristic, Zen-like tale set in the 23rd century.
Castalia is a remote European province designed to allow the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Josef Knecht, (his last name means servant in German) a young boy raised in Castalia, becomes consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game - a seemingly simple game that is anything but simple.
Mastering the game requires perfect synthesis of artistic and scientific knowledge. One must understand such things as art, music, literature, mathematics, science, and philosophy. As he grows into adulthood, Josef's quest to master the Glass Bead Game leads him to achieve enlightenment and become a Magister Ludi - a Master of the Game.
That's actually an incredibly simplified description of Hesse's incredibly complex epic masterwork. The Glass Bead Game is a beautiful and profound meditation on the human condition, a masterpiece of philosophic meta-fiction. It won Hesse the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Hermann Hesse died in 1962 at the age of 85.
Quote Of The Day
“Without words, without writing, and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.” - Hermann Hesse
Today's video features the full length documentary Hermann Hesse's Long Summer. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On July 1st, 1869, the famous American writing teacher and author William Strunk, Jr. was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1890, he earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University.
In 1896, he first became famous as an editor, editing important works by writers such as William Shakespeare, James Fenimore Cooper, and John Dryden. A few years later, he married his girlfriend Olivia Locke, and she bore him two sons and a daughter.
Strunk became an English professor and taught at Cornell University for 46 years. During his tenure as professor, he wrote a book that would become the most influential writing guide of all time. It was called The Elements Of Style.
Strunk wrote the book in 1918 and published it privately a year later. The first edition contained eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary rules of composition, "a few matters of form," and a list of commonly misused expressions.
When he wrote The Elements Of Style, Strunk had intended for it to be used as a study aid by his and other English students at Cornell, which is why he published it privately.
Sixteen years later, in 1935, Strunk revised his book and it was published commercially. It became required reading for college and high school English students.
It wouldn't be until 1959 - thirteen years after Strunk's death at the age of 77 - that it became a bestseller used by people from all walks of life to improve their writing.
In 1957, a copy of Strunk's 1935 revised edition of The Elements Of Style reached the desk of the famous writer E.B. White, best known for his beloved, classic children's novel, Charlotte's Web (1952).
At the time, White was working as an editor for The New Yorker magazine. A former student of Professor Strunk's, White had used the book before, then forgotten about it.
A few weeks after re-reading the book, White wrote and published a feature story on The Elements Of Style, which he described as a “summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.”
White's story caught the attention of the Macmillan and Company publishing house, and they commissioned him to revise Strunk's book for a 1959 edition. He not only revised it, he also expanded and modernized it. He included text from his New Yorker feature story about Strunk in the Introduction.
The 1959 first revised Strunk & White edition of The Elements Of Style sold two million copies; over the decades, sales would grow to over ten million copies. White revised the book again in 1972 and 1979, expanding it further.
In 1999, a fourth revised Strunk & White edition was published. It's now 2014 - some 90 years after William Strunk Jr. published his original edition of The Elements Of Style, and his core philosophy - sound, practical advice for developing good writing skills - continues to enlighten and inspire writers of all sorts to this day.
Quote Of The Day
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” - William Strunk Jr.
Today's video features lessons from William Strunk, Jr.'s classic writing handbook, The Elements Of Style. Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On June 30th, 1936, Gone With The Wind, the classic novel by the famous American writer Margaret Mitchell, was published. It all began when Mitchell was bedridden with a broken ankle.
To pass the time, her husband, John Marsh, brought her numerous history books from the public library. After she'd read them all, he said, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write your own?" So, she took him up on it.
John brought Margaret an old Remington typewriter, and she started writing a novel, using her vast knowledge of the Civil War and some dramatic moments from her own life as inspiration.
At first, she wrote just for her own amusement and kept her writing a closely guarded secret from her friends, hiding pages in her closet, under her bed, and even disguising them as a divan.
In her early drafts, she called her heroine Pansy O'Hara and Tara had been called Fontenoy Hall. Early titles for the book included Tote The Weary Load and Tomorrow Is Another Day.
Mitchell's husband acted as her proofreader and continuity editor for the manuscript. By 1929, her ankle had healed and she lost interest in writing. She soon took it up again, and most of the manuscript was written by 1930, at an apartment she called "The Dump."
She gave no thought to publishing her novel, but then in 1935, she met Harold Latham, an editor from the Macmillan publishing house, who had been scouring the South in search of promising writers. She escorted him around Atlanta at the request of a mutual friend.
Latham became enchanted with Margaret Mitchell and asked her if she'd ever written a book. She told him no, and he said, "Well, if you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" A friend of Mitchell's overheard the conversation and made a derogatory comment about "someone as silly as Peggy writing a book."
Insulted, Mitchell went home, fished out her unfinished manuscript and gave it to Latham at his hotel room, just as he was about to leave Atlanta. After he got home and read it, he encouraged Mitchell to complete the book, believing that it would be a blockbuster.
Margaret Mitchell completed her manuscript in March of 1936, and two months later, Gone With The Wind was published. Latham's prediction proved to be uncannily accurate. The novel became an overnight success.
The first edition hardcover sold for $3 - a virtually unprecedented price for a hardcover book in 1936 and the equivalent of $50 in today's money. Yet, within its first six months of publication, the novel sold about a million copies.
Legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick bought the film rights, and three years later, the movie version of Gone With The Wind premiered in Atlanta.
The nearly four hour epic film, which starred Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, is rightfully considered one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
Selznick had to fight the censors to use the famous line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" and other elements from the novel deemed objectionable and unacceptable for movies during the Production Code years.
He employed a clever trick to outwit the censors, deliberately peppering the script with content he knew the censors would never pass. That way, he could offer to cut some things in exchange for other material he wanted to keep in the picture.
Sadly, Margaret Mitchell died suddenly in 1949 at the age of 49. She was struck by a drunken off-duty taxi driver, Hugh Gravitt, as she crossed Peachtree Street on her way to see a movie. At the time, Gravitt was out on $5450 bail and awaiting trial for a previous drunk driving arrest.
Mitchell never regained consciousness. She died in the hospital five days after being struck. Gravitt, the drunk driver who killed her, served only eleven months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
For many years, it was assumed that Margaret Mitchell had only written one complete novel - Gone With The Wind. Then, in the 1990s, an earlier manuscript of hers was discovered. The manuscript was a novel called Lost Laysen - a romance set in the South Pacific. Mitchell had written it in two notebooks in 1916 - when she was just sixteen years old.
In the early 1920s, Mitchell had given the novel and a collection of letters to an old boyfriend, Henry Love Angel. Angel's son had discovered the manuscript and sent it to the Road to Tara Museum, which authenticated it. Lost Laysen was published in 1996 in a volume that included an account of Mitchell and Angel's romance and a collection of her letters to him.
Quote Of The Day
"The world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business." - Margaret Mitchell
Today's video features a reading from Margaret Mitchell's classic novel, Gone With The Wind. Enjoy!
Monday, June 29, 2015
My review of Superposition, by David Walton, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
My review of Dante's Dilemma, by Lynne Raimondo, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
My flash fiction, “Ranson Hangs On,” went live on Thurs, June 25, at EXTRACT(S): DAILY DOSE OF LIT. After the 25th, scroll down - maybe even click on “Older Posts” at the bottom of the page.
My interview with author, Sabrina Zbastnik, and my review of her book, Dwarves in Space, is at Underground Review of Books.
Friday, June 26, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On June 26th, 1892, the famous American writer Pearl S. Buck was born. She was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virgina. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were missionaries for the Southern Presbyterian Church. After they married, they went to China and set up a mission.
Since three out of their four previous children, who were born in China, died from cholera and other ailments shortly after their birth, the Sydenstrickers returned to the United States so Pearl's mother could give birth to her there.
The family returned to their mission in China when Pearl was three months old. She was given a Chinese name - Sai Zhen Zhu - and Chinese was her primary language.
She was tutored in Chinese language and history by a Confucian scholar, Mr. Kung. Her mother later taught her English. Pearl came to love China and the Chinese people.
When she was eight years old, the Boxer Rebellion took place. It was a revolt against foreign imperialists and the Christian missionaries who were interfering with Chinese culture in their pursuit of converting and Westernizing the Chinese.
Pearl and her family were evacuated to Shanghai, where they spent almost a whole year living as refugees. The family then left China for San Francisco, only to return a year later, when the Boxer Rebellion had ended.
In 1911, Pearl left China again, this time to attend a women's college in America. After graduating in 1914, she returned to China and served as a missionary until 1933. In 1917, she married fellow missionary John Buck.
She later became a major figure in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 30s - a schism within the Presbyterian church that pitted liberal (modernist) against conservative (fundamentalist) factions.
In a 1932 article published in The Christian Century magazine, Pearl Buck voiced her support for Re-Thinking Missions, a controversial study by a Presbyterian lay group that argued for the scrapping of traditional missions.
Instead of trying to convert all the peoples of the world to Christianity, the study stated, a Christian mission's main function should be to help those in need through humanitarian efforts.
The study also stated that Christian missionaries should ally themselves with all religions instead of trying to win converts. In her article, Buck mocked the biblical literalism of the fundamentalists.
She said that the study was "the only book I have ever read that seems to me literally true in its every observation and right in its every conclusion."
Later that year, Buck gave a speech before a large audience at the Astor Hotel, where she elaborated on the views expressed in her article, describing the typical Christian missionary as "narrow, uncharitable, unappreciative, [and] ignorant."
Pearl also rejected the concept of original sin and the need to believe in the divinity of Christ in order to live a Christian life. She wrote another article that was published in Cosmopolitan, and established herself as a leading liberal voice in the Presbyterian Church.
The Re-Thinking Missions study, along with the efforts of Buck and other liberals outraged the conservative, evangelical faction in the church, and a schism resulted that saw most conservatives bolt from the Presbyterian Church. The few that stayed were willing to compromise and accept modernist ideas.
At the time of her participation in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, Pearl Buck had also established herself as a bestselling writer. Her first novel, East Wind:West Wind was published in 1930.
A year later, she would publish her most famous novel, The Good Earth (1931), which was the first in a classic trilogy of novels called The House of Earth.
The Good Earth told the epic story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant farmer who marries a slave girl named O-Lan, lives a hard life, then unexpectedly rises to prominence, only to encounter more hardships.
The second book in the trilogy, Sons (1933), follows Wang Lung's sons, and the third book, A House Divided (1935), follows the third generation of Wang Lung's family.
The Good Earth won Pearl Buck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1937, starring Paul Muni as Wang Lung and Luise Rainer as O-Lan.
I was thirteen years old when I first read this great novel as a social studies class assignment back in the early 1980s. It remains one of my all-time favorite novels.
Pearl Buck used her experiences in China as the basis for her novels, and in doing so, helped introduce Chinese culture to the West. No stranger to controversy, she would later write China Sky (1941), a tale of the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II.
She also wrote Peony (1948), a haunting, riveting story of a Chinese servant girl, Peony, who is sold to a wealthy Jewish family and embarks on a forbidden romance with the family's only son.
All in all, Pearl Buck wrote over 40 novels (four of them under the pseudonym John Sedges) and numerous short stories, including children's stories.
Her last novel, The Rainbow, was completed before she died in 1973 at the age of 80. It was published posthumously the following year.
Quote Of The Day
"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating." - Pearl S. Buck
Today's video features Pearl S. Buck being interviewed on The Merv Griffin Show in 1966. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 25, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On June 25th, 1903, the legendary English writer George Orwell was born. He was born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal, India, to an affluent family. His father, Richard Blair, was a civil servant. His mother, Ida, was a Frenchwoman.
When he was a year old, Orwell's mother moved him to England, settling in the town of Henley-on-Thames. As a young boy, Orwell met poet Jacintha Buddicorn. The two children became inseparable.
When they first met, Buddicorn found Orwell standing on his head in a field. When she asked him why he was doing that, Orwell replied "You are noticed more if you stand on your head than if you are right way up."
Orwell and Buddicorn spent a lot of time reading together, writing poetry, and dreaming of becoming famous writers. He also became close to the rest of the Buddicorn family and spent time hunting, fishing, and birdwatching with Jacintha's brother and sister.
While at prep school, Orwell wrote two poems that were published in the local newspaper. He won a scholarship, but during his college years, he proved to be an average student at best.
He co-created and co-edited a college magazine and spent more time writing for it than paying attention to his studies. He dropped out of school due to both his poor academic performance (which made future scholarships unlikely) and his desire to travel to the East.
In October of 1922, Orwell went to Burma, now known as Myanmar, where he joined the Indian Imperial Police. He was posted briefly to Maymyo, then to Myaungmya. By 1924, Orwell was promoted to Assistant District Superintendent and posted to Syriam. In 1925, he went to Insein, home of the second-largest prison in Burma.
A year later, he moved to Moulmein, where his grandmother lived. At the end of 1926, Orwell moved on to Kath, where he contracted Dengue fever. He was allowed to go home to England on leave.
While home and recovering, Orwell decided that he was tired of colonial life and police work. He resigned from the Indian Imperial Police and decided to become a writer. He used his experiences in Burma as the basis of his first novel, Burmese Days, which was published in 1934.
Orwell's first published work was a non-fiction book called Down And Out In London And Paris (1933), an account of his life as a struggling writer, as he worked at menial jobs to support himself while he wrote.
He had moved to Paris in 1928 because of its low cost of living and the bohemian lifestyle that attracted many aspiring writers. In 1929, Orwell fell ill and all of his money was stolen from his room at the boarding house where he lived. He later returned to London and took a job teaching at a boy's school.
Orwell's early books were published by Victor Gollancz, whose publishing house was an outlet for radical and socialist books. Orwell wrote two more novels, A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936).
He later disowned these novels, claiming that they weren't his best works - he had just written them to earn money at a time when he was broke. Of the two, Keep The Aspidistra Flying is the better.
It's a grim black comedy about an aspiring poet, Gordon Comstock, who comes from an affluent, respectable family, but believes that in order to be a poet, one must denounce wealth. So, he quits his promising new job as an advertising copywriter and takes a menial job while he writes.
Living in a grubby rented room, he both loves and loathes his new existence. Comstock finally feels like a real poet, but he resents having to work at boring menial jobs to support himself while he writes. His poverty is a frequent source of humiliation, and he soon becomes a deeply neurotic, absurd parody of himself.
Later, Gollancz encouraged Orwell to investigate and write about the depressed social conditions in Northern England, and he went to the poor coal mining town of Wigan, where he lived in a dirty room over a tripe shop.
He met many people and took extensive notes of the living conditions and wages, explored the mine, and spent days in the town's library researching public health records, working conditions in mines, and other data. The result was The Road To Wigan Pier (1937).
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a straightforward documentary about life in Wigan. The second is Orwell's philosophical attempt to answer the question that if socialism can improve the appalling conditions in Wigan and such places around the world - which it can - then why aren't we all socialists?
Orwell places the blame on the ferocious prejudices of the white Christian middle class against the lower working class, the poor, and other people they associate with socialism, such as blacks, Jews, atheists, hippies, pacifists, and feminists.
He concludes that "The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."
The second section of The Road To Wigan Pier shows the early development of Orwell's personal philosophy and his skill as a satirist, both of which have been misconstrued as endorsements of conservatism or even fascism. He was really a lifelong socialist.
Not long after writing The Road To Wigan Pier, Orwell volunteered to fight General Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil War, using his comrades in the Labour Party to get a letter of introduction.
In Spain, Orwell joined the POUM - the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification - which was allied with the Labour Party. The POUM had joined a coalition of leftist factions that supported the Spanish Republican government against the fascists. Another member of the coalition was the Spanish Communist Party.
The Spanish Communist Party was controlled by the Soviet Union, who saw the POUM as a Trotskyist organization and embarked on a campaign to suppress it, first by falsely claiming that the POUM was collaborating with the fascists, then, near the end of the war, outlawing the party and attacking its members.
When Orwell was falsely accused of being a fascist collaborator, he came to hate Soviet communism. He still fought the fascists and was shot in the throat by a sniper. After recovering in a POUM hospital, Orwell and his wife barely managed to escape Spain following the fall of Barcelona.
Orwell's exposure to Soviet communism and its methods of propaganda and oppression, which broke the coalition and caused its members to lose the Spanish Civil War, would have a lasting effect on him and lead him to write his two greatest novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
Animal Farm was an anti-Stalinist fable set on a farm where the animals are ruthlessly oppressed and exploited by the humans for whom they toil. So, the pigs Old Major, (who symbolizes Lenin) Napoleon, (Stalin) Snowball, (Trotsky) and Squealer (Soviet propaganda minister Vyacheslav Molotov) orchestrate a violent revolution.
The humans are overthrown and the animals are free, but soon, Napoleon assumes dictatorial power. He establishes totalitarian rule, and the animals' new utopia becomes even more oppressive and miserable than their existence under human rule.
Declared unfit for military service during World War II, (though he supervised broadcasts to India for the BBC to help the war effort) Orwell had completed Animal Farm in 1944, but no publisher would touch it because the Soviet Union was a key member of the Allies.
The highly acclaimed novel was published after the war ended and adapted as an animated British feature film in 1954. It would be adapted again in 1999 as a live-action American TV movie.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, was Orwell's last and greatest novel. Set in Oceania, formerly England, now a dystopic, totalitarian state in the distant future, it tells the story of Winston Smith, a civil servant who works in the propaganda division as a historical revisionist.
Smith grows disillusioned with the regime and its pervasive surveillance and control of the people, so he decides to start a rebellion. The regime's leader is a mysterious figure known as Big Brother, and he's always watching. His face always appears on posters and monitor screens.
The phrase "big brother" was introduced into the English lexicon by Orwell's novel. Other clever touches include names such as the Ministry Of Peace, which deals with war, and the Ministry Of Love, a reeducation center where people are tortured until they submit.
Winston commits the ultimate crime against the sexually repressive regime - he falls in love with a woman and they have a passionate affair. He and the girl try to escape detection but are arrested by the Thought Police, brought to the Ministry of Love and tortured until they denounce each other.
Now reeducated - brainwashed - to be obedient, Winston is readmitted into the state as a citizen. He's calm, happy, and soulless, and as the novel's ominous final sentence observes, "He loved Big Brother."
A masterpiece of science fiction and political allegory, Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in June of 1949 to great acclaim. It remains a classic to this day.
Orwell managed to complete the novel despite being severely ill with tuberculosis. He also wrote frequently to friends, including his childhood sweetheart Jacintha Buddicorn, who was shocked to learn that the celebrated novelist George Orwell was her childhood sweetheart Eric Blair writing under a pseudonym.
Sadly, Orwell died of tuberculosis in January of 1950, at the age of 46. He'd had numerous lung problems over the years, including chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. He was also a heavy smoker - a habit he took to his grave.
His greatest literary legacy, the classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, would become the bible of anti-communism during the Cold War and still remains a favorite of the right today who appreciate it for all the wrong reasons.
George Orwell was a lifelong socialist who always hoped for a better world where the extremes of wealth and poverty didn't exist and everyone was truly equal. Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning that even the noblest ideas can become corrupted and perverted if allowed.
Quote Of The Day
"There is only one way to make money at writing, and that is to marry a publisher's daughter." - George Orwell
Today's video features the full length BBC documentary, George Orwell - A Life In Pictures. Enjoy!