This Day In Writing History
On January 30th, 1935, the legendary American writer Richard Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington. His father, Bernard Brautigan Jr., was a factory worker, his mother Lulu a waitress.
They separated when Lulu was pregnant, and Richard Brautigan only met his biological father twice because his mother had told him that her second husband, Robert Porterfield, was his biological father. She had never told Bernard Brautigan Jr. she was pregnant.
Richard Brautigan spent his childhood in grinding poverty thanks to his mother's history of broken relationships. She would have two more children with two other men. When Richard was six years old, he and his two-year-old sister Barbara Ann were left alone in a motel room for two days.
The family drifted around the Pacific Northwest, ultimately settling in Eugene, Oregon. They still faced grinding poverty and hunger, sometimes not eating for a few days at a time. Nevertheless, Richard Brautigan proved to be an intellectually gifted child. He began writing poetry and short stories when he was twelve.
While in high school, Richard wrote for the school newspaper, where his first published poem, The Light, appeared. After graduating with honors, he moved in with his best friend Peter Webster, whose mother became Richard's surrogate mother. He would live with the Websters on and off for a few years.
By December of 1955, unable to find steady work, the then 20-year-old Richard Brautigan faced poverty and hunger yet again. So, he came up with an unusual solution. He threw a rock through the police station window, hoping to be jailed for the offense. There, he would at least be fed.
Instead of being sent to jail, Brautigan was fined $25 and released. He kept trying to get himself sent to jail. He was arrested ten days later and committed to the Oregon State Hospital, where he was diagnosed with both schizophrenia and depression and subjected to electroshock treatments.
Released in February of 1956, he lived briefly with his family, then took off for San Francisco, where he established himself as a writer. He handed out copies of his poems on street corners and read at poetry clubs and coffeehouses.
Brautigan's first published poetry book, The Return of the Rivers, appeared in 1957. It contained just one poem. He followed it with more classic poetry collections, including The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958) and Lay the Marble Tea (1959).
He married his girlfriend Virginia Alder, and she bore him his only child, a daughter named Ianthe. Their relationship would end in 1962, as he had been suffering from depression and alcoholism.
A year before the breakup, Richard, Virginia, and baby Ianthe went on a camping and hiking trip together in Idaho's Stanley Basin. He had his portable typewriter with him, and while he sat near a trout stream, he began writing some sketches that would become his celebrated second novel.
Trout Fishing in America (1967) made Richard Brautigan's name as a writer. Its chapters were basically short stories with recurring characters and non-linear narratives. The title of the novel is also the name of a main character, the name of a hotel, and a reference to fishing itself.
Like all of Brautigan's novels, Trout Fishing in America is a comedy seasoned with pathos. To get an idea of the comedy, a character called Trout Fishing in America Shorty, described as "a legless, screaming middle-aged wino," gets shipped by mail to writer Nelson Algren.
In another chapter, a gang of sixth-grade boys in elementary school become "Trout Fishing in America terrorists" when they write "Trout Fishing in America" in chalk on the backs of all the first-graders.
Trout Fishing in America became an overnight sensation, a classic of the 1960s American counterculture that sold over four million copies. Many copies were sold to people who mistook the novel for a nonfiction book on trout fishing; some chapters read like nonfiction.
Although Brautigan was said to have disliked hippies, they loved his avant garde, poetic yet folksy style of writing. Soon he was reading his works at psychedelic rock concerts and serving as Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology.
He also wrote for underground newspapers and recorded a spoken word album for the Beatles' short lived Zapple Records label, which had been dedicated to spoken word and experimental recordings. The album would later be released by Harvest Records as Listening to Richard Brautigan (1970).
Brautigan followed Trout Fishing in America with another classic novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968), which featured these memorable opening paragraphs:
In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.
Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out.
In Watermelon Sugar is an avant garde, post-apocalyptic comedy set in iDEATH, a new Eden located amidst the ruins of the old world. iDEATH is reminiscent of the American hippie communes of the 1960s. The people of iDEATH make things out of watermelon sugar at the Watermelon Works.
One member of iDEATH, a man called inBOIL, rebels and leaves the commune to live near the Forgotten Works, a huge trash heap containing the ruins of the old world. Another member of iDEATH, a woman named Margaret, likes to collect "forgotten things."
In the 1970s, as the American counterculture began to wane, Richard Brautigan found his popularity waning as well. Still, he continued to produce quality novels. Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977) told the story of C. Card, an inept private detective.
The name C. Card is a play on the words "seek hard." His investigations are complicated by an unusual condition - a form of narcolepsy where he suddenly falls asleep and dreams of ancient Babylon. The novel alternates between C. Card's adventures in the present (San Francisco, circa 1942) and in ancient Babylon.
Though Richard Brautigan would publish five quality novels and three poetry collections during the 1970s, by the end of the decade, he had been largely forgotten as a writer. Like his mother before him, his personal life would become a series of shattered relationships.
In 1982, So The Wind Won't Blow It All Away, his last novel published during his lifetime, was released - a poetic, melancholic autobiographical novel based on Brautigan's coming of age in 1948 Oregon.
Two years after the novel was published, Brautigan lost his long battle with alcoholism and depression, committing suicide at the age of 49. He had been living alone in a huge old house in Bolinas, California, that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. His body wouldn't be discovered for over a month.
Richard Brautigan's classic 1967 novel Trout Fishing in America continues to inspire new generations of readers and writers, earning the author new fans. In 1979, a folk-rock duo who performed for children named themselves Trout Fishing in America.
In 1994, a California teenager named Peter Eastman Jr. legally changed his name to Trout Fishing in America. That same year, a young couple named their newborn baby Trout Fishing in America.
Quote Of The Day
"If you get hung up on everybody else's hang-ups, then the whole world's going to be nothing more than one huge gallows." - Richard Brautigan
Today's video features Richard Brautigan reading from his classic novels Trout Fishing in America and In Watermelon Sugar. Enjoy!
Friday, January 30, 2015
Thursday, January 29, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On January 29th, 1860, the legendary Russian writer Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, Russia. His father, Pavel, was a devout Orthodox Christian and choir director. He was also physically abusive to his wife and children and made their lives hell. Scholars believe that Pavel Chekhov served as a model of hypocrisy and tyranny for his son's writings.
As a boy, Anton Chekhov attended a school for Greek boys and the Taganrog Gymnasium, which is now known as the Chekhov Gymnasium. In 1876, Chekhov's father mismanaged his finances while building a new house and bankrupted himself.
To avoid debtor's prison, the family fled to Moscow, where oldest sons Alexander and Nikolai were attending university. Anton Chekhov was left behind in Taganrog to finish his schooling and work to support the family. His mother was devastated, both emotionally and physically drained.
To earn money, Anton did various odd jobs; he worked as a tutor, caught birds and sold them as pets, and took up writing, selling short stories to newspapers. He sent all the money he could spare to his family, along with humorous letters to cheer them up.
He became a voracious reader, delving into the works of Cervantes, Turgenev, Goncharov, Schopenhauer, and others. He also wrote his first play, a comic drama called Fatherless. He had many love affairs, including one with his teacher's wife.
In 1879, Chekhov completed his primary education, rejoined his family, and enrolled in medical school at Moscow University. Five years later, he obtained his medical degree and became a doctor. He made little money as a physician, treating mostly poor people for free.
Not long after he began his practice, he started coughing up blood. By 1886, the attacks worsened, but he wouldn't admit to his family and friends that he had tuberculosis.
Chekhov returned to writing, and wrote prolifically, publishing many short stories in weekly newspapers and magazines, which earned him enough money to move his impoverished family into better housing.
He made a name for himself as a writer and was invited to write exclusively for the Novoye Vremya (New Times), one of the most popular papers in St. Petersburg.
It was owned and edited by millionaire newspaper magnate Alexey Suvorin, who was known to pay his writers generously. Suvorin and Chekhov would become lifelong friends.
After reading Chekhov's short story The Huntsman, 64-year-old Dmitry Grigorovich, a celebrated writer of the time, wrote to Chekhov, telling him "You have real talent - a talent which places you in the front rank among writers in the new generation." He advised Chekhov to slow down and concentrate on the quality of his writing instead of the quantity.
Chekhov wrote back that the letter had struck him "like a thunderbolt," saying "I have written my stories the way reporters write up their notes about fires—mechanically, half-consciously, caring nothing about either the reader or myself." Actually, he often wrote with extreme care, and continually revised his work.
In 1887, with a little help from Grigorovich, Chekhov's short story collection At Dusk won him the Pushkin Prize. That same year, a theater owner named Korsh commissioned him to write a play. The play, Ivanov, was written in two weeks and premiered in November.
Chekhov found the whole experience "sickening," and in a letter to his brother Alexander, he humorously described the chaotic production. To Chekhov's amazement, the play was a hit with both critics and theatergoers. Two years later, in 1889, Chekhov's brother Nikolai died of tuberculosis, plunging him into a depression and influencing the writing of his short story, A Dreary Story.
Searching for a purpose in his own life, Chekhov took up the issue of prison reform. In 1890, he made an arduous journey by train, carriage, and river steamer to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island in the far east of Russia. The letters he wrote during the two and a half month journey are among his best.
What Chekhov saw on Sakhalin shocked and disgusted him; prisoners were being flogged, supplies embezzled, and women forced into prostitution. "There were times," he wrote, when "I felt that I saw before me the extreme limits of man's degradation." He was especially moved by the plight of the children who lived with their parents in the penal colony:
On the Amur steamer going to Sakhalin, there was a convict with fetters on his legs who had murdered his wife. His daughter, a little girl of six, was with him. I noticed wherever the convict moved the little girl scrambled after him, holding on to his fetters. At night the child slept with the convicts and soldiers all in a heap together.
Chekhov concluded that charity wasn't the answer - the government had a duty to finance humane treatment of prisoners. He published his findings in a non-fiction work of social science called Ostrov Sakhalin (Island of Sakhalin) (1893-1894).
In 1892, Chekhov bought Melikhovo, a small country estate 40 miles south of Moscow, and settled there with his family. He joked that "it's nice to be a lord," but took his responsibilities as a landlord seriously and helped the local peasants.
He organized relief for the victims of the famine and cholera outbreaks, built three schools, a fire station, and a free clinic where he treated peasants from miles around - even though his tuberculosis attacks increased.
Chekhov began writing his play The Seagull in 1894. It premiered two years later at the Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. The production was a disaster and the audience booed. Chehkov was so incensed that he renounced the theater and vowed never to write another play.
Theater director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was impressed by The Seagull and convinced a colleague, Constantin Stanislavski, to direct a production for the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. Stanislavski's brilliant, innovative production was a hit.
His faith in the theater restored, Chekhov returned to play writing when the Art Theatre commissioned him to write more plays. The great Uncle Vanya, which Chekhov had written in 1896, premiered at the Art Theatre in 1899.
In 1897, Chekhov had suffered a major hemorrhage of the lungs, so he finally went to a clinic, where his tuberculosis, located in the tops of his lungs, was diagnosed. The doctors advised him to make a major change in his lifestyle. So, after his father died the following year, he bought land in Yalta and built a home there.
When it was completed, he moved in along with his mother and sister. In Yalta, Chekhov planted trees and flowers, kept dogs and tamed cranes as pets, and entertained his friends and fellow writers, including Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. He also wrote more plays for the Art Theatre.
Chekov really hated living in Yalta, which he described as a "hot Siberia," so he often visited Moscow or traveled abroad to get away from it. In May of 1901, at the age of 41, Chekhov married his girlfriend, Olga Knipper.
His marriage came as a surprise to many, because he had been called "Russia's most elusive literary bachelor" and preferred casual relationships and brothels to marriage.
His attitude is reflected in his classic short story, The Lady With The Dog, which told the tale of Dmitry, an unhappily married Moscow banker who believes that women are only good for one thing. So he engages in many meaningless affairs.
Then one day, while vacationing in Yalta, he meets Anna, a young woman who is walking her dog along the seafront. Smitten, he introduces himself. Soon, Dmitry and Anna begin a passionate affair which lasts until he returns to Moscow.
Back home and back in his daily routine, Dmitry finds himself haunted by his memories of Anna and determines to find her. Using business as a ruse, he goes to St. Petersburg and finds out where she lives. Afraid that she's found someone else, he returns to his hotel.
Later, he goes to see a production of the musical play The Geisha, thinking that Anna might be in attendance. He sees her with her husband. When the man steps out for a smoke, Dmitry greets Anna. Startled, she runs off, and he follows her.
When Dmitry finally confronts Anna, she tells him that she never stopped thinking about him, but begs him to leave, promising to visit him in Moscow. She keeps her promise, and Dmitry realizes that he has fallen in love for the first time in his life. The story ends with Dmitry and Anna trying to plan for a life together.
By 1904, Anton Chekhov was dying of tuberculosis. In June, he and Olga went to the German spa town of Badenweiler, where he wrote cheerful letters to his mother and sister. He told them that he was getting better, but he was really getting worse. He died on July 15th at the age of 44. This is how Olga described his death:
Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe ('I'm dying'). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: 'It's a long time since I drank champagne.' He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child...
Quote Of The Day
"The task of a writer is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly." - Anton Chekhov
Today's video features the complete 1970 BBC production of Anton Chekhov's classic play, Uncle Vanya, starring Anthony Hopkins. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On January 28th, 1873, the legendary French writer and actress Colette was born. She was born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in Yonne, France. In 1893, at the age of twenty, Colette married writer and music critic Henri "Willy" Gauthier-Villars.
Willy, fifteen years her senior, was known for having a staff of ghostwriters that he would direct in producing his works and for his notorious sexual exploits, which didn't end with his marriage.
A few years after they were married, Colette decided to try her own hand at writing. In 1900, her first novel, Claudine a L'ecole (Claudine At School) was published - under her husband's name.
It would be the first in a series of semi-autobiographical novels featuring Claudine, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. The novel takes the form of Claudine's journal as she records her home and school life. She lives in Montigny with her father, who ignores her.
At school, Claudine falls in love with Miss Lanthenay, the assistant headmistress, and they have an affair. Miss Sergent, the headmistress, finds out about the affair and gets Miss Lanthenay to break it off. She eventually takes Miss Lanthenay as her own lover.
Heartbroken and feeling betrayed, Claudine turns to her friends - tough, cynical Anais and sweet-natured Marie - to help her cause trouble for the headmistresses. In addition to chronicling her love affairs with both female and male paramours, Claudine records other events in her journal.
Chronicling her school year, she records evens both mundane and important, such as the opening of a new school, a ball given in the honor of a visiting politician, and preparations for final exams.
Claudine a L'ecole caused an outrage with its frank and honest depiction of female bisexuality and a sensation with the quality of its prose. Colette's husband Willy, who served as her editor, later tried to claim that he was the real author of the Claudine books.
This, along with his constant philandering, put an end to their marriage. When she first discovered that he was cheating, she had an affair of her own with another woman, then learned that the girl was one of her husband's mistresses! When she revealed this to Willy, he suggested that they make it a menage a trois.
Colette agreed, but the relationship didn't last. She left Willy in 1906 and moved in with her friend, American writer Natalie Barney. The two women had a brief affair, but remained lifelong friends. Colette took up acting and became a music hall actress in Paris.
Her mentor in acting was Mathilde "Missy" de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf. They became lovers, and in 1907, while doing a pantomime called Reve d'Egypte at the Moulin Rouge, the performance included an onstage kiss between the two women that caused a riot.
The ensuing scandal resulted in the banning of future performances of Reve d'Egypte. Though Colette and Missy were no longer able to live openly together, their relationship lasted for five years. After it ended, Colette had relationships with male lovers.
Her male paramours included Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio and French car magnate Auguste Herriot. In 1912, Colette married her second husband, Henri de Jouvenel, editor of the newspaper Le Matin. She bore him a daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, who was called Bel-Gazou.
In 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, Colette was approached by the Opera de Paris and asked to write a ballet. She accepted the offer and chose legendary composer Maurice Ravel to write the music. He turned it into an opera, and by 1918, Colette gave him her finished libretto.
L'Enfant et les Sortileges, aka The Child and the Spells: a Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts, premiered seven years later. During the war, Colette had converted her husband's estate in St. Malo into a hospital for the wounded. For this, she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1920.
That same year, she resurrected her literary career, publishing her classic novel Cheri. Cheri is a young man of 25 involved in a passionate, albeit casual relationship with Lea, a retired courtesan nearly twice his age.
When Cheri enters an arranged marriage to a young woman from a wealthy family, he and Lea realize that they are in love with each other. After nine months of misery in a loveless marriage, Cheri returns to Lea, who rescues him from the depths of depression.
She gives him the courage to return to his wife, realizing that she has to let him go for his own good. Colette would follow Cheri with a sequel, La Fin de Cheri, published in 1926.
Colette, now regarded as France's finest female writer, struck up a friendship with legendary writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and became part of his literary circle. She divorced her husband after engaging in a scandalous affair with her stepson, Bertrand.
In 1935, she married again, to Maurice Goudeket. During World War II, at the time of the Nazi occupation of France, Colette hid her husband and their Jewish friends in her attic, where they remained throughout the war.
In 1945, after the war ended, Colette published her most famous novel, Gigi. Set in turn of the century Paris, it told the story of Gigi, a young girl who is well-educated at a girls' school and taught etiquette, dress, and style by her female relatives.
They're grooming Gigi to follow in their footsteps and become a courtesan - a mistress of wealthy, cultured married men - and support them. But Gigi doesn't want to be a courtesan - she wants true love.
That true love takes the form of family friend Gaston Lachaille, a wealthy thirtysomething year old man who is bored with high society and his current mistress. He falls in love with Gigi - and ultimately marries her.
Gigi would be adapted as a Broadway play by Anita Loos in 1951. In 1958, the book would be adapted as an acclaimed albeit sanitized movie musical starring Leslie Caron in the lead role and co-starring Louis Jordan and Maurice Chevalier.
Featuring a soundtrack of songs by Lerner and Loewe, including the endearing Thank Heaven For Little Girls, Gigi is rightfully considered a classic film. It won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Colette died in 1954 at the age of 81. She had written around 50 novels and become a feminist icon - a brilliant writer, intellectual, and free spirit who flaunted her bisexuality, determined to live her life on her own terms with apologies to no one.
Quote Of The Day
"On this narrow planet, we have only the choice between two unknown worlds. One of them tempts us - ah, what a dream, to live in that! The other stifles us at the first breath." - Colette
Today's video features a 1951 short film documentary on Colette, in French with English subtitles. Enjoy!
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On January 27th, 1832, the legendary English writer Lewis Carroll was born. He was born Charles Dodgson IV in Daresbury, Cheshire, England.
His father was a fiercely conservative clergyman in the Anglican Church. Young Charles, however, did not share his father's conservatism or his extreme devotion to the Anglican Church.
A precocious, intellectually gifted child and voracious reader, Charles Dodgson received his early education at home. He was sickly; a fever left him deaf in one ear, and he suffered from a stammer which would result in the extreme shyness that plagued him all his life.
As a teenager, he would contract a severe case of whooping cough that left him with a weak respiratory system. He also suffered from a condition that matched the description of temporal lobe epilepsy.
In 1844, at the age of twelve, Charles Dodgson began his formal schooling at a small private school in Richmond, North Yorkshire. He loved that school, but when he moved on to Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire two years later, he came to hate the place.
R.B. Mayor, his mathematics master, recognized Dodgson's genius for arithmetic. Though he disliked Rugby School, he maintained his academic prowess and was an excellent student as always.
Dodgson enrolled in his father's alma mater, Christ Church, Oxford, in January of 1851. He was at university for only two days when he was summoned to return home. His mother had died at the age of 47 from "inflammation of the brain," a common euphemism for conditions such as meningitis and stroke.
He later returned to university, where his talent as a mathematician won him a Mathematical Lectureship at Christ Church, and he would teach there for the next 26 years. Teaching bored him, but the pay was good.
Charles Dodgson had begun writing poetry and short stories as a young boy. He would publish them in Mischmasch, a magazine created by the Dodgson family for their own amusement. Later, between 1854 and 1856, his works would appear in both national magazines and smaller publications in the UK.
Most of these works were humorous and satirical in nature. Too shy to use his own name, Dodgson wrote under his soon-to-be-famous pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, which was a clever play on his own name; Carroll is an Irish surname similar to the Latin word Carolus, from which the name Charles comes.
In 1856, Dodgson published the first work to make him famous, a romantic poem titled Solitude. That same year, a new Dean arrived at Christ Church with his family. His name was Henry Liddell. He and his wife had four children: Harry, Lorina, Edith, and Alice.
Dodgson became a close friend of the Liddell family. He would take the children on rowing trips to Nuneham Courtenay and Godstow. Of the four Liddell children, Dodgson was closest to Alice and would spend a lot of time with her.
On July 4th, 1862, during a rowing trip with Alice, Dodgson told her a story he was thinking about turning into a children's book. It was about a little girl (named after Alice) who falls through a rabbit hole and finds herself in a strange and magical world. Alice loved the story and begged him to write the book. So he did.
A year later, he took his unfinished manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground to a publisher named Macmillan for appraisal. He liked it immediately. In 1864, Dodgson presented Alice Liddell with his completed manuscript.
When the book was being prepared for publication, several other titles were considered, including Alice Among The Fairies and Alice's Golden Hour. The book was published in 1865 as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, later shortened to Alice In Wonderland.
It was a huge critical and commercial success, beloved by both children and adults. It made the name Lewis Carroll world famous. It also made the author a lot of money, but he still kept the teaching job he disliked.
Dodgson published a sequel, Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871, though the title page erroneously states that the book was published in 1872. Through The Looking Glass was a darker tale than the original, which no doubt reflected (no pun intended) the author's struggle with depression following the death of his father in 1868.
Dodgson would publish several other children's books, including Sylvie And Bruno and The Hunting Of The Snark, a dazzling, epic "nonsense poem." He also wrote over a dozen mathematics textbooks.
When he wasn't writing or teaching, Dodgson explored his interest in photography and became a renowned photographer. Ironically, it was his photography, not his writing, that gained him entrance into high society.
He would photograph many notable people, including legendary poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. When he retired as a photographer in 1880, Dodgson had taken over 3,000 photographs, but less than 1,000 of these images have survived.
In late 1897, Charles Dodgson contracted a bad case of the flu that turned into pneumonia. His weak respiratory system never recovered, and he died at his sister's home on January 14th, 1898 - two weeks before his 66th birthday.
Years later, several different biographers would speculate that Dodgson was a pedophile. He never married, he preferred the company of children to adults - especially little girls - and as a photographer, he had taken many nude photographs of young girls, including Alice Liddell.
A group of scholars, including French academic Hugues Lebailly and biographer Karoline Leach, sought to debunk what they called the "Carroll Myth." Leach wrote a biography called In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, where she explained how the Carroll Myth came to be.
In her book, Leach argues that the myth of Dodgson's pedophilia arose from a misunderstanding of Victorian morality and aesthetics. Images of nude children were common in Victorian England, considered artistic representations of beauty and innocence and devoid of eroticism. They even appeared on Christmas cards.
Leach goes on to say that Dodgson's diaries showed that he was interested in adult women and had relationships with them that were considered scandalous by Victorian standards.
Some biographers had claimed that Dodgson's falling out with the Liddell family happened because he wanted to marry the then 11-year-old Alice; Leach claimed that the falling out happened because Henry Liddell discovered that Dodgson was having an affair with either oldest daughter Lorina or the family's nanny, both of whom were grown women.
Of the 13 diaries that Dodgson kept throughout his life, four are missing. Leach believes that they were destroyed by Dodgson's family to protect his name because they chronicled his sexual relationships with unmarried women - not little girls.
Charles Dodgson's love for children came from the extreme shyness brought on by his speech impediment. He was more comfortable around children because they weren't bothered by the stammer he was so self-conscious of.
Karoline Leach's biography of Dodgson is, like the writer's sexuality, still hotly debated. Some say that In the Shadow of the Dreamchild is a long overdue repudiation of the besmirching of Dodgson's name, while others accuse Leach and the academics who support her of historical revisionism.
Dodgson's classic novel, Alice In Wonderland, still beloved by readers of all ages and popular with literary scholars, has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
The latest feature film adaptation was released in March of 2010. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie featured Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, and Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock.
Quote Of The Day
"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." - Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)
Today's video features a complete reading of Lewis Carroll's epic "nonsense poem," The Hunting of the Snark. Enjoy!
Monday, January 26, 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On January 23rd, 1930, the famous Caribbean writer Derek Wolcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia. His mother was a teacher who often recited poetry around the house. His father was an artist and poet who died before Derek and his twin brother Roderick were born.
Derek Wolcott first intended to become an artist like his father, training with painter Harold Simmons. But he soon fell in love with literature and writing became his main passion. He was twelve years old when his first published poem appeared in a newspaper.
The poem, inspired by both his Methodist faith and the works of John Milton, prompted a Catholic priest to write an angry letter to the editor accusing Wolcott of blasphemy. The letter was published in the newspaper, but that failed to discourage the young poet.
By 1949, Wolcott, then nineteen years old, had self-published his first two poetry collections, 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949). He had borrowed the money from his mother, and, as he predicted, all the copies sold out.
These early poetry collections caught the eye of noted Barbadian poet Frank Collymore, who gave them rave reviews and helped promote them. Wolcott then won a scholarship to the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
After graduating, Wolcott moved to the Island of Trinidad, where he became a teacher, a literary critic, and a journalist. He also founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, where he remains on the Board of Directors.
In 1962, his classic poetry collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 brought him international fame. In it, he explored the colonial and post-colonial history of the Caribbean - perfect metaphors for the turbulent social and political changes taking place around the world.
Wolcott also earned international recognition for his classic play Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970), which was produced by NBC-TV the year it was written. The following year, the play was produced off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company and won an Obie Award.
It told the story of Felix Hobain, a drunken hermit taken to jail to sober up after causing a ruckus at the market. Suffering from the DTs and hallucinating, he has a prophetic dream. Believing himself to be a healer, he wakes up sober and determined to heal the sick and lead his people.
In 1972, Wolcott won the OBE (Order of the British Empire) Award and was hired to teach at Boston University. Nine years later, he founded the Boston Playwrights' Theatre and received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Wolcott would teach at Boston University for over twenty years. When he wasn't in the classroom, he wrote and published new plays and poetry collections. His classic Homeric epic poem Omeros, published in 1990, is considered his masterpiece.
Most of the poem takes place in the author's native Saint Lucia. The non-linear narrative includes an imagined voyage aboard a slave ship from Africa to the Americas. In Book Five, the author relates his own experiences traveling to world cities such as London, Dublin, Rome, Lisbon, and Toronto.
In writing Omeros, Wolcott employed a three-line format similar to the terza rima used by Dante in The Divine Comedy, but Omeros is largely Homeric, written mostly in hexameter, which Homer used in The Iliad, and containing character names such as Achille, Helen, and Hector.
Two years after the publication of Omeros, Derek Wolcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature, which made him the first Caribbean writer to win a Nobel Prize. Most recently, he has served as scholar-in-residence at the University of Alberta and professor of poetry at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.
Wolcott has written over twenty poetry collections and two dozen plays. His most recent poetry collection, White Egrets, was published in 2010; his latest play, O Starry Starry Night, came out last year.
Quote Of The Day
"The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own images from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life." - Derek Wolcott
Today's video features Derek Wolcott being interviewed before a live audience at a theater in Toronto. Enjoy!
Thursday, January 22, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On January 22nd, 1953, The Crucible, the classic play by the legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre, now known as the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
The play, set in the 17th century during the time of the witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, is actually a scathing allegorical satire of the modern witch hunt being conducted by the United States government against alleged communists and communist sympathizers at the time the play was written.
The anticommunist witch hunts were conducted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) under the direction of Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican Senator from Wisconsin who would later be censured for his outrageous and illegal conduct.
Arthur Miller was inspired to write The Crucible by what happened to his close friend, the legendary film director Elia Kazan, who faced losing his career to the Hollywood Blacklist after he was accused of being a communist.
Brought before the HUAC to testify, Kazan, wishing to avoid being blacklisted, informed on several of his friends, including legendary playwright Lillian Hellman and actor John Garfield.
Kazan avoided the Hollywood Blacklist, but his reputation would take a huge hit. He was, and is to this day, rightfully considered of the biggest rats of the Blacklist era, a man willing to ruin the lives of others for the sake of his own self interest. Miller didn't speak to him for ten years.
The Crucible opens with Reverend Samuel Parris, the hated minister of Salem's church, praying over his daughter Betty, who had fainted after being caught in the forest allegedly practicing witchcraft along with Parris' niece, 17-year-old Abigail Williams, and some other girls.
John Proctor, an honorable married farmer, enters the room and is left alone with Abigail, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. He had an affair with Abigail when she worked as his maid, but he regretted it and ended it.
Reverend John Hale, a respected minister and self-proclaimed expert on the occult, is summoned to look into the incident of alleged witchcraft. Abigail accuses her uncle's slave, Tituba, of being a witch.
Afraid of being hanged and threatened with a beating, Tituba accuses two other women of being witches. Betty awakens, and she and Abigail accuse a list of people of practicing witchcraft.
In the second act, John Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, urges him to expose Abigail as a liar. Proctor tells her that he can't prove that Abigail is lying because they were alone together when she admitted it.
The fact that they were alone together again upsets Elizabeth. Proctor sees her reaction as an accusation that he has resumed his affair with Abigail and they have an argument. Later, the Proctors' new maid, Mary, arrives and tells them that she will be absent while she performs her duties as a newly appointed court official.
Thirty-nine people have now been arrested and charged with witchcraft. John Proctor is furious that the kangaroo court is condemning people to death with no solid evidence of their guilt. Elizabeth makes a prophetic prediction that Abigail will falsely accuse her of witchcraft so she can marry John.
When Elizabeth is later arrested and charged with witchcraft, John tells Mary that she must testify against Abigail, because she can prove that Abigail is a liar. Mary is afraid of testifying for fear that Abigail and her friends will accuse her of being a witch.
Proctor meets Abigail in the woods. She tries to seduce him again, but he pushes her away and demands that she take back her accusation against his wife. She refuses.
In the third act, during the trial, which is presided over by a coldblooded, sadistic, and ignorant judge, Mary is brought in to testify against Abigail, who, along with her friends, puts on an act, pretending to be in the throes of a spell.
Finally, Proctor can stand no more. He admits his affair with Abigail and accuses her of being a whore. Elizabeth denies that her husband had an affair in a misguided attempt to save his good name.
Abigail and her friends continue their act, pretending to see a bird that Mary conjured to attack them. Mary, fearful of being accused of witchcraft, then accuses John Proctor of the crime. He's arrested, and Reverend Hale quits the court in protest.
The fourth act begins with Proctor in jail and Reverend Parris revealing to the judge and the deputy governor that his niece Abigail and her friend Mercy are not only liars, but thieves as well.
The authorities are unsympathetic and send Elizabeth to get John to confess to witchcraft to save his life. Elizabeth forgives him for the affair and he agrees to confess, but then he learns that his confession will be nailed to the church for all to see.
This will ruin the names of many innocent people, so John tears up the document and refuses to confess. The play ends with Proctor being taken to the gallows to hang for a crime he didn't commit.
Ironically, a few years after The Crucible debuted on Broadway. Arthur Miller found himself a victim of the very witch hunts he had satirized in his play when in 1956, he applied to have his passport renewed.
Since it was illegal to issue passports to communists, suspected communists, and communist sympathizers, the HUAC took advantage of Miller's passport application to subpoena him and make him testify about his political activities.
The openly leftist Miller told the committee he would testify to his own political activities if they didn't ask him to denounce other people. The chairman agreed, and Miller appeared before the HUAC.
He kept his part of the deal, providing the HUAC with a detailed account of his own political activities. The committee then reneged on the chairman's promise and demanded that he give them the names of friends and colleagues who shared his convictions and participated in similar activities.
He refused to comply. As a result, in May of 1957, a judge found Arthur Miller guilty of contempt of Congress. He was fined $500, sentenced to 30 days in jail, blacklisted, and denied a renewal of his passport.
Fortunately, Miller's conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeals court ruled that he had been deliberately misled by the HUAC chairman and tricked into incriminating himself, a violation of his fifth amendment rights.
That wasn't the only dirty trick employed by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. Guilt by association was another tactic. If the accused's relatives and / or friends were communists, he was guilty as well, or he would have had nothing to do with them.
Worst of all, when McCarthy could find no evidence to prove his mostly false and slanderous accusations of communism, he simply manufactured it, creating doctored photographs, films, and recordings.
In December of 1954, by a vote of 67-22, McCarthy was censured by the Senate for his unethical and illegal conduct. Though he would continue to perform his general duties as a Senator for the next two and a half years, his political career was ruined.
McCarthy was shunned by almost all his fellow Senators. Whenever he gave a speech on the Senate floor, the other Senators would immediately leave the floor rather than listen to him speak. Stripped of power, humiliated, and haunted by his fate, McCarthy drank himself to death, dying in May of 1957 at the age of 48.
The House Unamerican Activities Committee was renamed the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969. It would finally be abolished in 1975.
Quote Of The Day
"A play is made by sensing how the forces in life simulate ignorance - you set free the concealed irony, the deadly joke." - Arthur Miller
Today's video features Arthur Miller talking about his battle with the House Unamerican Activities Committee on Canadian TV in 1971. Enjoy!