Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walter de la Mare: poet, novelist

Walter de la Mare
It is the birthday of English poet and novelist Walter de la Mare (1873), whose poems and ghost stories intrigued British children for generations. After schooling, he went to work in the 1890s for Standard Oil Company in London as a bookkeeper. He was married, had a family but still found time to write. He worked for Standard Oil for 18 years. His first novel, Henry Brocken (1904), a tale of the supernatural, was published. Four years later, through the intervention of a friend with connections, he was granted a Civil List pension, allowing him to leave his job and focus on his writing. It afforded him the opportunity to  produce children's poetry, chilling ghost stories and one of his most memorable works, Memoirs of a Midget (1921), which some critics have called a tour de force. It is a fully realized fictional memoir of a diminutive woman whose story is supposedly being published after her death. It is left in the care of a friend, a standard-sized man who visited her throughout her life, and offers an introduction by way of explaining its publication. It begins with the narrator, Miss M, noting that newspaper stories about her were works of fiction in which the reporter, apparently to amuse his readers, made jokes about her physical features, suggesting, among other things, that she was an expert painter of miniatures and a changeling who could speak the fairy tongue. The book goes on to reveal a human being, regardless of size, with a mind and heart and thoughts, feelings and aspirations. The book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Literature, one of Britain's most prestigious awards.The poetry of de la Mare has been compared with William Blake and Thomas Hardy.

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