Thursday, February 28, 2013

John Tenniel illustrated Alice in Wonderland

John Tenniel
It is the birthday of British illustrator Sir John Tenniel (1820), who is best remembered as the artist who illustrated Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871). He also served as the principal political cartoonist for the weekly satire magazine Punch for more than half a century. Queen Victoria knighted him in 1893.

When he was 16 years old, Tenniel entered a competition to create a mural for the Palace of Westminster, which had just been completed. Tenniel received 200 pounds and a commission to paint a fresco for the Hall of Poets in the House of Lords. He studied at the Royal Academy. When he was 20, Tenniel received a severe wound to his right eye while fencing with his father. He never told his father how bad it was but he eventually lost sight in his eye.

In 1850, the founding editor of the humor magazine Punch, Mark Lemon, invited Tenniel to be a cartoonist for the magazine. Over the years, Tenniel's work came to represent the collective social conscience of the British public. For instance, when the citizens of India rebelled against British rule, people in Britain were outraged. Retribution was swift and bloody. Tenniel's cartoons represented the situation as the British Lion savagely attacking the Bengal Tiger.

Originally, Lewis Carroll (Dr. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) illustrated his book himself but eventually warmed to the suggestion from his engraver that he seek professional help. Carroll was an avid reader of Punch magazine, so he knew Tenniel's work. The two had numerous discussions before Tenniel finally illustrated Alice. Dr. Dodgson, ever the perfectionist, provided Tenniel with detailed instructions on how to draw the characters in the story, much to Tenniel's chagrin. However, by May 1865, Tenniel had completed 42 illustrations.

Tenniel didn't like the printing quality of the first 2,000-copy run so it was recalled. All but about 20 or so were recovered. That first printing was donated to children's hospitals. A second first printing was published in November 1865 but carried an 1866 date. The earliest copies of Alice in Wonderland are extremely rare and bring handsome sums at auction. Tenniel initially tried to avoid doing the illustrations for Through the Looking-Glass but Dodgson persisted and finally Tenniel agreed to do them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Longfellow wrote The Children's Hour

It is the birthday of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807), who was the most popular poet in America during his lifetime. Here is one of his most enduring poems, The Children's Hour.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy birthday, John Steinbeck

It is the birthday of writer John Steinbeck (1902), who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), his novel about a Dust Bowl family during the Great Depression. For his body of work, which included Of Mice and Men (1937) and East of Eden (1952), and a total of 27 books, both fiction and non-fiction, Steinbeck receded the Nobel Prize for Literature in1962. In this this video, Steinbeck's older son, Thom, talks about his father's work. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Frank Slaughter wrote medical novels

Frank Slaughter
It is the birthday of Florida physician and writer Frank G. Slaughter (1908), whose immensely popular medical adventures and historical tales were bestsellers for decades beginning in the 1950s. For nine years, he was a surgeon at Riverside Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1930s and early 1940s but he eventually left the profession to devote full time to writing. He lived in Florida for 50 years and set many of his books in the region. His novels always combined some medical aspect and romance. They weren't considered literary masterpieces but they were widely read.

His historical novel Fort Everglades (1951) was set during the Second Seminole War at a fort on the Miami River. U.S. Army troops were planning to invade the Everglades. Warner Brothers was so intrigued with the story that the studio began making a feature film that liberally borrowed scenes from Slaughter's book. The film was the 1951 feature Distant Drums starring Gary Cooper and directed by Raoul Walsh. Only later, after it was challenged, did the studio buy the movie rights to the novel. Oddly, the film was shot in and around Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, a Spanish fort of an entirely different era.

Fernando Lamas starred in the 1953 film version of Slaughter's novel Sangaree (1952), which was set during the American Revolution. It tells the story of an indentured servant who rises in stature and power in the state of Georgia. Gene Hackman and Dyan Cannon starred in a 1971 movie based on Slaughter's Doctors' Wives (1967), in which high powered doctors neglect their wives in pursuit of their careers.

Slaughter wrote 56 books and they sold about 60 million copies. They were translated into all major languages. In addition to the then-modern medical dramas and historical fiction, Slaughter wrote novels based on biblical stories set in the Holy Land and also in Europe during the Renaissance. Curiously, Slaughter rarely traveled. He visited Europe once when he was in his 60s but never went to the Middle East. His first novel, That None Should Die (1941) offered a young doctor's view of socialized medicine. His last novel, No Greater Love (1984) was also a medical story. Slaughter died in 2001 at the age of 93.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shirer covered Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany

It is the birthday of journalist William L. Shirer (1904), who is best remembered for his history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960). Shirer was a correspondent in Europe for the Chicago Tribune, then the International News Service. Edward R. Murrow hired him to help him cover Europe for CBS radio in the early days of broadcast journalism. Shirer remained in Germany during Adolph Hitler's rise to power and at the beginning of World War II, where he witnessed and reported on the growth of the Nazi dictatorship. After the war, Shirer advocated for a harsh treatment of Germany. He narrated this film of captured Nazi propaganda for the Army Navy Screen Magazine, a program that was shown to American soldiers overseas. The program was supervised by famed Hollywood director Frank Capra.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy birthday, Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, which is considered one of her best poems. Here is a 1940s recording of her reading the poem for a New York radio program Anthology.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happy birthday, playwright Russel Crouse

Russel Crouse
It is the birthday of Broadway playwright Russel Crouse (1893), whose 32-year writing partnership with Howard Lindsay produced some of the most memorable Broadway shows of all time, including the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes (1934), the long-running Life With Father (1939), The Sound of Music (1960), and State of the Union (1946), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Crouse was born in Findlay, Ohio, and became a reporter at the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune at age 17. He served in the Navy during 'World War I, and afterward he worked on New York newspapers, including a column for the New York Post. He became head of the publicity department for the Theatre Guild in 1932 and wrote his first Broadway play in 1933. it was a collaboration with humorist Corey Ford that resulted in the musical comedy Hold Your Horses.

In 1934, he teamed up with Howard Lindsay to adapt a play originally written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse called Anything Goes. The original story was about a shipwreck and the wacky characters who survived it. However, before the show began rehearsals, the luxury cruise ship Morro Castle caught fire and burned off the coast of New Jersey and 137 people died. The show's producer asked Lindsay and Crouse to revise the libretto to eliminate the shipwreck. Instead, the story became the madcap adventures of people on an ocean liner bound for London. The show, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, became a hit. It was the beginning of a three-decade collaboration of Lindsay and Crouse, that also produced the librettos for Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue (1936), Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam (1950), and Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1959).

Life With Father was based on the autobiographical novel by writer Clarence Day Jr. about his A-personality father, who demanded perfection of his family. The Lindsay-Crouse play ran for seven years (3,224 performances) on Broadway, setting the record as the longest-running non-musical in Broadway history. At the beginning, the play starred Howard Lindsay and his wife, Dorothy Stickney.

Ås Broadway producers, Lindsay and Crouse, presented the now-classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1940), a play about a pair of murderous elderly sisters. Playwright Joseph Kesselring originally conceived the play as a dark drama but Lindsay and Crouse convinced him that it would work better as a comedy. It was Kesselring's most successful play.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy birthday, surrealist André Breton

André Breton
It is the birthday of French writer André Breton (1896), who is remembered as one of the founders of the Surrealist movement in literature. As a medical student, Breton became interested in psychiatry. During World War I, he served in a neurological ward. He met Sigmund Freud in 1921 in Vienna.

However, his work on Surrealism began before meeting Freud. In 1916, he was part of the Dadaists, an avant-garde arts movement that embraced intuition, irrationality, and nonsense over logic and reason. Soon, though, Breton broke with Dadaism to embrace a new approach to art. "Leave everything," he wrote. "Leave your wife. Leave your mistress. Leave your hopes an fears. Leave your children in the woods. Leave the substance for shadow. Leave your easy life. Leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the road."

Breton and others began to explore automatic writing, a process of writing from the subconscious without a conscious awareness of the content. The idea had been around for decades, but Breton further defined it and expanded it. Breton sought to explore the true nature of thought through psychic automatism. He wrote his first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) to define the movement. "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality [sur = "on", "above" in French], if one may so speak,"  he wrote.

Later, Breton wrote The Second Manifesto of Surrealism (1930, in which he said that surrealists sought to reach a mental vantage point from which "life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable, high and low, will no longer be perceived as contradictions.

During World War II, Breton had to get out of occupied France because the Vichy government banned his writing. With the help of American journalist Varian Fry and American diplomat Harry Bingham, Breton went to the United States along with artists Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. He settled in Canada for a time and continued writing. He went to Mexico to visit exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and collaborated with him to write the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. After the war, Breton returned to France and continued to write and involve himself in politics. He eventually embraced pure anarchism. Breton died in 1966.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wendell Willkie: ambassador, womanizer

Wendell Willkie
It is the birthday of lawyer Wendell Willkie (1892), who ran unsuccessfully for president against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, later became an ambassador-at-large for Roosevelt and traveled around the world to advance a concept of a planet freed from colonialism and imperialism. Willkie's book, One World (1943), told the story of his travels and became a bestseller, one of the most widely read books of the 20th century. Scholars consider it a crucial element in gaining support for Roosevelt's policy of helping Britain resist dictators. It was a powerful force in guiding national thought toward creating the United Nations and the United States' participation in international affairs. It was also effective in turning many Republicans away from isolationism.

Willkie was widely known in political circles and among newspaper reporters as a womanizer. In fact, he made no attempt to hide his affair with Irita Van Doren, the popular book editor of The New York Herald Tribune. She was divorced and they lived together despite the fact that Willkie was married. They traveled together and were invited as a couple to friends' homes. When it looked like Willkie, who was president of a utility holding company, might actually become a presidential candidate, advisers urged that his paramour be kept in the background until after the election.

Willkie resented the hypocrisy of politics and refused. He believed his private life was his own. After the nomination, when a reporter confronted Willkie about the affair, he is said to have replied, "I am in love with another woman — and I don't intend to apologize for that and pretend that it isn't so. If you print this story, my campaign for the Presidency is probably over. But that is your decision. I have made mine."

The story was never printed but a Broadway play, State of the Union (1945) by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, was loosely based on Willkie's affair. It opened after Willkie's death and ran for 765 performances. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Frank Capra directed a 1948 film adaptation.

In 1944, as Willkie began seeking the Republican nomination again, he published a book titled An American Program. It was a collection of articles he had written for various newspapers on his vision for the nation plus critical analyses of the Republican and Democratic platforms. After losing in the Wisconsin primary, Willkie withdrew from the race. He never held public office.

Willkie was the subject of two biographies and other books, including Willkie (1952), Dark Horse (1984), The Republican Party and Wendell Willkie (1960, reprinted 1981), Roosevelt and Willkie (1968), Wendell Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist (1992).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Van Wyck Brooks was top literary critic

Van Wyck Brooks on Time cover in 1944

It is the birthday of literary historian Van Wyck Brooks (1886), whose detailed study of early American literature, The Flowering of New England (1936), won the Pulitzer Prize for history and the National Book Award. It is notable for placing such writers as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau into historical context, examining the social, religious, and political forces of the nation and the region that affected these literary icons.

The book was part of his Finders and Makers series that covered American literary history from 1800 to 1915. Books from the series also include New England: Indian Summer, 1865-1916 (1940), The World of Washington Irving (1944), The Times of Melville and Whitman (1947), and The Confident Years: 1885-1915 (1952). Indian Summer was well received and was a best seller. Brooks was hailed for his vivid style and clarity. He drew from the letters and other contemporary documents to paint clear pictures of the men and their times.

Brooks' volume, On Literature Today (1941), harshly criticized the likes of Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway, whose dim views of humankind were in direct conflict with Brooks' desire for literature of affirmation rooted in an abiding faith in human nature.

Brooks graduated from Harvard University in 1908. While he was a student, he published with a friend his first collection of poetry, Verses by Two Undergraduates. He followed that with The Wine of the Puritans (1909), his first book of literary criticism. Brooks wrote that Puritanism had a profound effect on the formation of American culture and ideas.

Brooks also wrote a detailed study of the great American author Samuel L. Clemens in The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920). He blamed the author's shortcomings on Twain's mother and wife.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Herman Kahn: the real Dr. Strangelove

Herman Kahn
It is the birthday of futurist Herman Kahn (1922), whose book On Thermonuclear War (1960) made the case during the Cold War that a policy of massive nuclear retaliation against the Soviet Union was sheer lunacy. It was a controversial assertion at a time with tensions between the world's great superpowers were at an all time high. Kahn suggested that the policy of the Eisenhower administration invited nuclear attack because it gave the Soviets an incentive to aim missiles at U.S. bomber bases in advance of any conventional military operation.

The Soviet Union held the advantage of sheer number of soldiers at that time and U.S. officials thought that the only way to prevent Soviet aggression was to threaten a nuclear attack in response.

Kahn said that nuclear war was feasible and winnable. He argued that life would go on after such a war, whether a few major cities were destroyed or hundreds of millions of people died. He noted that in 14th century Europe life continued after the bubonic plague killed as many as 200 million people. Kahn argued that no matter how bad the devastation was survivors would "not envy the dead."

If you believed otherwise, Kahn said, then deterrence was unnecessary. If Americans weren't willing to push the button, then they ought not to be talking about attacking the Soviets, he said. For the idea to work, Soviets had to believe that the United States could not only survive a nuclear attack but that it could strike back. That belief in a "second strike" capability was paramount in convincing Soviet leaders that they would be destroyed if they attacked the United States, Kahn said.

Kahn incurred the anger of some people because he was perfectly willing to articulate what might happen if there were to be thermonuclear war, and what the world might look like when it was over. Some thinkers criticized Kahn for his ideas, saying that his suggesting that a nuclear war was winnable make it more likely that one would occur. However, prominent pacifists such as Bertrand Russell praised Kahn, saying his ideas made a strong case for disarmament.

Kahn was the inspiration for the title character in Stanley Kubrick's 1954 black comedy film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Frank Harris wrote of Wilde, Shaw and more

Frank Harris
It is the birthday of journalist and raconteur Frank Harris (1856), who served as editor of the Saturday Review, cultivated friendships with Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw (about whom he wrote biographies), and worked as a cowboy in the American west. He is probably best remembered, however, for his sexually explicit and highly exaggerated memoir My Life and Loves (1931). It was known for its racy drawings, nude photographs, and gossipy details about public figures such as Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, George Meredith, Cecil Rhodes, and Wilde.

He was born in Ireland of Welsh parents, sent to boarding school in Wales, ran away from school at age 13 and went to America, where he supported himself with a series of odd jobs, including as a construction worker on the Brooklyn Bridge. He went to Chicago and worked in the meat packing industry, then went west and became a cowboy. He earned a law degree at the University of Kansas and settled down to practice law.

That didn't last long though, and he returned to England, then traveled throughout  Europe. He worked as a foreign correspondent for American newspapers, then became editor of several London papers before settling in at the Saturday Review. Beginning in 1908, Harris started writing novels and other books. Among them were The Bomb (1908), The Man Shakespeare and His Tragic Life Story (1909), and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories (1920).

In 1914, Harris came back to America. He became editor of Pearson's Magazine, which had a slightly socialist bent to it. Once, during World War I, an issue of the magazine was banned at the U.S. Post Office because of its political content. However, the magazine continued to survive during the war years, despite the dim view many took of the leftist press at the time. Harris became an American citizen in 1921.

In 1922, Harris went to Germany to arrange to privately publish his racy memoir. He published four volumes from 1922 to 1927. For 40 years, it was banned in Britain and the United States. However, in Paris, it once sold for a much as $100. In 1931,  notorious Obelisk Press in Paris (the same one that later published risque volumes by Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin) produced a four-volume edition of Harris' memoir.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ricardo Guiraldes wrote of Argentine goucho

Ricardo Güiraldes
It is the birthday of Argentine novelist and poet Ricardo Güiraldes (1886), who is best remembered for his novel Don Segundo Sombra (1926), the story of a free-spirited cattle driver that has become a classic in Spanish-American literature. His novel is said to have made the Argentine goucho an enduring figure in Argentine history and the country's plain or pampas the stuff of legend. The novel was loosely based on the life of Segundo Ramirez, a goucho who worked for Güiraldes' father.

Güiraldes was born on his father's ranch near a small rural town of San Antonio de Areco northwest of Buenos Aires. The family traveled frequently to France, and in later years Güiraldes would spend considerable time there and other places in Europe. He also traveled extensively in Russia, Egypt, Japan, and Constantinople. But it was in Paris that Güiraldes finally recognized his love for writing after having considered studying architecture and then law. There he find himself in the company of artists, musicians, and writers who heightened his sense of the universal themes of philosophy and religion.

A short story he published in 1917 about a young man who leaves the Argentine pampas and goes to Paris proved to be a sketch anticipating the more complete Don Segundo Sombra. Indeed, the character in the short story (probably a version of Güiraldes himself) appears near the end of Don Segundo.

Güiraldes wrote the first chapters of Don Segundo when he was living in Paris in 1920 but he didn't complete the book until six years later. At the time, there was a growing wave of immigration from Argentina and a renewed interest in the goucho life. By the time he was writing, the lifestyle had died out and the book seemed to readers to be a lament of the loss. His portrait is hailed as the image of a true goucho, neither romanticized nor unfairly reviled.

The novel was an immediate popular and critical success and is said to have attracted more worldwide attention than any other Argentine work. it remains a masterpiece of all goucho related literature and continues to have a great following. An Argentine film based on the book was released in 1969.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy birthday, Charles Darwin

It is the birthday of English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809), whose book On the Origin of Species (1859) laid out his theory of the evolution and an explanation of the diversity of life on earth. sparked a debate about human existence that rages on today. Here is the beginning of an excellent 1991 documentary about Darwin's book and the ensuing clash of thought and belief.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Happy birthday, Alice Walker

It is the birthday of writer Alice Walker (1944), who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for her novel The Color Purple, which examines the role of black women i the South in the 1930s. Here is an interview with her in which she discusses her writing and the accident that led to her education.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Happy birthday, Jules Verne

It is the birthday of French writer Jules Verne (1828), whose stories of fantastic adventure may have done more to advance the genre of science fiction than any other author. He is remembered especially for his novels Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). For a time, Walt Disney exploited the gifts of Jules Verne, bringing some of his most memorial tales to the big screen. Here is a trailer for the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, still a riveting classic. Watch the trailer and remember, then get a copy of the original and settle in for good read.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy birthday, Charles Dickens

It is the birthday of Victorian writer Charles Dickens (1812), the consummate storyteller and one of the most enduring novelists of all time. Here is a short tribute to Dickens. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Was Christopher Marlowe a spy?

Christopher Marlowe
It is the birthday of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564), who is best remembered for his plays Tamburlaine the Great [Parts 1 and 2] (1587), The Jew of Malta (1592), Edward the Second (1593), The Massacre at Paris (1593), and the Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1604). He is also remembered as a contemporary of William Shakespeare and something of an influence on him. They were about the same age.

The most intriguing aspect of Christopher Marlowe's life story, however, is his suspected secret life as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I and his mysterious death. Scholars don't really have hard evidence that Marlowe was a secret agent, just a lot of circumstances that seem to point in that direction. There is speculation, for instance, that he was recruited when he was a student at Cambridge. He was gone a lot from the university—longer than a student was normally allowed. He seemed to have extra money to spend on food and drink at the university dining room. He denied that he planning to switch to an English Catholic college in France, rumors that cropped up because of his absences. He said he was dealing with matters that would benefit the country.

Some scholars have suggested that he was the tutor to Arbella Stuart, the niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, once thought to be a threat to Elizabeth's throne. Court records put him elsewhere during the time he might have been a tutor but there are still unexplained gaps. He was arrested in connection with counterfeiting coins in the Netherlands in 1592, but never charged. Some suggest he was trying to infiltrate a ring of seditious Catholics but there is no hard evidence of that either.

In any case, the following year, Marlowe was in the company of three men who had been employed as espionage agents for either Sir Francis Walsingham, who was Queen Elizabeth's principal secretary, or Walsingham's cousin, Thomas Walsingham. Marlowe, according to witnesses, had had a heated argument with one of the men over a bill. The argument became physical and Marlowe was stabbed in the right eye with a dagger. He died instantly, according to inquest records.

Still, some scholars say there was more involved than just a simple quarrel. Marlowe had been arrested for heresy and ordered to appear before the Privy Council but he had been released while still facing charges. The cover story of the men involved that they were on a holiday didn't match the circumstances. All the men were connected with spying and London's underworld. The house where they were staying had connections to the government's spy network. Undoubtedly, scholars will continue to debate the matter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote The Cathedral

Joris-Karl Huysmans
It is the birthday of French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848), whose most popular novel was The Cathedral (1898), a detailed study of the symbolism at the famous Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. In it, Huysmans describes the cathedral in such magnificence that tourists used it as a guide book.

Huysmans worked for 32 years in a tedious job at the French Ministry of the Interior but kept writing in his free time. Sales of The Cathedral were so good that the income allowed him to retire early. The main character in the book, a novelist named Durtal, is a thinly disguised version of the writer. Durtal first appear in The Damned (1891), a novel that caused a stir because of its depiction of Satanism in France in that era, and it was banned from sale in railroad stations. The Damned first appeared in serialized form in a Paris newspaper, causing an uproar among the paper's subscribers.

Durtal also appeared in two other Huysmans novels, En route (1895), which tells of the beginning of the character's conversion to Catholicism, and The Oblate, which tells of Durtal's journey to becoming affiliated with a monastic religious community. The book parallels Huysmans own spiritual journey. It explores the nature of suffering and includes a description of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the day before his crucifixion.

Huysmans' earlier writing was quite different. He had attracted the attention of Emile Zola with his first novel, Marthe, the Story of a Girl (1876), that depicted life of a young prostitute, and The Vatard Sisters (1876), the story two sisters who struggle in life as they work in a book bindery. He became associated with Zola's Naturalist school of fiction. However, within eight years, Huysmans had broken with the tradition and began to write what was to be known as decadent literature. His most notorious novel was Against Nature (1884), in which the main character has an "alluring liaison" with "a cherry-lipped youth." The work influenced Oscar Wilde, and was featured in Wilde's trial on charges of sodomy and gross indecency.

In 1892, Huysmans was made a chevalier in the French Legion of Honor for his civil service. In 1905, he was promoted to officer in the Legion of Honor for his literary efforts. He wrote 29 books.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy birthday, MacKinlay Kantor

MacKinlay Kantor
It is the birthday of writer MacKinlay Kantor, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1956 for Andersonville (1955), his novel depicting the people at a Confederate prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. The book tells the story from the points of view of many of those at the camp, including the commandant, Union prisoners, and Confederate officers. Some characters are fictional and some are real. Some of the real characters are based on memoirs published many years later.

Kantor was born McKinlay but he added an "a" to his name because he thought it sounded more Scottish. His first name was Benjamin but while he was still a lad he decided he wanted to be called MacKinlay or just Mack. His mother was the editor of a small-town Iowa newspaper. His father abandoned the family  before he was born.

Beginning in 1928, Kantor wrote stories for pulp magazines. His first novel, Diversey, was also published that year. His stories appeared in Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories and in Detective Fiction Weekly. Kantor broke into the slick magazines in 1935, when one of his stories appeared in Collier's.

As a boy, Kantor had been fascinated listening to the stories of Civil War veterans. He began collecting first-hand narratives. During the 1930s, he wrote about the war. His novel Long Remember (1934) was set during the Battle of Gattysburg. Kantor served as a correspondent in London during World War II, where he interviewed wounded soldiers who told him their only goal was to get home alive. After the war, he wrote a novel in blank verse, Glory for Me (1945), about the returning soldiers. The title was taken from lyrics to a Protestant hymn. Later screenwriter Robert Sherwood wrote the script for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) based on Kantor's book. The film won 13 Academy Awards, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Kantor and his wife built a house on Siesta Key (off Sarasota) in 1937. At the time, Siesta Key had few residents and was largely a jungle. Kantor died in Sarasota in 1977. The MacKinlay Kantor Room exhibit at the Sarasota History Center reproduces his office from a photograph that appeared in Life magazine. It contains his desk, and his books, paintings, and photographs.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Happy birthday, James Joyce

It is the birthday of Irish novelist James Joyce (1892), who is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. One of his masterpieces, Finnegans Wake (1939), is considered to be one of the most difficult pieces in the English language. It is, however, a delight to hear him read a portion of it in this rare recording. Enjoy! Below: We couldn't resist this rare footage of James Joyce in Paris. The voice over is priceless. Happy birthday, James Joyce.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Happy b-day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is the birthday of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807), one of the most enduring American poets of all time. In his lifetime, he was the most popular poet in the country and was well known and beloved in Europe as well. On his 70th birthday in 1877, the nation celebrated with parades and speeches. It was like a national holiday. One of his most popular poems was Paul Revere's Ride, and though it's a little early for the April event it commemorates, we'll enjoy it today anyway. Happy birthday, Henry!

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