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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary”*…


… In the meantime, let us remember that, as history repeats itself, so does the call on us all to do what we can to help.

The American Committee for Relief in the Near East, which put these posters in circulation in the last years of World War I, began in 1915 as the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief and was formed as a humanitarian response to the Armenian genocide and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. As World War I developed, the group began to offer food and shelter to displaced people in Syria, Persia (now Iran), and Greece.

The American Committee for Relief in the Near East’s posters often used the image of a child, or a young woman, to appeal to passers-by. Throughout the war, Americans also donated to relief campaigns for Belgian and French children, and the image of hungry young people and frightened mothers came to symbolize the plight of civilians caught up in the war.

In Syria, after the war, shelters run by Near East Relief (which was renamed and granted a Congressional charter after the end of the war) housed 45,000 orphans. The organization operated these facilities until 1930, when the last war orphans aged out of the need for care…

More at “The Heartbreaking Posters That Convinced Americans to Help Displaced Syrians During WWI.”

* Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah


As we reach deep, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1659 that Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” was shipwrecked and marooned on the desert island that was his home for the next 28 years.  Defoe called his novel, based in part on the true story of shipwrecked sailor Alexander SelkirkThe Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

Title page of the first edition


Written by LW

September 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world”*…



Before dinner the Reverend Newman said grace: “Heavenly Father. What kind of a heel do you think I am? How dare you talk to me like that! Don’t give me any of your back talk, smart-ass. It’s been an  of a week. I sinned and brought shame down on us. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal. You don’t know dick about this—you haven’t a clue! I suppose you believe that rubbish about vampires. The allegations were false, do you understand me? Baseless allegations. I believe in ghosts. Too bad, but that’s the way it is. Why don’t you leave me alone? Go on, get lost! I’ll get mine, you get yours, we’ll all get wealthy. Amen to that!”

More stories composed entirely of example sentences for the New Oxford American Dictionary at Dictionary Stories.

* Philip Pullman


As we channel our inner Tristan Tzara, we might recall that  it was on this date in 1937 that George Allen & Unwin published J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.  Widely critically-acclaimed in its time (nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction), it was a success with readers, and spawned a sequel… which became the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Cover of the first edition, featuring a drawing by Tolkien



Written by LW

September 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”*…


Riverside Shakespeare Company production of The Mandrake Root, at the Casa Italia, New York, 1979, with a young Tom Hanks (center). Photograph by W. Stuart McDowell – Source

Most familiar today as the godfather of Realpolitik and as the eponym for all things cunning and devious, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli also had a lighter side, writing as he did a number of comedies. Christopher S. Celenza looks at perhaps the best known of these plays, Mandragola [The Mandrake Root], and explores what it can teach us about the man and his world…

More at “Machiavelli, Comedian.”

* Niccolò Machiavelli


As we ponder power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1515 that Thomas Wolsey was invested as a Cardinal.  Henry VIII became King of England in 1509; Wolsey became the King’s almoner.  Wolsey’s affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had becomeLord Chancellor, the King’s chief adviser– the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state, and extremely powerful within the Church. (His elevation to Cardinal gave him precedence even over the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

He fell from the King’s graces after failing to negotiate an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and was stripped of his government titles.  He retreated to York to fulfill his ecclesiastical duties as Archbishop of York, a position he had nominally held but had neglected during his years in government.  He was recalled to London to answer to charges of treason—a common charge used by Henry against ministers who fell out of favor—but died en route of natural causes.



Written by LW

September 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Curiouser and curiouser!”*…


On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandPublic Domain Review and Medium have jointly undertaken to create an online annotated edition featuring twelve Lewis Carroll scholars taking one chapter each, plus new artwork and remixes from classic 1865 and 1905 illustrations.

Dive in here.

* Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


As we believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” we might send fantastic birthday greetings to Maximilian Goldmann– better known by his stage name, Max Reinhardt; he was born on this date in 1873.  An actor, director, and impresario, he is perhaps best known for his stage and subsequent film production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, a hit in the U.S., but banned in Germany by virtue of Reinhardt’s Jewish ancestry and that of Felix Mendelssohn, whose music was used throughout.

Reinhardt established the Salzburg Festival with Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.  He was the inspiration for the “Uncle Max/Max Detweiler” character in The Sound of Music— which was filmed in the Salzburg schloss that had been his home before he fled the Nazi Anschluss (now the home of the Salzburg Global Seminar).



“It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word”*…


The 9-15-year-olds who compete in the annual Scripps Spelling Bee tend to delight in words like “flibbertigibbet,” “onomatopoeia,” “schadenfreude,” “syzygy,” “tchotchke” and “triskaidekaphobia.”  We normal humans are forced to seek help with much simpler words like “grey,” “cancelled” and “Hanukkah.”  Vocativ used Google Trends data to learn which words were most frequently spellchecked in each state; along the way, they detected some interesting patterns, for instance:

Out of all the states, Idaho turned to Google for spelling assistance most often, and when it did, the state’s most Googled spelling was “antelope.” Idahoans struggled with “cevilian” [sic] and stumbled over “tongue”. On the bottom of the list of spellchecking states, the confident writers and readers of Oregon resorted to Google least often, only using it for spellchecks 28% as frequently as Idaho residents, according to Google data.

Here’s their summary chart:

Read more (and see a larger version) at “These Words Would Knock Your State Out Of the National Spelling Bee.”

* Andrew Jackson


As we spell “spell,” we might send acerbic birthday greetings to journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, and critic Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken; he was born on this date in 1880.  Mencken is the author of the philological work The American Language, and is remembered for his journalism (e.g., his coverage of the Scopes Trial) and for his cultural criticism (and editorship of American Mercury— published by Alfred Knopf, also born on this date, but 12 years after Mencken ) in which he championed such writers as D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, and Sherwood Anderson.  But “H.L.” is probably most famous for the profusion of pointed one-liners and adages that leavened his work…

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom. . . [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

And on spelling:

“Correct” spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by schoolma’ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world.

H.L. Mencken, photograph by Carl Van Vechten



Written by LW

July 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last ditch stand of the artist”*…


Filmmaker Samantha Horley recently posted an image of this set of “Guidelines,” which she found among her father’s effects, on her Facebook page. Horley told me that her aunt worked at the BBC as a secretary in the 1960s and 1970s; she thinks the page originally came from her aunt’s papers.

The BBC’s press office told me, over email, that the page looks like it came from The BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers and Producers, published in 1948. Although the BBC spokesperson couldn’t confirm this theory, I think this sheet was probably printed up for the amusement of employees in the more free-and-easy 1970s.The BBC reprinted the entire document as a book in the late 1990s; it’s now out of print, but here is a version in PDF. The longer document includes provisions that are less overtly amusing than this section but are interesting nonetheless, offering guidelines on libel and slander, religious and political references, and jokes about physical and mental disability.

Under the heading “American Material and ‘Americanisms,'” the anonymous authors of the handbook observed that “American idiom and slang” were often found in scripts and that “dance band singers for the most part elect to adopt pseudo American accents.” This “spurious Americanisation” should be avoided, the handbook urged, since it was “unwelcome to the great majority of listeners and … seldom complimentary to the Americans.”

Via the invaluable Rebecca Onion and her blog, The Vault.

* Marshall McLuhan


As we mind our P’s and Q’s, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, escaped from prison… only to be quickly apprehended.   The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life behind bars.  In 1778, de Sade had been imprisoned by order of the king: ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior; but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly.  (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.)  In any case, it was in the Bastille that he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom.

He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”).  de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy).  de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.



Written by LW

July 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign”*…


This infographic from printerinks (via Electric Literature) takes a look at literary pen names through history:

 click here for larger version

* Théophile Gautier, La croix de Berny (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1855)


As we speak freely, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Warner Bros. released Tom Graeff’s epic film Teenagers From Outer Space.  The movie failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-financially-burdened Graeff; and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself to be the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by an arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood.  His film however lives on:  featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and Off Beat Cinema, Teenagers From Outer Space is the final prize in the action-adventure game Destroy All Humans, unlocked when a player wins.



Written by LW

June 2, 2015 at 1:01 am


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