Posts Tagged ‘literature’
At his wonderful site, The Fertile Fact– a literary website that treats famous authors and artists like fictional characters– Rhys Griffiths invites biographers/experts/super-fans to draw on their knowledge and compile a list of five things or aspects of modern life that they think their biographee, were they writing today, might have liked, loathed or otherwise been opinionated. The more far-fetched, the better.
As we wonder how we’d have done in Conan Doyle‘s time or Camus‘, we might send stern birthday greetings to John Milton; he was born on this date in 1608. A poet (Paradise Lost), polemicist (the Areopagitica), not-so-successful playwright (Comus), and Roundhead civil servant (he had a Secretarial appointment in Cromwell’s Commonwealth), Milton would surely have disapproved of much– if not most– in our modern life.
Click here for James’ explanation, again on the image there for a larger version; and click here for the source material at our old friends TV Tropes… which has been materially updated/expanded since our last visit.
* Hannah Arendt
As we prepare to tell tantalizing tales, we might send pious but modern birthday greetings to Laurence Sterne; he was born on this date in 1713. An Anglican clergyman known in his own time for his published sermons and memoirs, Sterne is surely best remembered these days for his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Tristram Shandy was roughly received in England on its publication. It parodies accepted narrative form, playing with narrative time and voice, and includes a healthy dose of “bawdy” humor– which led to its being largely dismissed by the likes of Samuel Johnson as being too corrupt. But it was a hit on the Continent; indeed, Voltaire declared it ”clearly superior to Rabelais.” That said, Sterne’s real influence had a longer fuse. As Italo Calvino observed, Tristram Shandy is the “undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century,” one that, in its challenges to the formal concept of the novel, had powerful influence on Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and more contemporary writers like Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.
Sometime editor of the Illustrated London News and authority on the Brontës and Napoleon, Clement K. Shorter was in the middle of a flourishing career when his list of the “hundred best novels ever written” appeared in the monthly journal The Bookman. He doesn’t explain what exactly makes a book one of the “best”, only that he has deliberately limited himself to one novel per novelist. Living authors are excluded – although he cannot resist adding a rider of eight works by “writers whose reputations are too well established for their juniors to feel towards them any sentiments other than those of reverence and regard”…
Names and dates are as Shorter gives them:
1. Don Quixote - 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes
2. The Holy War - 1682 – John Bunyan
3. Gil Blas - 1715 – Alain René le Sage
4. Robinson Crusoe - 1719 – Daniel Defoe
5. Gulliver’s Travels - 1726 – Jonathan Swift
6. Roderick Random - 1748 – Tobias Smollett
7. Clarissa - 1749 – Samuel Richardson
8. Tom Jones - 1749 – Henry Fielding
9. Candide - 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire
10. Rasselas - 1759 – Samuel Johnson
11. The Castle of Otranto - 1764 – Horace Walpole
12. The Vicar of Wakefield - 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith
13. The Old English Baron - 1777 – Clara Reeve
14. Evelina - 1778 – Fanny Burney
15. Vathek - 1787 – William Beckford
And those lucky living eight:
An Egyptian Princess - 1864 – Georg Ebers
Rhoda Fleming - 1865 – George Meredith
Lorna Doone - 1869 – R. D. Blackmore
Anna Karenina - 1875 – Count Leo Tolstoi
The Return of the Native - 1878 – Thomas Hardy
Daisy Miller - 1878 – Henry James
Mark Rutherford - 1881 – W. Hale White
Le Rêve - 1889 – Emile Zola
Read the full story and see the whole list at the TLS: “Not the hundred best novels?“
As we marvel at the power of perspective, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 that the first multi-panel comic strip ran in a newspaper: “Origin of the Species, or the Evolution of the Crocodile Explained,” by Richard F. Outcault, appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Outcault went on to introduce the speech balloon in the wildly-popular The Yellow Kid, and later still, created Buster Brown.
“If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: President Can’t Swim…”*
Throughout its first fifty years, The New York Review of Books has asked many questions: What is Art? How Did it Happen? Where Do We Go From Here? Yonder Shakespeare, Who Is He? Tennis Anyone? How Dead is Arnold Schoenberg? Aimez-Vous Rousseau? Is There a Marxist in the House? How Smelly Was the Palladian Villa? Do Fish Have Nostrils?…
… and exclaimed, and teased with indefinite antecedents– and just generally delighted.
Click through the highlights of NYRB‘s first half century at “Yuk! Pshaw! Excelsior! Fifty Years of Headlines from The New York Review.”
* Lyndon B. Johnson
As we tip our hats to the tease, we might spare a thought for François-Anatole Thibault; he died on this date in 1924. Better known by his pen name, Anatole France, he was the poet, journalist, and novelist considered the ultimate French “man of letters” of his time. A member of the Académie Française and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1921), France was active in affairs of the state– perhaps most prominently as an ally of Zola’s in the Dreyfus Affair. But he’s in your correspondent”s Pantheon as the model for narrator Marcel’s literary idol Bergotte in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (or, as your correspondent knew it, Remembrance of Things Past).
David Rees put aside a successful career as a political cartoonist to devote himself to artisanal pencil sharpening. Rees began after a stint with the 2010 Census, where he spent all day recording his findings with a No. 2 pencil.
“I thought there’s got to be a way to get paid to sharpen pencils for people,” he said.
1,804 flawlessly-sharpened (mostly) No. 2 pencils later, Rees has authored a book on his craft, collected an arsenal of different sharpeners, and taught classes on the finer points of fine points.
Rees’ website “Artisanal Pencil Sharpening“ sells his book and sharpened pencils. (“Traditionally people mail in their pencils to be sharpened; however David now offers a new service: He will provide the pencil.”) The books ship quickly, the pencils ($35) take approximately six weeks to ship, and cost more than the book ($20).
Read more at Tyler Cown’s Marginal Revolution.
As we ponder the point, we might send mysterious birthday greetings to John Innes Mackintosh Stewart; he was born on this date in 1906. A prolific and distinguished Oxford literary scholar and an accomplished literary novelist. Stewart is more widely known by his pen name, Michael Innes, under which he wrote almost fifty crime novels and short story collections, most featuring the urbane detective John Appleby (for example, your correspondent’s favorite, Hamlet, Revenge!)