Saturday, 31 October 2009
This day also sees the first publication, in bound form, of Sherlock Holmes. 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes', by Arthur Conan Doyle, consists of twelve stories, each first induvidually published in the Strand Magazine over the span of a year. Formalised into a book in 1892, becoming the first Holmes collection, the stories include 'The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle' and 'A Case of Identity'. The book was banned in 1929 by the Soviet Union who mysteriously cited occultism as its logic. Doyle wrote a further four collections of short stories and four novels revolving around the fictional detective, who is once again to be adapted for the screen; 'Sherlock Holmes' will be released on December 25th 2009.
Arguably one of the most famous English poets in history, John Keats, was born in 1795. Although his work was not well received in his lifetime, Keats, together with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, is now cited as the one of the cornerstones of the romantic movement in poetry; his works going on to influence and inspire such poets as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Wilfred Owen. Yet his life was tragically short. Soon after his brother Tom died from tuberculosis, Keats himself began to show symptoms of the disease. In 1820, with the signs becoming more pronounced, Keats left for Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. He died in 1821, in a house on the Spainish Steps in Rome, now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, where works, correspondence and original furniture remain. Known for his florid description and rich imagery, Keats most famous works are 'Ode to a Nightingale' and 'Endymion'. His death inspired another great work, 'Adonis', by Shelley.
Friday, 30 October 2009
Also on this day, 'Sense and Sensibility', Jane Austen's first novel, was published in 1811. Austen wrote the original draft of the novel, as 'Elinor and Marianne', when she was only 19; and the two title characters are thought to be based on her sister Cassandra and herself. The novel, published under the pseudonym 'A Lady', was advertised as being 'new', 'extraordinary' and 'interesting'. Early reviewers stated it to be 'a genteel, well-written novel' and 'just long enough to interest without fatiguing'; however it is said that Austen was at her most satirical, the writer Virgina Woolf suggesting that 'it seems as if her characters were born merely to give Jane Austen the supreme delight of slicing their heads off'. The 750 copy first edition sold out in a year and a half, Austen making a profit of £140.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Russian Novelist, was born in Moscow in 1821. Most of his literary works are of a nature which delves into human psychology, and as such, he is often said to be a foreshadowing of 20th century existentialism; a philosophical school of thought in which emotions, responsibilities and induvidual existance are most prominent. In 1849, Dostoyevsky was put in prision for being part of Petrashevsky Circle, a literary discussion group strongly opposed to tsarist autocracy. After being sentanced to death and waiting outside to be shot by a firing squad, his sentance was reduced to four years hard labour in Siberia; an experience he described like being 'shut up in a coffin'. His most famous works, written after this experience, are 'Crime and Punishment' and 'The Brothers Karamazov'.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Today sees the premiere of 'A Tender Thing' in Newcastle. Using the text of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' as his basis, writer Ben Power has reinvented the play in an updated context; instead portraying an older, married couple. As they discover that their lives may be drawing to a close, they begin to realise that they cannot contemplate being apart. So follows the narrative, with the human capacity for love shown to be transcendent of time barriers, a concept applicable both in the Shakespearian and modern day contexts. A preview of the Royal Shakepeare Company production can be seen here
Sir Walter Raleigh, courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, died in 1618. Perhaps more famous for bringing both potatoes and tobacco to England from his voyages to the New World, Raleigh also wrote poetry, considered to be one of the era's 'silver poets' by C.S. Lewis. Fighting for recognition amongst better known contempories such as John Donne and Christopher Marlowe, Raleigh's best work could be said to be 'The Lie', a social criticism condemning institutions such as the Church and courts; stating the latter 'shines like rotten wood'. He also wrote 'The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd', as a reply to Marlowe's 'The Passionate Shepherd to his Love'; a poem which has since seen responses from John Donne, Cecil Day-Lewis and Ogden Nash.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', by Douglas Adams, is one of the most recognisable and famous sci-fi novels; adapted numerous times for both TV and radio. The sixth instalment has recently been published, yet with a twist; following Adams' death in 2001, this novel has been written by the Irish writer Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame. Unlike the previous four, the title of the sixth book is not a quote taken from the first, but is taken from the third, 'So long, and Thanks for all the Fish'. Adams had long been cited as wanting a sixth book, stating that he wanted 'to finish Hitchhiker on a more upbeat note.' 'And Another Thing...' was published on 12th October 2009; the thirtieth anniversary of the first.
The George Bernard Shaw play, 'Mrs. Warren's Profession', was performed in the Garrick Theatre, New York, in 1905. All participants, cast and crew, were arrested for obscenity, yet only the house manager was ever convicted. The play had caused outrage in the reserved society of Victorian England, and was banned due to its confrontation of prostitution, and implications of incest. Shaw himself, however, noted that he wrote the play, 'to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together'. Therefore, as opposed to writing a morally skewed play in order to shock both authorities and public alike, he wrote it for didactic means, attempting to educate and open eyes to the society around them. The play wasn't legally performed in Britain until 1926.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
The ebook is a new piece of technology from Sony, allowing the user to store hundreds of books on one thin 'reader'. Recently released in the UK, the digital books can be bought online; Sony even offering a hundred free classics with first use. It can be argued that this new technological advancement is widening the appealing of reading to a more gadgets obssessed generation, and so should be celebrated and encouraged. Yet for all its advantages, can the reader really overtake the act of opening a novel and flicking through its pages? And at approximately £180, is it really opening up more opportunities, or is it just placating the rich? Over the next few months, it will be interesting to note the reaction of the British public and whether, at the end of the day, they just prefer a good book.
The American poet and prose writer Sylvia Plath was born, in 1932. Born in Massachusetts, she attended Cambridge University, and it was there that she met and married poet Ted Hughes, a later Poet Laureate. She is known as one of the main contributors to the genre of confessional poetry - in which the poem shares intimate details surrounding the poet's life. Although famous for her poetry, perhaps her best known work is in prose - the semi-autobiographical 'The Bell Jar' written under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. After numerous suicide attempts, many initiated by her husband's affair, she finally succeeded in February 1963; dying at the age of 30.
Monday, 26 October 2009
The shortlist for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize has been released today. The prize is the second oldest literary prize, established in 1942, and honours a UK or Commonwealth writer under the age of 35. This year's list includes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her work 'The Thing Around Your Neck'. It is her first work since 'Half of a Yellow Sun', for which she won The Orange Prize in 2007. Also in contention, is Aravind Adiga, who last year won the Booker Prize for his novel 'The White Tiger'. Emma Jones, James Maskalyk, Tristam Stuart and Evie Wyld complete the list. The winner of the £5,000 prize will be announced on 30th November in London. A full list of judges, competitors and their nominated works can be found here
Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, was born in 1952. At the age of 17, his mother was induced into a coma by a riding accident; a coma which continued for nine years before her death. Motion stated that he aimed to keep his mother's memory alive through poetry and most certainly her memory is well honoured. For Motion was appointed Poet Laureate in 1999, succeeding Ted Hughes upon his death. Previously a position held until death, Motion was the first to say that he would accept the post for only ten years; a post that offers a butt of canary wine and £5,000 annually. During his tennancy, he wrote 'Spring Wedding' in honour of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. His lasting legacy is achieved through the establishment of Poetry Archive, through which poets can be heard reading their own works.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
This day also saw the 1854 Crimean War battle in Balaklava, during which 250 men were killed or wounded and 400 horses were lost. When Alfred Lord Tennyson read a report of the incident, in The Times five weeks later, he wrote 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' , most famous for the lines: 'Theirs not to make reply/Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die'. Yet his interest in the Balaklavan soldiers did not stop there; some years later, a charity drive was undertaken to provide money to the surviors, many of whom were destitute. Tennyson wrote 'The Charge of the Heavy Brigade' to galvanise support, but much of the money raised was given by the politicians to other causes. This prompted Rudyard Kipling to write 'The Last of the Light Brigade', to reveal the scandal to the public.
Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet, philosopher and diplomat, died in 1400 at the approximate age of 56. His best known work is 'The Canterbury Tales', charting the stories of a group of pilgrims from Southwark to Canterbury; two tales were written in prose, the remaining twenty two in verse. Chaucer was praised for introducing the use of a recognised English dialect as opposed to Latin or French, more commonly written in at that time. He is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, as being the first to use many common English words in his writings, such as: acceptable, angrily and arsenic.
Saturday, 24 October 2009
Following on from Levertov, poetry has been, and always will be, a method through which people protest against injustices in the world. From Mazisi Kunene, an anti-apartheid poet, to Siegfried Sassoon, famous for his satrical anti-war poetry, many have written to expose these situations to the public, attempting to counter apathy and rally people to their cause. Although many believe that this type of protest belongs to the 20th century, it is still being used today against the injustices of a modern society. The 'Poets Against War' society, contains contemporary poetry from members of the public about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, showing that everyone has the capacity to write, and anyone can change the world through it.
Denise Levertov, a British-born American poet was born in 1923. Much of her work was published in the '60s and '70s and, as a consequence, centralised on political themes. She herself, held leftist ideals and was able to support these through her role as the poetry editor for the magazine 'The Nation'. The Vietnam War influenced her significantly, and in 1971, she published 'To Stay Alive', a book filled with anti-war letters, newscasts, diaries and her own poetry. One of her more famous poems is 'What Were They Like', focusing on the destruction of culture which war brings. She died in 1997 at the age of 73.
Friday, 23 October 2009
Earlier this year, the BBC launched a Poetry Season, aimed to encourage wider interest and engage a new generation of readers. Highlights, and information on both poems and poets can be found on their website here. To coincide with this, they also ran a public vote to decide the nation's favourite poet. With more than 18, 000 votes cast, T.S. Eliot came out the winner, John Donne second, and Benjamin Zephaniah third. All three, although different eras and styles, are recognised for their highly influential works; 'The Waste Land', 'Holy Sonnet X' and 'Dis Poetry' respectively.
Robert Bridges, an English poet was born in 1844. Originally a student of medicine and a physician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, he was forced to retire through lung disease and so took up writing poetry and literary criticism. He was rewarded for his efforts by being made Poet Laureate in 1913, a position he held until his death in 1930. Perhaps his most famous work was 'Milton's Prosody', an examination of John Milton's use of blank verse; and his best known poem, 'The Testament of Beauty'.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Doris Lessing was born in 1919. She is an Iranian-born British writer, most famous for novels such as 'The Golden Notebook' and 'The Grass is Singing'. However, she also advocated combatting social injustice, being an active campaigner against both nuclear arms and the South African Apartheid. In order to demostrate the difficulty that new authors face in trying to get published in print, she wrote two novels under a pseudonym. To prove her point, both were declined by her UK publisher. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, at the age of 87, making her the oldest recipient of the prize to date.
'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger has been a controversial book ever since its publication in 1951. It is loved and despised in equal measure, the protagonist Holden appearing endearing or frustrating, depending on your view. Still very popular today, it has recently been brought back into the news due to the release of a 'sequel': 'Coming Through the Rye'. It has been enough to bring Salinger, 90, out of his reclusive state to file a lawsuit. Due to this story, the BBC magazine wrote an article, outlining the main views on the novel and including comments from both sides. It can be read here
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival was held last week, celebrating its 60th birthday. The speakers were from all sorts of fields and included: Simon Armitage, Dr. Alice Roberts, Rageh Omaar and Vic Reeves. Links to some of the video highlights can be found here and there is also a literary brochure which can be downloaded here
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772. Together with William Wordsworth, he founded the Romantic Movement of poetry in England; his most famous poem being 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. He wrote prose, his autobiography 'Biographia Literaria' providing much dispute between critics. Many saw it as the decline of his health, now specualted to be bipolar disorder, which he treated with copious amounts of opium. He died in 1834 and is regarded as one of the most important English poets.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
The BBC is currently showing an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel 'Emma'. Published in 1815, it was the last of her novels to be published before her death in 1817. In her lifetime she earned less than forty pounds from the book, yet her admirers included The Prince Regent, to whom she dedicated the novel. The drama stars Romola Garai, Johnny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon among others. The fourth and final part is being shown this Sunday, but all the episodes are still available on iplayer.
The English author Thomas Hughes, born in 1822, died in 1896. He was best known for his novel 'Tom Brown's School Days', a semi-autobiographical work set in Rugby school, a public school for boys. It has had considerable influence on the genre of 'school novels', including 'St. Trinians'. It has been dramatised on several occasions, the latest being in 2005, starring Alex Pettyfer and Stephen Fry.