Monday, 30 November 2009
The winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize has been announced today as Evie Wyld. The debut novelist beat off competition from Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga and Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Set in eastern Australia, where her family own a sugar cane farm, 'After the Fire, A Still Small Voice', was acclaimed by the judges as, 'fantastically mature... never showy, a slow burn that drags the reader in...Wyld captures the inflections of male speech and male bonding in a way that feels both acute and realistic.' Wyld, a bookseller from Peckham, walks away with a £5,000 prize. Previous winners include Margaret Drabble and Andrew Motion.
Samuel Clemens, better known by pen name Mark Twain, was born in 1835. Twain began his literary career at the age of 12, contributing articles and sketches to the 'Hannibal Journal'; a newspaper owned by his brother. Yet deciding that it held better monetary prospects, with wages approximately equivalent to that of $155,000 today, Twain opted instead for the job of a steamboat captain; a job he held until the start of the civil war two years later. This conflict, as well as his upbringing in slave state Missouri, left him with a deep impression, and so slavery appears as a reoccuring theme throughout his works. After his brief nautical career, Twain moved back to writing, and it was then that he made his first breakthrough, with novel, 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County'. However, his two most popular works are undoubtedly 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'; the former has come to be recognised as the 'Great American Novel'. Twain suffered great tragedy in his life, losing prematurely his father, daughter and wife; leading to bouts of depression. Twain himself died in 1910, at the age of 74.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
A rare book, kept in the toilet, was sold at auction earlier this week for over £100,000. Kept in the guest lavatory, a first edition of Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species', had been bought 40 years ago for just a few shillings. One of only 1,250 copies produced in 1859, the owner first realised the significance of the book when visiting a Darwin exhibition earlier this year; recognising a picture of its gilt decorated spine and green cloth cover. Described as 'lightly bumped' around the edges, it went on sale at auctioneers Christie's earlier this week, on the date of its 150th anniversary and fetched £103, 250.
A notice appeared in the Richmond, Viriginia 'Inquirer' in 1811, asking for donations for destitute Eliza Poe and her two children. Dying from tuberculosis, she wrote: 'To the Humane Heart. On this night Mrs Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance and asks it perhaps for the last time.' She died a week later at the age of 24, leaving behind two year old Edgar, and younger sister Rosalie; Edgar supposing to have been named after a character in 'King Lear' in a symbol of Eliza's Shakespearian acting past. Successful Scottish merchant John Allan, who dealt in tobacco, slaves, tombstones and other such savoury products, took Edgar into their house, giving him the name by which he is best known; that of Edgar Allan Poe. Sadly, the death of his mother was later to be reflected with that of his wife, who also died at twenty four, and of tuberculosis.
Saturday, 28 November 2009
The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award was announced yesterday. For the first time, it has been an all women affair, including names such as Lionel Shriver, Sara Maitland and Naomi Alderman. One of the nominated stories will be read each afternoon on BBC Radio 4 at 3:30p.m. during next week, with the winner announced on the 7th December. Dame Margaret Drabble is part of a judging panel which also includes broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe, who said of the prize, 'What's exciting about the short story is that there are less limits... excellent writing in very different forms and voices'. The winner of the accolade will receive £15,000, the runner up £3,000 and a further three authors £500 each.
American author and historian, Washington Irving, died in 1859 at the age of 76. He made his literary debut in 1802, writing letters to the 'Morning Chronicle' under pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. Having moved to England in 1815 to help the family business, Irving furthered his budding enthusiasm for writing, and by 1819 he had published his best known work, 'The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. The collection of short stories were published in seven installments, and included 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'. Also a historian, Irving wrote numerous biographies of figures such as George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Christopher Columbus. He is among the first American authors to gain acclaim in Europe and preceeding other trans-Atlantic successes Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving is the reason behind two slightly more obscure pieces of trivia; he popularised the name 'Gotham' for New York city, as used in the Batman comics, and also introduced the dubious belief that the people of the Middle Ages thought the Earth to be flat.
Friday, 27 November 2009
Hilary Mantel has been shortlisted this week for the Costa Book Awards. Mantel had literary success earlier this year, winning the Man Booker Prize with her new novel, 'Wolf Hall'. An historical novel, 'Wolf Hall' is based on Thomas Cromwell, and his rise to power in the Tudor dynasty; the judges said that Mantel was awarded the prize for 'The extraordinary way that [she] has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century.' Up against her in the Costa awards, are novelists Penelope Lively, Colm Toibin and Christopher Nicholson. The winner of the £5,000 award will be announced on January 26th.
Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in Paris in 1895, leaving a large proportion of his estate for the establishment of a prize. Best known as the inventor of dynamite, the Swedish chemist had been prompted to do this, after a premature obituary 7 years previous, in which it said: 'Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday'. His subsequent wish to leave a greater legacy meant that 31,225,000 Swedish Kronor were given to fund 5 prizes; one in physical science, one in chemistry, another in medicine, the fourth for literary work 'in a ideal direction', and the final one for service to the international fraternity. After Nobel's death in 1896, his family refused to follow these instructions, and therefore it was not until 1901 that the first Nobel Prizes were awarded. The list of Literature Laureates is prestigious, and includes names such as William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Steinbeck, Seamus Heaney and even Winston Churchill. To date there have been 102 Laureates.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
A new translation product has been launched today, enabling theatre goers to read the play in eight different languages. The AirScript devices, which have a battery life of six hours, can translate the play realtime, into English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese or Chinese, with captions received over wifi. Costing £6 to hire per performance, London's Shaftesbury Theatre is the first to offer the service, for their current prooduction 'Hairspray'. They contain little software, and as such, there is a manual operator working the translators line by line every night; a job he describes as 'like playing two and a half hours of Guitar Hero'. It is hoped that this new product will help increase tourism in London's West End.
Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson sent a handwritten manuscript of 'Alice's Adventures Under Ground' to Alice Liddell in 1864. Dodgson, better known by pseudonym Lewis Carroll, found inspiration for the work from a boat trip down the Isis river, during which he told a story to entertain three young sisters on board, one of whom was Alice Liddell. His idea proved so popular that Dodgson spent the next two years writing it out by hand; bound in morocco leather and illustrated by his own hand, he gave it to Alice as a Christmas present with the inscription, ‘A Christmas gift to a dear child, in memory of a summer’s day’. At this time Dodgson was already expanding the novel, adding in such episodes as the Cheshire Cat and Mad Hatter, to ready it for publication. Published in 1865, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' was immediately popular, with Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde said to be among its readers. The book has now been translated in over 125 languages and has a sequel, 'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There'.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
A new exhibition has opened in New York, based around a handwritten manuscript of 'A Christmas Carol'. The famous Dickens novel was written in a period of six weeks, starting from October 1843, and according to exhibition curators, the speed is obvious. 'The manuscript is a mess', showing Dickens' revisions and annotations and revealing the way in which the plot was developed; for instance, the name Bob Cratchit was not thought of until midway through writing. Originally written for quick commercial success, due to failing finances after last novel 'Martin Chuzzlewick, the initial print run sold 6,000 copies in one week and has never been out of print since. It has been adapted innumerable times for stage and screen; the most recent being Jim Carey's film version, which premiered earlier this month. The book, bound in red morocco leather, along with other Dickensian items are on display in the Morgan Library in New York until January 2010.
Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap' premiered in 1952 at London's Ambassadors Theatre. Originally written for Queen Mary, wife of the late King George V, 'Three Blind Mice' appeared in 1947 as a 30 minute radio play. Four years later, the re-titled 'The Mousetrap' made its stage debut, in an era including Churchill, Stalin and Eisenhower among the world leaders. From the initial 453 strong crowd, the play has gone on to become the longest continuously running play in history; more than 10 million people have attended over 20,000 performances in London's West End. The show also boasts an impressive number of actors and actresses; over 300, including Richard Attenborough and wife, Sheila Sim. Christie's view of her play's popularity was that, 'It is not really frightening. It is not really horrible. It is not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things, and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.' The play is now performed at St. Martin's Theatre.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
The winners of the London Evening Standard theatre awards were announced yesterday. After the nominations earlier this month, Lenny Henry won the Outstanding Newcomer prize for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Othello. At the ceremony, Henry joked, 'I must be the oldest newcomer there has ever been - which means there is hope for Bruce Forsyth's King Lear'. The accolade of Best Actress went to a 'thrilled and honoured' Rachel Weisz for her performance in Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire'; an award named after the late Natasha Richardson and presented by her mother Vanessa Redgrave. Sir Ian McKellen was the recipient of a special honour for his contribution to theatre, whose resume includes numerous plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Shaw respectively. Alexander Lebedev, owner of the Standard precised the ceremony by saying, 'What we have seen in the past year in London's theatres is innovative and inspiring.'
Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species', was published in 1859. Considered the foundation of evolutionary biology, Darwin introduced the theory that a population evolves through the process of natural selection. The book included evidence that Darwin had gathered from his Beagle expedition across the Atlantic in the 1830s. Although at first the work incurred a hostile reception, it immediately sold out its initial print run and a further five editions were released before 1872. Perhaps one reason for the book's astonishing popularity, was its representation of a Victorian era seeing a growing divide between religion and science; many people were struggling with the faith that had previous been taken as incontrovertible and Darwin was giving this doubt a voice. Numerous Victorian literary figures encountered similar reservations, the most famous being Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw and George Eliot. The two hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth was celebrated earlier this year.
Monday, 23 November 2009
The Times, has published a list of the '100 Greatest Books of the Decade'. Including works from all genres, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Seamus Heaney are the ambassadors for poetry, with 'Rapture', 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and 'District and Circle' respectively. Non- fiction works also feature; Obama's autobiography leads the list at number 2, and Dawkins, Bryson and grammatical work 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' occupy a place in the top 100. Naturally the list is dominated by fiction novels, with household names, such as Ian McEwan and J.K. Rowling, as well as Man Booker Prize winners Yann Martel and Aravind Adiga. Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road', was voted as the greatest book of the decade. Running in conjunction, was the '5 Worst Books of the Decade'; a list including 'Being Jordan' by Katie Price. Author Dan Brown has the unusual accolade of being cited on both lists; perhaps testament to the success of his novels in both polarising opinion and raising publicity.
Thomas Hardy's 'Far From the Madding Crowd' was published in 1874. Like so many of Hardy's works, the novel originally appeared in serial form, debuting in 'Cornhill Magazine'; a Victorian literary journal illustrated, among others, by John Everett Millais. Having started life as an architect, 'Far From the Madding Crowd' was Hardy's first successful foray into the literary scene and only the second novel to bear his name; the first being the original cliff-hanger, 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'. It was also the first of Hardy's works to strike the tragic note for which he is best remembered, numerous aspects of the novel foreshadowing elements in both 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' and 'Jude the Obscure'; yet, unlike his later works, the protagonist still manages to find happiness. The book finished 10th on The Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
The first posthumous novel by author Michael Crichton, is set to be published this week. 'Pirate Latitudes', was discovered as a complete manuscript on Crichton's computer soon after his death in 2008, and centres on piracy in Jamaica in the late 17th century. Steven Spielberg has already signed a deal to adapt the novel for film. Another script, only a third complete, was found on Crichton's computer. A writer is to be selected to finished the 'techno-thriller' and it will be published in Autumn next year. Born in 1942, Crichton has been one of the few writers who is genuinely successful across the media; becoming the first creative artist to have works at number one simultaneously in television, film and book sales - ER, Jurassic Park and Diclosure respectively. The 6'9" author, has seen his novels translated into 36 different languages, over 150 million copies of his books sold and 13 of his works turned into films. Other famous titles include, 'The Andromeda Strain', 'Rising Sun', and 'The Great Train Robbery'.
Victorian author Mary Anne Evans, later to be known as George Eliot, was born in 1819. Upon the death of her father in 1849, to whom she was devoted, Evans moved to London, where she stayed at the house of John Chapman; the recently installed editor of left-wing journal 'The Westminster Review'. Evans became assisstant editor a year later, contributing numerous essays and reviews until her departure in 1856. Evans' wider literary career was about to launch, yet it was her private life which gathered more public interest; she lived with, and considered herself to be wedded to, married journalist George Lewes. Socially unacceptable in the pious Victorian era, it was these circumstances that forced Evans to adopt pen name George Eliot to hide her marital status; an alias also used to distance herself from the romantic female novelists of the day. During her lifetime she produced many well known works of both prose and poetry; her most famous novels being, 'Middlemarch', 'Silas Marner', and 'The Mill on the Floss'. Evans died in 1880, aged 61.
Saturday, 21 November 2009
A US judge has announced the date for the settlement in a major literary legal dispute today. February 18th next year, will see the culmination of the Authors Guild action against Google books in 2005 for a breach of copyright. By scanning texts from the United States and Britain, Google had been creating a digital archive of books, which it hoped to sell on its website; yet the previews for such items included small section of text available for free. The system was admonished by the president of the Authors Guild who stated, 'Authors, not Google, have the exclusive rights to...authorise such reproduction, distribution and display of their works.' But Google fought back, claiming their new project, 'directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness and sales of the books.' A settlement had been agreed last year, with Google agreeing to pay $125 million, to create an independent 'Books Rights Registry' with a proportion of revenue going straight to the author; yet a revised settlement has now been called for, and the case should be resolved next year.
François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, was born in 1694. Voltaire was a student of classical languages, and it was from this that his pseudonym came; an anagram of Arovet Li, the Latinised version of his surname, just one of the 178 aliases he is known to have taken. Part of the French Enlightenment movement, which included Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire believed in reason as the basis of authority, questioning the traditional institutions and customs of the time. Although a philosopher by first trade, he soon became a prolific writer of almost every literary form; including poetry, drama, novels and more than 20,000 letters. His sharp wit led Voltaire to being imprisioned in the Bastille, then exiled to England, sparking his subsequent attempts to reform the French judicial system. His best known work remains 'Candide', and he died in 1778 aged 83. When asked on his deathbed by a priest to renounce the devil and turn to God, he is alleged to have replied, 'Now is no time to be making new enemies'.
Friday, 20 November 2009
It has been announced that Andrew Motion is to be the chair of judges for next year's Man Booker Prize. The former Poet Laureate, who was involved in accusations of plagiarism earlier this month, said it was an 'exciting challenge' and that he was looking forward 'to a year of reading voraciously'. Following on from Hilary Mantel's victory ealier this year, the longlist of her potential successors will be announced in July; the shortlist of six is published in September, and the winner will be named in October. Previous recipients of the £50,000 award include William Golding, Salman Rushdie, and Ian McEwan.
Russian realist writer Leo Tolstoy, died in 1910 at the age of 82. Descended from Russian aristocracy, he was described at university as 'both unable and unwilling to learn', and he left, amounting huge gambling debts and evenutally joining the army. Tolstoy's transformation into the literary talent he is recognised as today, occured during a trip to Europe, where he met Victor Hugo, author of 'Les Miserables'. Inspired, Tolstoy went on to produce some of the best known works of Russian literature, 'War and Peace', and 'Anna Karenina'; which he used to convey a realistic perspective of the Russian society in which he lived. He was praised by his contemporaries; Chekhov saying of him, 'What he does, serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature.' Yet Tolstoy himself proved a harsh critic, telling Chekhov, 'I think Shakespeare's plays are terrible, but yours are even worse'. Indeed, Shakespeare was widely criticised by Tolstoy throughout his lifetime, Tolstoy confessing to feel 'an irrestitible repulsion and tedium' while reading his works. Alongside fellow writers Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Pushkin, Tolstoy is considered part of Russia's golden age of literature.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Yesterday, saw author Neil Gaiman continue his huge success with new novel 'The Graveyard Book'. Already having won America's Newbery Medal, Locus Young Adult Award and Hugo Best Novel Prize, Gaiman was awarded the Booktrust Teenage Prize at a ceremony in London; and further achievement may be just around the corner, owing to his nomination for both the Carnegie Medal and World Fantasy Award. Citing both Ruyard Kipling and P.L. Travers, of 'The Jungle Books' and 'Mary Poppins' fame respectively, as inspirations, Gaiman said that he was both 'thrilled and surprised' by receiving the award, whose £2,500 prize money he will spend on 'cool art'. The judges said of Gaiman's novel that it 'won the hearts of all the judges, young and old...the writing is gentle, fluid and humorous, and fundamentally uplifting'. Gaiman's next work is set to be a 'part-fiction, part-non-fiction travelogue and real life history', set in China.
English playwright and poet Thomas Shadwell died in 1692, at the age of 50. In relative terms a literary success, Shadwell was awarded the title of Poet Laureate in 1689, succeeding contemporary John Dryden. Yet it is for his relationship with Dryden, mainly conveyed through text, that he is best remembered; the two swapping some three satirical pieces each, about the other. It was Dryden who came out on top; the protagonist of his work 'Mac Flecknoe', the King of Dullness, giving his crown to Shadwell, who is described as 'confirm'd in full stupidity'. While many of their debates took to a political or religious line, both diametrically opposed on those issues, the pair were also known to contemplate more intellectual ideas, such as whether Ben Jonson or Shakespeare were a better playwright. The best works of the man who 'enjoyed a popularity in his own day which is not easily explicable in ours', are play 'Epsom Wells', and poem 'Dear Pretty Youth'.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
The shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award was announced last month. Founded in 1999, the prize is awarded to first time writers in any genre, and carries with it £10,000 and an advertising package in the Guardian and Observer. The most prominent name on the shortlist, is Samantha Harvey, and her novel 'The Wilderness'; the work has already won the £25,000 Betty Trask Award and been nominated for both the Orange and Booker Prizes. Another name on the shortlist is that of Reif Larsen, whose novel 'The Selected Works of TS Spivet', was bought by Penguin Books for almost $1 million, after a ten way bidding war by publishers. Also included are of work of non-fiction and a collection of short stories. The full shortlist can be found here. The winner will be announced on December 2nd.
Marcel Proust, French novelist and essayist, died in 1922. Born in 1871, just after the Franco-Prussian War, much of Proust's childhood corresponded with the rise of France's Third Republic; a theme that later found its way into many of his works. He wrote from an early age, contributing to numerous journals while he was still at school and even founding his own literary review, 'Le Banquet'. Fascinated by English social critic contemporary John Ruskin, Proust began to translate Ruskin's works into French; yet his poor command of English hampered him, and instead Proust used him to enhance his own theories on art, and the role of art within society. His most famous work, 'In Search of Lost Time', often considered the definitive modernist novel, incorporates themes of time, space and memory. He died in 1922, aged 51.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Today saw the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize announced. The prize, awarded to an Asian novel not yet published in English, was set up in 2007, and offers a monetary incentive of £10,000. Su Tong, who has been commended for his novel, 'The Boat Redemption', has stated that he is usually 'more famous for not winning prizes', but judges declared his book to have 'immense charm'. Based around the story of a disgraced Communist party official, it had the potential for controversy, yet was instead cited as 'a political fable with an edge which is both comic and tragic'. Previously to this, Su's most famous work was 'Wives and Concubines', a novel which inspired the 1991 film 'Raise the Red Lantern'.
Queen Mary I, died in 1558; leading to the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I to the throne, and sparking of one of the greatest periods of literature in history. The Elizabethan era is, of couse, best known for dramatist and poet William Shakespeare. 25 of his 37 plays were purportedly performed during Elizabeth's reign, and she herself was known to be an admirer; the Lord Chamberlain's Men said to have performed over thirty-two times at court. Yet Shakespeare was not the only influential playwright of the era; contempories Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe are equally renowned, the latter possibly even more so in his lifetime. Elizabethan literature also widely contributed to the field of poetry, not least with the reinvention of the sonnet by Shakespeare, but also through the works of Philip Sidney and the first writings of John Donne; Donne was voted this year, the nation's second favourite poet. Other figures of the era include; Thomas Kyd, John Webster and Thomas Middleton. Much of this prolific writing continued into the Jacobean period.
Monday, 16 November 2009
It has been announced that next year will see the publication of a new Doctor Who novel. Michael Moorcock, a science fiction writer famed for the 'Elric of Melnibone' series, stated that he had been approached by BBC books to write a novel available for publication next Christmas. However, many fans have been critical, believing that, as someone not associated with the show, Moorcock's interpretation will not fit in with their own view ane perhaps is not a big enough name. Yet Moorcock is quick to counter this, declaring himself to have watched the show for years and saying; 'since the Tom Baker series, a lot of my ideas crept into the stories and so in many ways I'll be writing a story which already echoes my own work.' This announcement follows the airing of a second Doctor Who special this year, and so is likely to only increase the fanaticism that surrounds the series; which is set to introduce new Doctor Matt Smith next year.
Nigerian novelist, poet and social critic Chinua Achebe, was born in 1930. Starting his career at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, Achebe soon became captivated by world religions and cultures, especially those of a traditional African nature. This fascination soon led to a literary career, writing his first, and still probably best known, work 'Things Fall Apart'in the late 1950s. He continued to write through the next few decades, yet soon found a niche in the political scene. 1967 saw the province Biafra attempting to gain independence from Nigeria; a move which Achebe fully supported, even serving as a ambassador of the new nation. Yet by 1970, it had been taken back by the government, leaving Achebe ostracised from politics due to the corruption he felt to be so prevalent. He moved to the U.S, delivering lectures; including one in which he described Joseph Conrad as a 'racist'. His best known poetical work is 'Vultures', and he continues to speak passionately on African issues at the prestigious Ivy League Brown University.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
A proposed new computerised marking system for A-Level English exams, has failed some of the most famous writers and orators that ever lived. The system was discussed last week at the Westminster Education Forum; a meeting which included heads of exam boards and the Charted Institute of Educational Assessors. It is thought that online marking will soon be introduced, with computers already marking some multiple choice GCSE papers and trials taking place for those which are essay based. Yet the system has encountered some flaws. Among those singled out for criticism, were Ernest Hemingway, for his 'lack of care in style of writing'; William Golding, for his 'innacurate and erratic sentance structure'; and Anthony Burgess for being 'incomprehensible'. Surely, if the 'classics' would have failed, it signifies against the popular belief, that A-Levels are actually getting harder? Or, at least, that it's more about a marking system than writing?
James Boswell, the Scottish diarist, set out for London in 1762. During the eight and a half month stay that followed, Boswell wrote his 'London Journal'; he documented each detail of the city, in which he stated that 'we may be in some degree whatever character we choose.' The most significant event recorded was his meeting with prolific essayist, poet and author Samuel Johnson; an event which led to the creation of Boswell's most famous work, 'The Life of Samuel Johnson'. Often said to be the greatest biography ever written, it earned Boswell the reputation he had long sought for; indeed the word 'Boswellian' has evolved into the English language, meaning one who studiously records the deeds of others. Many of Boswell's works were not discovered until the 1920s; over 8,000 pages of manuscript including records of meetings with playwright Oliver Goldsmith and philosopher Edmund Burke. Boswell died in 1975, aged 54.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
The gothic genre, is one which has had both popularity and longevity, and boasts many of today's best known novels. A combination of horror and romance, it is thought to have been started by Horace Walpole's 'The Castle of Otranto' in 1764 and has grown prolifically since, with key eras of notable contribution. Coleridge's 'Christabel' and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' as well as Shelley's 'Frankenstein' are all examples of gothic literature from the Romantic period; yet arguably, it was the Victorian era which proved the most productive for the genre. Titles such as Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', Wilde's 'The Picture if Dorian Gray', and Stoker's 'Dracula' all found their conception in Victorian society; America having its own star in Edgar Allan Poe. Despite it huge popularity, gothic fiction has also produced numerous satires, the famous of which is Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'. A quiz on the gothic genre can be found here
Herman Melville's 'Moby-Dick' was published in New York in 1851. It had been published in Britain one month previous, entitled 'The Whale', yet had contained an incomplete and rearrranged ending, rendering a hostile reception on its American publication. Contemporary critics said of it; 'The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition.' Maintaining only a fragile readership in his lifetime, Melville's death in 1891 signalled a period in literary obscurity for 'Moby-Dick' and many other of his works; a decline only reversed after the end of World War One. The war saw many people questioning the foundations of their culture and society, leading to the modernist movement; a movement whose ideals Melville had reflected and so the novel found increasing relevance. Its most famous line being 'Call me Ishmael', 'Moby-Dick' was voted in 2008, to be Massachusetts' offical 'epic novel'.
Friday, 13 November 2009
This day also celebrates a more obscure anniversary. 1797 saw Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth embark on a walking holiday in Quantock Hills in Somerset; a holiday which would produce Coleridge's most famous work, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. Their original idea was to create a piece of work which would provide immediate commercial success to pay for their trip, preferrably something gothic to be included in popular magazines. However, Wordsworth stated that their styles 'would not assimilate', and so it was left to Coleridge to finish the work. Five months of work produced a finished article, and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' was published in 'Lyrical Ballads' in 1798. Far from being a immediate bestseller, Coleridge's poem was criticised for being obscure and difficult to read, leading to a revised edition in 1815 in which he added marginal notes, glossing the text. The poem was succeeded by another of Coleridge's great works, 'Christabel'.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author, was born in 1850. Even though Stevenson only learnt to read at the age of 8, his childhood was spent always writing stories, an occupation his father used to have at the same age. His father even paid for the publication of Stevenson's first novel, 'The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666', written when he was 16; yet afterward, Stevenson was expected to forget writing and take on the family trade of lighthouse keeping. Failure to do so, resulted in his alienation from his family, yet produced the quality of his literature that survives today. His two most famous works are 'Treasure Island' and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', both widely read today. However, his poluarity had waned in the 20th century; condemned by Virginia Woolf and unamed in the 'Norton Anthology of English Literature' until 2006, Stevenson remained an 'inferior writer' for some years. He died in 1894, and is now the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of both Wilde and Dickens.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Today also marks the death of English poet Colley Cibber, in 1757, at the age of 86. A playwright by first profession, he spent much of his time adapting plays from various sources and getting highly criticied for doing do; critics calling it a 'miserable mutilaiton' of 'hapless Shakespeare'. He fared no better in acting himself, frequently getting ridiculed for his attempts. To complete the trend in his literary career, his poetry was equally bad, having no admirers in his own time and his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1730 thought to be purely political. Although he certainly made some impact, the title of his most famous work, his autobiography 'Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber' is arguably all that is needed when assessing the success of his career.
American DeWitt Wallace, founder of 'Reader's Digest', was born in 1889. Injured in World War One, Wallace spent his 6 months recovery time reading and researching magazine articles. He then proceeded to condense them in something that he believed was more readable; becoming more and more convinced that the general public shared his ideals. So he sent to a publishers, the idea of a periodical consisting of a wide variety of abridged articles - it was refused. In the meantime, Wallace had married, and after this rejection he and his wife, Lila, decided to set up the magazine by themselves, publishing their first issue in 1922, with a run of 1,500 copies. The business rapidly grew, circulation reaching 200,000 in 1929 and allowing the use of original articles, many reflecting the Repulican, anti-communist views held by Wallace. By the end of the 20th century, 'Reader's Digest' had a circulation of more than 17 million in 20 languages; the largest circulation of any publication in the world. Wallace died in 1981, having received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1972.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
The winner of Canada's main literary award, The Giller Prize, has been announced today. Yet the winner, or certainly the winner's work, is controversial. Linden MacIntyre, an investigative journalist turned author, was nominated for the novel 'The Bishop's Man', a book dedicated to the issues of sex abuse surrounding the Catholic Church. The book was published just before a bishop in Antigonish, MacIntyre's chosen location, was charged with similar offences; although there is no apparent connection. The jury called it 'brave..written with impressive delicacy and understanding', and MacIntyre himself, dedicated it to 'priests and nuns struggling to do their job.' The Giller, previously won by such authors as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, is noted to be Canada's most prestigious literary award, and come with prize money of £27,000.
American novelist Louisa May Alcott's first book, 'The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome', was published in the 'Saturday Evening Gazette', in 1852. Alcott was born in 1832 into a family of transcendentalists; a philosophical movement which believed the ideal spiritual state was achieved by the induvidual, rather than the doctrines of established religions. Her father founded a school based on the principle, but after six years it failed, leaving Alcott to support the family; a feat she managed by writing. Her breakthrough in this field came in 1863. Working as a nurse for Union troops in the civil war a year earlier, she used her experiences to write 'Hospital Sketches', a novel, which critics say, transformed her into a serious literary writer. Her most famous work, is 'Little Women'; a novel which attracted huge commercial success and has been adapted multiple times for stage and screen.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
The nominations for the London Evening Standard's theatre awards were released yesterday. Among the most notable, is Lenny Henry in the category of 'Outstanding Newcomer', despite being 51 years of age. He made his stage debut as Othello last year, first appearing at Northern Broadsides theatre, and currently, following remarkable success, is performing at Trafalgar Studios. Critics have called his performance 'one of the most astonishing debuts in Shakespeare...it is impossible to praise too highly Henry's courage in taking on so demanding and exposed a role, and then performing it with such authority and feeling.' Also nominated is Rachel Weisz for 'Best Actress', for her performance in Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at the Donmar Warehouse. The full list of nominations can be found here. The winners will be announced on the November 23rd.
Anglo-Irish playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith, is though to have been born in 1730. There are disputes as to his exact date of birth; theories ranging from 10th-29th of November and from the years 1727-1731, but 10th November 1730 is now accepted by most. His works span the genres; from the romantic ballad of 'The Hermit', to the novel 'The Vicar of Wakefield'. The latter proved very popular among 18th and 19th centuries audiences, being cited in many contemporary works such as Austen's 'Emma', Dickens' 'David Copperfield', and Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Yet arguably his most famous work is of the dramatic genre. 'She Stoops to Conquer', a comedy of manners, has gained lasting appeal, being adapted numerous times for the screen, including a recent 2008 series. Goldsmith died in 1774, at the age of 43.
Monday, 9 November 2009
Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, has been accused of plagiarising another author's work for his latest poem. 'An Equal Voice', was published in The Guardian newspaper on the eve of Rememberance Sunday as a tribute to war veterans; Motion describing it as 'stitching together the voices of shell-shocked people'. Yet Ben Shephard, author of 'The War of Nerves', claims Motion has in fact 'stitched together 17 passages from his book'; 'of the 152 lines...all but 16 are taken from 'A War of Nerves'...there's a word for this...it begins with 'p' and it isn't poetry.' Motion has hit back, maintaining there is a long tradition of 'found poetry'. He uses the example of Shakespeare's play 'Anthony and Cleopatra', which borrows large passages from Sir Thomas North's 'Life of Mark Anthony'. The dispute is likely to run on for some time.
English poet Roger McGough was born in 1937. Although best known as a performance poet, McGough spent his early life heavily involved in the music scene; a rising phenomena in his home city of Liverpool. His band, 'The Scaffold', was signed by Parlophone Records in 1966, and had a number one hit with 'Lily the Pink'; a track which included Elton John on backing vocals. Being a Liverpudlian musician, McGough was influenced by The Beatles, even writing some of the dialogue for their movie 'Yellow Submarine'. Having launched his poetry career in 1981, McGough has gone on to be one of the most successful children's poets, most famous for works such as 'What on Earth?' and 'Sky in the Pie'; this led to him being awarded both a Cholmondeley Award and CBE. McGough now presents 'Poetry Please' on BBC Radio 4.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
The Durham Book Festival was held last week, with the theme of 'Free Range Reading'; appealing to every age and taste. From 'story parties for the under-fives' to a 'Vampire Writing Club', the festival aimed to inspire and educate; galvanising people both to write themeselves and explore the works of others. Guest speakers included authors Kate Mosse and Nick Hornby and the former and current Poet Laureates Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy. It is hoped that this will assist Durham's bid to become Capital of Culture in 2013.
Irish novelist Bram Stoker was born in 1847. Although bed-ridden until the age of seven due to illness, Stoker excelled in both athletics and academia; attending Trinty College, Dublin at the same time as Oscar Wilde. He started his career as the theatre critic for the 'Dublin Evening Mail' whilst still a student, and consequently met actor Henry Irving, to whom he became personal assistant. Irving then granted Stoker the position of managing the Lyceum Theatre, and so he moved to London with his new wife Florence Balcombe, a previous object of Wilde's attentions. In this post Stoker got to travel the world, twice visiting the Whitehouse, and meeting both Theodore Roosevelt and his literary hero Walt Whitman. Stoker is best known for his novel 'Dracula', published in 1897. Now part of popular culture, it is written in epistolary form, drawing on the experience gained whilst working in the newspaper industry. Stoker died in 1912, at the age of 64.
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Beverley Farmer has become the latest recipient of the Patrick White Award. The award was created by White in 1974, using the grant he had received for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature one year earlier. It acknowledges writers, usually older writers, who have not received adequate recognition for their years of creative work. Australian Farmer, whose best works include 'Milk', and 'Alone', has previously criticised the award for being obituary for the winner's literary career. She was awarded the $25,000 prize for being, 'not a prolific writer but rather an intense, meditative and gifted stylist.'
Albert Camus, an Algerian-born, French writer, was born in 1913. Camus, also a philosophical authority, was often cited as being an advocate of exisitentialist thought, in which induvidual should primarily be concerned with their own existance; yet Camus himself denied this. He later became associated with absurdism, which deems the search by humanity for meaning in the universe to be futile. Influenced by figures such as Orwell and Dostoevsky, Camus tranferred these ideas into novels; producing such works as 'The Stranger', 'The Plague' and 'The Fall'. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for illuminating 'the problems of the human conscience in our times', becoming the first African-born writer and second youngest recipient of the award. He died in 1960, earning him the undesirable title of shortest-lived literature laureate to date.
Friday, 6 November 2009
It has been announced that Broadway's 'Hamlet' is officially a success, bringing in profit after less than three months. The production, starring Jude Law, moved from London's Wydham's Theatre to New York's Broadhurst Theatre in October, having already proved a commercial hit in the West End. Law, returning to Broadway for the first time since 1995, is the second famous face to grace the role of the Danish prince in as many years, David Tennant proving highly popular in the RSC's production. Following up from that, many expected Law to fail, yet he received positive reviews; the Telegraph calling his performance one of 'rare vunerability and emotional openess.' 'It is heartening', says the show's director, 'that Shakespeare can be a commercial success on Broadway.'
English dramatist, Thomas Kyd, was baptised in 1558; the first record available of his birth. Kyd is best known for his authorship of 'The Spainish Tragedie'; yet, despite being recognised in his own time, this was only attributed to him in 1773. This led to further scholarly study into his works; even producing a theory that he wrote a 'Hamlet' which pre-dated Shakespeare's. Kyd's respect spread from his pan-European audiences to his contempories, Ben Jonson evelvating him to the same level as Christopher Marlowe; with whom he shared lodgings. He died in 1594, recognised as a key figure in the development of Elizabethan drama and plot. 8 years after his death, Jonson is noted as being payed by Philip Henslowe for additions to the play.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
New material relating to one of the most popular novelists, has been unveiled at an exhibition in New York. 'A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy', contains more than 100 items, such letters written by the author to family and friends; including one to her neice in which Austen wrote each word backward as a puzzle. Also of great interest, is the only surviving, complete, handwritten manuscript of 'Lady Susan; a Austen novel written in 1795 - predating the publication of 'Sense and Sensibility' by 16 years. Another manuscript, that of 'The Watsons', shows her work in progress, complete with annotations and plans for improvement. Perhaps the most touching exhibit, is a letter written by her sister Cassandra to Austen's neice, Fanny Knight, in which she reports Austen's death, saying: 'I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed.' The exhibition runs in the Morgan Library until 14th March.