Thursday, 31 December 2009
Patrick Stewart is one of the leading names on the New Year's Hounour List announced today. Stewart is being awarded with a knighthood for his services to drama, joining fellow Shakespearian actors Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in receiving the accolade. During the years, Stewart has been heavily involved in the Royal Shakespeare Company, most recently alongside David Tennant as Claudius in the 2008 production of 'Hamlet', aired last week on the BBC. Stewart, already the recipient of an OBE, said that he was 'very proud' and that theatre has always been his 'great joy'.
The approaching of a new year has incurred many epigrams over the last century by authors and playwrights alike. Here are some of the more famous ones:
- "The only way to spend New Year's Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears."
- W.H. Auden
- "The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective."
- G.K. Chesterton
- "Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."
- Mark Twain
- "Good resolutions are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account."
- Oscar Wilde
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
The birthplace of English writer Goerge Orwell, is to receive a makeover after years of dilapidation. With his father an agent in the opium department, Orwell was born in Motihari, India; a small town near the Nepalese border. Although he and his family left for England the next year, 'Orwell cared about India all his life'. Yet his house fell into disrepair, a state heightened by earthquakes and has been home to numerous animals. Now the government has decided to renovate it in order to attract more tourists to one of India's most undeveloped states, saying that they 'will not allow George Orwell's ancestral house, where he was born, to be lost to history'. Calls for renovation have been mooted before, notably in 2003, the 100th anniversary of the author's birth. The work will begin early 2010.
English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley married novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1816.Shelley's second wife, Godwin followed 16 year old Harriet Westbrook, with whom Shelley eloped and had a child. Three years later, he abandoned her in favour of Godwin, and their subsequent marriage came only weeks after Westbrook's suicide. Godwin helped to edit and promote her husband's works, yet was a successful writer in her own right. The Shelleys, Lord Byron, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont famously spent a summer in Geneva where Mary conceived the idea for her novel 'Frankenstein'. The couple had four children together.
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Hugh Grant has stated his wish to become an author; something the 'Love Actually' star said he was putting off until he could afford it. "I have always promised myself: 'When you have made some nice films and earned some money, you are going to finally write your novel'". Yet even after years of huge financial success, the book has been started and left unfinished, as more and more Hollywood offers appear. 'I don't know if it is laziness or some kind of fear of failure. (I think) shouldn't I rather make a film, earn money and work with beautiful women?'
English poet Christina Rossetti died in 1894 at the age of 64. Following the deterioration of her father's health in the 1840s, Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown, leaving school and experiencing bouts of depression. The occurance also led her to explore the Anglo-Catholic movement, a move which was to impact considerably upon her life and induced the break off of an engagement and another subsequent relationship. Brother of artist Dante Gabriel, Rossetti modelled for some of his most famous paintings, including 'The Girlhood of MaryVirgin' and 'Ecce Ancilla Domini'. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also gave her an opening for her writing; their literary magazine 'The Germ' contained several of her earlier published works. Her poems varying from devotianal to romantic, her most famous work is 'The Goblin Market', leading her to be labelled Elizabeth Barret Browning's 'natural successor'. Rossetti is also the author of popular Christmas carol 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.
Monday, 28 December 2009
Judi Dench is set to star in the Rose Theatre's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' next year. The Kingston theatre, currently showing Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', have said they are 'delighted' by the announcement. Dench has been a long standing supporter of the theatre, having previously hosted fundraisers. She will play the part of Titiana the fairy queen, a role she assumed for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962. The production will run from 9th February until 20th March. Tickets are now on sale and can be booked here
The world's first commercial film screening took place in 1895. The Grand Cafe in Paris played host to ten 50 second movies, each created by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere. Since then, the film industry has grown exponentially and can often be credited with contributing to or reigniting interest in literary works. Of the top ten highest grossing films worldwide, five belong to arguably the two most influential literary series of all time. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, earning 5.41 billion and 2.92 billion respectively, have opened up the world of books for many who did not enjoy reading previously; the releases coinciding with a huge upturn in sales for both sets of books. However, it is debatable as to whether adaptations of literary works are positive, many criticising that they can either overshadow the original work, or actually change it beyond recognition.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
The new Guy Ritchie film 'Sherlock Holmes' was released yesterday. Based on the Arthur Conan Doyle detective novels, the film sees Robert Downey Jr. as the lead role, and Jude Law as sidekick Dr. Watson. Received positively by critics, the movie has already picked up award nominations, including a Golden Globe for Downey Jr's portrayal of Sherlock. The film grossed $65.4 million in its opening weekend.
J.M. Barrie's popular children's character Peter Pan debuted as a stage play at the Duke of York Theatre in 1904. Having already appeared in novel form as a section of 'The Little White Bird' in 1902, the production has since been adapted numerous times for screen, stage and radio. Peter Pan and his fellow lost boys are all based on the children of the Llewelyn Davies family; children whom Barrie became the guardian of when both their parents died. A new 'breathtaking' production, first on at Kensington Gardens in the Summer, is currently on at the O2.
Saturday, 26 December 2009
On a similarly Shakespearian theme, David Tennant has reprised his award winning role as Hamlet. The some time Time Lord combined with fellow actor Patrick Stewart to recreate the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, which proved a sellout success in London's West End. The three hour long drama was aired today on BBC2, and can be seen here. 'Hamlet' is Shakespeare's longest play, and is often one of the most popular to perform, given the numerous interpretations that can be applied to it. Other actors to have played the role include Jude Law and Sam Waterston, with John Simm taking it up later this year.
One of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, 'King Lear' is noted for its first ever performance in 1606. During the reign of James I, a known advocate and admirer of Shakespeare's works, the play was performed in court, yet the actual date of its writing remain unknown. Undoubtedly one of Shakespeare's later plays, most scholars believe it to have been written between 1603 and 1606 due to other documentation of the time. However, there are a minority, most of whom doubt the authorship, that think it written earlier, given its parallels with contemporary history of 1589. The play, in its numerous adaptations, has always been noted for its depiction of human suffering and many other psychoanalytic interpretations have been offered as to its meaning.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
2009 has been yet another year of triumphs in the literary world. From Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' to Steig Larsson's 'The Girl Who Played with Fire', it has seen the release of many successful books, many of which were honoured by literary awards across the globe. Festivals both in Britain and elsewhere celebrated the work of such literary artists, and masters of the field payed tribute to them. 'The Guardian' takes a look back at the year with this quiz....
English poet and critic Matthew Arnold was born in 1822. Son of Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School, Arnold had a privileged education, including a scholarship at Balliol College in Oxford. During his childhood, perhaps due to close frienship with neighbour William Wordsworth, Arnold won numerous literary prizes from both Latin and English poetry. Yet in 1851, finding himself short of the income to support a marriage, Arnold applied for the post of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools, which he got, but later described as 'drugedy'. It was in 1857, having been appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford, that his literary career took off; his most famous works being 'Dover Beach' and 'The Scholar Gypsy'. He has been called the third greatest Victorian poet behind Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
The Harry Potter phenomenon has seen J.K. Rowling become the bestselling author of the decade. Beginning with the fourth installment in 2000, Rowling has seen sales of her books reach 29,084,999; generating an income of £225.9m. The incredible figure outstrips her nearest rival, Roger Hargreaves of Mr. Men fame, by 14,921,858 copies. Other popular modern writers to make it into the top ten, include Dan Brown and Jacqueline Wilson. There are also places in the top 50 for writers no longer alive; J.R.R. Tolkein and Roald Dahl both feature and Shakespeare squeezes in at 45 - amassing £17.8m worth of sales more than 390 years after his death.
'A Visit from St. Nicholas', more commonly referred to as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas', was published anonymously in 1823. The poem is often thought of as the source for the Western traditional image of Christmas; including the appearance of Santa himself - 'His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!' - and the names of all his reindeer. Yet despite the poem's modern popularity, the authorship is still a matter under question. More than twenty years later, it was claimed by and attributed to Clement C. Moore, and was included in an 1844 anthology of his works. However, in recent times, there has emerged those who doubt his authorship, and believe that the poem was the work of Henry Livingston Jr.; a relative of Moore's wife. Several points have been made as evidence for the theory, one of which is that both the metre and style of the poem are consistent with Livingston's other works. The poem remains a frequently referenced work and has inspired numerous adaptations and parodies.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
For the second time this decade, Dan Brown finds himself top of the book charts at Christmas. Following his 2004 success with 'The Da Vinci Coode', Brown's 'The Lost Symbol' just beat perennial bestseller 'The Guiness Book of World Records' into second place. Past years have seen celebrity autobiographies dominate the charts from names such as Dawn French and Russell Brand, but this year only two have even entered the top ten; Ant and Dec's and Frankie Boyle's memoirs coming in at ninth and tenth respectively. Instead, it is mainly fiction that compromises the chart; two of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga, as well as novels by Jodi Picoult and Stieg Larsson proving bestsellers. The chart also leaves room for the more traditional, and the latest installment of Delia's Christmas recipies makes it to number eight.
Children's author Helen Beatrix Potter, better known by just her middle name, died at the age of 77 in 1943. Schooled at home by a governess and largely ignored, Potter had little social interaction as a child, and relied instead on pets to provide her with the attention she craved. She is said to have had frogs, newts, ferrets, a bat and, of course, two rabbits; Benjamin and Peter, who were to form the basis of her first story. The setting for her many tales was inspired by frequent family trips to both Scotland and the Lake District; the latter became Potter's home some years later, when she bought Hill Top Farm - now a National Trust property. Potter's first attempts at writing were rebuffed by publishers for the lack of colour pictures. She decided to self publish, and soon gained an independent income from her writings. All together she wrote 23 books, the first and most famous of which is 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'. Besides a sparkling literary career, Potter is also noted for her work is the field of mycology, or funghi.
Monday, 21 December 2009
Period drama 'Cranford' has reappeared for a two part Christmas special. The series is based on a novel by Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell of the same name, which was first published in Charles Dickens' literary journal 'Household Words'. Gaskell's works often centre around matters of rural concern, and 'Cranford' is no different; based on Knutsford in Chesire, the town of Cranford faces the contemporary issues of industrialisation and railway expansion. The first episode can be seen here, and the next episode will be aired on December 27th.
The first production of Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' opened in Copenhagen in 1879. Reflecting the ideology of its socialist writer, 'A Doll's House' is often described as a true feminist play, yet Ibsen himself later denies it was ever meant as such. The idea of female empowerment was not one which the patriarchal society of the day looked upon kindly, and Ibsen was forced to write alternative endings for his scandalised audiences. His later plays were received in a similar vain; 'Rosmersholm' called 'the brain-sick extravangencies of the Norwegian playwright'. Although held in contempt by many critics, Ibsen found an ally in English writer George Bernard Shaw, who greatly admired the Norwegian and even wrote a book in homage to him; 'The Quintessence of Ibsenism'. 'A Doll's House' has been a popular play to perform ever since; the most recent production was last year in The Donmar Warehouse and starred Toby Stephens and Gillian Anderson .
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Booktrust questioned 2,500 people on their favourite nursery rhyme, and compiled a least of the top ten. 'Hickory Dickory Dock' claimed first prize, with 'Little Miss Muffet' and 'Round and Round the Garden' second and third respectively. Possible surprises included 'The Grand Old Duke of York' and 'Twinkle Twinle Little Star'. The childhood favourites finished a disappointing seventh and eighth. A full list can be found here
American author John Steinbeck, died in 1968 at the age of 66. Of both German and Irish descent, Steinbeck was born in Salinas, and used the location as the setting for many of his novels. The migrant workers which he encountered there, and the severity of such an existance, became prominent themes in his writings; intertwining with the Great Depression, which occupied much of his early life. Steinbeck's literary career is most notable for his so-called 'dust bowl' fiction; a sequence of induvidual novels based on the futilityof the American Dream for the common people. Of these, the most famous is 'The Grapes of Wrath', a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1940. Yet the novel caused outrage among some, for its negative representation of capitalism, and led to Kern County banning the book from public schools and libraries for two years. After a year as the World War Two correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, Steinbeck returned to novels, producing such works as 'East of Eden' and 'The Pearl'. Steinbeck was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, for his 'realistic and imaginative writing'.
Saturday, 19 December 2009
A rare edition of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' has sold at auction for $115,000 (£70,896). The edition was given to ten-year old Alice Liddell in 1846, as a Christmas present, after she proved the inspiration for the story two years previous. Other lots under the hammer, were another first edition which went for £24,659, and a signed letter by Carroll, which sold for £1,222. The items were being sold by children's book collector Pat McInally, who will use the proceeds to buy more A.A. Milne books at a forthcoming sale in London.
English novelist and poet, Emily Bronte died in 1848 at the age of 40. Part of the famous trio of sisters, know by respective pen names Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell, Emily had her first major publishing success with a joint collection of poems in 1846. Yet her real success was found in her gothic novel, 'Wuthering Heights', oublished in the same year as sister Charlotte's 'Jane Eyre'. The haunting and passionate love story is said to have been reflective of Emily's character; Charlotte stating it to be 'powerful and peculiar' and inspiring 'an anguish of wonder and love'. Such difficulty of character continued right until the end; she refused to allow a doctor to visit, only consenting to Charlotte's pleas a few hours before she died. Her death came at a time of great personal loss for the Brontes, her brother Branwell dying only three months previous, and sister Anne was to follow the next May.
Friday, 18 December 2009
Cambridge University Library has raised £1.25 million to buy the archive of Siegfried Sassoon. The World War One poet and writer, contemporary of both Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen, is best known for works such as the 'Sherston Trilogy'. The archive includes a manuscript of Sassoon's refusal to return to duty following a serious wound, as well as diaries from his schooldays to war journals. Cambridge, at which Sassoon was an undergraduate, received the documents yesterday after a fundraising campaign which was helped by a £550,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The collection became available after the death of the poet's son in 2006.
Celebrated film director Steven Spielberg was born in 1946. Named by 'Life' as the most influential person of his generation, Spielberg has transformed numerous literary works into major box office movies; often proving pivotal in reigniting interest in the original text. Two of his most famous, and successful, projects, 'Jurassic Park' and 'Jaws', were both based on novels of the same name by Michael Crichton and Peter Benchley respectively. The latter in its own right was a bestseller for forty four weeks, and both novels drew commercial success from the release of the film. Other literary adaptations by Spielberg have included, J.G. Ballard's 'Empire of the Sun' and Thomas Keneally's 'Schindler's Ark' (Schindler's List).
Thursday, 17 December 2009
British novelist, poet and critic Ford Madox Ford was born in 1873. Born Ford Hermann Heuffer, he changed his name in 1919, due to unpopular German connotations following the First World War. War proved a continuous theme in Ford's life; he worked for the War Propaganda Bureau, producing two books and afterwards enlisted in the Welsh Regiment. The theme, not surprisingly, also ran through his literature, and inspired his most famous work, 'The Good Soldier'. The novel, originally called 'The Saddest Story' was supposedly started on Ford's birthday, to 'show what [he] could do'. Critics have praised the work, calling it, 'the best French novel in the English language' and Ford, 'one of the dozen greatest novelists of the century'. Ford is also known for his journalistic achievements. He founded both 'The English Review' and 'The Transatlantic Review'; publishing authors such as Thomas Hardy, Henry James and Joseph Conrad, and giving a publishing debut to D.H. Lawrence. Ford is supposedly the model for Braddocks in Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises'.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Nature, and weather, is often used symbolically in literature. Chekhov once stated that, 'Nature becomes animated, if you are not squeamish about employing comparisons of her phenomena with ordinary human activities'. One of the most famous examples of pathetic fallacy can be found in Dickens' 'Bleak House'; 'Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city'. Snow holds a variety of different connotations, and in honour of the winter's first snowfall, 'The Guardian' has published a quiz on snow in literature, which can be found here
One of the most loved English novelists, Jane Austen, was born in 1775. For much of her childhood Austen was educated at home under the guidance of her father, who allowed her unrestricted access to his large and diverse library, as well as writing materials. Although she wrote numerous works from a young age, including 'Juvenilia' and epistolary novel 'Lady Susan', her published literary career did not start until the age of 35. Then followed a prolific six year period, in which she wrote the books that she is most famous for; 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Sense and Sensibility' the two primary examples. After her death in 1817, two novels were published posthumously. 'Persuasion' and 'Northanger Abbey' incorporated a biographical note by Austen's brother, which named her as the author for he first time. Although by 1818 only 321 copies remained unsold, interest began to decline, and from 1820, Austen's novels were out of print for 12 years. Yet in 1833, the first collected edition of Austen's works were published and she has been continuously in print since. Austen is considered one of the few writers to be enjoyed by academics and the general public alike.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
As the year draws to a close, 'The Guardian' has made a list of its favourite neologisms coined in the last decade. Such words are drawn from across the globe and are categorised by year. Here are some examples...
- Barbecue Stopper - issue of national importance which will excite voters (Australia 2002)
- Zhing-Zhong - cheap and substandard goods, often made in Asia (Zimbabwe 2004)
- Twixters - grown men and women who still live with their parents (U.S. 2005)
- Anna Kournikova - a poker hand of king and ace; looks good but never wins (2006)
- Menoporsche - phenomenon of middle-aged men buying sports cars (U.K. 2007)
T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' was published in 1922. Arguably his most famous work, the poem is often considered a benchmark for modernist literature; especially considering that Joyce's 'Ulysses' and Woolf's 'Jacob's Room' were published in the same year. It is striking for its fusion of voice, location and image; blending Shakespearian lexis with that of contemporary London. Although the initial reception was mixed, one author deeming it 'a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general', the poem found an unlikely admirer in the Queen Mother. During World War Two, Eliot was invited to read the poem to the Royal Family, and she said of the visit; 'We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem…I think it was called The Desert. And first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles and then I did and then even the King.' Eliot was recently voted the 'nation's favourite poet' in a BBC poll.
Monday, 14 December 2009
It has been reported that Natalie Portman is to star in a film adaptation of novel, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'. Seth Grahame-Smith's book, released earlier this year, went to number three on the New York Times best-seller list and publishers are set to release a second title; 'Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters' in early 2010. In a twist on the Austen classic, Grahame-Smith's novel sees the narrative take place as the dead rise from the grave, with all five Bennett sisters trained in the martial arts to combat the zombies. According to Variety, Portman is set to play protagonist Elizabeth Bennet.
One of the first English professional female writers, Aphra Behn, was baptised in 1640. Her early life was not one which indicated great writing potential; she married an English merchant and visited sugar plantations in Suriname. Following the death of her husband several years later, Behn embarked on a more ambitious career path, becoming a spy for the recently restored monarch, King Charles II, in the Anglo-Dutch War of 1665. Yet despite Behn obtaining political secrets for England by being the lover of a prominent royal, Charles failed to pay her, and she ended up in debtors' prison. In 1669, an anonymous benefactor paid for her release, and it was from then that she started to write. As well as a prolific dramatist, Behn is said to have written both the first epistolary novel, 'Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister', and the first anti-colonial novel, 'Oroonoko'. Buried in Westminster Abbey, Behn's grave stone reads; 'Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be / Defence enough against Mortality'.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
The winner of The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year Award has been announced. Among shortlisted names of Aravind Adiga, C.J. Sansom and Barack Obama, it was Mary Ann Schaffer and her epistolary novel 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', that came out on top. The judges said of the novel; 'We live in a culture that stresses dysfunction and cynicism. This book is not about that at all — it is about love and friendship and the ability of these qualities to survive adversity'. The first UK award specifically for paperbacks, The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year award was set up in September and included authors Alexander McCall Smith and Erica Wagner as well as WHSmith buyer Sandra Bradley as judges.
'Arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history', Samuel Johnson, died in 1784 at the age of 75. A devout Anglican and Conservative, Johnson's literary career began by writing essays for 'The Gentleman's Magazine', and his other early works included biographies, poems and plays. His most famous work however, is that of a lexicographer and the production of the 'Dictionary of the English Language' in 1755. Described as 'one of the greatest single achievements of scholarships', Johnson's dictionary remained unsurpassed until the introduction of the Oxford English Dictionary, 150 years later. Johnson also wrote major works of literary criticism such as 'Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets'; supposed to have influenced Jane Austen's style and philosophy. He himself was also the subject of another writer's work James Boswell's 'Life of Samuel Johnson'. Due to reports of odd gestures and tics, many have posthumously diagnosed Johnson with Tourette's Syndrome.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Physicists believed that they have found a way to identify the 'literary fingerprint' of each induvidual author. Published in the 'New Journal of Physics', the Sewdish scientists used books by Thomas Hardy, Herman Melville and D.H. Lawrence to develop a formula that would analyse different writing styles. By finding the frequency with which authors use new words in their writings, and the rate at which this drops off, the researchers were able to find distinct patterns in the works; a pattern which weas consistent for the entire works of each author. The supporters of this theory believe that it might be applied to solve disputes over authorship, and find lost works by famous writers.
Victorian poet Robert Browning died in 1889, at the age of 77. Athough Browning was an astute learner, fluent in French, Latin, Greek and Italian by the age of 14, his mother's evangelical faith prevented him gaining a place at either Oxford or Cambridge; both only open to Church of England members. He therefore resumed his childhood hobby of writing poetry; a career which did not gain him recognition until 1840. Besides his writings, Browning is arguably most famous for his marriage to fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The courtship and ceremony was carried out in secret from Barrett's father, and the couple eloped to Italy, in an imitation of Browning's idol Shelley. Six years his senior and an invalid, Elizabeth was doubtful that Browning was truly sincere in his feeling, and she later expressed the idea in one of her best known works, 'Sonnets from the Portugese'. Browning's own poetic works are recognisable for their use of the dramatic monologue. They often take the form of an unpleasant character, as in 'My Last Duchess', 'Porphyria's Lover' and 'The Laboratory', yet many are set in a different epoch to distinguish them from the Victorian society of the day.
Friday, 11 December 2009
It has been announced that John Simm will become the newest actor to take on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Following the huge success of both David Tennant and Jude Law in the role, Simm will take to the stage in September 2010 at the Sheffield Crucible, which reopens in February after a £15.3 million redevelopment. Shakespeare's longest play, the Crucible's artisitc director says of 'Hamlet'; 'It is potentially a very scary role, but it has become one of those roles that every major actor leaps through. It can be a test of your mettle.' Simm, best known for his starring role in 'Life on Mars', as well as several 'Doctor Who' performances, is currently appearing in 'Speaking In Tongues' in London's West End.
English bookseller and publisher Edmund Curll died in 1747, around the age of 72. Operating under the maxim, 'all publicity is good publicity', Curll began his career 1705 after a seven year apprenticeship. Basing his store on exploitation of opinion, he began to publish paradoxical works on politics, medicine and religion; pornography and Christian literature both occupying his shelves. He even wrote books himself, one, 'The Charitable Surgeon', written under the pseudonym of a trusted physician, advising that the best medical cures were to be found at Curll's shop. As well as his own, Curll also published books written by others, more often than not, without their consent. Matthew Prior and Jonathan Swift were both subject to this, but the worst affected was Alexander Pope. Curll's name is now readily identified with a long running dispute with the poet, including a series of retalitory poems starting with one of Pope's most famous works, 'The Dunciad'. For several years after, the word 'curlicism' entered the language as a synonym for literary indecency.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Today, on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death, five new Nobel Laureates received their prizes at award ceremonies in Olso and Stockholm respectively. Representing fields from physics to peace, the list of new Laureates included Herta Muller; the 2009 winner for literature. The Romanian author, best known for works about life in the Communist regime, was rewarded for 'the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose' which 'depicts the landscape of the dispossessed'. Earlier this week, 'stunned' Muller, who receives £900,000, gave her Nobel Lecture, a tradition which is always held in the days prior to the ceremony. Former Literatures Laureates include William Butler Yates, George Bernard Shaw, John Steinbeck, Seamus Heaney and even Winston Churchill.
American poet, Emily Dickinson, was born in 1830. Although a popular student, Dickinson, at a young age, was known for her eccentricities such as her fondness for white clothing. As she grew older, this evolved into a more notable introversion; spending much of her time with her somewhat oppressive family, and later refusing to leave her room. In 1858, Dickinson began to collect her poems into hand-sewn books to ready them for publication, yet her work was rejected. Indeed, fewer than ten of the almost 1800 poems that she wrote were published in her lifetime, critics putting this down to her style. Lack of titles, short lines and unconventional rhyming schemes, so different to the conventions of the day, led publishers to doubt the potential popularity of her work; some even changing it to be more in keeping with contemporary poetry. Dickinson died in 1886, at the age of 55; yet it was only in 1955 that the first, complete, unedited collection of her poetry became available.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Keira Knightley is becoming the lastest actress to transfer her skills from screen to the stage. The 'Atonement' and 'Pirates of Caribbean' star will be making her debut next week in 'The Misanthrope; a French comedy of manners by the playwright Moliere. This comes on the back of several high profile performances by stage debutants, such as that of Lenny Henry; winner of a London Evening Standard Award for his portrayal of Othello. Sadie Frost, another recent convert to the theatre was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award for her performance in 'Touched'. Frost, who is going to watch the opening night, said of Knightley, 'she's a professional girl she'll just throw herself into it...I'm sure she's just enjoying it and getting on with it, and not focusing on what people think.' However Knightley herself seems to hold a different perspective, saying that she 'wanted to vomit'. The plays runs until March 13th, at the Comedy Theatre.
English poet John Milton was born in 1608. Born into a time of social unrest, Milton became active on a political and religious scale from a young age; combining both elements in his later writings. Although more widely reknown for his poetry, Milton's literary career was initiated by a speech written during the civil war. A ideological defence of freedom of expression, 'Areopagitica' condemned the censorship of the day, arguing to be given 'the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.' In 1654, Milton became totally blind, forcing him to dictate his works to amanuenses; only going to increase the admiration surrounding his most famous work, 'Paradise Lost', composed over 10 years later. Taking inspiration from other epic poets such as Homer, Virgil and Dante, Milton's work of blank verse includes similar themes and is of comparable proportions, the work totalling almost 11,000 lines. Known by Dryden as a 'Poet of the Sublime', Milton's influence was felt throughout the Romantic and Victorian periods and he remains one of Britain's most popular poets. He died in 1674 at the age of 65.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Kate Clanchy has been announced as the winner of the BBC's National Short Story Award. Beating Orange Prize winners Lionel Shriver and Naomi Alderman and Bafta-nominated Jane Rogers, Clanchy was honoured for her story, 'The Not-Dead and the Saved'; only her second attempt at the shorter literary form. Judges praised her for her 'rich lyricism' and 'deeply affecting style'. Will Young, a member of the judging panel, thought the whole competition to have been of a high standard; 'Through their shortness they put forward some very simple notions of love, loss, sacrifice and difference extremely powerfully and I have found them very moving.' Clanchy was presented with a prize of £15,000, runner up Sarah Maitland received £3,000, and all the other shortlisted writers were awarded £500.
John Lennon was assassinated by an obsessive fan in 1980. The Beatle, who enjoyed 17 number ones as a group member, and further success as a solo artist, was shot four times in front of his New York apartment. Yet the case involves a strong literary link. Lennon's assassin, Mark Chapman is associated with Salinger's 'The Catcher in Rye', almost as much as he is with his victim. Chapman's last few weeks before the shooting mirror that of the protagonist Holden; a lonely pre-Christmas rambling through the street of New York, a prostitue in a green dress and even talks with strangers on Central Park's ducks. A similar crisis of identity and purpose are often put forth as explanations for the shooting, Chapman himself stating, 'The phony must die says The Catcher in the Rye'. After he had committed the murder Chapman calmly sat down, reading the novel, to wait for the police. So synonymous is Chapman with the book, that months after, he was handing out signed copies from a stack kept in his cell. Once again it becomes debatable whether 'The Catcher in the Rye' is an accurate representation of teenage life, or merely the ramblings of a lunatic.
Monday, 7 December 2009
Commissioned for Chrsitmas, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, has composed a political poem about the occasion. Commenting on topical issues such as the Cumbrain floods and expenses scandals, she also singles out high profile celebrity figures for their achievements; Joanna Lumley and Fabio Capello to name a few. There has been a trend for seasonal poetry ever since the installation of the first official Poet Laureate, John Dryden, in 1668; the third, Nahum Tate, wrote the Christmas carol, 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night'.
This is the first stanza of Duffy's, '12 Days of Christmas':
On the first day of Christmas,
a buzzard on a branch.
no partridge, pear tree;
but my true love sent to me
a card from home.
I sat alone,
crouched in yellow dust,
and traced the grins of my kids
with my thumb.
Somewhere down the line,
for another father, husband,
brother, son, a bullet
with his name on.
British writer and translator Robert Graves, died in 1985 at the age of 90. Much of his work was inspired by his experiences as a soldier in the First World World; notably his memoirs 'Goodbye to All That', and also ensured a firm friendship between himself and fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Despite Graves' claim that he was predominently a poet, his most famous work, and one for which he won a James Tait Black Memorial Prize for, is a pair of novels; 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God'. Both books were serialised on television, and included on the '100 Best English Language novels from 1923 to 2005' list in Time Magazine. Continuing with the Roman theme, Graves became a prominent translator of ancient works; his versions of 'The Twelve Caesars' and 'The Golden Ass', remaining popular today. In all, Graves wrote over 140 works over a period spanning 63 years.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
This day also saw a infamous court ruling over James Joyce's novel, 'Ulysses' in 1933. The novel, written over a seven year period, had been serialised in the U.S. magazine 'The Little Review' in 1918, but following the publication of a particularly lewd passage for the time, the New York Society for the Supression of Vice took action against it. A trial declared the magazine obscene in 1921, leading to the book being banned in the U.S; mirroring a similar scenario in Britain. However, in 1933, a federal judge ruled against the original verdict; a decision that was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in 1934 and led to the book being reinstated in both countries. Joyce's novel, written using a stream of conciuosness technique, contains approximately 265,000 words from a 30,030 word vocabulary. It is based on Greek mythological hero Odysseus, and is often described as one of the most important works of modernist literature.
Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, died in 1882 at the age of 67. A Post Office worker for thirty three years, Trollope's life ambition was to become a member of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, this aspiration was left unrealised, and his biggest social improvement was the invention of the red, street-corner letter box. Following a strict schedule of starting at 5:30, and writing 250 words every quarter of an hour, Trollope was one of the most prolific writers of the era, publishing 47 novels; more than double the output of Charles Dickens. Although criticised, Trollope had many admirers; Nathaniel Hawthorne saying of his novels, ' They precisely suit my taste; solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through inspiration of ale'. George Eliot was also noted as saying she would not have written 'Middlemarch', were it not for Trollope. His best known work, is 'The Chronicles of Barsetshire'.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Yesterday at Christie's, saw one of the most impressive literary auctions in some time. Film producer William E. Self sold his entire library of rare editions; 144 lots producing a sale total of $4,896,625. The highlights were two collections of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe; the first, a handwritten manuscript which sold for $830,500, the second, a first edition of 'Tamerlane and Other Poems', which went for $662,500. The list of other authors' work is extensive, and includes names from both sides of the Atlantic, such as; Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Walt Whitman. The full list of lots, including pictures and details, can be found here
French author Alexandre Dumas died in 1870, at the age of 68. Grandson of the Haitian artillery High Commissioner, Dumas family had numerous military connections; his own father was a general in Napolean's army. It was this that inspired much of Dumas' subsequent literature, his widowed mother regaling her son with stories of his father's military heroism. A participator in the political scene, Dumas helped to oust Charles X and place Louis-Philippe I on the throne, ending press censorship and revitalising the ecomony; both crucial for helping Dumas to achieve his success. Dumas' works have been translated into almost 100 languages and have been the inspiration for over 200 films; his most famous being, 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and 'The Three Musketeers'. Dumas' body was exhumed in 2002 to be buried in the Panthenon alsongside French literary greats Emile Zola and Victor Hugo. President Chirac, present at the ceremony, said of Dumas; 'With you, we were D'Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles — with you, we dream.'