Sunday, 23 May 2010
The Labour leadership contest has become a family affair. At the forefront of a field including names such as Diane Abbot, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham, are brothers Ed and David Milliband, the latter the former foreign secretary in Gordon Brown's cabinet. With the result not to be resolved until the 25th of September, there remains plenty of time for the fight to become ugly, and indeed reports have circled that the younger Ed has already called brother David a 'robotic android'. Sibling rivalries exist in all walks of life, and the world of literature is no different. Here is a quiz about literary siblings.
Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen died in 1906, at the age of 78. Shortly after his birth, Ibsen's parents, once wealthy timber merchants, suffered financial difficulties, leaving his father with severe depression - all circumstances frequently mirrored in his writings. Ibsen left home at the age of 15 to become an apprentice pharmacist, but an affair, illegitimate child, and failed exams later, he found his only solace to be in writing and published his first play, 'Catiline', in 1850. Inspired by Norwegian folk tales, Ibsen continued to produce unsuccessful works, whilst obtaining employment at 'Det norske' Theatre. However, the failings of his career, and disenchantment with his circumstances led him to seek self-imposed exile with his wife in Sorrento, and indeed, he did not return to his home country for the next 27 years.
Arguably his first taste of literary success, came in the shape of 'Peer Gynt', to which Edvard Grieg later composed music, yet it wasn't until 1879, and the emergance of 'A Doll's House', that Ibsen really came to widespread public attention. Thus followed a string of highly controversial plays; 'Ghosts', 'A Enemy of the People', 'Hedda Gabler', and 'The Master Builder', which explored perspectives on such themes as marriage and morality, that were considered scandalous at the time. Yet Ibsen has subsequently received high praise, inspiring names such as Chekhov and Shaw, and being labelled the 'godfather' of modern drama.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Wimbledon has appointed its first ever official poet. Matthew Harvey, a lifelong tennis fan, will write a poem for every day of the two-week tournament, and will blog, tweet, and even recite the works to queuing spectators. The idea was proposed by the WImbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and was implemented in conjunction with the Poetry Trust, to create a 'different way of interpreting the championships'. Mr Harvey has already published his first poem as Wimbledon Laureate, called 'Grandest of Slams'.
English actor of both stage and screen, Laurence Olivier was born in 1907. Raised by a strict Anglican father, Olivier's theatrical promise was seen from childhood. Indeed, an early role as Brutus in his school's production of 'Julius Caesar' showed him 'already a great actor', and he later portrayed Puck 'very well, much to everyone's digust'. It was therefore decided that acting should be Olivier's future profession, and he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama - such training landing him a place in the Birmingham Repertory Company. Following a string of menial roles, such as that of bell-ringer, Olivier made his stage breakthrough in 1930 in 'Private Lives', however it was his subsequent Shakespearean performances that were to define his career.
Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo, Lear - each tragic hero only endeared Olivier to the theatre-going public, and such was his success, that he soon became embroiled in the world of Hollywood. Yet his work was always of an accute literary nature, performing in such films as 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Rebecca' and the heavily acclaimed 'Gone With the Wind'. Yet he always returned to what he knew best, and his patriotic 1944 depiction of Henry V, was regarded by many as his crowning achievement. At his death in 1989, he became one of the few actors to have been buried in Poets' Corner.
Friday, 21 May 2010
The winner of the 'Lost Booker Prize' has been announced. JG Farrell has been honoured for 'Troubles', a novel set in the 1919 Irish War of Independence, cited as having 'lasting quality'. Indeed it is this 'lasting quality' which makes the award all the more special, as the novel was originally published in 1970. Due to changes in the rules of the award, no book published in that year was ever elegible to win a Booker Prize, and it was following this discovery that the 'Lost Booker Prize' was launched. Farrell's work beat off opposition from Nina Bawden and Dame Muriel Sparkes to scoop the coveretd award with 38% of the public vote. Yet sadly, Farrell died in his early 40s in 1979, never able to see the achievement which he deservedly won.
English poet Alexander Pope was born in 1688. The son of Catholic parents, Pope's education was affected by a penal law, stating that Catholics were not allowed to attend university, teach, vote or hold public office. Therefore Pope was taught to read by his aunt, and subsequently attended two illegal Catholic schools in London. Yet in 1700, Pope's formal education ended, and he took the task instead upon himself, reading classical epics such as Virgil and Homer, as well as English writers Chaucer and Shakespeare. It was at this age that Pope found himself severely affected by Pott's disease - an affliction that left him never taller than 4'6".
Perhaps unusually for authors, Pope found immediate success with his first publication, as his 'Pastorals' debuted in 1709. In 1711, after 'An Essay on Criticism', Pope, with writer Jonathan Swift, formed the satirical 'Scriblerus Club'. Much of his work was based around that of others, one of his greatest achievements being a translation of 'The Iliad' - an endevour that took him five years. He also published a new edition of Shakespeare, yet rewrote some of the verse, consigning about 1560 Shakespearian lines to footnotes, as he believed them to be so 'excessively bad' that Shakespeare could never have written them. However, his most famous work is undoubtedly 'The Rape of the Lock', a mock epic poem published in 1714. Pope, the third most quoted writer, after Shakespeare and Tennyson, died in 1774, at the age of 56.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Once again, Hollywood strikes with yet another Shakespearean spin-off. However, this latest entry appears to lack the drama of Luhrmann's 'Romeo + Juliet', or the passion and finesse of 'Shakespeare in Love'. 'Letters to Juliet', although similarly based on one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, instead traces the story of an American girl on holiday in Italy, who discovers that thousands of would-be lovers write to 'Juliet, Verona' every year for romantic advice - some even stuffed into the brickwork of the building suppposed to be the location of her and Romeo’s tryst.
Typically answered by the 'secretaries of Juliet', the young American, acted by Amanda Seyfried, finds one such letter, and sets of to find the lovers referenced in it. The film will be released on May 21st, but many are already sceptical about its storyline - after all, says Rowan Pelling, 'it seems to me that writing to Juliet for romantic advice is rather like making Hannibal Lecter your health guru'.
Painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in 1828. The son of an Italian emigrant, Rossetti was originally named Gabriel Charles Dante, yet chose to use the latter in honour of 13th century poet Dante Aligheri. Like his siblings, who included devotional writer Christina Rossetti, Dante aspired to become a poet. However, his interest in medieval art proved stronger, and he trained at the Antique School of the Royal Academy. It was following an exhibition by William Holmunt Hunt, that Rossetti, with John Everet Milais, formed the group that he would ultimately be remembered for - the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Many of his most famous paintings were inspired by model, and later his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, yet the muse for 'Persephone', arguably his most famous work, was though to be a mistress. Rossetti was also the creator behind several famous poetry collections, including; 'The Early Italian Poets', the controversial 'Poems by D.G. Rossetti', and 'Ballads and Sonnets', of which possibly the best known poem is, 'The Blessed Damozel'. In his later life, Rossetti acquired an obsession for exotic animals, reputedly becoming the owner of a wombat, llama and toucan, the latter of which he forced to wear a cowboy hat, and ride the llama around the dining table for amusement, Rossetti died in 1882, aged 53.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
In conjucntion with Puffin's 70th anniversary, the publishers have released a list of their top 70 favourite children's books. Here are the top five:
- 'Anne of Green Gables' - Lucy Maud Montgomery
- 'Watership Downs' - Richard Adams
- 'Carrie's War' - Nina Bawden
- 'Charlotte's Web' - R.B. White
- 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' - Roald Dahl
British broadcaster and author Jeremy Paxman, was born in 1950. The eldest of four children, Paxman led a privileged childhood, receiving education from both Charterhouse and Cambridge and editing student magazine 'Varsity'. Indeed journalism quickly became the centre of Paxman's life, as he joined the BBC's graduate training scheme, beginning his career on Brighton local radio. He rose swiftly through the ranks, presenting high profile shows such as 'Panorama'within 7 years, and following reporting duties in Beruit, Uganda and Central America, he anchored the flagship Six O'clock News. Y
et perhaps his most recognisable role is that of intrusive interviewer on 'Newsnight', a notoriety best borne out in the famous 1997 confrontation with Michael Howard, in which he asked the them Home Secretary, the same question 12 times. His current portfolio also includes popular quiz programme 'University Challenge', bringing his estimated salary up to £1,040,000 per year. Aside from all his media committments, Paxman has also found the time to write several books. Titles such as 'The Political Animal: An Anatomy', 'Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain?', and 'The English: A Portrait of a People', have all been big sellers.
Monday, 10 May 2010
The elections results have put smiles on some faces, but as polticians lose seats by the bucketload, many are being replaced by grimaces. Yet it's not only the country's leaders who have found themselves in turmoil. Literature is filled with characters who face difficulties, be it money, love or unforseen circumstances. Here is a quiz on some such fictional events.
A series of book burnings were conducted by the Nazis in 1933. The campaign had been brewing since early April, when the German Student Association proclaimed a nationwide 'Action against the Un-German Spirit', which was to culminate in a literary purge. They gave as a basis for their actions, a desire for a 'pure' national language and culture, and a response to the Jewish 'smear campaigns', that had thus dogged the country.
Therefore, on the night of May 10th, students from all over the nation gathered on torchlit parades through the cities, accompanied by Nazi officials. The largest crowd was at Berlin's Opernplatz, where 40,000 people assembled to hear the words of Joseph Göbbel, as he declared; 'The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character'. With these words, he began to cast books into the fire. Over 25,000 books were burned, including works of authors such as; H.G. Wells, Freud, Einstein, Hemmingway, Kafka, Lenin and London.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
It is one of the most bizarre poems in the English language, yet the nonsensical verse of Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' has an enduring quality that makes it beloved by adults and children alike. Its latest stint in the public eye, comes in the form of inclusion in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland' - an extremely free adaptation of Carroll's Victorian novel. In the film, the poem is read by legendary actor Christopher Lee, who has previously lent his voice to poems of a more macabre nature, such as Poe's 'The Raven' and 'The Haunted Place'. Lee recently reprised his role, as he gave a special reading of 'Jabberwocky' in the British Library, which can be viewed here
Children's author and illustrator Roger Hargreaves, was born in 1935. Hargreaves began by working in his father's laundry and dry-cleaning business, yet after a year had moved to advertising. Before finding his literay feet, Hargreaves originally wanted to become a cartoonist, and wrote his first book, 'Mr. Tickle', whilst creative director at a London firm. The idea is said to have appeared after one of his sons, Adam, asked Hargreaves what a tickle looked like. A round orange body and long rubbery arms later, the idea was born.
Despite struggling to obtain a publisher at first, the 'Mr. Men' series became an instant success, selling over one million copies within three years. Such was their popularity, that the BBC produced an animated TV series called the 'Mr. Men Show', an idea that was to be replicated upon the publication of the 'Little Miss' series in 1983. Although Hargreaves enjoyed later successes with the 'Timbuctoo' series amongst others, it is for the 46 Mr. Men, and 33 Little Miss books, that he is best remembered, with favourite titles including, 'Mr. Bump', 'Little Miss Sunshine', and 'Mr. Happy'. Hargreaves died of a sudden stroke in 1988, at the age of 53.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
Terry Pratchett, creator of some of the most fantastical works of the last decade, has criticised Doctor Who for having 'ludicrous' storylines. Although his own Discworld series includes a flat world balanced on the back of four elephants, perched on the back of a giant turtle, Pratchett says that 'Doctor Who's science is pixel thin' and that he would prefer it not be classified as sci-fi work.
Indeed, he believes that the series 'breaks most of the laws of narrative', relying instead on 'makeitupasyougalongeum'. His most stringent criticism is left for the most recent incarnations of the Doctor, who he believes to have turned the role 'into an amalgam of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ and Tinkerbell'. Despite this however, Pratchett remains a firm fan of the show.
British philosopher John Stuart Mill died in 1873, at the age of 66. Mill endured a rigorous education, partly assisted by fellow thinker Jeremy Bentham, and at a young age was confident in both classical and contemporary literature. In accordance with the wishes of his father, Mill studied political economy from the age of 13, but by 20 the intensive workload had taken its toll, and he suffered a nervous breakdown and subsequent depression - a state that he overcame with the help of Wordsworth's poetry.
Refusing to enter Cambridge or Oxford University due to their Anglican principles, Mill instead followed his father's imperialist doctrine, and enter the East India Company. His marriage, to Harriet Taylor, cemented his advocacy of of women's rights, and indeed his political views were often contentious for the era in which he lived. A committed Libertarian, and a keen proponent of utilitarianism, Mill coined the concept 'tyranny of the majority', and argued for individual freedom, forming the main pillars of modern Liberal Democrat beliefs. Some of Mill's most famous writings on the subject, includes; 'On Liberty', 'Utilitarianism', 'Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform', and 'The Subject of Women'.
Friday, 7 May 2010
Children's publisher, Puffin Books, will celebrate its 70th birthday this week. Famous for producing titles such as those in the Artemis Fowl series, and authors such as Roald Dahl and Benjamin Zephaniah, here is a video looking back on its succes.
Children's poet Michael Rosen was born in 1946. With ancestry that included Polish Romanian and Russian blood, Rosen considered himself as part of 'the Jewish East End tradition'.Rosen himself describes the moment in which he uncovered his literary potential; 'Sometime around the age of twelve and thirteen I began to get a sense that I liked writing, liked trying out different kinds of writing, I tried writing satirical poems about people I knew'.
Shortly after graduating from university, Rosen began work for the BBC, presenting a series called WALRUS - Write And Learn, Read, Understand, Speak. Yet he said that the work forced his 'creativity down the spout', and in 1972 he was sacked due to failing vetting procedures. Instead his turned to writing his own material, and published his first book of poetry for children, 'Mind Your Own Business', in 1974. Success followed, as did such well-known collectiosn as, 'Wouldn't You Like to Know', and 'You Tell Me'. In 2007, Rosen was chosen as Jacqueline Wilson's successor to the post of Children's Laureate - a position he said that he was 'privileged' to attain. Besides literature, Rosen has also stood as a candidate for the Respect Party in 2004.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
The nominations for this year's Tony Awards have been announced. It barely exudes any surprise that Jude Law's portrayal of Hamlet, has once more taken centre stage, yet competition for his category, 'Best Broadway Actor', is unexpectly strong, with both British actor Alfred Molina, and American Denzel Washington also nominated. As far as the musicals are concerned, Green Day, perhaps more used to Emmy nominations as opposed to Tony's, feature for 'American Idiot' - the satge version of their best selling album. Sarah Ruhl's 2009 drama, 'In the Next Room', and John Logan's 'Red', are also recognised. The awards will be announced on June 13th.
American writer Henry David Thoreau died in 1862, at the age of 44. Born David Henry, Thoreau was described by Hawthorne as, 'as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners', indeed, it was said that his facial hair would 'most assuredly deflect amorous advances'. Having studied at Harvard, in fields ranging from philosophy to maths, Thoreau decided that he was not suited to the inevitably career path that was to follow, and instead founded a grammar school with his brother.
It was on his return home, that Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who introduced him into a circle of literary talents and local thinkers and encouraged him to contribute to periodicals, and indeed, Thoreau's first essay, 'Aulus Persius Flaccus' was publihsed in 1840. Although his first works were based around a transcendentalist philosophy. Thoreau turned increasingly to civil disobedience to fight an environmentalist cause, and his most famous novel, 'Walden', stimulated by the eponymous woods, became a reflection on nature's simple living. His second best known work, 'Civil Disobedience', is said to have inspired such figures as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, J.F. Kennedy, and Leo Tolstoy.
Monday, 3 May 2010
One of Britain's best loved books is once again to be made into a film. Jane Austen's classic, 'Pride and Prejudice', is set to be adapted by Papercut Productions, with filming starting next month in Colorado. The film has a lot to live up to. Both the 1995 BBC series, starring the unmissable Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and to a lesser extent, the 2005 film version with Matthew MacFadyen in the same role, have achieved somewhat iconic status - something that the new film will surely be aiming for. However, the early signs look promising, as the Elizabeth Bennet of 2005, Keira Knightley is said to have read and loved the script. The film will star relatively unknown actors, with Maia Petee as Elizabeth, and Caleb Grusing, hoping to be the next dashing Mr. Darcy.
In imitation of the mythical Leander's visits to his beloved Hero, Lord Byron swam across the Hellespont in 1810. At the age of 22, Byron was 10 months into his tour of the Mediterranean - a visit that had already given rise to his first draft of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage'.
The one mile of cold waters, took one hour and ten minutes to complete after a failed first attempt, and Byron later wrote of it in his journal; 'I plume myself on this achievement more than I could possibly do on any kind of glory, political, poetical, or rhetorical'. As with so many of his adventures, the philhellene Byron committed it to words, writing the imaginatively named poem, 'Written After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos'.
Sunday, 2 May 2010
A book, banned for advertising itself as the sequel to J.D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye', is being allowed to appeal the decision. '60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye', written by Swedish novelist Fredrik Colting, was banned in July last year for too closely mirroring Salinger's 1951 masterpiece, including the use of protagonist 'Mr. C' - an easily identifiable reference to antihero Holden Caulfield. Yet despite permitting the appeals process, the courts appear to believe that Salinger's estate will win out, declaring the case 'readily established in his favour'.
'A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called the taming of a Shrew', appears in the Stationer's Register in 1594. Thought to be related to Shakespeare's similarly named play, 'The Taming of The Shrew', scholars have speculated on the relationship between the two, with the former hypothesised to be a reported performance text, a source, or even a draft of Shakespeare's comedy. Thus there remains, as with so many of his plays, much confusion over the date on which it was written, with estimates lying between 1590 and 1594 and it first recorded performance noted, as 'The Tamynge of A Shrowe', in Philip Henslowe's diary as being on June 13th, 1594.
As well as the numerous stage adaptations, the play has since gone on to inspire highly successful productions in other media, including opera, musicals and films, perhaps of which the most notable is 1999 screen hit '10 Things I Hate ABout You'. Yet despite being a popular drama, 'The Taming of The Shrew' is not without its controversies, with accusations of both misogyny and false authorship being levelled.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
The journals of popular sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, are to be published next year. Titled, 'The Exegesis', the journals contain descriptions of 'visions and auditions' he said that he experienced. The writer, who died at the age of 53 in 1982, was famous for such works as 'The Man in the High Castle' and 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'. His novels also provided the basis for many successful films, including 'Blade Runner', 'Total Recall', and 'Minority Report'. The journals will be released in autumn 2011.
Amercian novelist Joseph Heller was born in 1923, the son of poor Jewish parents from Russia. Writing was always an early passion, and as a teenager, Heller sent to the New York Daily Times a story about the Russian invasion of Finland, which was promptly rejected. Even after graduating from school, Heller was unable to fulfil his writing potential, and instead spent the next few years in menial work, becoming both a messenger boy and filing clerk. In 1942, as a mere 19 old year, Heller, like so many his age, joined the U.S. army. Describing the war as 'fun in the beginning', he flew 60 combat missions and on returning home felt 'like a hero'.
It was then that he was able to resume his studies, gaining a masters in English and started to write what would become his masterpiece - 'Catch-22'. Despite, the intial chapter being written within a week, Heller was to take eight years to publish the work, which now finds itself embedded into the English language. Although later novels, including 'Something Happened' failed to reach the same level of commercial success, Heller continued to produce masterful works, only beginning writing when he had envisioned both a first and last line. Heller died of a heart attack in 1999, at the age of 76.