Friday, 16 July 2010
Following J. D. Salinger's death earlier this year, there is ever increasing speculation that 'The Catcher in the Rye' will become Hollywood's latest project. Famously, all rights to makes films and even provide an illustrated book cover were prohibited during the author's life, yet this could all change. Salinger once reportedly admitted, 'since there's an ever-looming possibility that I won't die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy', paving the way for them to be sold off to the highest bidder. Yet Salinger clarified, 'it pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won't have to see the results of the transaction'.
Thus the bookies have started to take bets on which young actor will be granted the auspicious task of portraying teenage antihero Holden Caulfield. While a string of now aging stars have been linked in the past, it is a younger generation who are attracting the headlines. Zac Efron features at 25/1, Nick Jonas at 20/1, and Justin Bieber pitches in at 12/1. It has yet to be seen what sort of reaction this will engender from diehard fans, but odds on, the 16 year-old Canadian will not exactly be what most had in mind.
J. D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye' is published in 1951. Salinger's first, and only, full length novel, the work immediately initiated at once both the controversy and the fame which was to dog the reclusive Salinger until the end of his life earlier this year. Citing the use of vulgar language, blasphemy, and a loose moral depiction, the novel was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States between 1961 and 1982, and the tenth most frequently challenged book from 1990–1999.
Yet fans say otherwise. To many, it is an embodiment of teenage life, an explorative journey through the mind of a troubled adolescent that resonates throughout the generations. However, for some the book holds more sombre connotations - that John Lennon's assassination, as killer Mark Chapman was arrested with the novel, and even gave out signed copies from his cell. Translated into 'almost all the world's major languages', 'The Catcher in the Rye' remains the ultimate marmite book - hated by some, loved by others - whichever way, it is sure to evoke a reaction.
Thursday, 15 July 2010
Irish-born British author Iris Murdoch was born in 1919. Raised initially in Dublin, Murdoch moved to London at a young age, leaving behind her sheep-farming ancestry to graduate in Classics, ancient history and philosophy at Oxford. It was while at university that she became a member of the Communist Party, joining future Labour politicians such as Denis Healy. However, in order to secure a job at HM Treasury, she left - the party's aims also beginning to conflict with her own burgeoning philosophical views.
So involved was Murdoch in her academia, that it wasn't until 1954 that she wrote her first novel, 'Under the Net', yet she then went on to produce a further 25, finding inspiration from the likes of Shakespeare, Eliot and Dostoevsky. Her most famous works include Booker Prize Winning 'The Sea, the Sea', and 'A Fairly Honourable Defeat', which was recently on the long list to win the Lost Man Booker Prize of 1970. Named as one of 'The 50 greatest British writers since 1945', Murdoch's work is well-respected both at home and abroad. She died in 1999, at the age of 79.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
The storming of a Parisian jail in 1789, was one of the symbols of the French Revolution. Today, Bastille Day is celebrated across France to commerate the people's triumph. The influence of France on British literature, added of course, to their own fine works, ensures the fortification is a common motif, and here is a quiz on the Bastille in literature.
English archaeologist, traveller and writer Gertrude Bell was born in 1868. Born into a prestigious family, her grandfather was a Member of Parliament under Disraeli, and his involvement in policy-making sparked her interest in international politics. It is for her contribution in this field, that Bell is best known, particularly for her work with T. E. Lawrence, later Lawrence of Arabia, eventually earning the title of 'Oriental Secretary'.
Fluent in Arabic, Persian, French and German, Bell was one of the crucial players in helping to found the independent state of Iraq, and she later established the Baghdad Archaelogoical Museum, in which she placed relics from Mesopotamian civilisations and the Babylonian Empire. Bell articulated much of her travels in writing, producing such works as 'Persian Pictures', 'Syria: The Desert and the Sown' and 'A Thousand and One Churches', all of which highlighted the beauties of th Middle East to the vastly ignorant Western world. Bell died on 12th July 1926, at the age of 57 from an overdose of sleeping pills - the cause of which is still unknown.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
With the spate of political memoirs following the recent general election, it is of little surprise that the infighting is getting as bitter on the page as it was in the House. Peter Mandelson made headlines over the weekend with the release of 'The Third Man', an account of New Labour's rise to power, liberally portraying his own part in the historic political movement. However, this seems to have somewhat trodden on the toes of another former Labour mastermind.
Tony Blair, who had signed a reported £4.6 million deal for his book, has been forced to change the title from 'The Journey' to 'A Journey'. It may only seem like a minor detail, yet he is apparently trying to make his book appear less self-important, 'less messianic'. Nevertheless, behind the scenes, such worries over self-aggrandisment seem to not exist, as Blair reportedly phoned Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Mandelson's publisher, to try and persuade them to hold of publication as it would detract from his own book. All might be fair in love and war, but in politics, nothing ever seems fair.
William Wordsworth visited Tintern Abbey in 1798, inspiring him to write the eponymous poem. Wordsworth was on a four day walking tour in the Wye with his sister Dorothy, when he stumbled upon the ruins of the Tintern. Abandoned in 1536, the Cistercian Abbey sits in the southern Welsh county of Monmouthshire, yet 'not any part of it was written down till I reached Bristol', and the scripts were sent to the printer the day afterwards.
The poem was to become the final entry in Wordsworth's 'Lyrical Ballads', and was the only one of the collection which was he did not later revise, perhaps showing the purity of his writing as he composed the work. Wordsworth, as fits his usual style, fills the 'impassioned music of the versification' with references to nature and religion.
Monday, 12 July 2010
'The young Casanova'. A frequent enough term - but what first caused such an expression to enter the English vernacular? The story is traced back to Venetian adventurer and author Giacomo Casanova, who died in 1798 at the age of 73. His life, as will be known to anyone who has seen one of the many screen biopics, is too rich and varied to be done justice in a few short words, but suffice to say that, tainted by scandals and accusations, Casanova wended his way across Europe, fraternising with royalty, and names such as Voltaire, Göthe and Mozart.
Casanova's ethos was simple, 'cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life'. During his later years, Casanova wrote 'Histoire de ma vie', 'The Story of My Life', and it because of this that we are fully able to relish in the most licentious details. Adapted for stage screen and music in recent years, here is a film first released in 2005, starring Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller among others.
English writer Geoffrey Chaucer is named chief clerk of the king's works in 1389. Appointed by Richard II, Chaucer's role was to upkeep and repair governmental buildings, with some of his projects including Westminster Palace, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, continuing to build the wharf at the Tower of London, and building the stands for a tournament held in 1390. Paid two shillings a day, a decent sum for the time, Chaucer was robbed and possibly injured a year later whilst conducting business, and it was then that he stepped down from his post. It was around the time of this particular job, or shortly before, that Chaucer began to write his magnum opus 'The Canterbury Tales'.
Friday, 9 July 2010
The man accused of stealing a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, has been cleared. Eccentric antiques books dealer Raymond Scott, had been charged with taking a copy of the 1623 work from Durham University in 1998, before delivering it to Washington's Folger Library a decade later. He has, however, been convicted of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK. Following a psychiatric report, it is expected that Scott will face a 'substantial custodial sentence'.
Anton Chekhov's body was interred in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery in 1904, according to the Julian calendar. Chekhov had died on July 4th in the German spa town of Badenweiler and was said to have retained his customary wit, drained a glass of champagne on his deathbed after pronouncing his death in German, of which he knew next to none.
Chekhov's body was then transported to Moscow, in a refrigerated railcar marked 'fresh oysters', leading to outrage on the part of fellow writer Maxim Gorky who said that 'Anton...squirmed at anything vile and vulgar'. Similar confusion followed at his funeral, which, after a 4 mile procession of the casket across Moscow escorted by over 4,000 people, got mixed up with that of an army general and so many of mourners were accompanied by a military style band. Chekhov is buried next to his father.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
From Shakespeare's somewhat Anglicised Verona to Conrad's mysterious Congo, the depiction of foreign countries is literature has been imaginative and widespread. Yet there are fears that today's society, in which a holiday overseas is a common, if not annual event. are failing to see the attraction of travel writing, when they can view lands in person as opposed to through subjective text. There remains only one UK literary prize for travel writing, and as it is time for the Dolman Travel book of the year to be announced, here is a podcast on the genre and its future prospects.
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died in 1822, at the age of 29. Born to a Whig Member of Parliament, Shelley's early childhood was one of contentment and reasonable prosperity, as he received primary education and engaged in such activities as fishing and hunting. Although his literary works show a blossoming and sharp intellect, such rigour was seemingly lacking from his education, as his performances at boh Oxford and Eton fell short of desired results. His first work was gohic novel, 'Zastrozzi', a genre that was to be much progressed by future wife Mary and her 'Frankenstein'.
However, it was 16-year-old Henrietta Westbrook with whom Shelley eloped in 1811, moving their household to the Lake District for writing. However, three years and a child later, Shelley grew steadily more unhapy in his marriage, falling in love with another 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. and the two eloped to Switzerland. Perhaps best depicted as the 19th century's version of a Hollywood golden couple, the two famously took part in a meeting with Byron at Lake Geneva, after which followed a period of some of their best works, including 'To a Skylark', 'Adonais' and 'A Defence of Poetry'. Also a close friend to John Keats, it is said that when Shelley's body was found, after he had drowned, a book of Keats' poetry was discovered in his pocket.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
When spies are on their missions, nothing seems more dangerous, more glamorous - yet in the cold light of day, when all has been revealed, they almost look comical. So it was for the alleged group of Russian spies recently arrested in America, who leave tales of false identities, slightly feeble passwords and secret meetings, creating intrigue similar to that seen in the height of the Cold War. One such spy is a woman, and although some might consider it an unusual profession for a female, it appears as a recurring motif in many modern books. Here is a quiz on women spies in literature.
Sherlock Holmes' companion Dr. Watson, was said to have been born in 1852. Ironically, the Arthur Conan Doyle creation, recently played by Jude Law in the Hollywood film, was born on the same day that Doyle himself died in 1930. The debut dectective novel 'A Study in Scarlet', reveals John Hamish Watson as having undertaken Army surgeon training, joining British forces in India and Afghanistan, before a wound incurred led to his return to England.
A bit of a womaniser, having had up to three wives, Watson is often required to use his own intellect in solving crimes and therefore earns himself the title of companion, as opposed to any self-styled lackey. Although Watson is probably best known in conjunction with the phrase 'Elementary, my dear Watson', the quotation does not actually appear in its entirely within the works.
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
The winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing has been announced. Sierra Leonean writer Olufemi Terry, who grew up in Nigeria and worked as a journalist in both Somalia and Uganda, has been honoured for 'Stickfighting Days' - a story about a boy who lives in a dump. Judges described the work as 'ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative', adding that Terry has enormous potential for the future.
Yet Terry himself, although pleased in securing the publicity that will undoubtedly result in the publication of his first novel, believes that there is 'a danger in seeking authenticity in African writing', and making the continent distinct. Widely regarded as Africa's leading literary award, the Caine Prize will furnish Terry with £10,000.
American author William Faulkner died in 1962, at the age of 64. Born and raised in Mississippi, the state, and its Southern racial history, heavily influenced his later writings. However, literature was not his first port of call when beginning his career, and indeed it was the army that first attracted his attention. Yet even in an era beset by so many conflicts, Faulkner was rejected for his height, being only 5'5½", and instead joined the British Royal Flying Corps, though he did not see any action in World War One. It was on such a military theme that Faulkner wrote his first novel, 'Soldiers' Pay' in 1926 - the house that in which it was written, 624 Pirate Alley, being now the premises of Faulkner House Books.
Over the next few years, Faulkner produced a steady stream of works, including 'The Sound and the Fury', 'As I Lay Dying' and 'Absalom, Absalom!', and yet his big break conceivably came after all these had been published. In the early 1940s, at the invitation of Howard Hawks, Faulkner journeyed to Hollywood in search of money, and contributed to both Raymond Chandler's 'The Big Sleep' and Ernest Hemingway's 'To Have and Have Not' among others. Although his personal life remained volatile, including numerous extramarital affairs and a heavy drinking problem, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949, for 'his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel'.
Monday, 5 July 2010
America's new Poet Laureate has been announced as W.S. Merwin. The 82-year-old, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, will follow in the footsteps of poetic greats Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop when he assumes the role later this year. In the 1960s, feeling that he wished his poems to 'evoke the spoken language', Merwin decided to stop using punctuation, one of a series of stylistic features that make his works so different, and thus so brilliant. The head of the Library of Congress's poetry and literature centre even compares Merwin to Wordsworth, stating them both to have been 'passionately interested in the natural world', adding that his works possess a 'nourishing quality'. Merwin himself, who confesses usually to 'like a very quiet life', will assume his post in October for a year, taking over from current holder Kay Ryan.
It is said that Lord Byron's body arrived in London in 1842. Although a member of the English aristocracy, Byron spent most of his years abroad, and indeed it was whilst in Greece that he died. A philhellene, alongside several other rich Europeans, Byron was dedicated to the fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire, and even spent £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet.
Such was the mourning when he died, that his heart, (or lungs depending on the sources), remained at Messolonghi, and so began a journey which could not have been further from Byron's final wish; 'Let not my body be hacked, or be sent to England.... Lay me in the first corner without pomp or nonsense'. For Byron's body, having been disassembled and then placed back together, was shipped to England for a public burial, only for it to be refused from both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral on grounds of 'questionable morality'. Therefore, Byron is buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Nottingham, next to Ada Lovelace, his child whom he never met.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Liverpudlian writer Dame Beryl Bainbridge, has died today at the age of 75. Starting life as an actress, Bainbridge quickly progressed to writing - her debut novel, 'A Weekend with Claude', being published in 1967. Often concentrating on the darker themes of life, Bainbridge was also a established name within the field of historical fiction, contributing such titles as 'Young Adolf', 'Watson's Apology', and 'Master Georgie'. The latter novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and indeed many of her works gained such recognition, as she won the Whitbread Award twice, and was nominated five times for the Booker Prize. One of her most famous novels is possibly 'An Awfully Big Adventure', which was made into a film starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. Fellow author Margaret Atwood, described Bainbridge as 'wondrous original'.
American writer Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, at the age of 61. However, rather than concentrate on his life, a fascinating and rich subject, it is the subject of his death which proves immediately intriguing. Tragedy seems to have somewhat rested upon the Hemingways, as Ernest, by his death, became only one of the five family members to commit suicide within four generations, the others including his father, two siblings, and granddaughter.
Certainly, during the last years of his life, Hemingway began to suffer from increasing mental deterioration, including spates of paranoia in which he believed the FBI to be monitoring him and his accounts. Later released medical records reveal treatments for deeping depression, alcohol dependency, and a number of physical ailments inherited from his father.
Yet the reason for shooting himself with his favourite shotgun in the early morning of July 2nd remains more indistinct. Hemingway had frequently been known to talk about death as a 'gift', and even his wife, who only admitted it was suicide five years after the event, had conceeded it might have been done for noble reasons in an act of defiance. Hemingway's brother, later to commit suicide himself, perhaps most aptly and poignantly gave reason; 'Like a samurai who felt dishonoured by the word or deed of another, Ernest felt his own body had betrayed him'.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Poet Philip Gross has won the English-language Wales Book of the Year prize. 'I Spy Pinhole Eye', a collaborative work with photographer Simon Denison, explores the act of seeing and interpretation and is centred around altered images of electricity pylons. Gross is joined by John Davies, who was the recipient of Welsh-language award for 'Cymru: Y 100 lle i'w gweld cyn marw', translated as, 'Wales: 100 places to see before dying'. The £10,000 award comes only months after Gross exploded onto the scene by scooping the T.S. Eliot prize, for a different collection.
French author Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, better known by pseudonym George Sand, was born in 1804. A distant cousin of Louis XVIII, Sand was, for the most part, raised by her grandmother in her estate of Nohant, a setting that frequently founds its way into her writings. Like so many women of her era, Sands got married at a young age, wedding her husband, Baron Casimir Dudevant, at the age of 19. Yet this, seemingly, is when her conformity with traditional society ends. Shortly after the birth of her two children, she left her husband to embark upon a so-called 'romantic rebellion', during which she had numerous affairs, reputedly with both men and women, the most famous of which was pianist Frederich Chopin.
Her appearance was also at odds with a usual woman of rank, sporting men's clothes in public due to their inexpensive nature, and smoking lliberal amounts of tobacco. Such was the scandal created by Sands, she attracted some heavy criticism, including the wrath of poet Charles Baudelaire, who stated that, 'the fact that there are men who could become enamoured of this slut is indeed a proof of the abasement of the men of this generation'. Her literary debut, 'Rose et Blanche', was a collabrative effort with Jules Sandeua, whose name influenced her own later pseudonym. Her first solo novel, 'Indiana', is arguably her most famous work. Sand died in 1876, at the age of 71.