Tuesday, 30 November 2010
The last few days have seen the country buried in a thick layer of snow, and reach temperatures as low as -15 degrees. Almost as widespread as the snow, is authors' use of pathetic fallacy, a term coined by Victorian critic John Ruskin. Here is a quiz on the cold in literature.
On this day...Irish writer Jonathan Swift was born in 1667. Much of Swift's childhood is unknown, save that he attended Trinity College, Dublin, before being forced to leave for England in 1688 on account of the Glorious Revolution. There, under the tutelage of Sir William Temple, Swift entered political negotiations with the King, before dissatisfaction, and the onset of Meniere's disease, led him to becoming a priest.
Come the 1700s, Swift was becoming increasingly active on both the political and literary scenes. He was part of the innner circle of the Tory government, acting as a mediator for Prime Minister Robert Harely, and writing several pamphlets, including 'The Conduct of the Allies'. Yet Swift is best known for his fictional works, and after forming friendships with the likes of Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot, he became a core part of the Scriblerus Club. A writer of all genres, Swift was a prolific author, his prose works compiling fourteen volumes and his poetry a further 950+ pages. Swift's most famous work is 'Gulliver's Travels', but he is also known for 'A Tale of a Tub' and 'A Modest Proposal'. Swift died in 1745, at the age of 77.
Monday, 29 November 2010
A new production of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' is opening in the West End. Starring Derek Jacobi, it is the tale of an ageing king, who, after a contest of superficial love, divides his kingdom between two of his daughters with tragic consequences. Alongside Jacobi is Shakespeare debutant Gina McKee, who in an interview this week, has admitted she is 'nervous' about playing elder daughter Goneril. The production opens at the Donmar Warehouse on December 3rd, and runs until February 5th.
On this day...American playwright Sarah Jones was born in 1973. The daughter of an African American father and a mother of mixed Euro-American and Caribbean descent, Jones' diverse background has lead her to being labelled a 'multicultural mynah bird [who] lays our mongrel nation before us with gorgeous, pitch-perfect impersonations of the rarely heard or dramatize'.
She had originally planned a career as a lawyer, but soon found herself competing in small poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Soon after her solo debut, Jones found herself the subject of numerous commissions, many to do with the presentation of immigrants and racial issues. With works including 'Bridge & Tunnel', 'Women Can't Wait!' and 'Waking the American Dream', Jones has won both a Tony and an Obie Award. She has recently become an Ambassador for UNICEF and their first ever official spokesperson on violence against children.
Friday, 19 November 2010
He is usually more famous for being the founder and proud owner of the Playboy mansion, but this week, Hugh Hefner was honoured with two literary awards. The PEN USA Award ceremony at Beverly Hills Hotel presented Hefner with the 'Award of Honor' and the 'First Amendment Award'. The latter was in reference to his commitment to free speech, a commitment that some would say, has gone too far. Here, Hefner is interviewed about his latest successes
On this day...President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863. Arguably one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric from the last 200 years, and certainly the best-known speech in the U.S, the address lasted a little over two minutes and contained approximately 272 words. Epousing the human equality laid out in the Declaration of Independence, the speech combined with the results of the Civil War to produce the thirteenth amendment, prohibiting slavery. If for nothing else, the Gettysburg Address will be remembered for its definition of democracy, 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
The National Theatre's 2009 live theatre project has been rewarded with a prize for innovation at the Arts and Business Awards. Audiences could pay £10 to see live plays in over 300 cinemas all around the world. Including a portrayal of 'All's Well That Ends Well' and Bennett's 'The Habit of Art', the selection boasted a notable performance from Helen Mirren in Racine's 'Phedre'. The judges said that 'the project had helped break new markets and attract new audiences'.
On this day...Socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw refused to accept the monetary award for his Nobel Prize in 1925. The only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar, Shaw was nominated for 'his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty'.
In accordance with his leftist ideologies, Shaw had no desire for public honours, and wanted to refuse the Prize outright. At the behest of his wife however, who considered it to be a tribute to Ireland, he reluctantly accepted it, yet still eschewed the 800,000 Swedish Kroner or there abouts. In announcing his decision Shaw said, 'I can forgive Alfred Nobel for inventing dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize'.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Prince William has today announced he will marry long term girlfriend Kate Middleton in the spring or summer of next year. Obviously the country is hoping that the marriage will be a good one, yet couples in literature have not always enjoyed a happy ending. Here is a quiz about the highs and lows of literary weddings
American expatriate Sylvia Beach opened her bookshop-library Shakespeare & Co. in 1919. Located in Paris, the store soon became known for being one the centres for Anglo-American literary culture, and indeed not only were the great books of the age located within its walls, but the writers themselves often could be found there. James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald often visited, and Hemingway actually made a reference to SHakespeare & Co. in his novel 'The Moveable Feast'.
Beach also became renowned for stocking controversial works. Titles such as 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' and 'Ulysses', banned in many countries across the world, could always be bought or borrowed for Beach's store. Although Paris was reduced to only 25,000 citizens, Beach kept the store going through the early years of World War One, until it was shut in 1941, supposedly because to refused to give a German officer her last copy of 'Finnegan's Wake'. Today it exists as 'Le Mistral', with the ethos of being 'a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore'.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
The shortlist for the 2011 Costa Book Award has been announced. The selection of 19 writers includes octogenarian Roy Fisher, nominated for his collection of poetry 'Standard Midland', and playwright Michael Frayn, nominated for a biography of his father. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year's winner Christopher Reid, the writers must first win their individual categories: poetry, biography, best novel, best first novel, or best children's book. Those results will be announced on January 5th, and the winners will compete for the top prize three weeks later.
The International Day for Tolerance is celebrated. Declared by UNESCO in 1995, the aim of the day is to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. The basis for this is found in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that we should 'should promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups'.
Many regimes of intolerance have existed, and still do, all across the globe. In these circumstances, literature has often been used as medium through which the common person can shape their voice and express dissatisfaction with ideologies around them. The most famous works, are those that address the issue of race, especially the segregation found in '50s America and apartheid South Africa. Notable examples include Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and Coetzee's 'Dusklands'. Sexual discrimination has also been fought against, be it advocating the rise of women in late Victorian literature, such as 'A Doll's House', or raging against homophobia, seen in Radclyffe Hall's 'The Well of Loneliness'. Many such novels have caused controversy. They have been banned, burned and berated in equal measure. Yet as long as the act of written expression exists, there will be a voice to speak up for those who have none.
Monday, 15 November 2010
Seen by many as the epitome of gothic fiction, Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' has horrified some, inspired others, and entertained many. Although written in 1897, the story has seen new life breathed into it by Sell a Door's theatrical version, based on Liz Lochead's adaptation.
Boasting a wonderful cast, including names such as Louis J. Parker, Matthew Grace and Sophie Holland, the performance is one of raw emotion, conveying an intensity that brings the evil Transylvanian count to life. Yet it is more than simply a piece of artistic brilliance - it is a profound psychological exploration. The charcter of Renfield, powerfully depicted by Kieran Hennigan, provides a constant commentary, as the facade of his insanity proves a cover for alarming insight that ultimately goes unheeded.
'Dracula' is a play based around love, be it sisterly affection, Harker's romantic intentions, or the pure lust of the title character, and it is here that Sell a Door excel themselves. The sincerity in each relationship is evident and acted with such passion that it intensifies the tragedy of the production's conclusion.
Sell a Door's performance will be on at the Greenwich Playhouse in London until December 5th, with tickets available here. A trailer for the production can be seen here
Science fiction author J. G. Ballard was born in 1930. The son of a textiles worker, Ballard was born in Shanghai, being forced to live through both the Second Sino-Japanese War and the after effects of the Pearl Harbour attack. Living through these atrocities ultimately shaped his creative output, for as Ballard himself said, 'I don't think you can go through the experience of war without one's perceptions of the world being forever changed'.
Having returned to England, Ballard went on to study medicine, but became disenfranchised with the profession as it left hiim no time to write, and instead went to read English Literature. Ballard then pursued a number of odd jobs, including a stint in the RAF, before writing his first full length novel, 'The Wind From Nowhere' in 1960. Four years later, and well into his writing career, his wife suddenly died, leaving him to raise his four children alone. Yet despite this early hardship, J. G. Ballard went on to write some of the most popular titles in science fiction, such as 'Crash' and 'Empire of the Sun'. He died in 2009, at the age of 78.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
The Western canon is full of literary classics. Shakespeare, Hardy, Dickens, to name but a few, all rightly have their place, but what of those authors who produce works ouside the classics? What of those writers, spread far and wide across the globe, who are not necessarily recognise by academics? Here, author Nadifa Mohamed discusses the emergence of a new canon, reflecting the diversity and culture of the 21st century
Percy Shelley's first wife Harriet Westbrook killed herself in 1816, at the age of 21. Five years earlier, Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern owner, had eloped with a 19-year-old Shelley to Scotland to get married, but any happiness was short-lived. Before three years were out, Shelley had abandoned pregnant Westbrook and their young child to begin an affair with Mary Godwin, who would later become his second wife.
Distraught by her loss, Westbrook committed suicide, drowning herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, leaving a suicide note addressed to her sister and Shelley. In it she expressed her traumatised mental state:'I could never be anything but a source of vexation and misery to you all.... too wretched to exert myself, lowered in the opinion of everyone, why should I drag on a miserable existence?...I never could refuse you and if you had never left me I might have lived, but as it is I freely forgive you and may you enjoy that happiness which you have deprived me of'.
Monday, 8 November 2010
This weekend has seen people all over the country setting off fireworks to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Inspired by Guy Fawkes and other characters throughout history, many writers have sought to capture some of the mystic and adventure surrounding treacherous dealings. Here is a quiz on sedition in literature
The Bodleian Library at Oxford University was officially re-opnened in 1602. One of the oldest libraries in Europe, the late 16th century had seen it enter a period of decline, resulting in both furniture and books being sold off. It was not until the appearance of wealthy retired diplomat Thomas Bodley, with the promise to 'take the charge and cost...to reduce it again to his former use' that the institution began to get back on its feet.
The library's collection rapidly expanded, encompassing the varied interests of its benefactor, and sourcing manuscripts from the likes of Turkey and China. Following an agreement signed with the Stationer's Company in 1610 to obtain a free copy of every book published, the building was expanded twice in the next thirty years. It was this agreement that led the Bodleian to become one of Britain's six legal deposit libraries and so contain over 80 miles worth of material.
Monday, 1 November 2010
Debut novelist Gregory Hughes has won the Booktrust Teenage Prize for his work 'Unhooking the Moon'. The story of two orphaned siblings, Hughes wrote the book over a period of eight months in Iceland, working for six or seven hours a day in a room that he could barely stretch his arms in. Hailed as 'astonishing' by the judges, Hughes literary career is sure to blossom in future years, helped, no doubt, by £2,500 cheque he has received for winning.
Two of William Shakespeare's best loved plays had their first recorded performance - 'Othello' in 1604, and 'The Tempest' in 1611. Both were performed at Whitehall Palace, and although it is conceivable that this was not the plays' debut performance, it is certainly the first that was documented.
'Othello' was noted as, 'A Play in the Banketinge house at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis' and was attributed to 'Shaxberd'. 'The Tempest' was similarly performed in front of King James I on Hallowmas night, and was later included as one of the eight plays acted at court in celebration of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth.