June 20, 1890: Painting Outside the Lines

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the July 1890 issue, released on June 20.

In the novel, the title character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian is also infatuated by Dorian’s beauty, especially the beauty in the painting, and more than annoyed that the man in the painting will remain the same, while Dorian himself will get old and wrinkled and forget people’s names and so forth. Obviously the only answer is to put his soul on the market, which he does, with the purchaser (you know who) promising that the painting will age while Dorian himself stays the same.

In an apparent effort to make the painting age as quickly as possible, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery, and each sin takes its toll on the portrait.

The book had about the same effect on British critics as Dorian’s naughtiness had on the painting. “Vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” were a few of their nicer comments. “A tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” said the Daily Chronicle.   And this was after Wilde’s editor had already deleted a lot of “objectionable” text before it made its first appearance in Lippincott’s, eliminating titillating bits of debauchery and elements of homosexuality.

Deciding that the novel contained things that might upset an innocent woman, the editor cut further, removing many more decadent passages before the book was published in 1891.

May 27, 1915: Don’t Stop the Carnival

Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk was born in 1915. His books include The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, Marjorie Morningstar, and his most recent, which he says will be his last, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, released in 2016.    Don’t Stop the Carnival, a must-read for anyone interested in the Caribbean, was written in 1965. In the following excerpt, Norman and Henny Paperman have embarked on a new Caribbean enterprise and, at a party, they tell their friends about it:

During this evening, nearly every person there told Norman or Henny, usually in a private moment, that they were doing a marvelous, enviable thing. The Russians at the time were firing off new awesome bombs in Siberia, and the mood in New York was jittery, but there was more than that behind the wistfulness of their friends. All these people were at an age when their lives were defined, their hopes circumscribed. Nothing was in prospect but plodding the old tracks until heart disease, cancer, or one of the less predictable trap-doors opened under their feet. To them, the Papermans had broken out of Death Row into green April fields, and in one way or another they all said so.

Wouk turns 102 today.

Having brought up the Caribbean, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean, Terry and the Pirate and Voodoo Love Song, not in the same league as Don’t Stop the Carnival but just as as readily available.

May 18, 1896: More Wolfbane, Van Helsing?

What’s in a title? Had a certain Gothic horror novel been published under its original title, The Un-dead, would it have achieved legendary status, becoming the iconic depiction of the most infamous character in supernatural fiction? Or would it have remained just a good adventure story, like many others popular throughout the 1880s and 1890s, invasion literature, in which fantastic creatures threaten the British Empire?

Bram Stoker’s novel, retitled just before its May 18, 1896, release as Dracula, tells the story of the Count’s attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England, and his subsequent battle with a group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Although it was not an immediate bestseller, reviewers were liberal in their praise, placing Stoker in the company of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe.  And it certainly made more of a splash than his previous work, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland.   Stoker’s and Dracula‘s status have grown steadily in the last

hundred and some years, inspiring countless books, plays and movies – reaching a standing that even the Twilight series has been unable to kill. Over 200 films have featured Dracula in a major role, a number second only to Sherlock Holmes. Arguably the classic portrayal remains the one by Bela Lugosi in 1931.

Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, Christopher Lee

 

What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of man?

When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demonaic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat.

My revenge has just begun! I spread it over centuries and time is on my side.

For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you’re a wise man, Van Helsing (from the movie).

Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.

May 12, 1812: Poetry Without Naughty Words, Naughty Words Without Poetry

Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). LearIn 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

May 12, 1937

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:

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Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

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The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

March 6, 1619: The Nose Knows

cyrano-Cyrano de Bergerac, born in 1619, is of course best known in the modern times for his nose. According to legend, it was quite large. Depending on which account you accept, Cyrano was either a French aristocrat, author and military hero with a big nose or the descendant of a Sardinian fishmonger who suffered from syphilis with a big nose. He was an early writer of science fiction, and in his most famous work, The Other World, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers where he meets the inhabitants who have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it — the TV rights are still available, if you’re interested.  A  lesser known work, Noses from Mars, is self-explanatory.

Then we come to the story of Cyrano himself and how he courted the fair Roxanne on behalf of his friend Christian.  Although these people are real, the story is alas! pure fiction, which is probably just as well, for Roxanne was Cyrano’s cousin and had they ever consummated their relationship, their children would have been half-wits with big noses.

 

A bonus excerpt about big noses from my story “All Day, All Night, Marianne”:

“Maybe I have an idea for you, Roberto,” said Toussaint, lowering his voice even though there was no one within thirty yards of the pier. “You know the fine gentleman from that city I can’t remember that’s very close to London, the one who takes my water taxi wherever he goes and pays me very generously? Him and me, we’re friends now. He talks to me about all sorts of things. He’s very educated in literacy – that’s reading important books by dead people and looking at pictures and listening to music, all by dead people. It seems people who write books and paint pictures and make music become important when they die.”

“What good is being important if you’re dead? Doesn’t sound all that educated to me.”

“How would you know educated, man?” said Toussaint, just a little miffed at Roberto’s effrontery in questioning him. “His name is Herbert and he’s got two last names. Now, do you want me to help you, or do you want to spend your life on the beach staring at her with your mouth open and your brain shut until you both get old and die?”

“I want you to help me,” said the chastened Roberto. He stared at his feet as he swirled them in the water.

“Okay,” said Toussaint, once again in command. “Now, Herbert was telling me this very, very famous story by a guy that’s been dead for close onto 400 years. Four hundred – now that makes him mighty important. The guy in the story is like you. His name is Romeo; that even sort of sounds like Roberto. This Romeo, he loves a girl whose name I forget. It doesn’t sound like Marianne, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Julianne, that’s it. I guess it sounds a little like Marianne. Now Julianne’s family don’t like Romeo one little bit.”

“Why doesn’t her family like him?” asked Roberto whose face now showed only confusion.

“Because Julianne is very beautiful, just like Marianne, but Romeo has this great big nose. So Romeo sneaks to Julianne’s back porch every night and hides in the bushes and says pretty words while her big fat mama sleeps inside. He says things like, ‘Julianne, my sweetest sweet, your face is like the moon.’ And Julianne says, ‘Oh Romeo, I can’t see your face; it’s behind the bushes. Show me your face.’ And Romeo says, ‘No, no, fair princess. I cannot. But it’s a nice face – with a tiny nose.’ And Julianne says, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are you, Romeo?’ See how they use each other’s names a lot? That’s very romantic.”

“Wherefore?”

“That’s 400-year-old talk. But this is what puts smart dudes like me and Herbert over here and dumb dudes like you over on the beach with your mouth open and bugs flying in and out. When Julianne says wherefore, she isn’t wondering where Romeo is.”

“No?”

“Of course not. She knows he’s in the bushes. What she’s really saying is why. Herbert explained that to me.”

“Why?”

“Because him and me is friends.”

“No, I mean why is wherefore ‘why’? And why would she ask Romeo why he is Romeo?”

“Because it’s literacy,” said Toussaint, trying his best not to patronize poor Roberto. “She wants to know why it has to be Romeo out there instead of someone else.”

“How come?”

“Because he has such a big nose, of course.”

Roberto thought about this story for a moment, kicking at the water with one foot and then the other. Toussaint studied him, looking for some sign that maybe he understood.

“Why doesn’t she just tell him to go away?” asked Roberto finally.

Toussaint grinned. “Because she loves all the pretty words he says to her. And before long, she loves him, too – nose and all. And all because he talked pretty. As Herbert says, the story don’t end until the fat lady sings.”

“What?”

“The fat lady. I guess at the end of all these famous stories a fat lady sings. That’s how you know it’s over. So all you got to do, Roberto, is hide outside Marianne’s porch and say pretty words and hope she falls in love with you before a fat lady sings.”

Read the entire story here.

“All Day, All Night Marianne” is one of 15 short stories in the collection Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.

 

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February 27, 1902: Travels with Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas, California, a part of the fertile region he would later call the Pastures of Heaven in a collection of short stories and the setting for many of his works. The Nobel-winning novelist was born on February 27, 1902.

steinbeckjohnHis first critical and commercial success was Tortilla Flat set in and around Monterey, California, and featuring a small band of ne’er-do-well paisanos living for wine and good times after World War I. The novel was a sort of rogue’s tale, full of rough and earthy humor. From here Steinbeck moved on to more serious portrayals of the economic problems facing the rural working class in the social novels for which he became known — In Dubious Battle in 1936, Of Mice and Men in 1937, and his most important work The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, the saga of hardscrabble Oklahoma tenant farmers who became America’s migrant workers.

johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathSteinbeck’s California did not take kindly to his portrayal. His books were banned, and in his hometown, twice burned in public protests. In fact, his books were banned in schools and libraries throughout the country and continued to be well into this century. Steinbeck was one of the ten most banned authors from 1990 to 2004 (according to the American Library Association), Of Mice and Men, sixth out of the top 100 banned books.

Later novels include Cannery Row, East of Eden, Travels with Charley,  and The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck died in 1968.

 

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February 24, 1827: A Midsummer Night’s Prayer Meeting

“The Family Shakespeare — in which nothing is added to the original text,censored-shakespeare but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family. My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakespeare some defects which diminish their value.”

Thus read an introduction for the 1807 edition of Shakespeare’s works, finally made suitable for general audiences by Thomas Bowdler some 200 years after the Bard was safely buried. Certainly Shakespeare, were he alive, could not have objected to having the defects which diminished their value removed from his works. Shakespeare and family values — together at last.

Shakespeare no doubt would have thanked Thomas Bowdler who joined him in the hereafter on February 24, 1827.

Bowdler undertook this project, along with his sister Henrietta, thanks to childhood memories in which his father had entertained his family with readings from Shakespeare. Only later as an adult did Bowdler realize that his father had been leaving out some of the naughty parts of the plays, anything he felt unsuitable for the ears of his wife and children. Realizing that not all fathers were clever enough to censor on the spot, Bowdler decided it would be worthwhile to publish an edition which came already sanitized and “expletive deleted.” True to his word and to his credit, Bowdler did not add anything to the Shakespeare texts as some earlier tinkers had (Poet Laureate Nathum Tate had, for example, given King Lear a happy ending.)

More than a century later, scholars decided that sister Henrietta had a somewhat heavier hand in the expurgations than previously believed. Naturally, as an unmarried lady, it would have been scandalous for her to admit having read, much less understood, the naughty stuff removed.

Later publications by Bowdler demonstrated his interest in and knowledge of continental Europe (with France presumably excised). His last work was a rather monumental expurgated version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — no togas, no orgies — published posthumously in 1826. His version of Lady Chatterley’s Acquaintance turned out to be three pages long.

Bowdler has been recognized for his contributions to English literature by being awarded an adjective — bowdlerize, to change a book, play, movie, etc. by removing parts that could offend people.

 

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason. — Jack Handey

 

 

February 7, 1812: A Very Umble Person

Little Charles Dickens knew the adversity he would later write so dickens-at-deskeffectively about. Born February 7, 1812, he attended school in Portsmouth during his early years but was sent to work in a factory in 1824 at the age of 12, when his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Dickens learned first-hand about the deplorable treatment of working children and the horrors of the institution of the debtors’ prison.

In his late teens, Dickens went to work as a reporter and soon began publishing humorous short stories. A collection of those stories was released in 1836 under the title Sketches by Boz,(later titled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club). The stories about the quixotic innocent Samuel Pickwick and his fellow club members quickly became popular: 400 copies were printed of the first installment, but by the 15th episode the print run had reached 40,000. Publication of the stories in book form in 1837 established Dickens as the preeminent author of his time.

Oliver Twist followed in 1838 and Nicholas Nickleby in 1839. In 1841, Dickens visited the United States, where he was treated as a conquering hero. As a writer, he kept churning out major novels at almost a yearly pace each one seemingly more masterful than the last, among them: David Copperfield in 1850, Bleak House 1853, Hard Times 1854, A Tale of Two Cities 1859 and Great Expectations in 1861.

Dickens was the literary giant of his age, unparalleled in his realism, social criticism and humor, a master of characterization (think Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Pip, Uriah Heep, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge). The 1843 novella that featured Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, is one of the most influential works ever written, still popular after 170 years and still inspiring adaptations in every artistic genre. Dickens even has his own adjective, Dickensian.

Dickens died in 1870 at the age of 58, leaving an enigmatic unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He has been celebrated by statuary, in museums and even on currency — all against his dying wishes.

 

Roy Sullivan gained fame for the unlikely accomplishment of being struck by lightning seven times and surviving them all.  Born February 7, 1912, the “Human Lightning Rod” was first struck in 1941, although he claimed to have been struck as a child which would have made it eight strikes if it could have been verified.  He died in 1983 under mysterious circumstances that did not involve lightning.

 

On this day in 2001,  Dale Evans bought the ranch, so to speak, following Roy Rogers and Trigger off into the sunset.  Oddly enough, she was also born in 1912 though she and Roy Sullivan probably did not know each other. https://youtu.be/eEqUyNaSdvg

 

It was as true . . . as turnips is.  It was as true . . . as taxes is.  And nothing’s truer than them. — David Copperfield

February 4, 1826: Moccasins and Broken Twigs

American frontiersman Leatherstocking, aka Natty Bumppo, had his mohicanssecond outing in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which debuted on February 4, 1826. Among the earliest distinctive American novels, the book is the second of five in the series called the “Leather-stocking Tales.”  As a character, Natty represents goodness, purity, and simplicity. He became quite popular, and the books featuring him were in heavy demand. The Last of the Mohicans is still widely read today.

Among those who were not smitten by the Leatherstocking Tales was Mark Twain. In fact, Twain went so far as to write a lengthy piece on the shortcomings of the novels called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” in which he accused Cooper of committing 114 of 115 possible offenses against literary art in the span of less than a page.

After outlining 18 of the offenses specific to romantic fiction, Twain went on to say:

“Cooper’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.”

 

In 1789, George Washington was elected president receiving 100% of the electoral vote, the only president to ever do so (although it won’t be long before our current president claims to have done so).

 

On this day in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard students launched Facebook.  It was limited to Harvard students only.  Alas, it did not remain that way.

 

I’ve been on a constant diet for the last two decades.  I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds.  By all accounts, I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.  – Erma Bombeck

January 27, 1832: After the Snark

snarkLewis Carroll,  aka Charles Lutwidge Dodson, born on this date in 1832, was known primarily for his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He did write several other books including A Tangled Tale, Sylvie and Bruno and one of his last works, The Hunting of the Snark.

The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) is classic Lewis Carroll nonsense verse in which a crew of ten characters – a Bellman, a Boots, a Bonnet-maker, a Barrister, a Broker, a Billiard-marker, a Banker, a Butcher, a Baker, and a Beaver – set out to hunt the Snark, an animal which may turn out to be a highly dangerous Boojum.

After crossing the sea guided by the Bellman’s map of the Ocean—a blank sheet of paper—the hunting party arrives in a strange land. There its members split up to hunt the Snark: “They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care; / They pursued it with forks and hope; / They threatened its life with a railway-share; / They charmed it with smiles and soap.” Several odd adventures later, the Baker calls out that he has found a Snark, but when the others arrive, the Baker has mysteriously disappeared.

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found

Not a button, or feather, or mark,

By which they could tell that they stood on the ground

Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,

In the midst of his laughter and glee,

He had softly and suddenly vanished away –

For the Snark was a Boojum, you see

Carroll’s poem has been variously interpreted as an allegory for tuberculosis, a mockery of a notorious Victorian court case, a satire of the controversies between religion and science, the repression of Carroll’s sexuality, and an anti-vivisection tract. Or perhaps it represents a “voyage of life,” “a tragedy of frustration and bafflement,” or “Carroll’s comic rendition of his fears of disorder and chaos, with the comedy serving as a psychological defense against the devastating idea of personal annihilation.” Right.

 

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