MAY 18, 1896: MORE WOLFBANE, VAN HELSING?

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.

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MAY 12, 1812: POETRY WITHOUT NAUGHTY WORDS

POETRY WITHOUT NAUGHTY WORDS

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.

Naughty Words Without Poetry

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.

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.

 

From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer. It was not that I had any particular message for humanity. I am still plugging away and not the ghost of one so far, so it begins to look as though, unless I suddenly hit mid-season form in my eighties, humanity will remain a message short. ~ P. G. Wodehouse

 

 

 

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.

 

An inferiority complex is the lack of self-worth, a doubt and uncertainty about oneself, that often leads a person to overcompensate with extreme aggressiveness.  Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, born February 7, 1870, though up this concept without ever having met he who shall go unnamed.

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

 

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.

Two More Entertainment Giants Born on January 27

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in 1756, remains the most enduring and popular of all classical performers. He started in early, becoming a competent musician on both the violin and keyboard, composing and performing, at the age of five. He lived only 35 years but created more than 600 works — symphonies, concertos, operas, chamber and choral music.

And then there’s Sabu. Sabu, you say? Yes, born in 1924, Sabu was a star of stage, screen and jungles everywhere, appearing in such films as Cobra Woman, Jungle Hell, White Savage, and Hello Elephant. His most famous role was, of course, Mowgli in the Jungle Book (not the cartoon version).

 

 

December 30, 1865: You’re a Better Man Than I Am

Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Born in Bombay,

India, on December 30, 1865, Kipling is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Jungle Book (a collection of short stories which includes “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”), Just So Stories, Kim, “The Man Who Would Be King” and such poems as “Gunga Din,” “Mandalay,” and “The White Man’s Burden.” He is considered a major “innovator in the art of the short story,” and his children’s books have become true classics.

Kipling became synonymous with the concept of British “empire” and as a result his reputation fluctuated and his place in literary and cultural history inspired passionate disagreement during most of the 20th century.  Nevertheless, critics agree that he was a skilled interpreter of how empire was experienced.

Young Rudyard’s earliest years in Bombay were blissfully happy, in an India full of exotic sights and sounds. But at the age of five he and his sister were sent back to England, as was the custom, to be educated. In his autobiography, published 65 years later, Kipling recalled the stay with horror, and wondered ironically if the combination of cruelty and neglect he suffered from his foster family might not have hastened the onset of his literary life: “I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort.”

Kipling traveled extensively throughout the world, and his travels included a stay of several years in Brattleboro, Vermont, an unlikely spot in which to create The Jungle Book, although he did, along with Captains Courageous.

During his long career, he declined most of the many honors offered him, including a knighthood, the Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1936 in England (even though a few years earlier he had written “Never again will I spend another winter in this accursed bucketshop of a refrigerator called England.”)

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December 24, 1843: What a Delightful Boy

Published in 1843, it’s the figgy pudding of Christmas stories.  Don’t go until you get some.  Just one tasty scene for your merriness:

(Scrooge has been visited by the three ghosts on Christmas Eve, and he awakens the following morning.)

“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been alastair-sim-as-scrooge-at-windowamong the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh glorious, glorious!

“What’s today?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow?”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey, the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes, and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”

The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hand, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be!”

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December 19, 1732: The Nack and How To Get It

Filled with proverbs preaching positive virtues such as industry and prudence, Poor Richard’s Almanack debuted on this day in 1732 and was published yearly until 1757. It became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year. In addition to its homilies, the almanac offered seasonal weather forecasts, Heloise-style Poor_Richard's_Almanackhousehold hints, puzzles, and various other diversions.

Poor Richard, who was of course Benjamin Franklin, was modeled in part on Jonathan Swift’s Isaac Bickerstaff, a self-described philomath and astrologer who in a series of letters in 1708 and 1709, poked fun at and even predicted the imminent death of another astrologer and almanac maker,  John Partridge. Franklin’s Poor Richard followed suit and, in a running joke in the early editions, predicted and falsely reported the deaths of contemporary astrologers and almanac makers.

Poor Richard’s Almanack extolled a list of 13 virtues to live by – temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility – although there’s no evidence that Franklin personally tried to practice any of them. (Wretched Richard subscribes to every one of them.)

Reflecting on Franklin and his almanac, James Russell Lowell wrote that Franklin: “was born in Boston, and invented being struck with lightning and printing and the Franklin medal, and that he had to move to Philadelphia because great men were so plenty in Boston that he had no chance, and that he revenged himself on his native town by saddling it with the Franklin stove, and that he discovered the almanac, and that a penny saved is a penny lost, or something of the kind.”

The Almanack gained worldwide attention: Napoleon Bonaparte had it translated into Italian; it was twice translated into French, reprinted in Great Britain in broadside, and was the first work of English literature to be translated into Slovene.

A sample of Poor Richard’s wisdom:

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking.

Any society that will give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

With the old Almanack and the old Year,
Leave thy old Vices, tho ever so dear.

Fish and visitors stink after three days.

There are more old drunkards than old doctors.

 

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December 16, 1775: Me Mark, You Jane

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, was a British novelist who wrote of life among England’s landed gentry from the vantage point of being on its outskirts aspiring to be closer in. The concept of gentry is a British foible pretty much disdained by Americans who exist way on its outskirts and secretly austenaspire to be closer in. (Shut out entirely, early Americans misbehaved with childish pranks such as dumping the grown-ups’ tea in Boston Harbor on this day in 1773).

Basically the gentry (celebrated in a 1940s popular song “Dear Hearts and Gentry People”) were the aristocracy (the haves, the one percent), and Jane Austen’s novels are lousy with them. Jane Austen herself almost married into the thick of it but the fact that the gentleman was a super-sized oaf, both homely and ill-mannered, gave her pause, cold feet, or perhaps writer’s block.

Austen was not wildly popular as a writer during her lifetime – in fact, her greatest popularity seems to have come with the 21st century. Her first novel Lazy Susan became a household word in the 1950s, thanks to the spinning serving dish that bears its name. Other novels had doubled-up attributes such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Senility, and Lust and Loquaciousness, except for those that didn’t, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

Mark Twain was one of Austen’s biggest fans:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

 

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December 6, 1882: The Postman Always Writes Twice

Born in 1815, Anthony Trollope had a successful career as one of the most prolific English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters. He simultaneously enjoyed a successful career with the General Post Office.

This dual career makes Trollope a role model for would-be writers everywhere.

Trollope’s postal career began somewhat ignominiously in 1834 as a postal clerk, and the first seven years of his official life, during which he gained a reputation for unpunctuality and insubordination, were, according to him, “neither creditable to myself nor useful to the public pillarservice.”

A move to Ireland altered his postal career and began his writing career.

Given a fresh start, Trollope became a model employee. And, having decided to become a novelist, he began writing on the numerous long trips around Ireland his postal duties required. Writing on a rigid schedule from 5 a.m. To 8 a.m. every day, his output was prodigious. He wrote his earliest novels during this time, occasionally dipping into the “lost-letter” box for ideas.

In 1851, Trollope returned to England to reorganize rural mail delivery in southwestern England and southern Wales. The two-year mission took him over much of Great Britain, often on horseback. Trollope describes this time as “two of the happiest years of my life”.

During these travels, he conceived the plot of The Warden, the first of the six Barsetshire novels. The novel was published in 1855, bringing him to the attention of the novel-reading public. He immediately began work on Barchester Towers, the second Barsetshire novel and probably his best-known work. Trollope ‘s postal career was also going well.  By the mid-1860s, he had reached a senior position within the Post Office. He made postal history with his introduction of the pillar box, the ubiquitous bright red mail-box, thousands of which were found in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Empire of the time.

Trollope also aspired to a political career; he had long dreamed of a seat in the House of Commons. He agreed to become a Liberal candidate, and in the election of 1868, he finished number four of four candidates. Trollope called his short-lived dip into political waters “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood”.

 

Trollope died on December 6, 1882, having written 47 novels as well as numerous short stories, nonfiction works and plays – three hours a day, every day.