Sunday, November 23, 2014

Henry David Thoreau Biography

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

"[Thoreau] is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

v     Thoreau was a transcendentalist philosopher, poet, and political activist, most famous for his essay Walden.

A replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, with a statue of Thoreau

v     Walden recounts Thoreau's two-year experiment in simple living, by himself in a little shack he built next to Walden Pond, in Concord. The experiment was meant to see if you could take out everything in society that was unnecessary, and see if life itself was "mean or sublime", in other words, if life is worth living.

v     Walden was a major influence to the poet Robert Frost, who said, " In one book ... he surpasses everything we have had in America."

v     Not everyone agreed. Hawthorne mocked his solitary lifestyle, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier said Thoreau wanted every man to, "...lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs."

v     In 2012, the University of Southern California began developing a video game based on Walden, which might just possibly be fun. Maybe. If and when it's finished.

v     He also wrote the essay Resistance to Civil Government, which was an inspiration for such figures as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

v     Thoreau was a life-long abolitionist, criticizing slavery, and defending the abolitionist extremist John Brown, who led a rebellion in Kansas to end slavery, and was soon captured and hanged.

The Last Moments of John Brown, by Thomas Hovenden

v     Thoreau is sometimes considered an anarchist for his writings. For example, he said, "That government is best which governs not at all, and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have." In other words, never. But, he also said "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

Personal Life:

Thoreau grew up in Concord Massachusetts, near Boston. He attended Harvard, completing four years, but refused to pay five dollars for his diploma, because Harvard printed them on sheepskin vellum (pergamen), and Thoreau said, "Let every sheep keep its own skin."

After college, Thoreau taught for about a month at the Concord Public School. He soon quit, refusing to paddle or hit students. He and his brother set up their own, more progressive school, taking students on nature walks. But, when his brother died of an infection four years later, the school ended.

Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who introduced him to Nathaniel Hawthorne and other intellectuals. Thoreau also tutored Emerson's children.

On the advice of poet Ellery Channing, Thoreau built a shack on Emerson's property by Walden Pond and lived there for two years, writing a collection of essays that he published as Walden, Life In The Woods. Although he lived there for two years, he compressed it into one year, with each season symbolizing a different phase of human development.

During that time, he was arrested and jailed for his failure to pay six years of taxes. Thoreau protested, stating he had no intention to contribute to the Mexican-American War, nor slavery. He was released when an anonymous donor, probably an aunt, paid it the next day.

Thoreau spent this rest of his life as a land surveyor (zememerač), writing detailed notes about the wildlife and ecology in his town, and elsewhere in New England. In 1859 he went out at night in the middle of a storm to count tree rings and got bronchitis, from which he never recovered. His health declined steadily, and he died three years later.

"I've have never yet met a man who was quite awake." This means people are blind, they only see what's in front of them, not the roots of things.

Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson

v     The series of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson is one of the first and best detective series in the world. Holmes is a private detective, famous for his powers of observation (pozorovanie) and deduction. Dr. Watson is a friend, roommate, and medical doctor, who narrates (rozpráva) the stories.

v     The first Sherlock Holmes adventure was A Study in Scarlet, followed by The Sign of Four. Doyle then wrote several short story collections and novels, most notably The Hound of the Baskervilles.

v     The main inspiration for Sherlock Holmes was Joseph Bell, one of Doyle's professors at university. The resemblance (podobnosť) was so close that fellow writer Robert Louis Stevenson noticed, writing to Doyle, "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"

v     Another inspiration was "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by the American, Edgar Allan Poe. It was the first ever detective story. Doyle said, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

v     Doyle had a hard time writing stories about Sherlock, and grew to dislike the series' popularity. In 1891 he wrote to his mother, "I think of slaying [killing] Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." His mother wrote back, "You won't! You can't! You mustn't!"

v     Doyle tried raising his asking price for Sherlock Holmes stories to ridiculous levels, and was shocked to see publishers agree, making him the best paid writer of his time.

v     In 1891, Doyle created the arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, to kill Holmes in the story Final Problem. But fans were so upset that he kept writing many more stories about Sherlock.

v     Because of Sherlock Holmes's popularity, many other authors have also written stories about him, including Doyle's son, Adrian, who published twelve short stories in 1954. Stephen King wrote one in 1993, where, for once, Dr. Watson solves the case before Holmes.

v     Sherlock Holmes has been the subject and inspiration for countless plays, radio and television shows, and films, most recently directed by Guy Ritchie, and featuring Robert Downy Jr. as Holmes, and Jude Law as Dr. Watson.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Biography

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

v     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a writer and doctor, famous for his detective series about Sherlock Holmes. He used his medical knowledge in his writing.

v     Doyle also wrote poetry, seven plays, over twenty novels covering fantasy, sci-fi, and historical genres, sixteen short story collections, and seventeen non-fiction works.

v     Doyle is one of the first great pop fiction writers. While he was very popular in his lifetime, he never won any major literary award, and his stories are not considered fine literature (nie su považovaný za slovesnosť).

v     Besides Sherlock Holmes, Doyle wrote a series of novels, starting with The Lost World, about the scientist Professor Challenger, who travels to the Amazon and discovers real, live dinosaurs.

v     Doyle also wrote "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", about the real life mystery of the merchant ship, the Mary Celeste, found derelict (plávajúci vrak) and abandoned (opustený) by her crew in perfect condition in fine weather.
The Mary Celeste, found derelict in 1872
      The sails were still up, and she was heading for the Strait of Gibralter (Loď smerovala k Gibraltáru), with six months of food, and all the crew's things just as they'd left them. The crew (posádka) were never heard from again. Only one life boat was missing.

v     Doyle stressed the importance of justice in criminal investigation, leading him to investigate two closed cases in real life, leading to the exoneration (oslobodenie) of two innocent men, and the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal (odvolací súd), to give felons (zločinci) a second chance.

Personal Life:

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, raised in Scotland, had a troubled childhood due to his father's drinking and depression. His family split apart, and lived in poverty. Arthur was lucky to have rich uncles, who paid for his education in Catholic schools. It was a strict environment, and led him to become agnostic, not believing in God.

In 1876 he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He began writing mysteries at this time, and his academic writing, "Gelsemium as a Poison," sounds like something right out of Sherlock Holmes. He became ship's doctor on a number of vessels, sailing around the world.

At age 26 he married his first wife, Mary Louise. She died after 21 years of marriage from tuberculosis. The following year, he married Jean Elizabeth, whom he'd loved for years, but never told. He had five children, all told.

Doyle wrote The Great Boer War in 1900, defending England's war in South Africa, for which he was knighted (bol pasovaný za rytierov). That's why he's called "Sir".

The death of Doyle's first wife was soon followed by a long line of family members, leading to severe depression, and a new belief in spiritualism - belief in ghosts and supernatural powers like telepathy. Doyle became member of several ghost hunting clubs, and he was fooled into believing many con artists (podfukári), as well as the Cottingley Fairy photographs, which were later exposed as a hoax  (podvod). In 1920 he debated the skeptic Joseph McCabe in Queen's Hall, London, as to the existence of ghosts.

The Cottingley fairy photos were supposed to prove their existence.

Doyle was also friends with the great magician Harry Houdini, but they had a falling out, as Houdini kept pointing out the tricks of Doyle's favourite mystics. Doyle believed that Houdini himself had supernatural powers.

Doyle died, age 71, of a heart attack. His last words were to his wife, "You are wonderful."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

F. Scott FitzGerald Biography

F. Scott FitzGerald (1896-1940)

v     F Scott FitzGerald is considered one of America's greatest writers, and was a part of the "lost generation" of 1920s intellectuals.

v     He wrote ten short story collections, and four finished novels: The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and Tender is the Night (Nežná je noc).

v     A fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, is unfinished, and was published posthumously.

v     FitzGerald is credited as an inspiration to many other great writers, including TS Eliot, and JD Salinger.

v     Many of his stories have been made into films:
            The Beautiful and the Damned, 1922, and 2010
            The Great Gatsby, 1926, 1949, 1974, 2000, and 2013
            Tender is the Night, 1962   
            The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008

v     A biographical play of Fitzgerald, titled Beloved Infidel, was made in 1958.

v     Surprisingly, FitzGerald never won any awards.

Personal Life:

Francis Scott Key FitzGerald was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was named after Francis Scott Key, a famous figure in American history, who wrote the lyrics to America's national anthem. His childhood was complicated by the deaths of his two sisters, merely three months before he was born. His mother became overprotective.

Scott FitzGerald attended Princeton University, where he joined the Princeton Triangle Club (a drama club) and the Princeton Tiger (a humour magazine). Spending all his time writing, he neglected his studies and was almost expelled, so he decided to join the army in 1917, during World War I. Fearing he would die before publishing a novel, he quickly wrote The Romantic Egotist - which publishers rejected.

Luckily, he never saw combat, the war ending before he was deployed. While a soldier, he fell in love with Zelda Sayre, a beautiful socialite (prominentný človek), and they got engaged. She broke it off when she saw he was broke (poor), and Scott went back to his parents' house to revise his novel, now changing the name to This Side of Paradise, an instant bestseller. Zelda changed her mind and they soon were wed. A daughter, named Scottie after her father, soon followed.

The two often travelled to Paris, meeting Hemingway and others (Hemingway hated Zelda, who later developed schizophrenia). Scott joined the "lost generation" there, meaning he was also an alcoholic. FitzGerald often complained about "whoring" himself as a writer, changing his stories to make them more sellable to magazines and Hollywood. But, he had to, as bills mounted, and none of his works were ever as popular as his first novel.

Scott's stories were often autobiographical, at least partially, and he even competed with his wife, getting angry when she wrote and published her own novel, Save Me the Waltz. Scott felt she was stealing his "material", by writing her own version of their life together. Alcoholism combined with tuberculosis led to his rapid decline in health.

In 1937, Scott moved to Hollywood, working on films such as Madame Curie. Scott and Zelda split up, with her moving to a mental institution on the East Coast. Scott then started an affair with a newspaper reporter. The last stories he wrote, before dying of a heart attack, were the Pat Hobby series, about a "hack" writer who sells out, working for Hollywood - FitzGerald was making fun of himself.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Epic of Gilgamesh

an image of Gilgamesh

Ø      Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king, of the city Uruk, from around 2800-2500 BC. According to the tablets, he ruled his city for 126 years.

An artist's rendering of Uruk as it may have looked

Ø      While king, Gilgamesh built walls around his city, Uruk, and also rebuilt the temple of Ninlil in the city of Nippur.

Ø      There is an epic legend about him, in which he is half God, and has super strength. His mother is Ninsun, goddess of cows (her name means wild cow).

Ø      The story begins with King Gilgamesh oppressing his people (utlačoval im), making them work so hard that they pray to the gods for help.

Ø      The god Aruru hears them and creates a wild man named Enkidu to fight with Gilgamesh. The two fight, and Gilgamesh wins, but afterwards they become best friends.

Ø      Gilgamesh and Enkidu then decide to go to a forest and kill its protector, the giant Humbaba, so they can cut down the trees. They use the wood to build a temple for the god Enlil.

Ø      Next, a goddess named Ishtar flirts with Gilgamesh, but he rejects her. So, in anger, she sends down the Bull of Heaven, named Gugalanna, to destroy his city. But, Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill it.

Ø      The gods are angry at this and make Enkidu sick so that he dies. Gilgamesh is very upset, and decides to learn the secret of eternal life.

Ø      Gilgamesh then goes to look for Utnapishtim ("the Faraway"), the oldest man on earth. Utnapishtim and his wife were granted eternal life by the gods, and survived the great flood.

Ø      Gilgamesh goes to Mount Mashu, at the end of the earth. In this mountain there is a tunnel, guarded by scorpion-men. The tunnel is the entrance of the Road of the Sun, leading to the Garden of the gods.

Ø      There he meets Urshanabi, the ferryman who takes people across the Sea of Death, to where Utnapishtim lives. Gilgamesh asks about the secret of eternal life, and Utnapishtim tells his story - that it was the god Enlil who created a big flood to kill everyone, and the goddess Ishtar saved him, telling him to build a boat. Afterwards, the gods were all angry at Enlil, so he granted Utnapishtim eternal life as a way to apologize.

Ø      The wife of Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh how he can become young again with a magical plant, but it's stolen by a serpent, and Gilgamesh's quest is a failure. The story ends with Gilgamesh showing Urshanabi the great walls of his city, that will endure forever.

Archaeologists believe this site may be what's left of ancient Uruk

Monday, November 17, 2014

Harper Lee Biography

Harper Lee (1926-)

v     Harper Lee is a writer and critic, famous for her one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, written in 1960.

v     To Kill a Mockingbird was a bestseller, winning the Pulitzer Prize. It also won a poll in the Library Journal as the best novel of the 20th century.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

v     Apart from writing, Lee helped her childhood friend and author Truman Capote research information for his true crime book, In Cold Blood.

v     in 2007, Harper Lee won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Personal Life:

Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. Her father was a lawyer. Her best friend was the neighbor's son, Truman Capote, who also grew up to be a famous writer.

After finishing college, Lee found an agent, and, through Capote, made friends with the Broadway producer Michael Brown, who gave her enough money to write full time, saying, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Lee used this time to write her only novel, To Kill a Mockinbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird

a mockingbird

v     This story tells of a southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends an innocent man, Tom Robinson, falsely accused of raping a young woman. The woman is white, and the defendant, Tom, is black. During the trial, Atticus proves Tom's innocence, and that the sex was consensual. It wasn't until the woman's father found out and beat her, that she told everyone she'd been raped. Although Tom is innocent, he's found guilty, and is later shot while trying to escape prison.

v     The story is told from the point of view of Atticus's daughter, Scout, who describes her father as a hero - modest, humble, yet courageous, risking his life to save his client from lynching (when vigilantes kill someone without a fair trial).

v     The story also tells of a neighbour down the street named Boo Radley, who never leaves his house, for fear of embarrassing his strict family. A former alcoholic and gambler, Boo lives a lonely life, spent mostly looking out the window. He sometimes leaves gifts for the neighborhood children, hidden in a tree near his house. Although the children fear him as a monster, he's actually a hero, misunderstood by society.

v     According to Capote, much of this story is autobiographical, including Boo. "He was a real man, and he lived just down the road from us. We used to go and get those things out of the trees. Everything she wrote about it is absolutely true."

v     A mockingbird (drozd mnohohlasný) is a songbird that mimics the songs of other birds, fooling them into leaving the mockingbird's territory. In the story, Atticus tells his children to never shoot one because, "they don't do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us". In this story, the mockingbird represents Tom Robinson.

v     Lee said about the success of her novel, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

v     The publicity she received made her decide to never write another novel.

v     This book was made into an Oscar winning film in 1962, which Lee strongly supported.

William Faulkner Biography

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

v     William Cuthbert Faulkner was a writer, poet, and essayist, from Oxford, Mississippi.

v     He's most famous for his stories in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi, specifically: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom! Absalom!

v     These stories focus on characters from the American south: farmers, slaves, outlaws, and southern aristocrats.

v     Having met James Joyce, Faulkner also used stream of consciousness in his writing.

v     Two of his books, A Fable and The Reivers, won Pulitzer Prizes.

v     He also won two National Book Awards for A Fable and Collected Stories.

v     He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. He used part of his award money to start the Faulkner Award for Fiction, to help young writers. He used the rest as a fund to help educate black teachers in America.

v     Faulkner recorded his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, which became famous for the advice he gave to young writers.

v     in 1951 France honoured Faulkner as a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur.

Personal Life:

Born into an old, well-off family, Faulkner learned many things early in childhood. His mother taught him to read before starting school, while his father taught him to camp, hunt, and fish. He heard many stories about his great-grandfather, "the old colonel", and he began writing poetry at a young age.  His nanny, Callie Barr was also a major influence.

Although William did very well in Elementary school, skipping the 2nd grade, his performance fell in high school, repeating the 11th grade, and never completing high school. He managed to get accepted to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), where his father worked for a time. William only lasted three semesters, getting a 'D' in English literature. Afterwards, he worked for a short time in a post office, a job he detested.

The best thing that happened to Faulkner in university was meeting the writer Philip Stone, four years his senior, who became Faulkner's mentor and supported him throughout his life. Also, the writer Sherwood Anderson helped Faulkner publish his first books. Faulkner's style was new and this worried publishers, who often rejected him.

Faulkner married in 1929. His wife was an old high school sweetheart whom her parents had forced into a bad marriage. When that ended, William quickly proposed.

Faulkner intended to work full time as a writer. During the Great Depression, he accepted a job writing screenplays in Hollywood, living in California for the next couple decades.

Faulkner is known to have cheated on his wife at least three times. One woman, Joan Williams, wrote a book about her affair, titled The Wintering. Another, Else Jonnson, was widow of the Swedish writer responsible for Faulkner winning his Nobel Prize. He went to accept his prize, and ended up falling for Else.

Faulkner also struggled with alcohol throughout his life. In 1959 he suffered a serious horse-riding accident, leading to a heart attack three years later. His home is now a museum owned by Ole Miss. Faulkner once gave this advice to young writers:

"Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him."

Ernest Hemingway Biography

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

v     Ernest Hemingway was a highly influential writer and journalist, famous for his simple way of writing.

v     As a journalist, Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent in Europe, covering the Greco-Turkish War, the Spanish Civil War and World War II, being present at the beach landing in Normandy and the liberation of Paris.

v     Hemingway earned the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery in World War I, and a Bronze Star in World War II, leading a local militia during the liberation of Paris.

v     Hemingway wrote ten novels, ten short story collections, and five non-fiction works, but some of these works were published posthumously (after he died).

v     His most famous novels are: The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, The Garden of Eden and The Sun Also Rises.

v     His nonfiction work includes Death in the Afternoon, about Spanish bullfighting.

v     Hemingway won a Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for The Old Man and the Sea. He almost won a Pulitzer for For Whom the Bell Tolls, but one man, the president of Columbia University, didn't like it and overruled the Pulitzer committee.

v     He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, saying other writers like Carl Sandburg deserved it more than him.

Personal Life:

Hemingway was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago. His father was a doctor, and his mother a musician. As a child, his father taught him to hunt, fish and camp. In high school he excelled at sports like boxing, track and field, and football. He also had a course on journalism, where the teacher treated it just like a newspaper office.

After high school, Hemingway worked for a short time as a journalist for the Kansas City Star. This newspaper had a style guide for it's writers which was hugely influential for Hemingway, "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."

Hemingway, age 18, in Milan, Italy

Hemingway then enlisted as an ambulance driver in World War I, starting in May, 1918. He was seriously wounded soon after, by a mortar shell, and sent home. He said, "When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you ... Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you." This experience also led to a lifelong problem with alcohol.

While recuperating, he fell in love with a nurse, seven years older than him, and they planned to marry. But, she changed her mind and married someone else, breaking his heart and his trust. Ever since, Hemingway was sure to leave a woman before she left him - marrying four times in his life. This also contributed to his problem with alcohol.

In 1921, he took his first wife to live with him in Paris, where he continued work as a correspondent. There, he joined what would be called the Lost Generation, including Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Picasso, and F Scott Fitzgerald, with whom he shared a friendly rivalry. This also contributed to his life long problem with alcohol, because they were mostly alcoholics. In 1928, Ernest's father committed suicide, which Ernest reflected, "I'll probably go the same way."

Hemingway with Col. Charles Lanham, Germany, 1944

During World War II, Hemingway led a resistance militia in Rambouillet, outside of Paris. This was against the Geneva convention, as he was a journalist, but he avoided prison by claiming he only offered advice. After the war, he traveled to Cuba, supporting Fidel Castro, and was investigated by the FBI.
Hemingway with 4th wife, Mary, in the Congo, 1953
In 1952 Hemingway went on safari in Africa, almost dying in two different plane crashes, and giving him the chance to read his own obituaries (nekrológy), when newspapers assumed he'd died. These and many other accidents left him in pain and ill health for the remainder of his life, causing him to drink even more, and leading to depression, for which psychiatrists gave him electroshock therapy, and suicide in 1961.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, & A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This is a coming-of-age novel, about an Irish student named Stephen Dedalus, although the book is really autobiographical - Joyce is really writing about himself. The book explains why he left Ireland, never to return. So far as plot, not so much happens in the story. The main conflict is in Stephen's head - a crisis of faith. Stephen attends Catholic schools and struggles between wanting to be a good Christian, understanding his own personal desires, and growing anger at the church. In this story, James gets into the head of his hero, using of stream-of-consciousness, interior monolugues, and Stephen's memories and imagination - his psychic reality.

This book is also a Künstlerroman, meaning a story about the growth and development of an artist. Joyce explained his ideas about aesthetics. He felt that poets live a true spiritual life, while priests just pretend. True spirituality required freedom, to an extent which the church didn't allow.

His first novel, Joyce abandoned and reworked this project many times, even throwing it in a fire at one point. It was saved by his sister, and with the encouragement of fellow writers like Yeats, and Ezra Pound, it was finally published in a literary magazine called The Egoist.


Considered the best and most important book in modernist literature, this story of 265,000 words describes the life of Stephen Dedalus, now a history teacher, and Leopold Bloom, who works in advertising, on an ordinary day, June 16th, in Dublin. This day has become a bit of a holiday known as Bloomsday to fans of the story. The story has eighteen chapters, beginning at 8 a.m. and ending after 2 a.m. the next morning. Each chapter corresponds to about an hour in that day, and is written in a completely different style. For example, chapter fifteen is written as a play, chapter thirteen parodies cheap romance magazines, while chapter fourteen mirrors the evolution of the English language from ancient Latin all the way to contemporary Dublin slang.

In this book, Joyce compares the events of this day with the epic story, the Odyssey. Odysseus (Greek name for Ulysses) was Joyce's favourite hero, growing up. Leopold represents Odysseus, his wife Molly represents Penelope (Odysseus' wife) and Stephen represents Odysseus' son, Telemachus. This is meant as a parody, because Leopold and his wife are nothing like the noble and heroic Odysseus and his family. Molly is cheating on her husband, and Leopold knows it. And he's cheating on her too. In the first chapter, the postman delivers him a love letter which he tears up in an alley way. Their story is totally unlike the epic poem about love, bravery, and honour, so why the comparison? Well, it defines the modern crisis - that humanity has gone so far technologically, but has fallen so low ethically. We're great, yet pathetic, nothing like the heroes of old.

Leopold's day is unimportant. He goes to work, he attends a funeral, and later visits a woman giving birth in hospital. He buys a bar of soap, he goes to an art gallery, and at one point, he sees his wife's lover, and runs the other way.

The lives of Leopold and Stephen are intertwined, even though they don't know it. They almost meet several times before finally meeting and drinking together in the evening. They then go to a brothel where both men begin to hallucinate, and between bar hopping and a fight with a soldier, they wind up going home late at night, completely drunk. You get a sense that Leopold wishes Stephen were his son.

The story is as much about Dublin as the characters living there. Joyce said, if Dublin were bombed, you could rebuild it brick by brick from the descriptions in Ulysses.

In addition to stream-of-consciousness, Joyce filled his book with puns, parody, and allusions to other stories, making it a comedy, but extremely hard to understand. First, you have to read all the other stories he's talking about, and then, maybe, you'll understand Ulysses. Once you do, congratulations, you're ready to teach literature at university level. Oh, and this book was banned in the US from 1920-33, being called pornography, because of Leopold's fantasy in Chapter thirteen.

Finnegan's Wake

Written with the help of Samuel Beckett, Joyce wrote after his eyesight started failing. Taking seventeen years to complete, this book is highly experimental. There is no plot, it simulates a dream. The book uses all Joyce's previous techniques and includes a new language unique to Joyce, consisting of multi-lingual puns, making it one of the most difficult books to read in the English language. A pun is a joke based on similar words, "You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass." And, the first line of the story finishes the final sentence, so that the reader is meant to go back to the beginning, and the story never ends.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2nd Generation Romantic Poets

2nd Generation Romantic Poets

Lord Byron (1788-1824) – Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, extremely handsome, was an excellent athlete despite having a club foot, which his mother made worse by forcing him to wear a “corrective” shoe. Born to aristocracy, His father, a sea captain, was known as “Mad Jack”. Abusive and manipulative, he married Byron’s mother for her money, which he wasted. He died when Byron was only three, possibly a suicide. His mother was an alcoholic and strict Presbyterian, and they often argued. Byron gained his title at age 10 when his uncle, the 5th Lord Byron, “The Wicked Lord”, died (he gained that name through numerous murders and by ruining his fortune to spite his son, who also died young). Byron continued the family tradition of debt with expensive parties, clothes, and absurd luxuries. He had a tame bear as a pet (since dogs were forbidden at school). He kept many exotic pets inside his homes, throughout his life. He drank wine from a human skull. He seduced many women, some married, some not. The quote above comes from Lady Caroline Lamb, a married woman who loved and was rejected by him. She became anorexic and unstable, to which he said he felt “haunted by a skeleton”.

He wrote his first collection of poems, Hours of Idleness, while a student. After graduating from Cambridge, he traveled on horseback across southern Europe, avoiding the Napoleonic Wars, and into the Middle East. He wrote a poem of his journey, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which made him popular in England. As a member of the House of Lords, he was a liberal Whig, supporting workers’ rights. But, he had many affairs and scandals, separating from his wife after only one year. Rumours about his affairs ruined his reputation, and gossip spread he might be gay and/or having an incestuous relationship with his half-sister – lies spread by Lady Caroline. At age 28, he left England, never to return. In Venice, he seduced another married woman, whom he then rejected. She threw herself into a canal. He died from an illness while preparing Greek soldiers to fight for independence from Turkey. In Greece, he is considered a national hero.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) – the Radical

Although an aristocrat, he was politically radical and nonconformist. Bullied at Eton, he was expelled from Oxford for writing a pamphlet titled “The Necessity of Atheism”, for which his father never forgave him. He married twice, once in 1810 to ‘liberate’ a young Harriet Westbrooke from her tyrannical father. They separated after four years, and Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin, author of Frankenstein, living with her instead. In 1816, Harriet drowned herself, and the court took custody of his children. Shelley then married Mary. In 1818, like Byron, he left England for good. In the next year, two of his children by Mary died. Shelley died young, drowning in a boating accident during a storm off the coast in Italy – there was some suspicion of assassination. He was cremated on the beach, his ashes buried in a Protestant cemetery in Rome, near the grave of John Keats. His poetry was largely unknown before his death.

John Keats (1795-1821) – The Tragic Youth
The son of a hostler (someone who cares for horses), both his parents had died by the time Keats was fourteen. Taken out of school, he was apprenticed to a doctor. Encouraged by friends, he quit medicine to write poetry. His growth as a poet was called a miracle, and he also fell in love, getting engaged to Fanny Brawne. But happiness was short lived. He contracted tuberculosis, the same illness that had killed his mother and youngest brother. Being too sick and poor to marry, he traveled to Rome, hoping the warmer weather would help him. It didn’t. Dying at twenty-five, much of Keat’s best works were written in a single nine month period. His untimely death is considered one of the greatest losses to English literature. The drawing above is John on his death bed.

1st Generation Romantic Poets

1st Generation Romantic Poets

William Blake (1757-1827) – The Anarchist Printer

A one-of-a-kind poet and artist, he was considered crazy in his time, but is now considered one of Britain’s greatest minds. Born in London to religious dissenters, Blake stayed in school only to age ten. He then devoted himself to drawing classes, reading in his free time. He completed an apprenticeship as an engraver. He then joined the Royal Academy of artists, where he rebelled against the school’s president, Joshua Reynolds. At age 25, he married Catherine Boucher, teaching her to read and paint. Blake opened a print shop in 1784 for the radical publisher Joseph Johnson. It became a center for revolutionary thought, including feminism, ending slavery, and supporting the American & French Revolutions. Apart from work, Blake illustrated his own poems, along with characters from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Dante’s Inferno, only becoming famous in the 20th century. Blake and his wife both claimed to have seen visions, and Blake claimed to see angels who told him what to paint. They were also nudists.

The Lake Poets

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) – The Romantic Philosopher

The son of a busy lawyer, William lived in the Lake District in north west England, and spent much of his time in his father’s library, reading and memorizing poetry. At the age of 8 his mother died, and so his father sent him to boarding school, separating him from his sister, whom he wouldn’t see for another nine years. He went to St. Johns College in Cambridge, and then toured Europe in 1790. While there, he fell in love with a French girl, Annette Vallon, and they had a daughter together, Caroline. But, Wordsworth then fled France’s Reign of Terror, never marrying her. By the time he could visit again, Caroline was already nine, and William had fallen in love with someone else – Mary Hutchinson. Wordsworth sent Caroline a yearly stipend throughout her life. Wordsworth was close friends with Coleridge, and the two published books of poetry together, starting a new Romantic movement. Wordsworth defined poetry as, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” In the last seven years of his life he became Poet Laureate, The only one in English history who didn’t write official poetry while Laureate.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) – The Hopeless Romantic

Poet, lecturer, and close friend of Wordsworth, he helped found the English Romantic movement, with his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Suffering from depression, he became an opium addict, which ruined his marriage. Coleridge was a follower of the German philosopher, Kant, and would later inspire the American Philosopher Emerson. As a young man, he and Southey even wanted to start their own utopian commune, called Pantisocracy.

Robert Southey (1774-1843) – The Compassionate Romantic

Southey was a poet, historian, and biographer, who wrote about the lives of Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson. He also wrote the children’s story, “Goldilocks & the Three Bears.” He was expelled from grammar school for writing an article condemning corporal punishment in schools. He went to university where he claimed “All I learnt was a little swimming . . . and a little boating.” He became friends with Coleridge at this time, and the two began publishing books together. Southey and Coleridge married two sisters, Edith & Sara Fricker, a decision Coleridge soon regretted. When he abandoned his wife, Southey had to take care of her and their three children, as well as the recently widowed Mary Lovell and her son. From 1819 to his death he was Poet Laureate of Britain. He also supported the young writer Charlotte Bronte, praising her talent, but at the same time saying, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life.”

James Joyce Biography

James Joyce (1882-1941)

v     James Joyce is one of the most famous writers of the modernist avant-garde.

v     His most famous works are the novels Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

v      He also wrote Dubliners, a collection of short stories, as well as three books of poetry, and one play.

v     James Joyce was very musical, with an award winning voice, and also played the guitar and piano. Music was a very strong influence in his writing.

v     The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, after reading Ulysses, concluded that James Joyce, like his daughter Lucia, was schizophrenic, "She and her father are like two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that Joyce was diving and Lucia was sinking."

Personal Life:

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a middle class home. He was the eldest of twelve children, two dying of typhoid. His father worked, but was an alcoholic, a vice which James inherited. James had lifelong difficulty with his eyes, requiring dozens of operations. He also suffered from fear of dogs, after being attacked at the age of five, and fear of thunder, which an aunt explained was God's anger. Despite having a chaotic family life, he was a brilliant student, winning various awards.

Joyce went to university to study English lit, French, and Italian. He began publishing critical revues, for example to the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In 1902, Joyce went to Paris to study medicine, but found it too difficult, and returned to Ireland when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

In 1904, James left Ireland for good, living in Trieste with his life partner Nora Barnacle. Trieste is now in Italy, but at his time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He made a living teaching English. He also persuaded several of his brothers and sisters to leave Dublin, and come live with him. Joyce refused invitations to return to Dublin, even from the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

Although he rarely returned to Dublin, his stories all take place there, and his characters closely resemble his family, friends, and his enemies from his youth in Dublin. Mentally, he could never leave the city, saying:

"For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal."

In 1915, as World War I started, Joyce was helped by his wealthy students to get a travel passport so he and his family could flee to Zurich, Switzerland. He met several other famous writers and artists, including the poet Ezra Pound, and Harriet Shaw Weaver, a wealthy feminist who became James's patron. She gave him enough money to quit teaching and write full time for the rest of his life.

After the war, James tried living back in Trieste, but found the city had changed, and his brother Stanislaus was angry at him, having spent most of the war in a prison camp. So James went to Paris on a one week holiday that lasted over twenty years.

James Joyce fled from Paris to Zurich during WW II, to avoid the Nazis. He died there in hospital from an ulcer (vred). His body was buried in Zurich, and never moved to Ireland, despite Nora's offer. The Irish government refused to grant it.

James came from a Catholic family, but rejected Catholicism at a young age. He later wrote,
"My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity—home, the recognised virtues, classes of life, and religious doctrines. [...] Six years ago I left the Catholic church, hating it most fervently. I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me. By doing this I made myself a beggar but I retained my pride. Now I make open war upon it by what I write and say and do."

James displayed his lack of faith in extreme ways, refusing to kneel and pray at his mother's bedside as she lay dying. He also refused a Catholic service at his own funeral. Despite all this, he still regularly attended mass (omša) all his life.