literary-history

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January 28th 1813: Pride and Prejudice published

On this day in 1813, British author Jane Austen published her novel Pride and Prejudice. Austen, born in Hampshire in 1775, began writing as a teenager. Her brother Henry encouraged her writing talent, and helped negotiate with a publisher to ensure her work would be shared with the public. Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published in 1811. Pride and Prejudice appeared three years later to critical praise, which was particularly important to Austen as she called this novel her ‘own darling child’. Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, and her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth’s father wants her to marry a wealthy man, but the novel focuses on marrying for love rather than due to social pressures. Austen’s later works include Mansfield Park and Emma, solidifying her status as one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved writers. However, Austen published her work anonymously, so she was not a household name during her lifetime. Jane Austen died in 1817, two hundred years ago, aged 41. She left two novels - Persuasion and Northanger Abbey - which were published posthumously. Jane Austen’s novels are still enjoyed today for their witty insight into social mores in eighteenth century England.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”

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January 19th 1809: Edgar Allan Poe born

On this day in 1809, the American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. The young Poe barely knew his parents, with his father leaving the family and his mother passing away when he was just three years old. He lived with another couple as foster-parents, and was forced to gamble to pay for his tuition at the University of Virginia, which he had to drop out of due to financial difficulties. He soon joined the army and was accepted into West Point, though he was expelled after a year. After leaving the academy, Poe turned his full attention to his writing. He then traveled around Northern cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; it was in Baltimore, in 1836, that he married his young cousin Virginia. In Richmond, Poe worked as a critic for various magazines, occasionally publishing his original work which included short stories and poems. In 1841, Poe published his ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, which many consider the beginning of the detective fiction genre. His most famous work, the poem ‘The Raven’, was published in 1845 to critical praise. Sadly, his wife died from tuberculosis two years later, leaving the writer grief-stricken and nearly destitute, as he never had great financial success.  On October 3rd, he was found ill in Baltimore and taken to hospital, where he died on October 7th aged 40. It is still unknown what his precise cause of death was, but alcoholism is widely believed to have played a part. While not appreciated in his lifetime, Poe is now considered one of the great American writers.

“Lord, help my poor soul”
- Poe’s last words

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January 21st 1950: George Orwell dies

On this day in 1950, the acclaimed English writer George Orwell died in London aged 46. He was born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India, as his father was a colonial civil servant there, though moved to England while still an infant. The aspiring writer penned his first poem when he was four years old, and had his first poem published in a newspaper at age eleven. Blair studied at the prestigious Eton school, and went on to work for the imperial police in Burma. After he returned to England, he adopted the pseudonym George Orwell and published his first book - Down and Out in Paris and London - in 1933. Even in his early works Orwell demonstrated a keen interest in political issues, and offered a sharp critique of the British class system and colonialism. In 1936 he joined the international brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans, against the fascist Francisco Franco. He was injured in the fighting in Spain, and his health didn’t improve when he returned to England, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He continued to write, and worked for the BBC for a couple of years as a propagandist during the Second World War, before resigning in 1943. It was after he left the BBC that Orwell wrote his two most famous works - Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The former is an allegorical satire of the Soviet Union, as while a socialist himself, Orwell had become disillusioned with Stalin’s betrayal of communist ideals. The latter is a dystopian novel, set only thirty-five years after it was written, that envisioned a world characterised by excessive government control and curtailment of civil liberties. This novel introduced several phrases into the lexicon that are still used today, including ‘Big Brother’, ‘doublethink’, 'Room 101’, and 'thought-police’. Orwell achieved great success with these two works, but sadly lost his ongoing struggle with tuberculosis in 1950.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”  
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  
- George Orwell, Animal Farm

This website doesn’t flip out about Agatha Christie nearly as much as it needs to. She aided and nursed WW1 soldiers while writing cold blooded muder for kicks, formed an all girl theatre group with her pals, went on to write the longest running play and once vanished, throwing the whole nation into panic-mode and they couldn’t find her for ages because she had lodged under the name of the woman her husband wanted to dump her for.

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January 31st 1956: A.A. Milne died

On this day in 1956, English author A.A. Milne - famous for the Winnie the Pooh books - died aged 74. Alan Alexander Milne was born in London in 1882. Milne studied mathematics at Cambridge University, and wrote for humorous magazine Punch upon graduating. A pacifist, Milne still joined the army during the First World War, but did not spend long on the front lines due to an illness and instead worked on government propaganda. In the early 1920s, Milne published his first children’s poems, which featured his son Christopher Robin and a talking teddy bear. In 1925, Winnie the Pooh officially debuted in a bedtime story published in the Evening News. It was around this time that Milne moved his family to a cottage at Cotchford Farm in Sussex, which provided the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood of the Pooh books. Milne went on to publish two Pooh books between 1926 and 1928, but stopped to shield his son from publicity. The books followed the adventures of Christopher Robin and his animal playmates - including Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, and Piglet - who were inspired by Milne’s son’s stuffed toys. Milne wrote a number of plays and books, but, to his chagrin, these were never as popular as the Pooh books. Indeed, both Milne and his son came to resent the success of the Pooh books, and the unwanted fame they brought to the family. After several years of illness, which confined him to his home, A.A. Milne died in January 1956.

“…wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”
- The House at Pooh Corner (1928)

#100Days100Women Day 71: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a scholar who corresponded with Isaac Newton, a nun who’s writings were unbound by genre or a sacred/secular divide and a 17th century Mexican woman who passionately and publicly advocated for women’s rights and education. Contemporary accounts attest to her supreme intellect, curiosity, bravery, and devotion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juana_Inés_de_la_Cruz

I could write my damn dissertation on all of Snape’s sub-textual coding.  Feminine coding?  Check.  Queer coding?  Check.  Class coding?  Check.  Race/religion/ethnic coding?  Check.

Snape is one of the biggest single collections of historical literary coding in contemporary literature.  I could go on.  Witch archetype?  Check.  Negative Jewish archetype?  Check.  Surrogate mother figure archetype?  Check.  Ugly=evil archetype?  Check.  Queer-coded threat to the heteronormative narrative archetype?  Check.

Classism.  Antisemitism.  Sexism.  Queer phobia.

My first published work as an academic is going to be a collection of essays on Severus Snape, just you watch.

I am so not going to get tenure.

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March 20th 1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin published

On this day in 1852, American author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. Previously published as a serial in the anti-slavery periodical the National Era, Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of a black slave and recounts the harsh reality of his enslavement. Stowe was an ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery, and wrote the novel in response to the passage of the controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which was part of the Compromise of 1850. The Act ordered Northern citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves from the South, thus forcing the generally anti-slavery North to become complicit in the continuance of the ‘peculiar institution’. The popular discontent over the slavery issue helped make Uncle Tom’s Cabin the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and saw its translation into sixty languages. The novel helped keep the flames of anti-slavery sentiment alive, and is therefore sometimes attributed with helping start the American Civil War. While still hailed as a great anti-slavery work of its day, the novel falls short of modern expectations with its stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans.

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”
- what, according to legend, Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting Stowe in 1862

Elizabeth Barrett elopes with Robert Browing

On this day (12 September) in 1846, Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browing.

Barrett was already a respected poet who had published literary criticism and Greek translations in addition to poetry. Her first volume of poetry, The Seraphim and Other Poems,  appeared in 1838, followed by Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (1844). Born in 1806 near Durham, England, at her father’s 20-bedroom mansion, she enjoyed wealth and position, but suffered from weak lungs and tended to be reclusive in her youth. She became even more so after the death of her beloved brother in 1940. However, her poetry was well received, and she met with Wordsworth and other renowned poets.

Meanwhile, Robert Browning, the son of a bank clerk, had studied at the University of London and continued his education at his parents’ home, reading extensively and writing poetry. His early work was harshly criticized. While trying his hand at drama, he discovered the dramatic monologue, which he adapted to his own poetry in Dramatic Lyrics (1842). While most critics rejected the work, Elizabeth Barrett defended it. Browning wrote to thank her for her praise and asked to meet her.

She hesitated at first but finally relented, and the couple quickly fell in love. Barrett’s strict father disliked Browning, whom he viewed as an unreliable fortune hunter, so most of the courtship was conducted in secret. On September 12, 1846, while her family was away, Barrett sneaked out of the house and met Browning at St. Marylebone Parish Church, where they were married. She returned home for a week, keeping the marriage a secret, then fled with Browning to Italy. She never saw her father again.

The Brownings lived happily in Italy for 15 years. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s weak health improved dramatically, and the couple had a son in 1849. She published her best-known work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, in 1850. The sonnets chronicled the couple’s courtship and marriage. In 1857, her blank-verse novel Aurora Leigh became a bestseller, despite being rejected by critics. During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s reputation as a poet overshadowed that of her spouse, who was sometimes referred to as “Mrs. Browning’s husband,” but his work later gained recognition by critics. Elizabeth died in her husband’s arms in 1861. He returned to England with their son, where he became an avid socialite. In 1868, he published The Ring and the Book, a 12-volume poem about a real 17th-century murder trial in Rome. Browning died in 1889.