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Archive for the 'Authors and Books' Category

October 19th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

The strangely similar deaths of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe

Okay, after having recently read Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, and just finished Kenneth Silverman’s biography of Edgar Allan Poe, I’m getting a little tired of authors who die miserably, in extremely squalid circumstances. Oscar died poverty-stricken in a seedy Parisian hotel – Edgar broke, in hospital, after having been rescued from a dive bar, drunk or stoned/medicated out of his tree, wearing someone else’s clothing.

Oscar was diagnosed with encephalitic meningitis, probably brought on by syphilis contracted as a young man. Here’s Ellmann:

“At 5.30a.m., to the consternation of Ross and Turner, a loud, strong death rattle began, like the turning of a crank. Foam and blood came from his mouth during the morning, at ten minutes to two in the afternoon Wilde died…He had scarcely breathed his last breath when the body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth and other orifices The debris was appalling.”

As Ellmann puts it in the epilogue:

“It was ostracism – more or less – by two groups, those who could not bear his homosexuality and those who could not bear his requests for money.”

“English law had misdone him by punishment, and English society finished him off by ostracism”

According to Joseph Evans Snodgrass, the Baltimore editor and physician who rescued Poe from Gunner’s Hall tavern in Baltimore, “Poe was sitting in an armchair surrounded by onlookers”. Silverman continues “Poe had a look of “vacant stupidity.” He wore neither vest nor tie, his dingy trousers fit badly, his shirt was crumpled, his cheap hat soiled. Snodgrass thought he must be wearing castoff clothing, having been robbed or cheated of his own.”

A Dr. John J. Moran at the Washington Medical College hospital, to which Poe was driven, “diagnosed Poe’s condition as encephalitis, a brain inflammation, brought on by “exposure.” This explanation is consistent with the prematurely wintry weather at the time, with Snodgrass’s account of Poe’s partly clad condition, and with Elmira Shelton [a love interest]‘s recollection that on leaving Richmond Poe already had a fever. Both explanations may have been correct: Poe may have become too drunk to care about protecting himself against the wind and rain. Whatever the cause, the poet who above all others worshipped Poe also keenly sensed how much his death at the age of forty was demanded of him. “This death was almost a suicide,” Charles Baudelaire remarked, ” a suicide prepared for a long time.”

Both Oscar and Edgar were buried with fewer than 15 people attending each of their funerals. Today both graves receive the attention of thousands of literary pilgrims.

I’m hoping the subject of the next literary biography I read wont end quite so tragically.  Here’s the Literary Tourist list of all things Edgar Allan Poe. 

October 17th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Connecting with Oscar Wilde

I’ve just finished reading Richard Ellmann’s splendid biography of Oscar Wilde. Filled with telling detail about the man and his times, illuminating insights and deep empathy, the work is one of the most engaging I’ve ever read. Here’s how it ends:

“His work survived as he had claimed it would. We inherit his struggle to achieve supreme fictions in art, to associate art with social change, to bring together individual and social impulse, to save what is eccentric and singular from being sanitized and standardized, to replace a morality of severity by one of sympathy. He belongs to our world more than to Victoria’s. Now, beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, and so right.”

Biography, when written this well, joins reader and subject in ways that only true-life friendships can approach. I felt a real void after finishing this book, and, to bring in literary tourism, a desire to explore the various places and books referred to therein. With this in mind, here’s the Literary Tourist list of all things Wildeian.

September 18th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Pablo Neruda – Die Slowly


The poet as a young man

Pablo Neruda – Die Slowly

He who becomes the slave of habit, 
who follows the same routes every day, 
who never changes pace, 
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes, 
who does not speak and does not experience, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who shuns passion, 
who prefers black on white, 
dotting ones “it.s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, 
that turn a yawn into a smile, 
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy, 
who is unhappy at work, 
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty, 
to thus follow a dream, 
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, 
die slowly. 

He who does not travel, who does not read, 
who does not listen to music, 
who does not find grace in himself, 
she who does not find grace in herself, 
dies slowly. 

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem, 
who does not allow himself to be helped, 
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know, 
die slowly. 

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses, 
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. 

Only a burning patience will lead 
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

September 16th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Seven Wicked Quotes on Publishing

Alfred Knopf

Most authors are born to be failures and the publisher knows it. He makes his living out of the few successes, and if he is indulgent with less successful writers, it is not only because there is always the possibility that today’s failure may become tomorrow’s best seller. Unless he has a genuine sympathy with the author’s problems, no one can hope to make an enduring success of publishing


To write books is easy, it requires only pen and ink and the ever-patient paper. To print books is a little more difficult, because genius so often rejoices in illegible handwriting. To read books is more difficult still, because of the tendency to go to sleep. But the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark on is to sell a book.  

Another illusion, seldom entertained by competent authors, is that the publisher’s readers and others are waiting to plagarize their work. I think it may be said that the more worthless the manuscript, the greater the fear of plagarism.


A small publisher really should, if he can, stay away from fiction.


A small press is an attitude, a kind of anti-commerciality. The dollars come second, the talent and the quality of the writing come first. If the presses wanted to make money, they’d be out there selling cook books.


Gone today, here tomorrow

ALFRED KNOPF on book returns.

Great editors do not discover nor produce great authors; great authors create and produce great publishers. 




September 9th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Big Book Sale coming up in Ottawa


Saturday and Sunday September 20-21, 2014 (Sat 9-6, Sun 9-4)
NEW LOCATION:  Nepean Sportsplex HALL F  (1701 Woodroffe
 via entrance #2 at rear of building)
HUGE SELECTION of gently used/new fiction/non-fiction, CDs, vinyl, children’s books

August 27th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Anyone know where this is?

Displaying unnamed

August 26th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Literary Centenaries coming up in 2015

Here are some literary centenaries coming up in 2015

August 25th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Sleeping Beauty’s real Castle

This castle, the Château d’Ussé, located in the Loire Valley overlooking the Indre River near the towns of Chinon and Azay le Rideau, is said to have been the one that Charles Perrault used as a model for his famous fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. In addition to the castle you’ll find a beautiful exhibit of period costumes depicting castle life, and a delightful garden designed by Le Nôtre. Here ‘dream, reality, history and legend intertwine.’ 

Here François-René de Chateaubriand worked on his Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe as the guest of duchesse Claire de Duras. Here too was where Walt Disney came to get inspiration for the design of his many Disney Castles.

August 25th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

The Guy who brought us Mother Goose, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood

I know. It’s getting tiresome, my constant marvelling at Wikipedia. Still, what an headshakingly impressive resource. Here’s where Mother Goose et al came from: 

Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was a French author and member of the Académie française. He laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales. The best known of his tales include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty) and La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard). Many of Perrault’s stories, which were rewritten by the Brothers Grimm, continue to be printed and have been adapted to opera, ballet (such as Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty), theatre, and film (Disney). Perrault was an influential figure in the 17th-century French literary scene, and was the leader of the Modern faction during the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns.

In 1695, when he was 67, Perrault lost his post as secretary. He decided to dedicate himself to his children. In 1697 he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé), subtitled Tales of Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye). Its publication made him suddenly widely known beyond his own circles. He is often credited as the founder of the modern fairy tale genre, yet his work reflects awareness of earlier fairy tales written in the salons, most notably by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, who coined the phrase “fairy tale” and was writing tales as early as 1690.Even so, many of the most well-known tales that we hear today, such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, are told as he wrote them. He had actually published his collection under the name of his last son (born in 1678), Pierre (Perrault) Darmancourt (“Armancourt” being the name of a property he bought for him), probably fearful of criticism from the “Ancients”. In the tales, he used images from around him, such as the Chateau Ussé for The Sleeping Beauty and in Puss in Boots the Marquis of the Château d’Oiron, and contrasted his folktale subject matter, with details and asides and subtext drawn from the world of fashion. Following up on these tales, he translated the Fabulae Centum (100 Fables) of the Latin poet Gabriele Faerno into French verse in 1699. 

August 24th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Oscar Wilde, Literary Tourist

Reading with pleasure Thomas Wright’s Built of Books, How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde.  Pretty clear early on that Oscar was a hard core Literary Tourist. And I quote:

Wilde believed that the external world became more significant and familiar when viewed in a ‘mythopoetic’ rather than an objective fashion. Nature, he claimed, is brought to life, and becomes identifiable to us, through the stories we tell about it: thus the Greeks, in their myths, ‘peopled the grove and hillside with beautiful and fantastic forms ‘in order to make Nature one with humanity.’ The folk tales that cradled Wilde performed precisely this function. Some of the legends in his parents’ anthologies inspired the place names of modern Ireland; they include stories in which the deeds of the little people leave indelible marks on the Irish landscape, such as the hollows that are still known in Ireland as ‘fairy glens. Most of the tales are attached to a particular place: it is as though they have grown up, irresistibly, form their native soil.  An inspired amateur archaeologist [Sir William Wilde, Oscar's father] was able to identify the land’s characteristics with the help of an ancient manuscript account of [the legendary Battle of Magh-Tura. On one occasion, wandering over the hills near their home with a copy of the manuscript in his hands, he suddenly stopped and ordered his labourers to dig. Buried beneath the earth they found a square chamber made of flagstones, with a small ornamented urn inside containing human bones, which Sir William believed to be those of a heroic Fir Bolg youth… Poetry and nature werre married in Wilde’s mind and, from a tender age, he believed that words might exercise a supernatural power over the material world. 

Later on we learn that one of Oscar’s tutors at Trinity College in Dublin, John Pentland Mahaffy, traveled extensively in Greece in order to acquire an intimate knowledge of the land and its peoples…

In Wilde’s eyes, the fact that Mahaffy had visited Greece, ‘and saturated himself there with Greek thought and feeling’ elevated him above the other dons. 

Later Wilde went to Greece with his tutor, and despite being penalized because of it by the College, he never regretted his decision. The trip animated Greek art and literature for him, infusing it with a ‘living reality.’