Among facts one should never forget, assuming one is me: Christopher Marlowe’s baptismal date falls one day after the birthday of the man, Anthony Burgess, who put him in a novel. If we allow for the calendar shift from Julian to Gregorian, the date probably shifts, and in any event we don’t know quite when he was born, except that it was roughly two months before Shakespeare. But forget I did, and probably will again. And so it goes.
Today is the birth anniversary of novelist, poet, and travel writer Lawrence Durrell. I first encountered him through The Alexandria Quartet, reading it out of order because Justine was checked out of the Dayton library main branch when I decided nothing would do but to begin. It turns out that, the first three volumes covering the same time period and events (more or less), nothing serious was lost. I have always had the sense, however, that Balthazar is secretly the beginning of the tetralogy. He’s less appreciated than once upon a time, the lush prose and overheated eroticism (a function of characters more than author) distracting us from the architectural brilliance of the work.
This is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Anthony Burgess Wilson, whom we all know better by his middle names. He’s most famous for A Clockwork Orange, and even then maybe more famous for the Stanley Kubrick adaptation. In a more perfect world he would be equally well-known for Earthly Powers, his novel about someone suspiciously like W. Somerset Maugham, and Napoleon Symphony, a novel of Bonaparte taking its form from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, and A Dead Man in Deptford, about Christopher Marlowe. That was the last novel published during his lifetime, and we should all be so lucky to go out on such good work. Early in his career he wrote four novels in fourteen months as a sort of insurance policy for his wife. He had just been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor; he didn’t die, but she did just a few years later. From there, he never really slowed his pace, publishing fifty books–not all novels–in slightly under forty years. His books on James Joyce are excellent primers to a difficult writer. And he composed music and he wrote screenplays. His is a remarkable body of work.
Today is the anniversary of John Keats’s death in 1821. In the three years before his death he wrote some of the greatest poems in the English language. In the winter of 1818-19, he wrote five of his six great odes. They alone would make a poet’s career, which is good: at the time of his death from consumption, he was twenty-five years old.
One of the great thinkers died this week. Tzvetan Todorov would have been 78 on March 1. If you weren’t on college campuses studying literature in the mid-1970s, you can’t quite appreciate the thunder of The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Heck, most of us hadn’t imagined that the fantastic was a genre, that something connected fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” And while the book claimed kinship through his mentor Roland Barthes with the Structuralist movement, it was clear at once that Todorov was already beyond any single critical system. In his career we would write history, anthropology, literary criticism, semiotics (the study of sign systems that is NOT, Dan Brown to the contrary, called “symbology”), and ethics. If he had written a history of matchbooks, it would have been interesting. And culturally revealing. He also had really great, wild hair, as if his thoughts were trying to burst out in all directions.
It’s weird to hear your name on the radio as a supposed expert. Weird also for those who know me, I’m sure. Still, WKAR radio just played (during All Things Considered, no less, so you know it’s real) the first promo for an extended digression on Feb. 16 in Okemos. Here is the Capital Area District Library announcement from its website. For my Lansing area friends.
Film Movement Series: Meet Author Thomas C. Foster (Adults & mature teens)
Thursday February 16, 2017 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Get ready for the Academy Awards with a talk from special guest Thomas C. Foster, author of the just-released title Reading the Silver Screen: A Film Lover’s Guide to Decoding the Art Form that Moves. Copies of this title, plus others by Foster, will be available for sale and signing.
We have a new look for How to Read Novels Like a Professor. They even let me have some input (but not enough to screw things up). A book needs a fresh cover every decade or so, don’t you think? Especially if that look really pops.