This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,951) on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.
This is the last newsletter of the year and time, once again, to thank all of you newsletter readers for reading and responding. You have given me so many good tips about articles and books. I am much richer — in the ways that are really important — because of you.
This week: more literary deceptions and caricatures, combined as much as possible.
Have a great weekend and a wonderful New Year.
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Becoming George Eliot (part 1): the progress of Mary Anne Evans
Mary Anne Evans was one of the sharpest and most wide-ranging minds of the 1800s in London’s ground-breaking intellectual ferment of the mid-century. She mixed with the most radical and forwarding thinkers of the day and was the driving force behind the resurgence of the Westminster Review between late 1851 and 1853.
Her title was assistant editor. In reality she was the one who put together the monthly publication — selecting the subjects, gathering the authors, and writing much of the content herself. The breadth of her knowledge and understanding was wide-ranging.
But Mary Anne Evans had a big problem. She was a woman.
It was a man’s world — this world of Big New Ideas — and in it women were relegated to domesticity and, if they chose to become writers, to the genre of light and romantic literature.
Evans did not want that role. She believed she was destined to be something else.
Maybe so, but she had an even bigger problem, She was a Fallen Woman. Evans was living with George Lewes, a man who was married to another woman, who was the mother of his children. They had run off together in 1854 to Europe and when they returned, they lived openly together in a suburb of London.
The scandal had isolated Evans from society and even from her close friends. Alone, except for Lewes, she did what she had always dreamed of doing: writing fiction. The well-connected Evans got a publisher interested in her work, but she feared that publication would just exacerbate her two big problems.
So she solved her problems literally at the stroke of a pen. She became George Eliot.
She used that pen name first in 1857 when she published the first of three stories in Blackwood’s Magazine. George Eliot was a publicity-shy country parson (or maybe his wife), it was said, and the stories were very well received. Two years later, the novel Adam Bede was published, and that received rave reviews. Curiosity about this “George Eliot” person heightened.
Then things got complicated. That’s next week — so stay tuned.
JFK on the idea of government secrecy
Once upon a time . . . . It almost seems like a fantasy.
Here’s part of what he said:
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.
Much of Kennedy’s speech that night was about the dangers that America and the free world faced — the danger of communism and its threat to our freedoms. With very few changes, the speech could have been delivered last week, and it would have sounded most relevant.
Undoubtedly, neither Kennedy nor his administration lived up to the ideas that he expressed in this speech.
But unlike today’s leaders, Kennedy did not believe in closing off the government to its people. He did not believe in limiting civil liberties. Rather, he sought to expand them, believing that was the best way to fight our enemies.
Particularly by those in power today.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
A description of Artemus Ward for the caricaturist
If ever there was a description that demanded a caricature, it is this one of Charles Farrar Brown, aka Artemus Ward. His fellow editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, George Hoyt, wrote:
His desk was a rickety table which had been whittled and gashed until it looked as if it had been the victim of lightning. His chair was a fit companion thereto,—a wabbling, unsteady affair, sometimes with four and sometimes with three legs. But Browne saw neither the table, nor the chair, nor any person who might be near, nothing, in fact, but the funny pictures which were tumbling out of his brain. When writing, his gaunt form looked ridiculous enough. One leg hung over the arm of his chairlike a great hook, while he would write away, sometimes laughing to himself, and then slapping the table in the excess of his mirth.” Source: The Complete Works of Artemus Ward
Born in Main in 1834, he learned the printer’s trade and contributed occasional humorous pieces to newspapers. He developed his talent in Cleveland, where he first used the pen name of Artemus Ward, and then moved east to edit — unsuccessfully — a humor magazine. His humor and language were homespun, and his writing became highly popular.
One of his fans was President Abraham Lincoln, who read one of War’s pieces to his cabinet to break the tension before he told them that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Ward realized that he had a stage presence that could draw large audiences. He also knew how to publicize himself, and his national tour, which included California and meeting Mark Twain in Virginia City, Nevada, was a great success. He traveled to England after the war in 1866 and contributed to the British humor magazine Punch. But he also became ill there and died of tuberculosis in 1867 shortly before his 33rd birthday.
Based on Hoyt’s description, I came up with the caricature on the right:
Don vs. Joe: the fight over Anonymous
When the novel Primary Colors was published in 1996, it caused a sensation inside the core of political and journalistic elites from Washington to New York. The novel was a thinly veiled recounting of the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and it was none too flattering to its protagonists, Bill and Hillary.
The novel was filled with insider information that only someone close to the campaign — inside, if you will — could know.
The problem was that nobody knew who it was. The author was listed as Anonymous.
Speculation about the authorship ran wild. Everyone who was any denied writing it — even if the person had not asked. Everybody had a theory. But no one knew for sure.
That’s when New York Magazine called Don Foster. Foster was an English professor at Vassar who had gained a bit of fame for discovering an unattributed poem that William Shakespeare had written. Foster had done this with a straightfoward textual analysis, something literary historians do all the time. The underlying assumption of this kind of analysis is that everyone has a unique style of writing. A person uses words, sentences, paragraphs and punctuation in the same way no matter what they write. Their writing style is as unique as a fingerprint.
By the way, there’s no computer program that does this. It’s a matter of reading carefully and taking notes.
Discovering a style is not particularly difficult if you know what you are looking for, and Foster has proven that he knew. Thus, the editors at New York Magazine asked Foster to discover who Anonymous was. Foster was at first reluctant to get involved but finally consented to try. It didn’t take very long to identify the authors, and he describes the process in a chapter of his book titled Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. (In case you plan to read the book, it’s by far the best chapter; the others are disappointing.)
The author of Primary Colors, Foster said, was Joe Klein, a writer for Time magazine.
Klein’s response — instead of saying, “Ah, good job, professor. You got me.” — was to deny authorship and pour scorn on Foster and the fact that he was an English professor. Needless to say, Klein’s denials were so vociferous that many people believed, leaving Professor Foster in a bit of lurch. Klein continued to deny authorship for the next few months until he was outed by a Washington Post reporter who had incontrovertible evidence — handwritten notes to the publisher.
Klein ungraciously admitted his lie but never offered any apology to the professor.
Klein, despite the lie, was able to continue his journalistic career and has been involved in several controversies over his reporting and writing. Foster, too, continued his career and worked with police around the country using his literary analysis techniques to help solve crimes and find criminals.
Vince V.: I have a thick folder of writing advice, but on the outside is taped Elmore Leonard’s famous
“10 Rules for Writing.” I find when I read that (for the 500th time)I don’t need to dig into the folder.
Brennan L.: I was glad to see Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman listed on CrimeReads’ Best Espionage Fiction of 2018. I have been a fan of his political hot-spot novels ever since I read Lie in the Dark and The Arms Maker of Berlin. In fact, just before reading your newsletter I had recommended his books to a library patron.
A.J.N.: THANK YOU for sending this newsletter, even though after reading it I am aware that I must not have had time to open last week’s edition – I’ll have to search it out (among the 5,592 unread emails in my Inbox) first, because I love your messages and hate to miss one; second, because I once taught high school English, and I remember The Education of Little Tree because it was one of the books my ninth-graders read; and third, because I own a paperback edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Behind the Mask, and would be interested to read whatever you had to say about her.
Dan C.: Elmore Leonard’s words on remaining invisible are great advice an editor can give to the writers he works with.
My friend, Dan C., is a great editor, by the way, and he has saved me from numerous embarrassments. JS
Glynn W.: I particularly liked your account of Sinclair Lewis and the automobile. Lewis’ wanderings included a visit to Carmel, Calif., where he tried to hang out with the literary group that had escaped to Carmel after the earthquake of 1906. This group did theatrical productions, exchanged wives and husbands, and they didn’t much like “Red” Lewis.
Red just didn’t fit in with Jeffers and the rest of this fast set. The leader of that crowd (sorta) was the writer, George Sterling. The group used something called “The Abalone Song” for their anthem, which they sang while pounding those critters for picnic dinners on Carmel’s icy cold beach.
Finally . . .
This week’s drawing (charcoal): Artemus Ward
Best quote of the week:
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Literary deceptions, caricature, and a writer vs. an empire: newsletter, Dec. 14, 2018
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