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Growing up in Nashville in the 1950s and 1960s, we were certainly aware of country music and the Grand Ole Opry, but our focus as teenagers was on rock ’n roll. None of the people I knew realized just how big country music was around the world. My first inkling of that was when I was in college in the late 1960s. A friend of mine who had just spent much of the summer touring Europe told me that everywhere she went, the two cities that everyone had heard of besides New York and Los Angeles were Dallas and Nashville.
Dallas, of course, was the site of John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Nashville was the home of country music.
Part of the reach of country music was because of WSM radio in Nashville broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. WSM was a clear channel radio station, and at night it could reach most of the population of the U.S. and beyond. Those broadcasts began in 1925 and have continued every Saturday night since (with a couple of exceptions). The show recently sent out its 5,000th broadcast. All this happened just a few miles from where I grew up.
Have a wonderful musical and literate weekend.
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Susanna Centlivre: successful playwright of the early 1700s
Two playwrights dominated the London theater scene at the beginning of the 18th century. Both were women. One was Aphra Behn (the subject of a previous post in this newsletter). The other was Susanna Centlivre.
As with Aphra Behn, relatively few details are available to us about Susanna Centlivre’s origins and early life. She was born in Ireland around 1667 to English parents who had immigrated because of religious persecution. One story about her youth was that when her mother died and her father remarried, she was so ill-treated by her step-mother that she left home at the age of 12. Another story is that she was a precocious child who composed poems and set them to music before she was 10 years old.
Another story is that once away from home—possibly around the age of 16—she was taken in by a student at Cambridge University and from him learned to read and write.
However that happened, she developed her natural inclination to use and manipulate the language.
A marriage to a man named Freeman and his subsequent death are also part of her story.
Fending for herself, she joined a troop of traveling actors, and during that time got her first taste of playwriting. Her work during this time shows a firm knowledge of the French theater and very likely a good handle on the French language. She not only wrote plays but also poetry, and her first published work appears in print in 1700. It was a set of letters containing witty banter between her and an unnamed correspondent.
Later that year, the first of her plays, The Perjur’d Husband: or, The Adventures of Venice, was published. It is a tragicomedy that was performed in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and provoked, in her words, “great Applause” from the audience. During the next year more of her plays and poems were published, and she became well-established in London’s literary circles.
In 1705, after several less than successful productions, her play The Gamester was a hit and was one that was revived numerous times after her death.
The “strolling company” with which she was connected landed in Windsor in 1706, where she caught the eye of Joseph Centlivre, a chief cook in the court of Queen Anne and King George I.
The two got married and lived together until her death in 1723. Alexander Pope, who did not think much of her work, called her “the cook’s wife in Buckingham Court.”
Pope’s opinion, however, did not have much effect on the theater-going public who loved her work. During the first two decades of the new century, she had 19 of her plays produced in various theaters. The most successful and long-remembered is The Busy Body, first produced in 1709 and memorable for its character Marplot. Marplot is a humorous and well-meaning meddler who inserts himself into the romances of others. The play ran for 13 nights—far longer than was usual for the time—and it was revived the next year.
The time in which she wrote was a highly partisan one, and Centlivre could not avoid taking sides. She was openly supportive of the Hanover succession (King George I and Queen Anne), and her plays and published poetry reflect those leanings. Although her plays were unsatisfactory to many of her critics such as Pope and William Hazlitt, they were highly popular with audiences and continued to be performed long after her death.
Centlivre survived much of her adult life as a single woman, something in itself unusual for her day. She not only survived but achieved fame and respect in a society that offered far fewer opportunities to women than to men. By any standard, what she accomplished and what she left behind was extraordinary.
Here’s an excerpt for The Busy Body that will give you an idea of what her plays were like:
Waterloo Deacon: the story behind the name
Waterloo Deacon, who was born in 1815, undoubtedly had the best story about her name of any kid in her English neighborhood.
Her father, Thomas Deacon, was an ensign in the 73rd Highland Battalion, which was part of the Duke of Wellington’s army that in June 1815 found itself in Belgium facing a French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Her mother, Martha Deacon, had won the lottery—the one that allowed a few wives and families of officers in the British forces to travel with their husbands.
On June 16, Napoleon threw part of his army against British forces at Quatre Bras and succeeded in pushing the British back. It was a bloody fight, and Thomas Deacon was badly wounded during the final thrust of the French. He had left the field and searched for Martha among the baggage wagons where he had left her the day before.
The next morning, when inexplicably the French forces failed to press their advantage, Martha Deacon went wandering through the lines looking for her husband. She had her three children with her. She was also nine months pregnant. She had heard that he was wounded, but he was nowhere to be found. Weak from loss of blood, he had been put on a wagon and was carried back to Brussels.
Someone must have finally told Martha about her husband because at some point she and the children started walking back to Brussels, which was 22 miles away. While on their journey, the skies opened up and a rainstorm of monumental proportions began. The Duke of Wellington later said that during his service in India, he had never experienced such rain as he did that day. Martha and the children kept walking.
Hours later, soaked and exhausted they arrived in Brussels and were reunited with husband and father.
Within two days Martha gave birth to a girl. They christened her Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon. She lived to be 84 years old.
Much of this story can be found in Bernard Cornwell’s book, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Corey Sobel: Football, not baseball, shows America as it really is
Is baseball our most literary sport? If you said yes, you’re not alone. Most people, including me, think so.
But should it be?
A resounding “NO!” comes from the likes of Corey Sobel, author of The Redshirt, which has made numerous “favorite books of 2020” lists. In a recent article in LitHub.com, Sobel makes his case:
If the baseball novel shows America as we’d like to see ourselves, the football novel can show us as we are. What other sport so accurately encapsulates America’s noxious racial divide, with young people of color dominating rosters while the head coaching ranks, donorati, and team owners are overwhelmingly elderly, rich, and white? What other sport better gets at capitalist exploitation at the national scale, with working class kids (of any race) lured into a physically devastating activity via the lie that it will provide them the tools for social mobility? What other sport so deeply draws from some of the country’s most marginalized regions—the Deep South, the Industrial Midwest—and by so doing exemplifies the regional inequalities that have made for our ongoing national political nightmare?
Baseball has been around longer than football and evokes an idealized image of a quiet and reflective rural America where time is leisurely and efforts—even if made for a team—are individualized. Football is urban, industrialized, and violent, according to Sobel. It is the reality of America, not its idealized version.
While I enjoy baseball and don’t pay much attention to football, Sobel’s article spurred a few moments of self-reflection. Several years ago, when I was thinking about writing a murder mystery, the story that formed in my head was constructed around the death of a college football star. Indeed, the title, Kill the Quarterback, is not just the title but also a familiar sports phrase.
Can you imagine somebody yelling, “Kill the shortstop!”?
Neither can I.
Sobel makes many salient points in his article. If you are interested in the intersection between sports and fiction, this is a fun and thought-provoking article to read.
Jean T.: Sorry to disagree with you but Henry VIII’s third wife was Jane Seymour, mother of Edward VI, his only legitimate surviving son. She died shortly after the birth and he then married his fourth wife Anne of Cleves.
British schoolchildren are taught that the fates of Henry VIII’s wives are: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. We have quite a history of Catherines marrying into the Royal Family.
Thanks very much for setting me straight. I never mind being corrected.
Bill G.: I enjoyed your story about leaving school to watch the World Series at age 6. First, I was impressed that you had a television in 1954. At age 5, a year later, we had to go to the neighbors to see PETER PAN live on Broadway.
I also remember in 4th grade, the nun let us sit in the back of the room and listen to a transistor radio, the World Series that year. I seem to remember it was game 7, and the nun, I think, was also interested in listening. I don’t remember who played or who won. I just remember the nun was cool to let us listen. Thanks for your story.
Vic C.: My father was an avid Phillies fan. He would talk about going to games at Baker Bowl, the first of the true baseball parks in the country. When I was old enough, he would take me to the “newer” home of the Phillies, Shibe Park, and we would watch the Phillies and the A’s (prior to their departure to the left coast) play; this was long before inter-league play.
It was there that I saw Connie Mack (née Cornelius McGillicuddy). Dad and I were sitting along the first baseline and the A’s dugout was on the third baseline. At one point, my father took ahold of my arm and pointed to that side of the field and directed my attention to a very tall, very thin man dressed in white and wearing a Panama hat. “That,” Dad said, “is Connie Mack. He owns the A’s.” I was properly impressed though hadn’t the slightest notion of what that meant. After all, I was not yet a teenager. Besides, we’d previously seen the Whiz Kids play, and Robin Roberts had pitched. Now, that was impressive!
Vince V.: The accordion salesman said my second-grade teacher had recommended that my parents buy me an accordion and that I take lessons in order “to help the rhythm of my stuttered speech.” (I eavesdropped on the conversation.) I think my father thought the salesman’s pitch was a come-on, which it probably was. Alas, no accordion and no lessons for me.
Then sports entered my life and music was gone forever.
I occasionally have impressionist-style dreams of me playing an accordion. I sound fairly good in my dreams.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Early morning repair
Best quote of the week:
We read books to find out who we are. Ursula K. Le Guin, author (1929-2018)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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: Mastering the heroic couplet, more on Baroque composers, and Frederick Taylor Gates: newsletter, October 29, 2021
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