Category Archives: journalism

Mary Somerville, the woman who became the first scientist (part 2)

By the time Mary Somerville was 47 years old in 1827, she had lived what might have seemed like to many a full life for a nineteenth-century female. Actually, more than a full life.

She had grown up the daughter of a British Naval captain, and as a child the circumstances of her family were financially stretched. Mary had not done well with her formal education, but she had managed to teach herself far beyond what any of her headmasters could have accomplished. Mary’s interests included biology, geology, Latin, astronomy, and physics. But she was particularly keen on various forms of mathematics.

She had taught herself algebra and geometry and it made in-depth explorations in many other areas of mathematics.

But domestic obligations had intruded heavily into Mary’s life, and in 1804 she was married to a distant cousin. She moved from her native Scotland to London, where the couple began a family. They had two sons, but in 1807 her husband died, and that tragedy was followed shortly thereafter by the death of her son.

Her husband’s death had left her financially independent, and she and her surviving son then moved back to Scotland. There, she continued with her intellectual explorations. She had become somewhat famous in the small world of mathematicians by solving problems posted by mathematics journals.

In 1811, she married for the second time, again to a distant cousin named William Somerville. William was a physician, and unlike Mary’s first husband, he encouraged her varied intellectual pursuits. The couple moved back to London in 1819. There, they began social and professional contacts with many of the great intellects of the day.

In Mary’s vast and varied reading, she had become familiar with the work of Pierre-Simon LaPlace, a giant in mathematics of the previous generation. Mary had been asked to produce an English translation of LaPlace’s work, something she initially felt unqualified to do. But she was persuaded otherwise and believed, when she started, that the translation would take only a few months. Instead, it took about three years.

The translation wasn’t the hard part of the work, Mary found. What she realized, however, was that she had much to add to what LaPlace had done. Consequently in 1831, Mary’s “translation,” The Mechanisms of the Heavens, was published. It was an astonishing work, and it made her instantly famous.

The high praise that she received for this book — plus the £200 royal stipend that she was awarded — undoubtedly gave her the confidence to carry on with her groundbreaking work. Her second book On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences , was even more ambitious than the first in that it drew together many of the scientific principles that have been developed for individual fields such as botany and astronomy.

In reviewing the book, William Whewell bestowed upon her the title of “scientist”, the first time that term has ever been used. The book sold 15,000 copies, made her a lot of money, and cemented her reputation as one of the few leading intellectuals the day.

Nothing published in the scientific world and as much impact as that book until 1859 when Charles Darwin published his The Origin of the Species.

Her book Physical Geography was published in 1848, and it too was both groundbreaking and profitable. The book was beautifully illustrated by Mary, an accomplished artist in addition to her intellectual feats. It was used as a textbook in British schools until well into the 20th century. A fourth book, Molecular and Microscopic Science, was published in 1869 and was a compendium of the latest discoveries made using a microscope. That book took her nearly a decade to write, but it was beautifully Illustrated and well-received.

Mary had lived much of the last 40 years of her life in Naples, Italy, because of the ill health of her husband. She died in Naples in 1872 at the age of 91, the most celebrated female intellect of her time. She was so well thought of that after her death, Somerville College in Oxford was named in her honor.

Frederick Forsyth and the importance of silence to a writer

Stories of how writers become writers — the origin narrative, if you will — are continually fascinating and somewhat more rare than you might think. Writers, particularly writers of fiction, enjoy telling other people’s stories, but they often think but their own stories or dull or even non-existent. 

Not so with Frederick Forsyth, one of the most successful writers of the Intrigue and thriller novels of our age.

Forsyth is most famous for his breakthrough novel, The Day of the Jackal, as well as others such as The Dogs of War, The Odessa File, and many others.

Forsyth begins his autobiography, The Outsider: My Life of Intrigue, with these words:

We all make mistakes, but starting the Third World War would have been a rather large one. To this day, I still maintain it was not entirely my fault. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the course of my life, I barely escaped the wrath of an arms dealer in Hamberg, been strafed by a MiG during the Nigerian civil war, and landed during a bloody coup in Guinea-Bissau. The Stasi arrested me, the Israelis regaled me, the IRA prompted a quick move from Ireland to England, and a certain attractive Czech secret police agent — well, her actions were a bit more intimate. And that’s just for starters.

All of that I saw from the inside. But all that time, I was, nevertheless, an outsider.

The writer, Forsyth says, must enjoy silence, and it was the development of that characteristic that drove him to be a writer. There were, he said, three factors that over the long haul taught him to enjoy silence.

One was but he was an only child, and that circumstance in and of itself meant that he would spend a good deal of time alone growing up.

A second factor was that he grew up in the town of Ashford, England, during World War II. Ashford is on the coast, and many of its residents, including most of the children there, were evacuated because of the threat of a German invasion. Forsyth stayed in Ashford for the duration of the war, but he had no one of his age just spent his boyhood with.

The third factor, he says, was that he was sent off to school when he was 13 years old. The type of school that he went to could be particularly brutal on a young boy with no friends or family connections. Consequently, the way to cope often is to retreat into the safe space of your own mind, and that’s what Forsyth said he did.

Forsyth served in the Royal Air Force, and afterward joined the Reuters News service is a correspondent. In 1965 he became a reporter for the BBC, and he covered conflicts in Africa at that time. His first book was the nonfiction the Biafra story, published in 1969.

The Day of the Jackal was published in 1971 and almost immediately became an international bestseller and the basis for a highly popular movie. Forsyth has been writing with the same what kind of talent and energy ever since.

He is 83 years old and has slowed his writing down somewhat. His last novel, The Fox, an espionage thriller, was published in 2018. Forsyth’s autobiography, The Outsider, is written in the same breathless and intriguing style as that of his novels.

 

 

 

 

 

So, Republic, what did you do during The Troubles?

When The Troubles erupted in August 1969 in the six counties in Northern Ireland that Great Britain still claimed, the two sides of the conflict — the Protestants and the Catholics — were well and quickly established in the eyes of the world.

Protestants were in the majority in those counties, and discrimination against Catholics, which included confining them to certain neighborhoods in many places, was open and widespread. To those who paid attention — particularly in those in the United States who had just experienced the decade of civil rights — that kind of discrimination shocked the senses.

The British government in London had initially left the situation in the hands of the authorities in Northern Ireland, but the police force there was overwhelmingly Protestant. The mutual hatred between the Catholic community and the Royal Ulster Constabulary was intense. Catholics barricaded themselves in Derry and fought police with petrol bombs.

Where was the Republic of Ireland and its government among all this chaos?

The sympathies of the people of the Republic were definitely with the Catholics of Northern Ireland, and there was indeed political pressure on officials to do something. But what?

Invade Northern Ireland? The idea certainly had its advocates, but the British would have considered that an act of war, and the army of the Republic will ill-prepared for any such action.

What some in the Republic did is the subject of a nine-part podcast produced by the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ titled GunPlot.

It’s a fascinating story. I listened to the first two episodes in one sitting and the third soon thereafter. I’m still listening.

If you are interested in The Troubles specifically or the history of Ireland in general — or if you just enjoy hearing Irish accents and a rollicking good story — this is a podcast to spend some time with.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: the great poetic influencer of the 19th century

Since the early 19th century, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), has remained one of the most honored, discussed, and beloved poems in all of English literature. (Here I am excluding the feelings of most high school sophomores who when faced with reading the poem find it daunting, dreary, and dense) 

The poem tells the story of an old sailor who is compelled, again and again, to relate the weird happenings that occurred on a long voyage when he was a young man. The poem contains a number of famous and quotable lines, most notably:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The poem deals with many parts of the human condition, but one of the overarching themes is the power of a story to hold our attention, especially when told by a master storyteller. The setting of the poem occurs when the ancient mariner buttonholes a man on his way to a wedding. At first, the man tries to get away, but eventually, he is captured by the story the sailor is telling.

The story of how Coleridge came to write the poem and the way in which it defined the rest of his life is also interesting and instructive.

Coleridge was born in 1772 the 10th of 10 children, and his father died when Coleridge was just nine years old. Coleridge was sent to a boarding school in London and for the rest of his childhood was essentially cut off from his family. He rarely made visits home even during holidays. But he was a precocious child and an avid reader, and during his late teenage years, he secured a university place at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Coleridge loved poetry and wanted to be part of a new movement of poets that was forming toward the end of the 18th century in England. He befriended other young poets such as Robert Southey and Charles Lamb, and in 1796 he published his first volume of poems. He also attempted to edit and publish a new journal, the Watchman, but that attempt failed after only a few months.

In 1795, Coleridge met William Wordsworth, and they formed a friendship that would have profound effects on the lives and the poetry of both. At Wordsworth’s suggestion, they made plans to jointly write a long lyrical poem  Wordsworth was reading a book, A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726) by Captain George Shelvocke, and he suggested that as their inspiration. Coleridge jumped on the idea and began work, but Wordsworth, who was more interested in Landscapes Than The Human Condition, tune felt out of place in the project.

For Wordsworth, however, the idea was exactly the one that he should be pursuing as a poet, and he did it with great vigor.

The poem was first published in 1798 in a book of poems, Lyrical Ballads, that contain works of both Wordsworth and Coleridge. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner appeared as the first and the longest poem in the book, and it was the one that received the most attention, much to Wordsworth’s annoyance. Most critics were confused or put off by the poem, but a few, such as Coleridge’s friend Charles Lamb, recognized its genius from the very beginning.

Coleridge was never satisfied with the poem and continued to revise it for the rest of his life. The poem grew in significance and influence as more and more people read it, thought about it, and were mesmerized by the poet’s mastery of the language and its poetic forms. Its expanse in terms of themes and ideas exerted a major influence on every significant British and American writer who came after its publication.

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An excellent podcast on the poem can be found on the BBC’s long-running In Our Time here.

Many experts believe that the poem should be heard rather than read. LibriVox has several versions, including this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Ian Fleming debuts James Bond with Casino Royale in 1953 (part 2)

When Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, was published in 1953, it was the product of more than a decade of Ian Fleming’s imagination but only about two months of actual writing work.

Fleming began the novel in January 1952 as he was anticipating getting married to Ann Charteris, a woman he had known and been in love with for nearly two decades. Their long-standing affair had produced a child while she was married to another man, but by this time they were finally free to get together.

Fleming was living in Jamaica at the time, having visited there during the war and vowing that one day he would make it his home. He had gone back to journalism when the war ended and had been the foreign editor of Kemsley News, which owned the Sunday Times. In 1951, he had become managing director of Queen Anne Press, a small publisher of quality books by well-known authors. His position with Kemsley News allowed him to live for part of the year in Jamaica.

The novel was finished in two months and went through several hands before it was sent to the publishing house Jonathan Cape, which was handling books authored by Fleming’s brother Peter. Fleming himself seemed unenthusiastic about the book, and at first the publishers were reluctant to take it on. Finally, at Peter’s urging, they brought it out on April 13, 1953. The cover was designed by the author.

The book was an immediate success. Jonathan Cape printed nearly 5,000 copies for its first run, and they sold quickly. A second and a third run were authorized, and the book eventually sold more than 40,000 copies in its first year in Great Britain. In the United States, several publishers passed on the novel, but it was finally published by Macmillan.

Oddly enough, the book did not do well in the U.S., selling only about 4,000 copies in the first year. In 1954 CBS paid Fleming $1,000 for the rights to produce a one-hour version of the novel for its weekly Climax series.  Network writers made numerous changes in the story, including making James Bond an American and giving him the name “Jimmy Bond.”

The show was produced with Barry Newman (not Sean Connery) playing the first on-screen Bond and was aired in October.

Overall, the success of Casino Royale could be termed as “modest,” but it did teach Fleming that he could write an acceptable and popular thriller. His writing regimen became spending 10 months of a year thinking and doing research and two months writing. In the 1960s, he described it himself:

 “I write for about three hours in the morning … and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. I never correct anything and I never go back to see what I have written … By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day.”

Throughout the 1950s, Fleming continued to produce James Bond novels, all of which sold well and were generally well received by critics. By the end of the decade, however, critics were taking a different view of his work and where assailing him for a variety of literary sins. Fleming’s personal problems and his Reliance on tobacco and alcohol spun him into periods of depression and self-doubt.

Fleming received a boost when in 1961 the newly inaugurated President John Kennedy listed From Russia With Love as among his favorite books. From that point, sales in the U.S. soared. Another boost came in 1962 with the release of Dr. No, the first major Bond movie. The film starred Sean Connery oh, and his depiction of bond enhanced immeasurably the bond franchise.

Despite these successes, ill-health plagued Fleming. He suffered a heart attack in 1961, and in 1964 on a trip to England, Fleming collapsed and died of a second heart attack. He was 56 years old. Two of his novels, he Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy and The Living Daylights, were published posthumously.

Fleming was alive when Dr. No and From Russia With Love were released, and he had some input on the third Bond movie, Goldfinger. But he did not live to see the James Bond character that he had created became the biggest and most enduring star character in cinematic history.

What happens when you rule just about everything

What happens to a nation that becomes the largest, most far-reaching empire in the history of the world, making the Romans look like pikers by comparison? Things start to go downhill, that’s what.

That is where Great Britain found itself it’s the 19th century turned into the 20th. Much of that century had been peaceful, thanks in great part to Britain’s imposing her will through its vast Network of colonies and dominions. Its huge navy “rule the world,” in its own words.

But with the new century, Great Britain found that things were coming unglued. A new industrial power across the Atlantic, the United States of America, was on the rise. Germany, jealous of Britain’s hegemony, was becoming more warlike. British colonies themselves — for example, South Africa — were restless and more and more wanting to go their own way.

All of this is to subject of a new book by historian Simon Heffer titled The Age of Decadence. It was recently reviewed in the New York Times by Richard Aldous, who wrote:

“What fools we were,” King George V told his prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, in 1930, looking back to the era before World War I. In the context of the wartime catastrophe his generation had delivered, the king may have had a point. That was the time of Rudyard Kipling’s “long recessional” and A. E. Housman’s “land of lost content.” Arthur Balfour, prime minister from 1902 to 1905, lamented “some process of social degeneration” that “may conveniently be distinguished by the name of ‘decadence.’” Joseph Chamberlain, the most charismatic politician of the late-Victorian age, put it more pithily. “The Weary Titan,” he said in 1902, “staggers under the too vast orb of its fate.” Source: Britain at the Turn of the 20th Century Was Dealing With a Lot, Badly – The New York Times

And there is a message for Americans in this bit of history, according to the review:

For many Americans today, perhaps fearing late-stage decadence and their own Weary Titan, this story may strike close to home. For in Simon Heffer’s telling, the history of Britain from 1880 to 1914 is one in which “a nation so recently not just great, but the greatest power the world had ever known, sustained in its greatness by a rule of law and parliamentary democracy, had begun its decay.”

The message is not all gloom and doom, however, as you will see if you read the entire review.

Podcast recommendation: The Lazarus Heist from the BBC

North Korea involved in a bank robbery — a BIG bank robbery? This is a true-crime podcast that sounds like a lot of fun — and it’s from the BBC, so the production values are top-notch.

Hollywood is involved, too.

The most daring bank theft ever attempted? From hacking Hollywood to a billion-dollar plot. North Korea stands accused but says it had nothing to do with it and it’s part of the United States’ attempts to tarnish its image. Premieres 19 April 2021. A true crime investigation with Geoff White and Jean Lee. Source: BBC World Service – The Lazarus Heist, Introducing The Lazarus Heist

Yes, this sounds like a lot of fun, but it gets serious pretty quickly. The heist is no joke. It affects the lives, careers, and bank accounts how many people and organizations. Rather than being a lot of fun oh, it turns out to be pretty scary.

This is a tale for our time oh, and it is definitely worth listening to. The recording is superb oh, and the production values of the podcast are at the standard you would expect from the BBC.

The vivd life and imagination of Ian Fleming

When Ian Fleming accompanied his boss, Admiral John Godfrey, chief of British Naval Intelligence, to America in May 1941, they had to stop over in neutral Portugal. There, they visited a casino. 

When they left the casino, Fleming said to Godfrey, “What if those men had been German secret service agents, and suppose we had cleaned them out of their money. Now, that would have been exciting.”

Twelve years later in 1953, Fleming’s Casino Royale introduced James Bond to the reading world with the following lines:

The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three o’clock in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

James Bond knew that he was tired. . . .

Bond, the gentle reader soon learns, is a secret agent for the British government, and on a mission for Her Majesty’s government. He is in the process of cleaning out an enemy agent at the gaming table.

Bond became one of the most iconic characters in all of the literature and cinema of the twentieth century. It was a remarkable beginning for a novelist who up to that point had lived an extraordinary life. With Casino Royale, Fleming had begun to put the scenes and characters of his life and his vivid imagination into a set of books that would capture the attention and devotion of millions of readers around the world.

James Bond has never lost his appeal even though Fleming has been dead for more than 50 years.

Ian Fleming was born in London in 1908 into a family that was privileged and well-connected. His father, who was a good friend of Winston Churchill, was killed in World War I, but despite that devastating loss never lacked for much. He attended Eton and Sandhurst but found himself unsuited for military life. As he grew into adulthood and search for a suitable career, he was able to travel across Europe and to develop in the end various romances.

In 1931, he took the foreign service exams and despite fluency in French and German was unable to secure a position with the foreign office. Finally, through family connections, he went to work for the Reuters news service. Journalism — and more particularly writing — was his life’s calling.

In 1933 Reuters sent him to Moscow to cover the show trial of six British engineers who were accused of espionage and sabotage. Fleming took advantage of his time in the Soviet capital to learn all he could about the USSR and its secret police. He also wrote a letter to the Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, asking for an interview. Stalin turned him down but did so with a letter that he signed himself, something that Fleming kept in treasure for the rest of his life.

Fleming’s report on the trial for vivid and well-written, and when you return to London, the Foreign Office asked him to submit his impressions of what he had seen and heard. In doing so the British government marked Fleming as a man you might be good at intelligence work should the need ever arise.

The need did indeed arise. With tensions growing among nations throughout Europe in the late 1930s, Fleming was asked by the foreign office to accompany a trade mission to Moscow. The real purpose of his trip was to find out what he could about the Soviets’ military preparedness.

Fleming landed in the office of Naval intelligence, and part of his charge was to come up with outlandish but doable schemes that would confound the Germans. Imagination was well suited for such an assignment. While he was never involved in direct combat, he oversaw or participated in the planning and execution of many such missions. One of those was Operation Mincemeat, the now-famous plan to fool the Nazis as to the location of the Allied invasion of Italy.

Next week: The writing life of Ian Fleming

 

American Library Association’s list of “most challenged books” for 2020

Chances are, there’s a group in your community that wants to dictate what books you and your children can read. They often do this by telling public libraries what they should not put on the shelves.

Most libraries resist this kind of pressure, and the American Library Association keeps track of these challenges. Here is a list of the 10 most challenged books for 2020 and the reasons for the challenges:

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because 

of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience

Of Mice and Men by John SteinbeckReasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

This list and lists from previous years can be found at this ALA site.

Notably absent from last year’s list is the Harry Potter series, which has appeared in many previous lists.

 

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, early advocate of inoculation

More than 300 years ago, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu faced the same problem that public health officials face today: persuading people to inoculate themselves against a dreaded disease.

Only Lady Mary did not have 300 years of research and evidence behind her efforts, and she did not have most of the medical community behind her. In fact, most of the doctors of the day were staunchly opposed to inoculation. It was not part of their normal medical procedures — many of which did more harm than good for their patients — and they were in no mood to take any advice, especially from a woman.

Still, Lady Mary persisted.

Born in 1689, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (née Pierrepont) was part of a privileged family and lived in grand houses in London. But she spent much of her childhood under the Gaze of a governess whom she despised and we believed the girls should be limited in their education and ambition. Mary believed otherwise.

Her family had acquired a substantial Library, and despite her governesses efforts, she absorbed all that she could from it. By the time she was 16, she had authored two volumes of poetry and a novel. She had also taught herself Latin.

When she was 23, she married Edward Wortley Montagu, and the couple became leading lights in London’s social in political circles. Her brother had died of smallpox — the scourge of the age — when he was 20, and Lady Mary contracted the disease in 1715. She was one of the lucky few in her time who got smallpox and live to tell about it.

The next year her husband was appointed the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and she and her family moved with him to Constantinople.

After she had been there for a while, she realized that smallpox was not as widespread in the Ottoman Empire as it was in Great Britain and other parts of Western Europe. Having suffered from the disease herself, Mary was curious about why it had not affected the land where she was.

What she discovered was that inoculation I can’t smallpox was a widespread practice in the Ottoman Empire. Inoculation involved infecting a person with a small amount of the disease — enough certainly to make them sick but not enough to be fatal. Once the person had recovered, they were extremely unlikely to be infected again.

Mary had the doctor at the British Embassy inoculate her son. When the family returned to London in 1721, the world was experiencing a global outbreak of smallpox that was affecting many people in both Europe and America. During that time, Mary had her daughter inoculated.

Setting herself up for bitter recriminations — something we might call cancel culture today — Mary publicize the fact that she had an ocular lighted her children oh, that few people in the Ottoman Empire contracted smallpox because of inoculation, ended inoculation should be a standard medical procedure.

Her opponents pounced. They labeled her as a religious because she was advocating a non-Christian practice. They called her and ignorant woman who knew nothing about standard medical procedures. They advocated ignoring not only her ideas about inoculation, but also her other writings. Some even called for her to be jailed or to be treated as a witch.

Still, she persisted.

Despite her critics, Mary’s advocacy of inoculation fell on willing and sympathetic ears, including some in the royal family. Caroline, Princess of Wales, had her two daughters inoculated, and many other people did the same. They did so secretly however, and inoculation did not become a widespread practice for many years.

Aside from her advocacy of inoculation, Mary Wortley Montague was one of the most prolific and well-known writers of her time. She continued to write travel pieces, political articles, and poetry throughout her long life. She died of cancer in 1762 at the age of 73.

Eventually, The Dangerous Method of inoculation was replaced by the safer and more reliable method of vaccination. And as we are saying today, that method, too, is a cause for controversy.

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Dan Snow’s History Hits podcast and television channel has an excellent podcast on Lady Mary which you can listen to here: https://access.historyhit.com/dan-snow-s-history-hit-1/videos/lady-mary-and-the-first-inoculation

A poem by Lady Mary written when she was living in Constantinople:

Constantinople

 

Written
January 1718
in the Chiosk at Pera
overlooking Constantinople

 

Give me Great God (said I) a Little Farm
in Summer shady, & in Winter warm
where a cool spring gives birth to a clear brook
by Nature slideing down a mossy Rock
Not artfully in Leaden Pipes convey’d
Or greatly falling in a forc’d Cascade
Pure & unsully’d winding throu’ ye Shade.
All bounteous Heaven has added to my Praier
a softer Climate and a purer Air.
 
Our Frozen Isle now chilling Winter binds
Deform’d by Rains, & rough wth blasting Winds
ye wither’d Woods grown white wth hoary Frost
by driving storms their scatter’d beautys lost
The Trembling birds their leaveless coverts shun
And seek in distant Climes a warmer Sun
The Water Nymphs their silenced Urns deplore
Even Thames benumb’d a River now no more
The barren Meadows give no more delight
by Glist’ning Snows made painfull to ye Sight.
 
Here Summer reigns wth one Eternal Smile
And double Harvests bless ye happy Soil.
Fair, fertile Fields to warm Indulgent Heaven
Has every Charm of every Season given!
No Killing Cold deforms ye Beauteous Year
The springing Flowers no coming Winter Fear
But as ye Parent Rose decays & dies
ye Infant Buds wth brighter Colours rise
And with fresh sweets ye Mother-scent supplys
Near them the Vi’let glows wth odours blest
And blooms in more than Tyrian Purple drest
The rich Jonquils their golden gleam display
And shine in glorys emulateing day.
These chearfull Groves their living Leaves retain
The Streams still murmur undefil’d by Rain
And growing Green adorns ye Fruitfull Plain
The warbling Kind uninterrupted Sing,
Warm’d wth Enjoyment of perpetual Spring.
 
Here from my Window I at once survey
The crouded City, & resounding Sea
In distant Views see Assian Mountains rise
And Lose their Snowy Summits in ye Skies.
Above those Mountains high Olympus Tow’rs
The Parliamental Seat of Heavenly Powers.
New to ye Sight my ravish’d Eyes admire
Each guilded Crescent & each Antique Spire
The Fair Serail where sunk in Idle ease
The Lazy Monarch melts his thoughtless days
The Marble Mosques beneath whose Ample Domes
Fierce Warlike Sultans sleep in peacefull Tombs
Those lofty Structures once the Christian boast
Their Names, their Honnours, & their Beautys lost
Those Altars bright wth Gold, wth Sculpture grac’d
By barbarous Zeal of savage Foes defac’d
Convents where Emperors profess’d of old
The Labour’d Pillars that their Triumphs told.
Vain Monuments of Men that once were great!
Sunk, undistinguish’d, by one Common Fate!
How art thou falln Imperial City, Low!
Where are thy Hopes of Roman Glory now?
Where are thy Palaces by Prelates rais’d
Where preistly Pomp in Purple Lustre blaz’d?
So vast, that Youthfull Kings might there reside
So Splendid; to content a Patriarchs pride
Where Grecian Artists all their skill displayd
Before ye happy Sciences decay’d;
So vast, that Youthfull Kings might there reside
So Splendid; to content a Patriarchs Pride;
Convents where Emperors proffess’d of Old,
The Labour’d Pillars that their Triumphs told,
Vain Monuments of Men that once were great!
Sunk, undistinguish’d in one common Fate!
 
One Little Spot, the small Fenar contains,
Of Greek Nobillity, the poor Remains,
Where other Helens show like powerfull Charms
As once engag’d the Warring World in Arms:
Those Names that Roial Auncestry can boast
In mean Mechanic Arts obscurely lost
Those Eyes a second Homer might inspire,
fix’d at the Loom, destroy their useless Fire.
 
Greiv’d at a view which strikes vpon my Mind
The short liv’d Vanity of Human kind
In Gaudy Objects I indulge my Sight,
And turn where Eastern Pomp gives gay delight.
 
See; the vast Train in various Habits dress’d!
By the Bright Seymetar and Sable Vest;
The Vizier proud, distinguish’d o’re the rest!
Six slaves in gay Attire his Bridle hold;
His Bridle rough with Gems, his Stirups Gold;
His Snowy Steed adorn’d with lavish Pride
Whole Troops of Soldiers mounted by his Side,
These toss the Plumy Crest, Arabian Coursers guide.
With awfull Duty all decline their Eyes,
No bellowing Shouts of noisy Crouds arise;
Silence in solemn State the march attends
Till at the dread Divan the slow processions ends.
Yet not these Objects all profusely Gay,
The Gilded Navy that adorns the Sea,
The riseing City in Confusion fair;
Magnificently form’d irregular
Where Woods and Palaces at once surprise
Gardens, on Gardens, Domes on Domes arise
And endless Beauties tire the wandering Eyes,
So sooths my Wishes, or so charms my Mind,
As this Retreat, secure from Human kind.
No Knaves successfull Craft does Spleen excite
No Coxcombs tawdry Splendour shocks my Sight;
No Mob Alarm awakes my Female Fears,
No unrewarded Merit asks my Tears;
Nor Praise my Mind, nor Envy hurts my Ear,
Even Fame it selfe can hardly reach me here,
Impertinence with all her Tattling Train
Fair-sounding Flatterys delicious Bane
Censorious Folly; Noisy Party Rage;
The Thousand with which she must engage
Who dare have Virtue in a Vicious Age.
 

 

Il y a plus de 300 ans, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu était confrontée au même problème que les responsables de la santé publique aujourd’hui: persuader les gens de se vacciner contre une maladie redoutée.

Seule Lady Mary n’avait pas 300 ans de recherche et de preuves derrière ses efforts, et elle n’avait pas la majeure partie de la communauté médicale derrière elle. En fait, la plupart des médecins de l’époque étaient fermement opposés à l’inoculation. Cela ne faisait pas partie de leurs procédures médicales normales – dont beaucoup faisaient plus de mal que de bien à leurs patients – et ils n’étaient pas d’humeur à prendre des conseils, en particulier à une femme.

Pourtant, Lady Mary a persisté.

Née en 1689, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (née Pierrepont) faisait partie d’une famille privilégiée et vivait dans de grandes maisons à Londres. Mais elle a passé une grande partie de son enfance sous le regard d’une gouvernante qu’elle méprisait et nous pensions que les filles devaient être limitées dans leur éducation et leur ambition. Mary croyait le contraire.

Sa famille avait acquis une bibliothèque substantielle, et malgré les efforts de sa gouvernante, elle en a absorbé tout ce qu’elle pouvait. À l’âge de 16 ans, elle avait écrit deux volumes de poésie et un roman. Elle s’était également enseignée le latin.

Quand elle avait 23 ans, elle a épousé Edward Wortley Montagu, et le couple est devenu les chefs de file de la société londonienne dans les cercles politiques. Son frère était mort de la variole – le fléau de l’âge – à l’âge de 20 ans, et Lady Mary a contracté la maladie en 1715. Elle était l’une des rares chanceuses de son temps à avoir contracté la variole et à vivre pour en parler.

L’année suivante, son mari a été nommé ambassadeur britannique auprès de l’Empire ottoman, et elle et sa famille ont déménagé avec lui à Constantinople.

Après avoir été là-bas pendant un certain temps, elle s’est rendu compte que la variole n’était pas aussi répandue dans l’Empire ottoman qu’en Grande-Bretagne et dans d’autres parties de l’Europe occidentale. Ayant elle-même souffert de la maladie, Mary était curieuse de savoir pourquoi elle n’avait pas affecté le pays où elle se trouvait.

Ce qu’elle a découvert, c’est que la vaccination contre la variole était une pratique répandue dans l’Empire ottoman. L’inoculation impliquait d’infecter une personne avec une petite quantité de la maladie – assez certainement pour la rendre malade mais pas assez pour être mortelle. Une fois que la personne s’est rétablie, il est extrêmement peu probable qu’elle soit à nouveau infectée.

Mary a fait vacciner son fils par le médecin de l’ambassade britannique. Lorsque la famille est revenue à Londres en 1721, le monde connaissait une épidémie mondiale de variole qui affectait de nombreuses personnes en Europe et en Amérique. Pendant ce temps, Mary a fait vacciner sa fille.

Se préparant à des récriminations amères – ce que nous pourrions appeler aujourd’hui la culture d’annulation – Mary publie le fait qu’elle avait un oculaire éclairé ses enfants oh, que peu de gens dans l’Empire ottoman ont contracté la variole à cause de l’inoculation, la vaccination terminée devrait être une procédure médicale standard .

Ses adversaires ont bondi. Ils l’ont qualifiée de religieuse parce qu’elle préconisait une pratique non chrétienne. Ils l’ont appelée et une femme ignorante qui ne savait rien des procédures médicales standard. Ils ont préconisé d’ignorer non seulement ses idées sur la vaccination, mais aussi ses autres écrits. Certains ont même demandé qu’elle soit emprisonnée ou traitée comme une sorcière.

Pourtant, elle a persisté.

Malgré ses critiques, le plaidoyer de Mary pour l’inoculation est tombé sur des oreilles bienveillantes et sympathiques, y compris dans la famille royale. Caroline, princesse de Galles, a fait vacciner ses deux filles, et de nombreuses autres personnes ont fait de même. Cependant, ils l’ont fait en secret et l’inoculation n’est pas devenue une pratique répandue pendant de nombreuses années.

Outre son plaidoyer pour l’inoculation, Mary Wortley Montague était l’une des écrivains les plus prolifiques et les plus connus de son temps. Elle a continué à écrire des articles de voyage, des articles politiques et de la poésie tout au long de sa longue vie. Elle est décédée d’un cancer en 1762 à l’âge de 73 ans.

Finalement, la méthode dangereuse d’inoculation a été remplacée par la méthode de vaccination plus sûre et plus fiable. Et comme nous le disons aujourd’hui,  cette méthode est aussi une cause de controverse.

***

Le podcast et la chaîne de télévision History Hits de Dan Snow ont un excellent podcast sur Lady Mary que vous pouvez écouter ici: https://access.historyhit.com/dan-snow-s-history-hit-1/videos/lady-mary- et-la-première inoculation

 

The first American to die in Vietnam

There are, unfortunately, lots of candidates for “the first American to die in Vietnam.” Each historian of the conflict has a different name, usually from the early 1960s and some that go back to the 1950s.

Historian Frederik Logevall, in his Pulitzer Prizing winning Embers of War, takes readers all the way back to 1945 for his first American killed in Vietnam, and the person he identifies was unusually accomplished.

He is Lieutenant Colonel Peter Dewey, a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. Dewey was the son of a Republican congressman and a graduate of Yale University, and his was record was unusually vivid. He had been a reporter for the Chicago Daily News in its Paris bureau and was in France during the German invasion in May 1940.

He left the newspaper and joined a contingent of the Polish Army fighting in France as an ambulance driver. With the French defeat, he escaped to Portugal.

Four years later, he parachuted into France behind enemy lines, leading a 10-man team for the OSS. He spent six weeks directly French underground operations of intelligence gathering and sabotage. During all of this time, he authored two books, one on the defeat of France by German forces. Dewey won several medals for his work in France.

In August 1945, he was assigned to lead an OSS unit into Indochina to help repatriate Allied POWs. The French were at the time trying to reestablish control over Vietnam and essentially at war with the nationalist Vietnamese, who were represented by Ho Chi Min and the Viet Minh. Dewey, to the consternation of the French and the British who were supporting the French in restoring their empire, had made contact with Ho and was beginning to work with him.

Dewey complained to the British commander about the harsh treatment the French were doling out to the Vietnamese — a complaint that fell on less than sympathetic ears. In fact, the British commander invited Dewey and the Americans to leave.

Dewey complied and on September 26, 1945 left to meet a plane that was coming from Thailand take him out. The plane was late, so Dewey decided to return to his headquarters for lunch. On the way, he saw some Vietnamese hiding in a ditch, and he yelled at them in French. Mistaking him for a French officer, they opened fire, and Dewey was struck in the head and killed instantly.

Ho Chi Minh reportedly sent a letter of condolence to U.S. President Harry Truman and ordered a search for his body, but the body was never recovered.

Dewey’s name was left off of the Vietnam Memorial Monument in Washington, D.C., because of a Pentagon ruling that the American part of the war began in 1955.

Fleming conceives of Bond, Wesley’s strategy, and a librarian reveals all: newsletter, May 28, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,332) on Friday, May 28, 2021.

Do you know a secret? This week’s newsletter has an item about a secret that “only librarians know.” It’s a fun piece, and I recommend the link. But it got me to thinking that as a long-standing member of the teaching profession, we also had a secret that no one else knew.

That secret was this: Teachers, when they teach, learn more than their students. That is particularly true when we tackle a new subject, and it is somewhat — though not entirely — less true when we teach the same thing again and again. This secret, in part, drove me to volunteer to teach a wide range of courses within our curriculum, and I never fully understood some of my colleagues who insisted on teaching the same thing year after year.

There are many aspects to this idea — too many to explore here. But the simple truth is that teaching something is the best way to learn it.

Whatever you are learning these days, I hope wonderful and educational weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,338 subscribers and had a 28.5 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


The vivid life and imagination of Ian Fleming

When Ian Fleming accompanied his boss, Admiral John Godfrey, chief of British Naval Intelligence, to America in May 1941, they had to stop over in neutral Portugal. There, they visited a casino. 

When they left the casino, Fleming said to Godfrey, “What if those men had been German secret service agents, and suppose we had cleaned them out of their money. Now, that would have been exciting.”

Twelve years later in 1953, Fleming’s Casino Royale introduced James Bond to the reading world with the following lines:

The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three o’clock in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

James Bond knew that he was tired. . . .

Bond, the gentle reader soon learns, is a secret agent for the British government, and on a mission for Her Majesty’s government. He is in the process of cleaning out an enemy agent at the gaming table.

Bond became one of the most iconic characters in all of the literature and cinema of the twentieth century. It was a remarkable beginning for a novelist who up to that point had lived an extraordinary life. With Casino Royale, Fleming had begun to put the scenes and characters of his life and his vivid imagination into a set of books that would capture the attention and devotion of millions of readers around the world.

James Bond has never lost his appeal even though Fleming has been dead for more than 50 years.

Ian Fleming was born in London in 1908 into a family that was privileged and well-connected. His father, who was a good friend of Winston Churchill, was killed in World War I, but despite that devastating loss, Fleming never lacked for much. He attended Eton and Sandhurst Military School but found himself unsuited for military life. As he grew into adulthood and searched for a suitable career, he was able to travel across Europe and to develop and end various romances.

In 1931, he took the foreign service exams and despite fluency in French and German was unable to secure a position with the foreign office. Finally, through family connections, he went to work for the Reuters news service. Journalism — and more particularly writing — was his life’s calling.

In 1933 Reuters sent him to Moscow to cover the show trial of six British engineers who were accused of espionage and sabotage. Fleming took advantage of his time in the Soviet capital to learn all he could about the USSR and its secret police. He also wrote a letter to the Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, asking for an interview. Stalin turned him down but did so with a letter that he signed himself, something that Fleming kept the rest of his life.

Fleming’s reports on the trial were vivid and well-written, and when he returned to London, the Foreign Office asked him to submit his impressions of what he had seen and heard. In doing so the British government marked Fleming as a man who might be good at intelligence work should the need ever arise.

The need did indeed arise. With tensions growing among nations throughout Europe in the late 1930s, Fleming was asked by the Foreign Office to accompany a trade mission to Moscow in 1939. The real purpose of his trip was to find out what he could about the Soviets’ military preparedness.

Fleming landed in the office of Naval intelligence, and part of his charge was to come up with outlandish but doable schemes that would confound the Germans. His imagination was well suited for such an assignment. While he was never involved in direct combat, he oversaw or participated in the planning and execution of many such missions. One of those was Operation Mincemeat, the now-famous plan to fool the Nazis as to the location of the Allied invasion of Italy.

Next week: The writing life of Ian Fleming

American Library Association’s list of “most challenged books” for 2020

Chances are, there’s a group in your community that wants to dictate what books you and your children can read. They often do this by telling public libraries what they should not put on the shelves.

Most libraries resist this kind of pressure, and the American Library Association keeps track of these challenges. Here is a list of the 10 most challenged books for 2020 and the reasons for the challenges:

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because 

of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience

Of Mice and Men by John SteinbeckReasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

This list and lists from previous years can be found at this ALA site.

Notably absent from last year’s list is the Harry Potter series, which has appeared in many previous lists.

 


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


From the archives: John Wesley and money

John Wesley was a thoroughly modern, Westernized individual. He advised his followers to do three things with money. The first two were

— Make all you can.

— Save all you can.

So far, so good. The advice is financially sound and rings responsibly in our ears. The third piece of advice might not:

— Give all you can.

Sometime early in his ministry, Wesley found that he could live comfortably 30 pounds a year. He determined that after earning that sum, he would give everything else away. And so he did — for the rest of his life.

Wesley stayed on the road for most of his life. He never owned a house, and he never had a family or children to provide for. (His marriage later in his life was to a widow with four children who was financially well off when they married. He made sure that she kept her income and that he used none of it.)

As Wesley gained fame and as he published more and more pamphlets and books, his income increased. He never deviated from his income limit, however, and at the end of his life, it was estimated that he had given away more than 30,000 pounds. He once wrote:

“Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?”

A secret only librarians know

Will Thomas, a librarian at the Tulsa Public Library in Oklahoma, has written a delightful piece for CrimeReads.com that tells a secret only librarians know.

No, I am not going to disclose it here. It’s his secret, so if you want to know, you’ll have to read the article.

If you do, Thomas, author of a dozen historical mystery novels, will tell you a bit about how he does his research for his books, which often include real historical characters.

I’ve often been asked how I get away with using historical characters in my novels, as if any day now there will be a knock at my door and I will be given a cease-and-desist order or be led off in handcuffs.

So far this hasn’t happened, but I definitely believe I have a file with the FBI.  Sometimes in the writing of a mystery novel, especially a historical one, the opportunity to toss a historical character into the mix presents itself. I believe this is fine, even relevant, especially in my novels, which frequently center on a societal danger (anti-Semitism, Imperialism, etc.) or an event (Jack the Ripper, a royal wedding), as long as the person in question was actively involved in whatever I am writing about. If W.B. Yeats was an IRA sympathizer, or the Duke of Clarence a suspect in the Ripper murders, they are fair game. Source: Confessions of a Librarian and Historical Mystery Novelist ‹ CrimeReads

This one is worth five minutes of your time and may even lead you into his books if you are not already familiar with them.

 

Verse and Vision: Poems and painting from a couple of years ago

(I shared this list last month in a newsletter but later found out that none of the links in the original version of the newsletter work. I have tried to correct that with the list below.)

A couple of years ago a colleague at the Blount County Public Library asked me to record a poem because April is National Poetry Month. One thing led to another, and by September, I had made about 20 video recordings of poems recited as voiceovers for watercolor paintings that had some relationship to the poem or the poet.

Before April 2021 gets away from us, I thought it might be a good idea to reprise that list in honor of this year’s National Poetry Month, and I hereby invite you to revisit any of those videos with the links below:

Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarushttp://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus

To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howehttp://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Most of these videos were recorded out of doors on a small porch at the side of my house. I did that because the natural light is better than anything I can set up inside. Now that the weather is turning warmer, I may revive this Verse and Vision series. Any suggestions about poems or paintings would be greatly appreciated.

Reactions

Phyllis P.: What you said about journalism-trained authors is so right. Even though newspaper work was not my first love, I’m grateful to it. What are the essentials to your story? How do you tell it without pretentiousness? And, best of all, how do you get on with it? ‘Cause ain’t nobody got time for you to ruminate. We got a paper to get out. 

Vic C.: Apropos of detectives (see the item about Eugene Francois Vidocq in the May 14 newsletter), when I was a young teen (early 50s), I had an Aunt and Uncle who loved in Mamaroneck, NY.  One afternoon, I was introduced to Clayton Rawson.  At the time, I had not yet read any of his books but he entertained a bunch of us by doing magic tricks.  I clearly remember him doing one of them — twice — and we could not figure out how he did it despite being “up close and personal” while he performed. Now, I’ve got his five “Great Merlini” books and the two “Don Diavolo” books he authored as Stuart Towne.  Every now and again, I’ll reread them and enjoy the “magic” he put into them.

At the same time, I was also introduced to a guest: Judith Merril.  Yes, I know, her real name was Judith Grossman, but her nom de plume was how she introduced herself.  At the time, I had already started reading (consuming) sci-fi novels and knew who she was.  I can remember, distinctly, that part of our discussion was about telepathy.  She said that she thought it was possible.  Fast forward to 1969 and I was home on leave.  My parents urged me to go to synagogue with them to listen to a guest speaker.  The speaker was Isaac Asimov.  When I got the chance to tell him of my earlier conversation with Ms Merril and asked his opinion, he said that he did not consider telepathy to be real.  This, of course, did not stop him from having used it in one of his Robot novels.  He also used a variation of telepathy, empathic projection, as a key factor in his character “The Mule” in “Second Foundation”, the third of the original “Foundation” trilogy.

I have read the entire series many times and, despite the quaintness of the originals, they’re still fun to read.  The thing that makes them endure, I believe, is that the science therein is an established fact.  There is no “wow” factor involved; it’s simply part of everyday life.  One of the devices (fanciful at the time of my first reading) was the “transcriber.”  This was a device that typed what you spoke.  Again, it was a completely normal device for a student to use.  It, by the way, also appeared in “Second Foundation.”  I can remember my first exposure to voice recognition in the 80s and how delighted I was at the development and have always wondered whether Asimov ever got the chance to use it, even in its primitive form.  Today, my psychologist wife uses that technology to record her session notes and is distraught when it’s not available.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Goal kick

Best quote of the week:

A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points. Alan Kay, computer scientist (b.1940)

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.

Jim

Jim Stovall
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Ambrose Bierce, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, all in the same space: newsletter, May 21, 2021

The power of forgiveness

Anyone who is human and social has experienced the pain of being offended or hurt deeply and the inevitable sequence of anger or even hatred toward the person responsible.

It seems that the best we can do in those situations is to turn it aside and cut off contact by “unfriending” that person or cutting off all contact.

But what about forgiveness? Is that an option?

Nathaniel Wade, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, examines the concept of forgiveness in a long essay for  Aeon magazine. He is interested in the psychology of forgiveness and religiaon, particularly as they are applied in counseling and therapy settings, and he writes:

Early work by Worthington and myself, and by others, identified what forgiveness was not. Robert Enright at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the other pioneer in the psychology of forgiveness, was instrumental in this work. For example, he and his colleagues distinguished between forgiveness and condoning, excusing or overlooking an offence. Source: Forgiveness therapy can free you from the hurts of the past | Aeon Essays

Wade delves deeply into forgiveness, what it is and what it isn’t, and how to achieve it through what he and his colleagues call “forgiveness therapy.”

This is an interesting and informative essay, particularly because forgiveness does not seem to be a popular or approved response in our civic society. Maybe we should think a little more about using it.

A secret only librarians know

Will Thomas, a librarian at the Tulsa Public Library in Oklahoma, has written a delightful piece for CrimeReads.com that tells a secret only librarians know.

No, I am not going to disclose it here. It’s his secret, so if you want to know, you’ll have to read the article.

If you do, Thomas, author of a dozen historical mystery novels, will tell you a bit about how he does his research for his books, which often include real historical characters.

I’ve often been asked how I get away with using historical characters in my novels, as if any day now there will be a knock at my door and I will be given a cease-and-desist order or be led off in handcuffs.

So far this hasn’t happened, but I definitely believe I have a file with the FBI.  Sometimes in the writing of a mystery novel, especially a historical one, the opportunity to toss a historical character into the mix presents itself. I believe this is fine, even relevant, especially in my novels, which frequently center on a societal danger (anti-Semitism, Imperialism, etc.) or an event (Jack the Ripper, a royal wedding), as long as the person in question was actively involved in whatever I am writing about. If W.B. Yeats was an IRA sympathizer, or the Duke of Clarence a suspect in the Ripper murders, they are fair game. Source: Confessions of a Librarian and Historical Mystery Novelist ‹ CrimeReads

This one is worth five minutes of your time and may even lead you into his books if you are not already familiar with them.

John Wesley and money

John Wesley was a thoroughly modern, Westernized individual. He advised his followers to do three things with money. The first two were

— Make all you can.

— Save all you can.

So far, so good. The advice is financially sound and rings responsibly in our ears. The third piece of advice might not:

— Give all you can.

Sometime early in his ministry, Wesley found that he could live comfortably on about 30 pounds a year. He determined that after earning that sum, he would give everything else away. And so he did — for the rest of his life.

Wesley stayed on the road for most of his life. He never owned a house, and he never had a family or children to provide for. (His marriage later in his life was to a widow with four children who was financially well off when they married. He made sure that she kept her income and that he used none of it.)

As Wesley gained fame and as he published more and more pamphlets and books, his income increased. He never deviated from his income limit, however, and at the end of his life, it was estimated that he had given away more than 30,000 pounds. He once wrote:

“Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?”

Axis Sally, the broadcasting voice that worked for the other side

In the late 1940s very few people knew the name Mildred Gillars, but the whole world seemingly knew her nickname: Axis Sally.

Part of the reason she remained famous, or rather infamous, in the years after the war was that the United States government — in the throes of the Cold War —had decided to put her on trial for treason. The government’s indictment charged her with 10 counts of treason, but its legal arguments we’re confused and even contradictory. So was her defense.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Mildred Gillars was born in 1900 in Ohio. She grew up wanting to be an actor, a dancer, or something that would make her famous. She ultimately achieved that goal, but certainly not in a way that anyone could have imagined.

Gillars had a way of falling in and out of love, and it was usually with the wrong person. She was unable to establish an acting career for herself in New York City, and in the early 1930s, she left for Europe. She eventually found herself in Germany, and she managed to land a job with the German State Radio.

She remained in Germany as it sunk into the grip of National Socialism and began to spin inevitably toward war. In 1941, United States Embassy in Germany began advising American citizens to leave the country, but Gillars decided to stay. She was engaged to a young American who had become a naturalized German citizen, and he told her that he would not marry her if she returned home. Shortly after that, Germany invaded Russia, and the young man was sent to the Eastern Front where he died in combat.

Gillars had no choice but to continue her work had to try to navigate her dangerous situation as best she could. She met another American who had also become a German citizen, Max Otto Koischwitz. Koischwitz was a leading figure in Germany’s propaganda machine, and he recruited Gillars to be the star voice for a program directed at American GIs called Home Sweet Home.

The purpose of the program was to damage the morale of the soldiers and remind them of the things they were missing back home.

Another show in which Gillars was the star was called Midge at the Mike. In this show, she interspersed American music with the Nazis’ racist and anti-Jewish propaganda, and she made many despairing remarks about American President Franklin Roosevelt.

Gillars acquired the name Axis Sally when another American female used the name “Sally” to broadcast anti-American propaganda from Rome. The two were often confused by American GIs. Gillars’ most famous broadcast came shortly before D-Day in 1944 when she played the part of a mother in Ohio who wakes up screaming after dreaming that her son had been killed as part of the D-Day invasion force.

When the war was finally over, Gillars disappeared into the chaos of Germany. American army officers had not forgotten about her, however, and they conducted an intensive search for nearly a year before she was located and arrested in March 1946. During the next two years she spent most of her days in American custody and was finally indicted and brought to trial for treason in late 1948.

The trial was closely covered by newspapers and radio reporters and caused a sensation. Gillars headed to the spectacle by dressing flamboyantly, showing off her mountain with blond hair, and treating the whole thing like a Broadway production with her as the star. Her defense centered on the argument that she had done nothing illegal and simply exercised her first amendment rights by expressing unpopular opinions.

Ultimately, the jury found her guilty on only one count of treason, and she was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in federal prison. She served a little more than 10 years of that sentence and was released in 1961.

During her time in prison, she converted to Roman Catholicism, and when she was released, she returned to Ohio. She eventually became a teacher in a convent school and lived quietly until her death in 1988.

A new movie about Gillars, starring Al Pacino and Meadow Williams and focusing on her treason trial, will be released in late May 2021. The title of the movie is American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally.

King William’s War and the first paper money issued in America

The little-known King William’s War (1688-1697) was but one of a series of conflicts in colonial history that pitted English settlers in New England against French settlers in Canada. It was a war of raid and retaliation, and its brutality was frequent and shocking. Tragically, its result was simply the status quo that had been in place before the conflict began.

The war did contain 1 major historical marker, however. It resulted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony government issuing the first paper money in America.

Central to this story is a man named William Phips, who was born in what is now the state of Maine in 1651 and who spent the first years is life working on his father’s sheep farm. He then was apprenticed to a shipwright, and he married a wealthy widow who taught him how to read and write.

His work as a shipbuilder brought him into contact with many people and their stories. One of those stories had to do with a ship that was carrying gold from Mexico to the mother country of Spain and had sunk in the Caribbean. Phips found financial backing for an expedition to search for the sunken treasure, and although his first expedition was a failure, a second expedition had the incredible good fortune of actually finding the ship.

As a result, Phips was given £16,000 and a knighthood. Despite his newfound wealth and status, Phips was known as a man who spoke easily, honestly, and without any pretense, and people had come to trust him.

When the conflict broke out between the New Englanders and the French Canadians, the English asked the Crown for money and material to support their efforts to defend themselves and to retaliate against the French. The Crown ignored their request. The Massachusetts Bay Colony government then stepped in to underwrite a two-pronged invasion of Canada.

Phips led one of the forces of the invasion, but the whole thing turned out to be a disaster. Part of the reason for the failure was a smallpox epidemic that spread through the invading militia. None of the war aims of New Englanders came to fruition, including the one that had the invaders raiding the Canadians’ treasury. As the force was returning home, those in power knew that the soldiers that they had sent out would expect to be paid.

There was no hard currency available, so the government began printing paper bills of credit. It was the first time that paper money had been issued in the American colonies.

When the soldiers returned home, they were none too pleased to find that their payment was in something other than hard currency. Phips prevented the situation from becoming a crisis when he expressed confidence in the paper money and even purchased many of the notes himself. With that start, paper currency soon proved to be a convenient and efficient way of handling and exchanging money, and it has been with us ever since.

King William’s War continued for several more years, but it mostly consisted of New England towns defending themselves against forays by the French Canadians. The war ended inconclusively in 1697, but a few years later, the conflict was ignited once again oh, this time being dubbed Queen Anne’s War.

Billy Wilder, a journalist before he was a screenwriter or director

The great movie director Billy Wilder, whose six Academy Awards rank him among the best who have ever stood behind a camera and told the people in front of it what to do – was once asked during an interview for a biographer the accomplishment for which she was most proud.

The answer from Wilder, being Wilder, was a surprise. The accomplishment that gave him the most satisfaction, he said, was being the answer to a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle. He had accomplished that not once, but twice, “17 across and 21 down.”

The answer was not just whimsical or eccentric. Instead, it Harkens back to Wilder’s youthful days in Vienna and Berlin where, with an overabundance of energy, he worked as a newspaper reporter, Arts reviewer, and creator of crossword puzzles. 

Wilder was born as Samuel Wilder in 1906 into a family of Polish Jews. He got the nickname “Billie” from his mother and later changed it to “Billy” when he immigrated to America. Wilder grew up in Vienna and had no interest in formal education clean the family business. Becoming a journalist allowed him to be a full participant in Vienna’s exciting and raucous street life.

Wilder was a glib and easy talker, and he could interview anyone and just about everyone came his way. He once bragged that he had interviewed Sigmund Freud, his associate Alfred Adler, the playwright Alfred Schnitzer, and the composer Richard Strauss, all in the same morning.

A visit to Vienna by the American Jazz Band led by Paul Whiteman provided Wilder the opportunity not only to listen and review high-quality music and to meet more of the rich, talented, and famous but also to change his own circumstances. Whiteman liked Wilder so much that he invited Wilder to travel with the band to Berlin.

In 1926 Berlin was everything but Vienna was, only more so. Wilder continued to meet and make friends easily, and he attracted the attention of the influential people who recognized his talent and energy and who gave him a helping hand on his way. Wilder wrote incisively about the people he met, the events he saw, and the things he experienced. His journalism was informative and well-structured.

Berlin was home to a thriving and well-regarded movie industry, something that Wilder was drawn to almost immediately. After several uncredited ghostwriting gigs, Wilder received sole credit in 1928 as the screenwriter for the movie Der Tuefeldsreporter (Hell of a Reporter). The movie was about a peripatetic journalist in Berlin, not unlike Wilder himself who also had a cameo role in the film. It was, as they say, the start of something big.

Two years later in 1930, Wilder wrote the screenplay for Menschen on Sonntag (People on Sunday). Much about that movie foreshadowed the characters and the scenes he would use in many of his Hollywood productions. When Hitler came to power in Germany, Wilder, who is Jewish, left for Paris. There, he made his debut as a film director with the movie Mauvaise Graine in 1934. Wilder had found his calling, and before that movie was released, he abandoned journalism in Paris and relocated himself to Hollywood.

It took Wilder less than a decade to establish himself has a major talent in the film industry, both as a writer and a director. His status has since risen to that of a legend. The memorable films that he produced, the screenplays he wrote, and the stars he developed and worked with are all too long for a single list.

Wilder always believed that a good movie started with a well-written script. The writing should fit the style of the director and the actors who were working with it.

A compilation of Billy Wilder’s journalism, Billy Wilder on Assignment: Dispatches from Weimar Berlin and Interwar Vienna, has recently been published and is available to those do want to know more about how this man became such a giant of the film industry.

 

 

The Army gets it right, Eleanor gets an audience, and the love triangle scandal of the 1870s: newsletter, April 30, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 30, 2021.

Nature is doing its random best, as usual, to confound us. Where I live, we had two nights of frost last week — unheard of after mid-April. Fortunately, the cooler temperatures this spring have prevented us from putting anything into the garden just yet, so we didn’t have to scramble to cover anything up.

Despite everything (including the hard work involved), I look forward to gardening because there is no thrill on earth that matches that of seeing the first sprout of something you’ve planted stick its head above the soil. If you are a gardener, you know what I mean (I hope). If you have never done that — planted a seed and watched it sprout — try it. But with this warning: it can be addictive.

However you get your thrills, I hope that you have plenty of them this weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,358 subscribers and had a 23.8 percent open rate; 0 people unsubscribed.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Norman Mailer: Larger-than-life colossus of 20th century American letters

When Norman Mailer was 20 years old in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A precocious student, he had just graduated from Harvard University. He had initially majored in engineering, but he took writing and literature courses as his electives. During his undergraduate days, he had published his first story, “The Greatest Thing in the World,” in Story magazines and had won its college writing contest.

Showing the brashness that would define his public persona over the next 60 years, Mailer asked for a deferment based on the fact that he was writing an “important literary work” about the war. 

The Army turned down his request and in doing so did both Mailer and American letters a great favor.

After basic training, Mahler was sent to the Philippines where, at first, he served as a typist. He then volunteered to go on reconnaissance patrols and eventually completed more than two dozen missions, during which time his unit engaged in several firefights with the enemy. When the war ended, he was sent to Japan. There, he wrote his wife Bea — they had been married just a month before he left for the service — almost daily and described his experiences in the Philippines.

Those letters became the basis for The Naked and the Dead, Mailer’s first and most successful novel, which was published in 1948 and sold more than a million copies in its first year in print. The book is considered one of the best war novels of the 20th century and made Mailer’s name a household word.

Mailer’s life is a fascinating one to trace. His words, sentences, subjects, and ideas were powerful and commanded attention. So did his personality. He continued to show the brashness, egotism, and combativeness that was evident when he boldly asked to get out of military duty. (Later, he described his time in the Army as the “worst experience of my life, and the most important.”)

Mailer published two more novels during the 1950s, but novel-writing alone did not offer him the immediate forum that his ego grew to need. Mahler became one of the innovators of a form of journalism that employed deep reporting and literary techniques; it came to be called the New Journalism. Along with several other investors, he founded the Village Voice in 1955. His essay, “The White Negro,” described the hipster culture that stood against the conformity of the 1950s. The essay has been reprinted and anthologized many times and is seen as one of his breakthrough works.

Mailer lived a turbulent private and semi-public life. In 1960, he was convicted of stabbing his second wife, Adele, with a penknife and nearly killing her, but for this act, he received only a probationary sentence. In all, Mailer was married six times and had nine children.

In 1967, Mahler took part in a massive anti-war march on the Pentagon. He wrote a long piece about the march for Harper’s magazine, and that article was later expanded into a book titled Armies of the Night. That book won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

That same year, Mahler wrote Miami and the Siege of Chicago, an account of the political conventions of that year. That book also brought him many accolades.

Mailer’s writing lost none of its power as he continued into the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979 he published The Executioner’s Song, a fictional account of the real-life execution by firing squad of Gary Gilmore in Utah. For that book, he won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

In addition to his life as a writer, Mailer was also briefly a screenwriter and filmmaker and an actor, and he once ran as a serious candidate for mayor of New York City. His most commercially successful book apart from The Naked and the Dead was a supposed biography of Marilyn Monroe. He did relatively little research for that book and admitted that much of it was speculation. Throughout his life, Mailer wrote a number of second-rate biographies and novels, especially when he needed money for alimony, child support, and taxes.

Still, Mailer’s style and approach to writing were gripping and powerful, and his ability to engage readers and hold their attention remained singular among his contemporaries until his death in 2007.

Heads and Tales podcast: Rebecca Harding Davis

My latest literary and artistic efforts have come to fruition with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book is now in paperback and ebook form, but also accompanied by something else: a podcast series.

This week’s episode is about Rebecca Harding Davis and the beginnings of American realism.

The book is currently on Amazon and can be accessed with this link: http://bit.ly/headsandtales.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


From the archives: Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: Master of Radio

When Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, news of the event filtered into the American psyche and conversation throughout the afternoon.

It was, by any measure, a momentous, life-changing occurrence.

Eleanor Roosevelt caricature

Yet, during the afternoon and into the evening there was a silence from the White House. News bulletins were issued, but President Franklin Roosevelt stayed in the Oval Office, meeting with his cabinet, talking with aides and officials, gathering information and news, and working on the speech he would deliver to Congress on the next day. That Roosevelt said nothing to America that day seems to us today unusual, but no one thought much about it then.

Across the hall in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt, the president’s wife, was re-writing the remarks she would make on the radio that evening. Eleanor had a regularly-scheduled radio show on Sunday evenings

In fact, the first Roosevelt Americans heard from that day was Eleanor, the president’s wife. It was 6:45p.m. Eastern when she spoke these words:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m speaking to you at a very serious moment in our history,” she said, explaining that meetings were occurring in the White House and elsewhere in preparation for war.

In the meantime we, the people, are already prepared for action. For months now, the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads. And yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the everyday things of life and feel that there was only one thing which was important: preparation to meet an enemy, no matter where he struck. That is all over now and there is no more uncertainty. We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it. 

I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer. For all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Two of my children are in coast cities on the Pacific. Many of you all over this country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart. And yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears. 

We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can. And when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us, I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.

It was a stirring speech with words that Americans undoubtedly wanted to hear.

Franklin Roosevelt caricature

By this time — the ninth year — the Roosevelts were in the White House, both Eleanor and Franklin had become masters of the medium of radio. Franklin had a soft but strong modulating voice. His was a natural. He sounded like your favorite uncle: serious, cheerful, informed, and confident.

Eleanor’s voice and accent were entirely different. She was at first loud and screechy, as if trying to be too many things at once. But, just as she did in many other areas of her life, she stuck with it and improved. She improved so much that by the time she delivered her talk on Dec. 7, 1941, she was able to sound determined, sincere, and reassuring.

Even though she spoke with confidence that evening, she was beset by personal worries. After the broadcast, she spoke with one of the daughters, Anna, who lived on the West Coast. She urged her to bring herself and her two children back to the East.

Eleanor, along with many Americans, believed that the attack on Pearl Harbor had left the West Coast vulnerable to a Japanese invasion. We know now that the Japanese had no such invasion in mind, but that wasn’t known in 1941 and 1942. Anna declined her mother’s request and told her she would remain in her home with her husband.

American Public Radio has produced an excellent audio documentary on the Roosevelts’ use of radio. You can listen to it here or by going to the American RadioWorks link below.

***

The First Family of Radio | American RadioWorks |

The Eloquent Woman: Famous Speech Friday: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor radio address

Henry Ward Beecher and the love triangle that gripped the public in the 1870s

If your emotions we’re caught up in the swirl surrounding Meghan and Harry . . .

If your feelings were buffeted by the off-again on-again relationship of J.Lo and A-Rod . . .

Then you should have been alive in the 1870s when public domestic squabbles were very good.

A few weeks ago in this newsletter, I made reference to Victoria Woodhull, publisher of the Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly and America’s first female presidential candidate. A major incident in her life involved putting into print for the first time rumors that had been twirling about in New York City circles concerning the infidelity of one Henry Ward Beecher, a Brooklyn minister and abolitionist who was one of the most famous non-politicians of his day.

Beecher came from a famous family. His father, Lyman Beecher, was an ardent and well-known evangelist of his generation, and his sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Beecher was the senior minister at Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, a huge congregation that included many of New York City’s most powerful and influential people.

In the years before the Civil War, Beecher had raised money to buy freedom for slaves in the South and to send arms to abolitionists who were fighting in Kansas. Those guns were commonly referred to as “Beecher’s Bibles.” During the war, Beecher toured Europe speaking in support of the Union. When the war ended, Beecher championed social causes such as women’s suffrage and temperance. He was also an advocate of evolution, seeing no conflict between it and the gospel that he preached.

Beecher was against some new ideas, however. One of those was the “free love” movement espoused by Victoria Woodhull. Beecher denounced the movement and Woodhull from his pulpit, and Woodhull finally had enough. She knew from stories that had been circulating among the suffrage movement that Beecher was likely being hypocritical. Consequently, she ran a story about Beecher’s relationship with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of a good friend, Theodore Tilton, and a member of his church.

The story appeared in early November 1872, and Woodhull, her husband, and her sister were arrested on the charge of trying to send obscene material through the mail. Their arrests were demonstrations of Beecher’s ability to call upon powerful friends when he needed them.

But, of course, the genie could not be put back into the bottle, and what ensued among Beecher, the Tiltons, and their friends was a series of charges, counter-charges, rumors confirmed, rumors denied, confessions made, and confessions recanted. The situation split the Beecher family with Harriet Beecher Stowe defending her brother and another sister, Isabella, denouncing him. Plymouth Church stood solidly behind Beecher and excommunicated Tilton for slandering him.

Tilton believed that he had no other recourse except to sue Beecher on civil charges of adultery, which he did in late 1874. Beecher’s trial begin in January 1875 and lasted until July. It received daily coverage from the many newspapers in the New York area, and those reports or flashed around the country to hungry readers in every part of the nation.

A long New Yorker article by Robert Shaplen detailing many events of the trial can be found at this link.

The trial ended with the jury, after several days of deliberations, unable to reach a verdict.

That was followed by more investigations by Plymouth Church, all of which exonerated Beecher. The minister died two years later in 1877, and he was never able to completely blot out the stain on his character left by the controversy. Yet while he was active, Henry Ward Beecher was one of America’s most important voices for social reform and Christian ideals. His voice was thunder at a time in America when, it seems, only thunder could be heard.

Reactions

 

Theresa C.: I have been enjoying your newsletters for a couple of years now – I was the subscriber who confessed to reading the whole thing in the preview pane, without actually “opening” it!

Your “Verse and Vision” videos are wonderful! It is such a treat to hear your voice and watch you paint. Those are truly some of my favorite poems from my college days – such classics!

Thank you for bringing some literary sunshine into my days.

Glenn S.: Thank you for pointing out the importance of keeping public records available to everyone. Some public entities and officials have tried, sometimes successfully, to restrict access to public records by requiring people to justify their need to view such documents, limit the times of availability, or charge outrageous fees for making copies. 

Jonathan J.: Thank you for shining the spotlight on Sherwood Anderson. From 2008 to 2014, I was pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marion, Virginia, where Sherwood Anderson is buried in Round Hill Cemetery, only about 20 miles from his Ripshin Farm.

He’s remembered in Marion as a rather surly and sarcastic newspaper editor, commentator, and opinion columnist. His mother-in-law Laura Lu Copenhaver, however, is nearly venerated there. The people of Marion First UMC very proudly point out that she’s the lyricist of a hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal.
 
 
 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: First movement

Best quote of the week:

“My working habits are simple: long periods of thinking, short periods of writing.” Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

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.

Jim

Jim Stovall
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The first man in space, a controversial Union advocate, and possibly reviving the Verse and Vision videos: newsletter, April 23, 2021

Norman Mailer: Larger-than-life colossus of 20th century American letters

When Norman Mailer was 20 years old in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A precocious student, he had just graduated from Harvard University. He had initially majored in engineering, but he took writing and literature courses as his electives. During his undergraduate days, he had published his first story, “The Greatest Thing in the World,” in Story magazines and had won its college writing contest.

Showing the brashness that would define his public persona over the next 60 years, Mailer asked for a deferment based on the fact that he was writing an “important literary work” about the war. 

The Army turned down his request and in doing so did both Mailer and American letters a great favor.

After basic training, Mahler was sent to the Philippines where, at first, he served as a typist. He then volunteered to go on reconnaissance patrols and eventually completed more than two dozen missions, during which time his unit engaged in several firefights with the enemy. When the war ended, he was sent to Japan. There, he wrote his wife Bea — they had been married just a month before he left for the service — almost daily and described his experiences in the Philippines.

Those letters became the basis for The Naked and the Dead, Mailer’s first and most successful novel, which was published in 1948 and sold more than a million copies in its first year in print. The book is considered one of the best war novels of the 20th century and made Mailer’s name a household word.

Mailer’s life is a fascinating one to trace. His words, sentences, subjects, and ideas were powerful and commanded attention. So did his personality. He continued to show the brashness, egotism, and combativeness that was evident when he boldly asked to get out of military duty. (Later, he described his time in the Army as the “worst experience of my life, and the most important.”)

Mailer published two more novels during the 1950s, but novel-writing alone did not offer him the immediate forum that his ego grew to need. Mahler became one of the innovators of a form of journalism that employed deep reporting and literary techniques; it came to be called the New Journalism. Along with several other investors, he founded the Village Voice in 1955. His essay, “The White Negro,” described the hipster culture that stood against the conformity of the 1950s. The essay has been reprinted and anthologized many times and is seen as one of his breakthrough works.

Mailer lived a turbulent private and semi-public life. In 1960, he was convicted of stabbing his second wife, Adele, with a penknife and nearly killing her, but for this act, he received only a probationary sentence. In all, Mailer was married six times and had nine children.

In 1967, Mahler took part in a massive anti-war march on the Pentagon. He wrote a long piece about the march for Harper’s magazine, and that article was later expanded into a book titled Armies of the Night. That book won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

That same year, Mahler wrote Miami and the Siege of Chicago, an account of the political conventions of that year. That book also brought him many accolades.

Mailer’s writing lost none of its power as he continued into the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979 he published The Executioner’s Song, a fictional account of the real-life execution by firing squad of Gary Gilmore in Utah. For that book, he won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

In addition to his life as a writer, Mailer was also briefly a screenwriter and filmmaker and an actor, and he once ran as a serious candidate for mayor of New York City. His most commercially successful book apart from The Naked and the Dead was a supposed biography of Marilyn Monroe. He did relatively little research for that book and admitted that much of it was speculation. Throughout his life, Mailer wrote a number of second-rate biographies and novels, especially when he needed money for alimony, child support, and taxes.

Still, Mailer’s style and approach to writing were gripping and powerful, and his ability to engage readers and hold their attention remained singular among his contemporaries until his death in 2007.