Category Archives: writers

The first ‘scientist,’ Forsyth’s enjoyment of silence, and the Irish gun plot: newsletter, June 11, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,332) on Friday, June 11, 2021.

Periodically, a few people, and a few members of the news media — and then a few government officials and agencies — will stir themselves up over an identified flying objects, UFOs. As I write this, we are awaiting the release of a government report on possible sightings of such objects.

I must admit, as may be obvious, that I am an extreme skeptic about UFOs. Yes, there are things that people see that remain unexplained. But why must we have the government issue a report that will say simply that?

There are many things that I do know exist that merit the government’s attention. One of those, to give you an example, is robocalls and why we can’t stop them. I eagerly await the government’s report on that.

Whatever government report you are awaiting, I hope wonderful summertime weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,324 subscribers and had a 24.3 percent open rate; 2 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.


Mary Somerville, the first person to be called a ‘scientist’ (part 1)

William Whewell had a problem.

In 1834, he was reviewing a newly-published book titled On the Connexion of the Physical SciencesIt was an extraordinary work, something that he had never encountered before. It was a book that took on incomplete and fragmented knowledge of the fields of astronomy, mathematics, physics, geology, and chemistry and brought all of them together into a beautiful tapestry.

Whewell was no stranger to the idea that one could reach across specific fields of inquiry to come up with larger conclusions. He was known as a polymath because of his wide variety of Interests in poetry, theology, astronomy, mathematics, and many other such topics. At this point in his own career he was well on his way to be coming a Master at Trinity College in Cambridge.

In writing his review, when he would normally have referred to the author as a mathematician or an astronomer or whatever other field the author specialized in, he might also have referred to the author as a “ man of science.” None of those monikers, however, was appropriate in this case because the author of this extraordinary book did not specialize in any single field. More importantly, the author was not a man.

She was Mary Somerville, a Scottish woman and one of the most versatile intellects of her age.

Whewell needed a new term for her, so he invented one. He came up with the word “scientist.” We have been using that term ever since.

And it is especially fitting that Mary Somerville was the first person to have that term bestowed upon her. Mary was born as Mary Fairfax, daughter of an English naval officer, in Jedburgh, Scotland, in 1780. The family lived in genteel poverty, with Mary’s mother having to keep farm animals and grow crops to make ends meet when her husband was at sea.

Mary was something of a wild child, roaming through fields and meadows and taking in only a small part of the little formal education that was offered to her. Her mother taught her to read but not to write. But when her father returned home from sea at one point and found that she could not write, he sent her to a boarding school in Musselburgh. That did not go well. Mary chafed at the school’s emphasis on repetition and memorization.

Mary’s active intellect needed something else. When she was about 15 years old, she noticed an algebraic equation that was an illustration in a fashion magazine. She was intrigued. She managed to get her hands on an algebra book and learned how to solve algebraic equations on her own. It was the beginning of her lifelong love of mathematics.

Her parents did not encourage this particular love affair, however. They actively tried to stop her pursuits by taking her her candles away so that she could not read at night.

Despite their opposition, Mary continued her self education by teaching herself to read Latin so that she could understand Euclid and his writings on geometry. Mary’s parents finally got their way in 1804 when she married a distant cousin, Samuel Greig, and the family moved to London. Mary fulfilled her role as a modern wife, producing two sons and spending most of her time taking care of them. Her husband did not encourage Mary’s intellectual endeavors.

In 1807, tragedy struck when Mary’s husband died, and that was followed shortly thereafter by the death of one of her sons. Her husband’s death left her with enough income so that she could move back to Scotland with her other son and once again take up her studies of mathematics and other fields of Interest. She began to submit solutions to problems posted in mathematics journals, and she even won a prize for doing so.

Again, her family objected to her continued studies. It was undoubtedly a great relief to them when Mary married William Somerville in 1812. William was a medical man, and he encouraged Mary to expand her interests, which eventually included Greek, geology, botany, and mineralogy. The couple moved to London where William was elected to the Royal Society of surgeons, which allowed them to meet and mix with some of the great intellects of the day.

During the next decade and a half, Mary continued to delve into her many interests in all parts of the scientific world and to impress its leaders with her reasoning and her writing.

In 1827, when Mary was 47 years old, Lord Henry Brougham, the head of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge, asked Mary to take on the task of translating Simon-Pierre LaPlace’s Celestial Mechanics. At first, Mary did not think she was up to the task because she did not have a university education. The job, however, appeared to be one of simple translation and would probably take only a few months, so she decided to tackle it.

The task turned out to be far longer than a few months and far more complex than simple translation. But when it was done, what she produced set Mary on the road to intellectual fame.

Next week: Mary Somerville’s impact on the entirety of science

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


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.

From the archives: Edgar Allen Poe and the development of the mystery novel

American author Edgar Allan Poe — whom we all read in school and some continued to read long afterwards — gets lots of credit for developing the modern detective/mystery novel. He was not the first to write about mysterious crime and its solution, but his five short stories (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, The Mystery of Marie Roget, Thou Art the Man, and The Gold Bug) pointed the way for future writers to develop this genre.

In addition, Poe — the literary critic — had some definite thoughts about the detective story. It should contain the “unity of effect of impression” that he believed could only be achieved by a short story or something that could be read in one sitting. Plenty of authors have taken the detective story to the novel form and maintained this unity.

But Poe also wrote that

  • the mystery should be preserved throughout most of the story, 
  • that the mystery should converge in the denouement (“There should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.”), and
  • that no “undue or inartistic means should be used by the author to conceal the solution to the mystery.”

This information all comes from Detnovel.com, a website created by Prof. William Marling, who has written extensively on the topic of the detective novel.

 

Reactions

Tiffany N. : After only seeing James Bond films, I was so surprised to thoroughly enjoy the books! They were succinct and fast-paced, and he seemed to have more depth as a character than we see in the movies sometimes. I made my way through the entire collection a few years ago and highly recommend for a summer read!

Jane R.:I live in Wellington, New Zealand and experience the cicada rock concert annually. Of course here it usually occurs from January with it varying in sound intensity and duration depending on how good the summer season was 17yrs before.

Enjoy your newsletter immensely and so does my mother who I forward then to.Thank you for all the interesting things you write.
Marcia D.: Apparently in Washington State we have Orchard Cicadas. That would be in E. Washington, not too worried about them coming across the Cascade Mountains.
 

Vic C.: My first look at “Goal Kick” was a quick one and required a closer examination because, at first glance, the object of the kick looks like the head of someone lying on the ground.  “Ouch!”

Elizabeth F.: As a psychologist and teacher and presenter of multi media learning opportunities, I have long known that the “teacher” learns more and is forever indebted to the student. 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Header

Best quote of the week:

There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world, I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary, and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect. Nikki Giovanni, poet and professor (b. 1943)

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: Inoculation’s advocate, Fleming’s Casino Royale, and the first American to die in Vietnam: newsletter, June 4, 2021

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

***

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.

Inoculation’s advocate, Fleming’s Casino Royale, and the first American to die in Vietnam: newsletter, June 4, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,332) on Friday, June 4, 2021.

In addition to all of the delights of a late but beautiful spring here in East Tennessee, we are being treated to one of Mother Nature’s rare rock concerts. It happens less often than a Bruce Springsteen show but more often than Woodstock.

What I’m talking about, of course, is cicadas. They are out and about these days, doing apparently what they do best: making a lot of noise. We began seeing then come out of the ground two or three weeks ago (photo) and then beginning to shed their old skins. Now They Are Up In the trees singing — or whatever you call it — for all they’re worth.

This all happens once every 17 years. So even if you find yourself annoyed but the noise, you can’t help but be awed by the miracle of it all.

I hope that you were being awed by something these days and that you have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,330 subscribers and had a 22.0 percent open rate; 2 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.


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 to back her up. 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 who believed the girls should be limited in their education and ambition. Mary believed otherwise.

Her family had acquired a substantial library, and despite her governess’s 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 and 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 lived 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 against 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 publicized the fact that she had inoculated her children, that few people in the Ottoman Empire contracted smallpox because of inoculation, and that inoculation should be a standard medical procedure.

Her opponents pounced. They labeled her as irreligious because she was advocating a non-Christian practice. They called her an ignorant woman who knew nothing about medicine. 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 some willing and sympathetic ears, including members of 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 seeing today, that method, too, is a cause for controversy.

***

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 is below the signature of this email.

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 were 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, 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, The 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.


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


Charles Altamont Doyle, Sherlock illustrator and author’s father

In the more than a century and a quarter since Arthur Conan Doyle created his character Sherlock Holmes, dozens of illustrators — many of them talented and famous – have given us a picture of what the famous detective might have looked like. One name among that group might surprise you: Charles Altamont Doyle, the author’s father.

In fact, Arthur Conan Doyle comes from a line of artists and illustrators, not writers. His father Charles was a professional artist and illustrator and so was his grandfather John Doyle, who was a well-known caricaturist. Three of Charles’ brothers were also artists.

Charles was born in England In 1832, but as a young man, he moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. There, he worked for the government as an illustrator and surveyor and also exhibited his watercolors and pen and ink drawings. He produced illustrations for more than 20 books, including The Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe.

Despite these commissions, Charles was not as successful as an artist as he had hoped to be, and he was prone to alcoholism and depression. He was institutionalized several times. He was declared insane in 1885 and spent the rest of his life in and out of asylums. In 1888, however, he produced six illustrations for his son’s new Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet. A few months later, he drew one illustration for the story, The Mystery of Cloomber, which was serialized in the Pall Mall Gazette.

He spent the last year-and-a-half of his life in an asylum in Dumfries, Scotland. He died in 1893.

In 1924, his now-famous son Arthur Conan Doyle organized an exhibit of his watercolors that achieved some critical success.

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 war 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 directing French underground operations of intelligence gathering and sabotage. By the time the war was over, he had 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.

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

Greg S.: I totally agree with your thought: Teachers, when they teach, learn more than their students.

While I haven’t taught much, I did teach one class of Intro to Advertising at UT. When I started preparing the lecture about media buying, I realized my knowledge was peripheral at best. I spent at a day reading multiple texts and even called a media buyer friend to get more background. The stuff I didn’t know about my own field was amazing.
Eric S.: You’re right about teachers and their learning, often more than their students. Over the years, my students taught me as much or more than I did them.

Finally . . .This week’s watercolor: Old City Knoxville

Best quote of the week:

In words as fashions the same rule will hold,

Alike fantastic if too new or old;

Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744)

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

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.
 

 

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

 

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

Axis Sally, North Korea, the world’s first real-life detective, and reader reactions: newsletter, May 14, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,350) on Friday, May 14, 2021.

The Big Apple is the common nickname for New York City, but its origins are murky. What do apples have to do with New York City? The answer, according to an essay I found recently by Maria Popov (BrainPickings.com), is nothing. It’s not about apples at all.

The expression was first used by a sportswriter named John J. Fitz Gerald, who covered horse racing for the Morning Telegraph in the early 20th century. Fitz Gerald used the term first in a story and later had a regular column headed “Around the Big Apple.” Fitz Gerald never claimed he originated the term but also never explained fully where he picked it up.

Popov digs a little more deeply into it, and I’ll let you read her results if you are interested. But the name is highly appropriate, she says, for a city where for generations people have bet their fortunes, their careers, and their lives.

Wherever you have placed your bets this weekend, I hope that the results are good ones.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,352 subscribers and had a 25.7 percent open rate; 2 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.


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.


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


From the archives: The ‘private eye’ in literature begins with the real-life character of Eugene Francois Vidocq

The genesis of the private eye lies with a 19th Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq.

Eugene Francois Vidocq

Vidocq’s life and legends, some of which he created through his partially fictionalized memoirs, were the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s character C. Auguste Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), which is considered the world’s first detective story.

All of the famous detectives of literature — including Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone — owe something to the real-life Vidocq.

As a young man in the 1790s, Vidocq appeared to have a promising career in the army ahead of him. His trouble was that he was too imaginative – and maybe too hot-headed – to follow the rules. He strayed to the wrong side of the law, and there he remained for the next decade and a half.

Committed to prison by the courts several times, Vidocq always managed an escape. He had a generous, affable nature that sometimes got him into trouble — such as the time he forged a pardon for a fellow prisoner. He was a master of disguise, which also aided him in eluding the authorities. He was made an escaped by marching out of town in a funeral procession.

In 1809 he found himself in the hands of the police against, this time facing a long, harsh prison sentence. He boldly switched sides, telling the police that he could go undercover (to use a modern term) and help them capture dangerous and highly sought-after criminals.

For nearly two years, he did this with some noted success. He later wrote in his memoirs:

I believe I might have become a perpetual spy, so far was every one from supposing that any connivance existed between the agents of the public authority and myself. Even the porters and keepers were in ignorance of my mission with which I was entrusted. Adored by the thieves, esteemed by the most determined bandits (for even these hardened wretches have a sentiment which they call esteem), I could always rely on their devotion to me.

Eugène François Vidocq, Memoirs of Vidocq, p. 190

Vidocq also – obviously – had a talent for self-promotion, which he used to great effect for the rest of his life.

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And that life was, indeed, remarkable. It included

  • establishment of a plain-clothes criminal investigative unit for the French police, which inspired a similar unit for  Scotland Yard in Great Britain and eventually the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States;
  • identification techniques of criminals that relied on extensive record-keeping;
  • criminal investigation procedures that included ballistics examinations, crime-scene analysis, and even the beginnings of finger-printing;
  • founding of the first private detective agency, which he did in 1833 after tiring of constantly squabbling with police.

Vidocq was never shy about proclaiming his successes, taking credit for his accomplishments, and comparing his genius to the bumbling methods of the uniformed police. His fame spread through Europe and the United States, particularly as he cultivated close friendships with famous French authors of the day such as Honore de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Alexander Dumas, just to name a few. Each of these writers created characters for their novels based on Vidocq.

Today, Vidocq is not well-known, not as much as he should be. As Mike Ashley has written

As with so many originals, Vidocq’s life has become so overshadowed and masked, not only by those he inspired, but by his own legend as well, that today, if he is mentioned at all, it is to dismiss his achievements as fiction. But he was real, and he was a true living legend.

Source: The Great Detectives: Vidocq – Strand Mag In this article from issue 4, Mike Ashley looks at the life of Vidocq, a thief turned detective who was to prove the inspiration for many great fictional detectives.

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Biographies of Vidocq:

  • Edwards, Samuel (1977). The Vidocq Dossier: The Story of the World’s First Detective (1st ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-25176-1.
  • Hodgetts, Edward A. (1928). Vidocq: A Master of Crime. London: Selwyn & Blount.
  • Morton, James. The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq. Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-190337-4.
  • Stead, John Philip (1954). Vidocq: Picaroon of Crime.

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 of many people and organizations. Rather than being a lot of fun, it turns out to be pretty scary.

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

Reactions

 
Eric S.: In response to your recent letter-writer who suggested the violinist in your watercolor was off balance, I would agree. But that’s no error. I like it. Your violinist appears to be moving fast with her back leg supporting most of her weight. With her other foot in mid-air, she’s in the process of regaining her balance. The viewer senses tension, an excellent painting of kinetic energy.

Jack S.: Personally, I consider what’s happening at our southern border is indeed a crisis, and getting crisisier.

Having been born in Mexico myself, with many relatives still there, I doubt that I’m prejudiced against the illegal aliens (slap my hand!).  I’m not fond at all of how our government—through all kinds of administrations—is handling the problem well at all.  I guess Trump was better than the others, but still his leadership in this area was far from satisfactory.

Marcia D.: My two Billy Wilder Movies were Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Saw them on TV.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Leaders of the band

Best quote of the week:

“In reality, the world have payed too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them men of much greater profundity than they really are.” Henry Fielding (1707-1754), English novelist, essayist, satirist, playwright, poet, journal editor, and magistrate

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: Billy Wilder the journalist, what happens when you rule the world, and many readers react: newsletter, May 7, 2021

Continue reading

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

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, May 21, 2021.

One of the great commonalities of the lives of noted authors is that a great many of them over the last two centuries began professionally in the same way: they worked as journalists and very often for newspapers. There are no better teachers of writing than the environment of an active newsroom and the pressure of a deadline.

Newswriting requires the writer how to distill information and ideas into a coherent form that those who read it can understand easily. This is no natural phenomenon that occurs through genes or other unseen forces. Instead, the ability to write coherently and understandably is the product of concentration, trial and error, and, most of all, hard work.

With the demise of newspapers and newsrooms over the past two decades, I wonder where our next set of great writers will be trained. Somewhere comparable, I hope. With that thought, have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,348 subscribers and had a 24.9 percent open rate; 4 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.


Ambrose Bierce, the cynic who disappeared

Satirist and professional cynic Ambrose Bierce left his audience in the same way that Amelia Earhart did, only 25 years earlier. He disappeared without a trace.

And like Ms. Earhart, much has been made of that disappearance — investigations, speculation, rumors, stories and even movies. The results were the same. Nothing substantial was ever found. No clues, no evidence, no witnesses, nothing.

Unlike Ms. Earhart, however, Bierce has pretty much disappeared from the American consciousness. And that’s unfortunate indeed.

Ambrose Bierce lived a life worth remembering and wrote much that should still be read and pondered.

Chief among the vast body of writing that he left behind when he vanished in Mexico in 1913 is The Devil’s Dictionary, a set of witty and cynical definitions that was compiled over 30 years of newspaper writing and published in 1906.

Here’s a sample:

Advice, n.  The smallest current coin.

Air, n.  A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.

Education, n.  That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Elegy, n.  A composition in verse, in which without employing any of the methods of humor, the writer aims to produce in the reader’s mind the dampest kind of dejection.

Hog, n.  A bird remarkable for the catholicity of its appetite and serving to illustrate that of ours. Among the Mahometans and Jews, the hog is not in favor as an article of diet but is respected for the delicacy of its habits, the beauty of its plumage, and the melody of its voice. It is chiefly as a songster that the fowl is esteemed; a cage of him in full chorus has been known to draw tears from two persons at once.

Lap, n.  One of the most important organs of the female system—an admirable provision of nature for the repose of infancy, but chiefly useful in rural festivities to support plates of cold chicken and heads of adult males. The male of our species has a rudimentary lap, imperfectly developed, and in no way contributing to the animal’s substantial welfare.

Litigation, n.  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

Bierce was unrelentingly cynical and negative in his commentary and fiction, and critics complained that he lacked imagination. In his defense, he had much to be cynical about. He had spent most of the American Civil War as a soldier, beginning as an infantryman and later as a topographical officer. He participated in some of its major battles of the war including Shiloh and Chickamauga.

After the war, Bierce became one of the most prolific and influential writers and journalists of the late 19th century. His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” appears in hundreds of anthologies and is one of the most widely read pieces of American writing hope that or any era.

The Devil’s Dictionary, quoted above, is considered a masterpiece of wit and genius.

In 1913, Bierce told reporters that he was headed to Mexico to witness firsthand the revolution that was taking place there. He was never seen again. Some believe that he never went to Mexico nor did he intend to. Rather, he went to some remote location and committed suicide. In any event, no remains were ever found.

The Devil’s Dictionary can be found here at Project Gutenberg.

 

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


When Dashiell Hammett stopped being a detective and became a writer

Lillian Hellman, playwright, novelist, and long-time friend and companion to Dashiell Hammett, tells the story about when Dashiell Hammett left the Pinkerton Detective Agency and turned himself into a writer.

Hammett had served in the U.S. Army during World War I but had spent most of his service time in the hospital. He was one of the many who contracted Spanish flu and later tuberculosis. After the war, Hammett with back to his pre-war job as an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco.

Hammitt wasn’t much of a traveler, but he had expressed an interest occasionally in going to Australia. One of the agency’s clients was an insurance company that hit insured a shipment of gold from Australia. Before the ship docked in San Francisco, he radioed ahead that the gold was missing.

The ship was covered with Pinkerton detectives once it arrived in port, but no gold was found. The people who ran Pinkerton were convinced the gold was still on board, and they assigned Hammett to travel on the ship back to Australia. A few hours before the ship sailed, Hammett was aboard looking for the gold. He had happily packed his bags and was looking forward to free passage to the place he had always wanted to see.

In a last-ditch effort to find the gold, Hammett climbed to the top of one of the ship’s smokestacks and had a look around. He then looked down the stack and saw the gold. He shouted down to a fellow detective, “I found the gold. They moved it here.”

As Hellman writes:

He said that as the words came out of his mouth, he said to himself, “You haven’t sense enough even to be a detective. Why couldn’t you have discovered the gold one day out to sea?” He fished out the gold, took it back to the Pinkerton office, and resigned that afternoon.

(Lillian Hellman in a 1965 article about Hammett in the New York Review of Books. A subscription may be required.)

 

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

 
Vic C.: Jim, in reference to the French and Indian War, I wonder if that is still being included in curricula today.  Some 30 years ago, I was teaching a course in Excel and wanted to show what happens when text extends beyond a cell width.  I asked the students, who seemed to be in their early twenties, to type the first few words of the Gettysburg Address.  Even with prompts, they couldn’t. 
I changed it to “Mary had a little lamb” and that worked.  Later, when I read some of the class reviews, it was clearly stated that I had made them feel stupid.  It took me a long time to realize that they had never been taught that in school.  I think I was especially upset about that because I was, quite frankly, a lousy history student, but I certainly remembered the lesson about Lincoln’s speech, though I didn’t really appreciate its content until I was much older. 
I am reminded that my father once told me that he was also bad at history.  (This from a guy who did the NY Times crossword in ink.)  He said that he could only remember a few dates: 1066, the Battle of Hastings; 1215, the signing of the Magna Carta; 1588, the Spanish Armada.  To that, I added Washington’s birth year, 1732.  Now, the reason for the last was that 1.732 is the square root of 3.  And here’s one for you.  Do you remember (circa 1957, when I learned it) ST DAPIACL?  I found a somewhat obscure reference for it at: The Naysayer (thenaysayer82765.blogspot.com)  Interestingly, there is a type in the note calling it a ‘pneumonic’ device.  Maybe it helped him breathe better.
Phyllis P.: Thanks for the poetry list. I was a practitioner of the lost art of poetry memorization, and there are some old favorites here. Some Emily Dickenson, perhaps? And more Shakespeare.
Elizabeth F.: Great issue! Enjoyed it all from the Big Apple to larger-than-life Axis Sally et al is a great leap!  Thanks!
Jennifer S.: What a fascinating exploration of the origins of the term “The Big Apple”! I had always assumed that the nickname hearkened back to an agricultural past, but, of course, you know the old chestnut about what happens when we assume. Teased by your summary, I clicked over to read Popova’s essay, and I found the story behind the slang delightful — as delightful as a 1 lb.-5 oz. apple! She concludes, ” beginning a new life in New York City has remained a wager of the biggest existential apple,” and although I have not personally felt the lure of that wager, I recognize the power it has wielded in our culture, and which it still wields! (Witness _Hamilton_’s, “In New York you can be a new man”!) Thanks for an intriguing insight into the term. I will have to use this as a trivia question in one of my future quizzes! 
 
 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The percussionist

Best quote of the week:

“Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between. Raymond Chandler (1888-1959),  Letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 18, 1947 | Letters of Note (Vol. 1)

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

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.

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

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 23, 2021.

The ongoing fight to make public records public traditionally has been led by state press associations and independent members of the news media. As such, it has been viewed by state legislators and the public at large as self-serving. Access to public records has never been high on anyone else’s set of priorities.

What has happened in Virginia recently may signal a much needed change in all that. There, the state legislature has expanded public access to records of criminal investigations. The efforts that resulted in this expansion were led not by media organizations but by friends and family members of the victim of a police shooting in 2019 in Virginia Beach.

Too often public officials regard public records and their official actions as none of the public’s business. That assumption offers them ample cover for actions that are incompetent or worse. We all have an interest in changing that assumption. Public records, with only a few exceptions, should be public and accessible.

Wherever your interests lie, I also urge you to have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,362 subscribers and had a 24.9 percent open rate; 2 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.


Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space 60 years ago this month

Sixty years ago this month, a Russian named Yuri Gagarin shocked the world by leaving it – and then returning 108 minutes later.

Gargarin, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first human to escape the earth’s bounds by blasting into space aboard a Soviet Vostok spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Prior to the Soviet announcement of his flight, which was made before he had come back to earth, the world did not know that the Soviets even had a manned space program.

The world knew plenty about the space programs of both the Americans and the Soviets. In 1957 the Soviets put the first man-made object into orbit with their launch of Sputnik. During the 1950s, the Americans had made much of their space program, and it was generally believed that they were well ahead of the Russians in this area. The space programs of each nation had become symbols of their Cold War superiority.

Sputnik’s launch shattered American confidence and had deep political and cultural implications. Not only did the government accelerate the space program itself, but new initiatives in science and math education were begun at the high school and college levels.

Gagarin’s flight was yet another blow to American prestige and confidence. The U.S. space program had publicly announced the first class of seven astronauts, one of whom would be selected to be its first man in space.

The Soviets, on the other hand, had kept their manned to space program a secret – even from the 20 cosmonauts who had been selected for the program. These 20 men, a group that included Gagarin, were test pilots who believed they would be learning to fly a new kind of airplane.

Gagarin was 27 years old when he made his historic flight. Born in 1934, he lived with his family in an area that had suffered brutally from the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. In 1950 when he was 16 Gagarin move to Moscow to train for a factory job. His technical skills, however, led him into the Russian Flight Training Program.

Because the Americans had announced their intention of putting a man in space in May of 1961, the Russians accelerated their space program beyond their own technical capabilities. Thus, Gagarin flew into space with only a crude and minimum way of communicating with the Earth and with no real plan about exactly where he would land.

Most of his flight was uneventful. Re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere was where he had problems. His space capsule failed to separate properly, and he was nearly burned to death. It was only at the last minute that the proper separation occurred, and he was able to parachute safely to Earth. The problem then was that no one in Moscow knew exactly where he was.

By a sheer stroke of dumb luck, Gagarin landed in a potato field near the Volga River, a place with which he had some familiarity. A woman and her daughter were in the field at the time, and when they saw Gagarin walking toward them, they ran for their lives. Gagarin was able to make contact with Moscow, and the Kremlin announced that he had landed safely — without giving too many details, of course.

It was a Soviet triumph and another demonstration to the world that the Soviet Union was still ahead in the space race. Gagarin had orbited the earth once, and it would be the next February before American John Glenn became the first of this nation to surpass that feat.

Gagarin was treated like the hero he was. He traveled around the world, flashing a winning smile and making self-deprecating jokes. He was barred from coming to the U.S. by President John Kennedy, but elsewhere he achieved the status of a rock star.

The fame and adulation did little to enhance Gagarin’s personal life. When he went into space, he had a wife and two small daughters. His post-orbit touring left him with a reputation as a womanizer and alcoholic. He cleaned up his life enough to rejoin the Soviet space program but was considered too valuable an asset to the Soviets to go on another mission. The most they would allow him to do was to become a test pilot again.

That turned out to be too much.

In 1968 he died when the plane he was testing crashed. He was only 36 years old.

Heads and Tales podcast: Bob Considine

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 Bob Considine and his journalism.

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”


Anna Ella Carroll, strategic genius or relentless self-promoter

Was Anna Ella Carroll the “military genius,” the “strategic mastermind,” and the “forgotten heroine” of the American Civil War that many of her adherents claim? What she the shadow member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, unacknowledged because of her gender?

Or was she simply a relentless self-promoter?

Much time and effort among historians, both professional and amateur, have been spent during the last 150 years attempting to sort out the real story of what, by any measure, this remarkable woman did or did not do in the fight to preserve the Union?

Anna Ella Carroll was born in 1815, the daughter of hey rich Maryland tobacco planter whose family had been prominent in the state’s public life for generations. Her father Thomas Carroll was involved in politics and eventually became governor of the state in 1830. He often took his daughter with him on political trips, and her interest in politics grew as she developed into an adult.

Carroll involved herself fully in the raucous and confusing national and local politics of the 1850s. She supported Millard Fillmore for president in 1856 and wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on his behalf. Maryland is the one state the Fillmore carried during that election, and many people then and later attributed that victory to her influence. At some point during this period, she became an ardent abolitionist, but she did not free her own slaves until after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

As the nation divided itself between secessionists and unionists, Carroll was a vocal proponent of preserving the Union and again used the power of her written word to persuade Marylanders that secession was a bad idea.

She also wrote articles and pamphlets that clearly set forth Constitutional justifications for many of President Lincoln’s actions in preserving the Union. Her writing established her as a Constitutional thinker of the first order, and many of those who have examined her life since then have concluded that this was her greatest contribution to the war effort.

Lincoln undoubtedly was grateful for all of the help that came from any quarter, but Anna Ella Carroll wanted a larger role than simply that of a Constitutionalist thinker. She inserted herself into the Lincoln Administration and was assigned to accompany an army officer to assess prospects for the war in the West. Here, her role in the administration becomes murkier. She worked out a plan for attacking the South beginning at the mouth of the Tennessee River. She later claimed sole credit for the plan, but such a plan has already appeared in the New York Times two weeks before she had submitted it to the Army.

Carroll also claimed an advisors’ role for Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and she was an advocate of colonizing freed slaves to locations in and around the Caribbean.

After the war, Carroll made bold, public claims about her role as an advisor to the Lincoln Administration, and she said Lincoln had promised to acknowledge that role once the war had ended. Lincoln, of course, was assassinated, and no such acknowledgment was ever made. Carroll also claimed the government owed her $5,000 for her expenses and as payment for the strategic plan did she had submitted.

Carroll spent much of the next 30 years pressing that claim. Her case was made before various courts, administrative tribunals, and congressional committees. She always received sympathetic hearings and often positive conclusions, but Congress never authorized the money for her.

Her cause was taken up by the burgeoning suffrage movement as yet another case where a woman’s contribution to public life had been ignored or dismissed because of her gender. Sarah Ellen Blackwell, one of the leaders of the movement, even wrote a biography of her:  A Military Genius: Life of Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland,

Carroll died in 1894, officially unacknowledged and uncompensated. The stories and myths about her actions during the Civil War grew throughout the next 125 years. Today the state of Maryland has made her a member of its Hall of Fame. She was a forceful and intelligent writer who believed deeply in the sanctity of the Union. Her interest in military matters went beyond simple map-reading.

The lack of documentation and the general dismissal of women from these areas, however, has put her real role in the war in doubt, and those doubts continue today.

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

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: http://bit.ly/wordsworth-tinternabby

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at http://bit.ly/longfellow-villageblacksmith.

Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson here: http://bit.ly/tennyson-ulysses

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

To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennysonhttp://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade

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

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scotthttp://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvellhttp://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowhttp://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/NPM-Poe-AnnabelLee

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grayhttp://bit.ly/gray-elegy

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browninghttp://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/poe-theraven

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespearehttp://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18

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

Vince V.: There are few subjects on which I consider myself well read. Hemingway may be the exception. Other than a few anecdotes from wives #3 and #4, I received no new information from the recent documentary. 

I first read OLD MAN/SEA when I was 15. Then all the short stories. I think I’ve read every major and minor biography. I have visited all his homes and have walked the “Hemingway trail” in Paris. His first novels are masterworks. His posthumous novels — GARDEN OF EDEN and ISLANDS IN THE STREAM — are empty shells. 

I celebrate the writer. The man disgusts me. I have learned to separate them.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The young artist

Best quote of the week:

You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him. Booker T. Washington, reformer, educator, and author (1856-1915)

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: Sherwood Anderson, deliberate practice, and the stolen Vermeer: newsletter, April 16, 2021

Anna Ella Carroll, strategic mastermind or relentless self-promoter?

Was Anna Ella Carroll the “military genius,” the “strategic mastermind,” and the “forgotten heroine” of the American Civil War that many of her adherents claim? What she the shadow member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, unacknowledged because of her gender?

Or was she simply a relentless self-promoter?

Much time and effort among historians, both professional and amateur, have been spent during the last 150 years attempting to sort out the real story of what, by any measure, this remarkable woman did or did not do in the fight to preserve the Union?

Anna Ella Carroll was born in 1815, the daughter of hey rich Maryland tobacco planter whose family had been prominent in the state’s public life for generations. Her father Thomas Carroll was involved in politics and eventually became governor of the state in 1830. He often took his daughter with him on political trips, and her interest in politics grew as she developed into an adult.

Carroll involved herself fully in the raucous and confusing national and local politics of the 1850s. She supported Millard Fillmore for president in 1856 and wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on his behalf. Maryland is the one state the Fillmore carried during that election, and many people then and later attributed that victory to her influence. At some point during this period, she became an ardent abolitionist, but she did not free her own slaves until after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

As the nation divided itself between secessionists and unionists, Carroll was a vocal proponent of preserving the Union and again used the power of her written word to persuade Marylanders that secession was a bad idea.

She also wrote articles and pamphlets that clearly set forth Constitutional justifications for many of President Lincoln’s actions in preserving the Union. Her writing established her as a Constitutional thinker of the first order, and many of those who have examined her life since then have concluded that this was her greatest contribution to the war effort.

Lincoln undoubtedly was grateful for all of the help that came from any quarter, but Anna Ella Carroll wanted a larger role than simply that of a Constitutionalist thinker. She inserted herself into the Lincoln Administration and was assigned to accompany an army officer to assess prospects for the war in the West. Here, her role in the administration becomes murkier. She worked out a plan for attacking the South beginning at the mouth of the Tennessee River. She later claimed sole credit for the plan, but such a plan has already appeared in the New York Times two weeks before she had submitted it to the Army.

Carroll also claimed an advisors’ role for Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and she was an advocate of colonizing freed slaves to locations in and around the Caribbean.

After the war, Carroll made bold, public claims about her role as an advisor to the Lincoln Administration, and she said Lincoln had promised to acknowledge that role once the war had ended. Lincoln, of course, was assassinated, and no such acknowledgment was ever made. Carroll also claimed the government owed her $5,000 for her expenses and as payment for the strategic plan did she had submitted.

Carroll spent much of the next 30 years pressing that claim. Her case was made before various courts, administrative tribunals, and congressional committees. She always received sympathetic hearings and often positive conclusions, but Congress never authorized the money for her.

Her cause was taken up by the burgeoning suffrage movement as yet another case where a woman’s contribution to public life had been ignored or dismissed because of her gender. Sarah Ellen Blackwell, one of the leaders of the movement, even wrote a biography of her:  A Military Genius: Life of Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland,

Carroll died in 1894, officially unacknowledged and uncompensated. The stories and myths about her actions during the Civil War grew throughout the next 125 years. Today the state of Maryland has made her a member of its Hall of Fame. She was a forceful and intelligent writer who believed deeply in the sanctity of the Union. Her interest in military matters went beyond simple map-reading.

The lack of documentation and the general dismissal of women from these areas, however, has put her real role in the war in doubt, and those doubts continue today.

Sherwood Anderson: Hemingway’s mentor and object of his ridicule

Even if you are the most avid Ernest Hemingway fan on your city block or country road, chances are you have not read his novel The torrents of spring. The novel itself is probably not worth reading, but the story behind it is worth knowing because of what it tells us about Hemingway the human being.

And the story is not a particularly uplifting one.

We should first start, however, with Sherwood Anderson, one of the Great American Writers of the early 20th century. Anderson is mostly remembered for his book of short stories, Winesburg Ohio, in which he examines the isolation and loneliness found it American Life during the first decade of the 1900s. The stories were most likely written in 1915 and 1916, and the book was published in 1919. It was one of the earliest works of what came to be known as the modernist movement in American literature

The book was well-received critically and established Anderson as one of the major authors of the Chicago Renaissance that included Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg. The book was written in a style that deemphasized to plot and instead put its major reliance on the development of the characters within the story. The people and places in the story were realistically rendered. The book deliberately steps away from the romanticism that imbued many 19th-century novels.

As such, it was seen as something new and fresh, and Anderson was, in the eyes of many, a breakthrough author. Anderson wrote in a straightforward, simple manner with nouns and verbs and only minimal use of adjectives and adverbs.

Anderson was part of a cadre of writers and artists in and around Chicago that later became known as the Chicago Renaissance. It was into that milieu that a young Ernest Hemingway, fresh from his experiences in Italy during World War I, entered hoping to become a well-known writer. Anderson read what Hemingway had written and realized something of the potential of the Young author. He advised Hemingway and his new wife, Hadley, to go to Paris, a place that Anderson knew well and where he had many artistic friends. Hemingway, he said, could live there cheaply and learn his craft. Anderson also armed Hemingway with letters of introduction to people such as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

Hemingway followed Anderson’s advice and went to Paris. Anderson continued to champion Hemingway, and in 1925 when he was ready find a publisher for a set of short stories, In Our Time, Anderson was more than happy to help. Anderson himself was looking for a new publisher for his latest novel, Dark Laughter. He landed a contract with Boni and Liveright, and he encouraged that publisher to take on Hemingway as well. When that happened, Hemingway gave Henderson full credit for “getting my stuff published.”

Hemingway quickly grew disillusioned with the publishers and their anemic — at least in his mind – efforts to promote his book. He had been working on a novel based on his experiences during the war, and he and others who have read it considered it to be very good. He wanted to place it with a publisher that he felt would give it the attention that it deserved.

The problem was that in a standard author’s contract such as the one he had signed with Boni and Liveright, there was a “right of first refusal” clause. That means that the publisher can publish the next work of the author if it chooses to do so. If the publisher chooses not to accept the work, the author is free to take the work to another publisher. F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose publisher was Simon & Schuster and whose editor was the famous Max Perkins, told Hemingway but this should be the place for his next novel.

But how to get out of Hemingway’s contract?

Fitzgerald and Hemingway cooked up a scheme whereby Hemingway would write a short novel that savagely satirized Sherwood Anderson and his novel Dark Laughter. The Publishers, they felt, would not be able to accept such a book. Hemingway followed through with the idea, and in ten days he wrote the 28,000-word novel, The Torrents of Spring. When he sent the manuscript off to Boni and Liveright, the publisher did as he expected and rejected it. 

Hemingway was thus free to find a new publisher for this and subsequent books, and that publisher was Simon & Schuster, which proceeded to publish The Torrents of Spring but was really after Hemingway’s first great novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Ironically, dark laughter became a best-seller, the only work of Sherwood Anderson to achieve the status.

Anderson continued to encourage young writers such as William Faulkner until his death in 1941. Today we remember him as much for that encouragement as for the works he himself produced.

 

 

 

Sherwood Anderson, deliberate practice, and the stolen Vermeer: newsletter, April 16, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 16, 2021.

The six-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary on Ernest Hemingway has sparked hundreds of articles (including one below) and tens of thousands of comments about the man, his writing, and his life. Hemingway died 60 years ago, but his work is still read and honored and his life is a source of endless stories and fascination.

The documentary leaves two simple impressions: Hemingway was the greatest writer of the 20th century. and Hemingway was an unremittingly awful person. On reflection, both impressions call for some mitigation, some opposing opinion. To conclude thinking about Hemingway with just those two impressions – easy as they are to form — is to stop short of a full understanding of this talented, flawed, and ultimately tragic human being.

Hemingway lived the life that few others could have lived. He wrote in a way that no one before him has written. His personal demons drove him to do great things and to do terrible things. His complexities are far greater than even a six-hour television documentary could encompass.

With those thoughts in mind, I also urge you to have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,367 subscribers and had a 28.6 percent open rate; 3 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.


Sherwood Anderson: Hemingway’s mentor and object of his ridicule

Even if you are the most avid Ernest Hemingway fan on your city block or country road, chances are you have not read his novel The Torrents of Spring. The novel itself is probably not worth reading, but the story behind it is worth knowing because of what it tells us about Hemingway the human being.

And the story is not a particularly uplifting one.

We should first start, however, with Sherwood Anderson, one of the great American writers of the early 20th century. Anderson is mostly remembered for his book of short stories, Winesburg Ohio, in which he examines the isolation and loneliness found in American life during the first decade of the 1900s. The stories were most likely written in 1915 and 1916, and the book was published in 1919. It was one of the earliest works of what came to be known as the modernist movement in American literature

The book was well-received critically and established Anderson as one of the major authors of the Chicago Renaissance that included Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg. The book was written in a style that de-emphasized plot and instead put its major reliance on the development of the characters within the story. The people and places in the story were realistically rendered. The book deliberately steps away from the romanticism that imbued many 19th-century novels.

As such, it was seen as something new and fresh, and Anderson was, in the eyes of many, a breakthrough author. Anderson wrote in a straightforward, simple manner with nouns and verbs and only minimal use of adjectives and adverbs.

Anderson was part of a cadre of writers and artists in and around Chicago that later became known as the Chicago Renaissance. It was into that milieu that a young Ernest Hemingway, fresh from his experiences in Italy during World War I, entered hoping to become a well-known writer. Anderson read what Hemingway had written and realized something of the potential of the young author. He advised Hemingway and his new wife, Hadley, to go to Paris, a place that Anderson knew well and where he had many artistic friends. Hemingway, he said, could live there cheaply and learn his craft. Anderson also armed Hemingway with letters of introduction to people such as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

Hemingway followed Anderson’s advice and went to Paris. Anderson continued to champion Hemingway, and in 1925 when he was ready to find a publisher for a set of short stories, In Our Time, Anderson was more than happy to help. Anderson himself was looking for a new publisher for his latest novel, Dark Laughter. He landed a contract with Boni and Liveright, and he encouraged that publisher to take on Hemingway as well. When that happened, Hemingway gave Anderson full credit for “getting my stuff published.”

Hemingway quickly grew disillusioned with the publishers and their anemic — at least in his mind – efforts to promote his book. He had been working on a novel based on his experiences during the war, and he and others who have read it considered it to be very good. He wanted to place it with a publisher that he felt would give it the attention that it deserved.

The problem was that in a standard author’s contract such as the one he had signed with Boni and Liveright, there was a “right of first refusal” clause. That means that the publisher can publish the next work of the author if it chooses to do so. If the publisher chooses not to accept the work, the author is free to take the work to another publisher. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose publisher was Simon & Schuster and whose editor was the famous Max Perkins, told Hemingway but this should be the place for his next novel. But how to get out of Hemingway’s contract?

Fitzgerald and Hemingway cooked up a scheme whereby Hemingway would write a short novel that savagely satirized Sherwood Anderson and his novel Dark Laughter. The publishers, they felt, would not be able to accept such a book. Hemingway followed through with the idea, and in ten days he wrote the 28,000-word novel, The Torrents of Spring. When he sent the manuscript off to Boni and Liveright, the publisher did as he expected and rejected it. 

Hemingway was thus free to find a new publisher for this and subsequent books, and that publisher was Simon & Schuster, which proceeded to publish The Torrents of Spring but was really after Hemingway’s first great novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Ironically, Dark Laughter became a best-seller, the only work of Sherwood Anderson to achieve the status.

Anderson continued to encourage young writers such as William Faulkner until his death in 1941. Today we remember him as much for that encouragement as for the works he himself produced.

Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

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.

The book contains many caricatures and stories that you have seen and read in this newsletter, plus some that have not made it here yet.

The podcast is me talking about some of the people that I have written about and caricatures that I have drawn. The podcast can be heard almost anywhere that you can find podcasts (like here on Apple podcasts), and the podcast website is this: heads-and-tales.simplecast.com

This week’s episode is about Churchill the writer – part 3.

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”


Deliberate practice: the road to getting better

Too often, when we are complimenting a work of artistry, we say the person who produced it has “talent.” But such a comment — without our meaning it to be — is dismissive rather than complimentary.

What it dismisses is the amount of time and hard work that has gone into producing the artistry.

It discounts the “deliberate practice” that has gone into developing the talent that a person has. Shane Parrish in his FarnhamStreet.com blog delves deeply into the concept of deliberate practice in a long article about what it takes to “get better” at doing something.

Deliberate practice is what turns amateurs into professionals. Across every field, deliberate practice is what creates top performers and what they use to stay at the top of their game. It’s absolutely essential for expert performance.

As a general concept, “practice” means preparing. It’s the act of repeatedly performing certain activities with the intention of improving a specific associated skill. We rehearse what to do in low-pressure situations so we’ll be better when we use a skill in situations where something is actually at stake, such as in a competition or in the workplace. Although this definition may seem obvious, it’s crucial to distinguish between doing something and practicing it, because they’re not always synonymous. Source: The Ultimate Deliberate Practice Guide: How to Be the Best

What Parrish is writing about is getting better at any activity — not just ones we consider “artistic.”

If you want to get better at doing something, this article is definitely worth the time.

Rose Dugdale and the stolen Vermeer

Rose Dugdale’s life, in the 1950s and 1960s, seemed to be on a straight path of privilege, success, and accomplishment.

Dugdale had been born in 1941 to an upper-class family in Great Britain. She spent her early years on vast ancestral estates and grew up to be a beautiful and pleasant young lady. When she was of the proper age, she was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England. Those who remember her from these early years describe her in glowing terms.

In 1959, she began her studies in politics, economics, and philosophy at St. Anne’s College in Oxford. It was there that Dugdale began to realize how privileged her life had been and the best differences good life had offered to most other people. She also realized how differently women were treated in her emerging adult world.

Women, for instance, we’re not able to participate in the famous Oxford Union debating society. She and another student crashed the union meeting to protest their exclusion. When she had finished at Oxford, she traveled to the United States to continue her studies. She completed her master’s degree at Mount Holyoke College and then returned to London where she obtained a doctorate in economics.

Dugdale’s radicalization continued through the 1960s as she observed student movements and various protests against established authority. She quit her job as an economics teacher, cashed out her inheritance, sold her house in Chelsea, and moved in with an ex-Army vet in north London. There, she distributed her money to poor people in the area.

With the beginning of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, she took an increasing interest in the civil rights demonstrations taking place, and she visited Northern Ireland several times. In 1973, she and her boyfriend, Walter Heaton, were arrested and charged with stealing more than 80,000 pounds worth of goods from her family’s home. Both were convicted, and he was given a jail sentence while Dugdale received only a suspended sentence.

After the trial, Dugdale declared herself to be an active member of the Irish Republican Army. In January the next year, she and an IRA man stole a helicopter and attempted to drop homemade bombs in milk cans onto a Northern Ireland police station. A warrant was issued for her arrest, and she went underground. In April 1974, she and two IRA members forced their way into the Russborough House, a large estate in the Republic of Ireland, beat up the owners, and stole several million dollars worth of paintings. One of those paintings was a Vermeer: Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid,

The plan was to hold the paintings hostage and to demand money and the release of certain jailed IRA members. A nationwide search by the police ensued, and within about two weeks the paintings and their captors were found. Dugdale was charged with multiple crimes. She used the trial as a forum to declare her commitment to freeing Ireland completely from British rule. She was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.

All of her activities during these times made her a darling of the international press. She was the Debutante-turned-Radical, and there were countless accounts of her appearance and clothing. Outside of her political world, Dugdale made history in another realm. She was the first woman to mastermind an art theft.

That’s the part of her story that interests author Anthony Amore, who has written a recently-published book, The True Story of Rose Dugdale, The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, claiming that she is responsible not only for the crime for which she was convicted but also for another major art theft:

The first Russborough House heist (as of 2020, there have now been, incredibly, four) established Rose Dugdale as the great outlier—history’s first and only female mastermind and thief of high-value, highly recognizable masterpieces. It must be emphasized that she wasn’t just a hired gun or a lookout—she was the force behind the planning and execution of the crime, the leader of, and key to, the whole sordid and fantastic affair. The men who accompanied her were merely muscle.

None of them had the knowledge of Russborough House’s holdings to target it and wouldn’t have known what to select from the walls even if they had. But Rose knew, and she chose very well. In fact, even if she had left behind the Vermeer during the Russborough House job (an oversight she would never have made), most of the other eighteen works would still qualify her take as among the greatest in art theft history. Yet more incredibly, this was likely not Dugdale’s only foray into stealing masterpieces. Source: The True Story of Rose Dugdale, The Woman Who Stole Vermeer ‹ CrimeReads

Dugdale was released from prison after serving for more than five years. She now lives in Dublin, Ireland, and has never spoken or written extensively about her activities with the Irish Republican Army.

++++

The New York Review of Books has this review of Amore’s book: A Vermeer for the IRA | by Ruth Bernard Yeazell | The New York Review of Books

Reactions

Eric S.: Many people insist you cannot separate the art from the artist. They suggest that when a big jerk like Hemingway writes a masterpiece like For Whom the Bell Tolls, it should be avoided rather than appreciated for what it is. I respect those who feel that way and feel lucky I don’t. I finish every Hemingway book in awe that such a flawed human being wrote such magnificent stories with such humanity. Fact is, we all are profoundly flawed but only a chosen few have the discipline and talent to make great art.
Elizabeth F.: HEMINGWAY…just 2 parts in and finding a lot unforgettable and made more so by my experiences in Paris and following many Hemingway treks and haunts around the city,  The James Joyce bio also provides a view as do so many other writers.  I am charmed by the impact of Jeff Daniel’s reading Hemingway.  It works well and reminds again that reading my written words out loud makes me a better editor and writer.  It also reminds me of my dad’s reliance on his proofreaders who read aloud and corrected spelling, grammar, facts…all out loud. Thanks for this weekly fun.  I look forward to it every time,
Kitty G.: My favorite from the ’60s …. Martha and the Vandellas …. Dancing in the Streets!!

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Early morning bike ride

 

Best quote of the week:

If life’s lessons could be reduced to single sentences, there would be no need for fiction. Scott Turow, author and lawyer (b. 1949)

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: Hemingway’s month, Rolling Stone’s Motown list, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, April 9, 2021

Hemingway’s month, Rolling Stone’s Motown list, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, April 9, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,368) on Friday, April 9, 2021.

 

The concept of ownership is so deeply embedded in our minds that, if we think about it at all, we probably consider it part of the natural world around us. It isn’t. It is a human concept. Even though our language has a whole case of pronouns devoted to it, possession and ownership are things that we have constructed, but we rarely any thought to them.

That’s why I found the book, Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership and How They Control Our Lives by law professors Michael Heller and James Salzman, so fascinating. What do we own? How did we obtain it? These questions go far beyond legal concepts, and the authors of this book, using plain, everyday language, are happy to take us there. If we are standing in line, do we own that place in line? If we buy an airline ticket, do we own that seat and the space around it? When we go to the doctor, and the folks there record our weight, blood pressure, and heart rate, who owns those numbers?

The concept of ownership – something I had never considered – has offered me some new and fascinating thought problems that have been fun and enlightening to delve into. Whatever you are currently delving into, I urge you to have a great weekend doing it.

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We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week.

Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time.

Once again, Burns and Novick selected a topic with broad appeal and treated it with the depth and the courage that its complexity deserves. Ernest Hemingway was not simply a writer. He was a truly great writer whose life and whose work forces us to pay attention, no matter what his faults were.

His faults were legion and obvious. He exhibited himself boldly with what many today would term as “toxic masculinity.” He glorified big game hunting and bullfighting. He used and then discarded women. He took credit for bold deeds and actions that were not his. His racism and antisemitism we’re barely concealed. His consumption of alcohol and its impairment to his good instincts are difficult to excuse.

Yet Hemingway’s talent, his work ethic, and ultimately the books and the short stories that he produced rerouted the world’s literature into a modern era, and no writer who came after him has been able to escape his influence.

Hemingway pioneered a new type of prose that broke sharply with the loquacious language employed by 19-century writers. One of his guiding principles was the words have extraordinary power in and of themselves. Hemingway used short words in short declarative sentences to convey this power to the reader. He is often quoted as saying that the writer’s job was to find that “one true sentence.”

He spent his life and his extraordinary gifts trying to find that one true sentence.

The Burns-Novick documentary covers all of this ground, and that in itself would make it worth watching. In some circles, Hemingway has fallen out of favor, and young people today do not read his books and short stories as much as they once did. That is a shame because, if anything, Hemingway seems to be directing his prose and his ideas to young adults.

The producers of the documentary say they are often confronted but people who know of Ernest Hemingway but who have never read anything by him, and they are often asked, “Where do I start?”

It’s a good question. It has many answers. My answer is The Old Man and the Sea. What’s yours?

+++

Hemingway on occasion could be an absolute jerk. His treatment of his wives was often devious and cruel. One of my favorite stories is about Martha Gellhorn, his third wife who as a writer and particularly a war correspondent was his superior in many ways. In this particular instance, Gellhorn turned Hemingway’s cruelty into an asset.

Podcast recommendation: Spy Affair from Wondery

Podcast producer Wondery has come up with what sounds like another winning series: Spy Affair.

It’s the story of Russian operative Maria Butina, who came to America and inserted herself into politics at the time that Donald Trump was on the rise within the Republican Party.

Here’s part of the official description:

A charismatic Russian woman arrives in the US on a mission to improve relations between the two countries, and she soon makes some powerful friends. But who is Maria Butina? And who is she working for? As Maria gets closer to the rich and connected, she also attracts the attention of the FBI. In the politically charged world of US-Russia relations, everyone has secrets and almost nothing is what it seems. Source: ‎Spy Affair on Apple Podcasts

Hosted by Celia Aniskovich. several episodes are available with more to come. Wondery does its usual high level of audio production. The true-crime fans will enjoy this one.

Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

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.

The book contains many caricatures and stories that you have seen and read in this newsletter, plus some that have not made it here yet.

The podcast is me talking about some of the people that I have written about and caricatures that I have drawn. The podcast can be heard almost anywhere that you can find podcasts (like here on Apple podcasts), and the podcast website is this: heads-and-tales.simplecast.com

This week’s episode is about Churchill the Writer (part 2).

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”


Rolling Stone identifies the top 100 Motown hits

The editors of Rolling Stone have done us Motown aficionados a solid favor by identifying the top 100 — that’s right, a cool hundred — Motown hits and tell us some of the stories behind the music.

You know the list is a good one when the 100th song on the list is “Shop Around” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. This is what RS had to say about “Shop Around”:

If you want to hear how Berry Gordy fine-tuned Detroit R&B for wider (and whiter) pop appeal without watering it down, compare the two versions the Miracles recorded of this 1960 Smokey Robinson classic. A few days after the first was released locally, Gordy second-guessed himself — “too slow, not enough life,” he grumbled — and he brought everyone back to record the peppier version that became Motown’s first million-seller. A Number One R&B hit, “Shop Around” was only kept out of the Number One slot on the pop charts by Lawrence Welk. —K.H. Source: Best Motown Songs: Supremes, Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson – Rolling Stone

They also provide soundtracks for all the songs.

The magazine has the song divided up into 10 each per page, and that lets you skip to their top choices immediately. I confess that’s what I did, but I won’t steal the magazine’s thunder by revealing any of the top 10.

Here are a few of their choices:

99. Martha and the Vandellas, “Jimmy Mack” (1966)

88. The Four Tops, “It’s the Same Old Song” (1965)

77. Brenda Holloway, “Every Little Bit Hurts” (1964)

66. Marvin Gaye, “I Want You” (1976)

55. The Temptations, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (1971)

44. Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman” (1970)

33. The Commodores, “Nightshift” (1985)

22. Marvin Gaye, “Got to Give It Up” (1977)

11. Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1968)

I’ll let you take it from there.

If I had to pick a number one favorite, I don’t think I could do it. Still, I have a lot of affection for The Marvelettes (above) “Please, Mr. Postman,” (1961), which comes in at 19 on the Rolling Stone list.

Reactions

Curtis D.: As a former educator (high school band director), I completely agree about being able to get a good education anywhere if you actually want one.
My favorite Larry McMurty was The Last Picture Show.

Marcia D.: It is definitely up to the student to do well at college.  I did extremely well in college over high school, probably because I had been bullied from elementary school through high school.

Dan C.: I disagree with your opening statement, and it isn’t solely because all three of the colleges I attended are considered top-tier institutions. I spent my freshman year at West Point, took two literature courses at UCLA one summer to meet the requirements for a dual major while still graduating on time. I graduated from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College due to the integration of women in 1977).
According to major rating organizations, CMC and Pomona College are both top-ten Liberals Arts Colleges, while Harvey-Mudd College is a top ten Engineering Colleges. I know I twice encountered the difference between CMC and California State University Fullerton and California Polytechnic University in Pomona. My advisor once asked me why I didn’t attend Cal State where I could put in the amount of work I did to get my B’s and C’s (at CMC) and get A’s.

One semester the school registrar messed up and did not close registration for the Accounting Class and wound up with 60 students enrolled. They had to hire a teacher from down the freeway at Cal Poly to take half the students (at thirty students it was my only time in the three years I was there that there were more than 15 students in my classroom). On the first day of the class, the teacher told us the number of points we would need in order to get each grade (the system she used at Cal Poly). After the final, she posted our grades and I was to get an A. When I received my grades in the mail it showed a B. I went to the registrar and asked why. I was told that too many students in the class had received As and the grades were changed to reflect CMC’s policy of grade deflation. In the end, I wound up graduating 197th in my class … out of 197, though I must admit, there were 205 seniors in my class, At the time, all I saw was 20 to 30 years in the Army. I did not know six months later I would break my back in a parachute jump, which eventually ended my career early.

I attended Claremont primarily for its name, with the secondary advantage of its exceptional ROTC program, I do believe that how a school is rated does come into play when the selection of a school. When I went to get my MBA (nearly 20 years after my Dual BA in Economics and Literature) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, they were not allowed to offer an MBA. There was a state policy that if two state schools were located in the same city, they could not offer the same advanced degrees. Alabama A&M, the historically black college, also in Huntsville already offered an MBA.
I received an MS in Management of Technology (based on MIT’s Sloan School of Business curriculum). Alabama A&M’s business school was not accredited, while UAH’s program was accredited. Would you say that the two schools’ programs were equivalent? 
In 1980, as a young second lieutenant, I (and all the newly minted butter bars) took part in an Army-wide testing program. It was a comprehensive math and English test. This test was given to college graduates, but the highest level the results rated was 13th-grade plus. A concern the testing raised was that graduates of the historically black colleges averaged an 11th grade understanding of math and English. Again, I cannot blame that on the students not having the desire to get a good education, but a failure at the university level.
I know that students from Claremont, Harvard, or MIT will be looked at differently than those from many state colleges or universities when it comes to graduate school admissions. Even when it comes to schools within the same university system. While the minimum admission standards for the University of California Berkley and UC Merced are the same, I do not think the actual admission standards are the same. 

Bruce H.: Totally agree that you can get a good education whether you’re at Harvard or UT-Martin. But you tell me: If the University of Tennessee is hiring a new faculty member and one has a Ph.D. from Harvard and the other from UT-Martin, who will be the favorite to win the post? For the parents involved it wasn’t about the quality of education; it was about the brand, and securing a place in the elite for the offspring, not to mention parental pride and competition with other parents.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Another flute player

 

Best quote of the week:

Everybody, that is, everybody who writes, is interested in living inside themselves to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real, but it is really there. Gertrude Stein, writer, 1874-1946

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: Millions of Cats, Passing notes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and more on Opening Day: newsletter, April 2, 2021

We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week.

Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time.

Once again, Burns and Novick selected a topic with broad appeal and treated it with the depth and the courage that its complexity deserves. Ernest Hemingway was not simply a writer. He was a truly great writer whose life and whose work forces us to pay attention, no matter what his faults were.

His faults were legion and obvious. He exhibited himself boldly with what many today would term as “toxic masculinity.” He glorified big game hunting and bullfighting. He used and then discarded women. He took credit for bold deeds and actions that were not his. His racism and antisemitism we’re barely concealed. His consumption of alcohol and its impairment to his good instincts are difficult to excuse.

Yet Hemingway’s talent, his work ethic, and ultimately the books and the short stories that he produced rerouted the world’s literature into a modern era, and no writer who came after him has been able to escape his influence.

Hemingway pioneered a new type of prose that broke sharply with the loquacious language employed by 19-century writers. One of his guiding principles was the words have extraordinary power in and of themselves. Hemingway used short words in short declarative sentences to convey this power to the reader. He is often quoted as saying that the writer’s job was to find that “one true sentence.”

He spent his life and his extraordinary gifts trying to find that one true sentence.

The Burns-Novick documentary covers all of this ground, and that in itself would make it worth watching. In some circles, Hemingway has fallen out of favor, and young people today do not read his books and short stories as much as they once did. That is a shame because, if anything, Hemingway seems to be directing his prose and his ideas to young adults.

The producers of the documentary say they are often confronted but people who know of Ernest Hemingway but who have never read anything by him, and they are often asked, “Where do I start?”

It’s a good question. It has many answers. My answer is The Old Man and the Sea. What’s yours?

+++

Hemingway on occasion could be an absolute jerk. His treatment of his wives was often devious and cruel. One of my favorite stories is about Martha Gellhorn, his third wife who as a writer and particularly a war correspondent was his superior in many ways. In this particular instance, Gellhorn turned Hemingway’s cruelty into an asset.

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman – Nellie Bly: allowing the girls to dream

When Elizabeth Cochran was 16 years old, she lived with her family in Pittsburgh. The year was 1880, and Elizabeth was intelligent and precocious. The Pittsburgh Dispatch ran an article titled “What Girls are Good For,” and the author concluded the girls were good for having babies and keeping house.

It was not an unpopular opinion at the time, but Elizabeth was offended. She wrote a response, which she signed as “Lonely Orphan Girl,” and sent it to the paper. The editor, George Madden, was so impressed that he ran an advertisement asking the author of the article to identify herself.

Elizabeth did so, at Madden ask her to write another article. Elizabeth wrote about how divorce affected women at that time, and she argued for the reform of divorce laws. Because pseudonyms were more common than real bylines during that era, the editors of the Dispatch decided that Elizabeth needed a pen name. Cochran wanted it to be Nelly Bly, but the editor in charge misspelled it.

Thus, she became Nellie Bly, America’s first great modern female news reporter.

It didn’t take her long to show the readers of the Dispatch what kind of reporter she would be. One of her main subjects was the lives of working women, and she wrote an investigative series on women factory workers. The factory owners complained, and she was transferred from the news department to the women’s pages to cover things like fashion, society, and gardening.

Such assignments, as you can imagine, were less than satisfying for this ambitious, driven young woman.

Cochran was always out to do things that had never been done before, and when she was 21, she persuaded her editors to send her to Mexico where she spent six months reporting on how Mexicans live their lives. In one of her reports, she protested the jailing of a fellow journalist who had criticized the Mexican government. When government officials found out what she had written, they threatened to arrest her, too. She quickly fled the country, and the articles she had written were gathered together in a book titled Six Months in Mexico

Back in Pittsburgh, Cochran was exiled again to the women’s pages and given many of her old assignments. She knew there was something better in the world of journalism for her, so she quit the paper. She then traveled to New York City, and after four months of surviving on nearly no money, she talked her way into Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newsroom. She convinced the editors that she could do the unusual assignments and produce the sensational stories that they were looking for.

The year was 1887, and many people were concerned about how the state was treating people who were mentally ill and who were residents of state institutions. Cochran got herself admitted as a patient to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). It was no easy task to get in, and it was even more difficult to stay there. Cochran did both, and during her 10-day stay, she witnessed the appalling conditions that the patients had to endure.

Cochran’s observations and conclusions were published in a two-part series in the New York World, and they were later expanded to a book title Ten Days in a Madhouse. The lunatic asylum story made Cochran famous as Nellie Bly and launched an era of participatory journalism that came to be known as stunt journalism. That name, “stunt journalism,” has never been satisfactory because it denigrates the courage and cleverness that women journalists, in particular, faced and doing it.

The name also dismisses the effects of some of this journalism. Not only did they increase circulation for the newspapers, but they also had lasting social consequences. Cochran’s series on asylum conditions launched an investigation that resulted in reforms in the way the mentally ill were treated.

Cochran followed up her asylum expose two years later with a trip around the world in response to the title of Jules Verne’s popular book Around the World in 80 Days, published in 1873. After she had set out on her journey, another female reporter for another New York newspaper did the same thing, but she went in the opposite direction. The newspapers made a contest out of their journeys to see who would arrive back in New York City in the shortest time.

Cochran did not know she was participating in a race and only heard about it when she reached Hong Kong. She dismissed the competition as inconsequential, but she made it back to New York first after traveling for 72 days. She wrote numerous stories during her journey about what she was seeing and the people that she met.

One of the significant elements of her journey was that she traveled alone for most of the time. In an age when it was thought that women should be accompanied, even if they were just walking down the street, this was a radical act.

In 1895, Cochran married Robert Seaman, an industrialist who was more than 40 years her senior. Seaman died in 1904, and Cochran took over his manufacturing business. During that time she became a certified inventor, registering a patent for a new type of stackable milk cans. She did not do well as a businesswoman, however, and the company went bankrupt.

After that, Cochran returned to reporting and traveled to Europe’s Eastern Front during World War I. She was the first woman reporter to visit the war zone between Serbia and Austria and was actually arrested when she was mistaken for a British spy.

Back in the United States, she died in 1922 of pneumonia.

Cochran’s life and story went far beyond to journalism that she produced. She gave girls by the thousands a chance to dream of doing something large and significant with their lives. 

Wanda Gág and her Millions of Cats

Illustrator-genius Wanda Gág (pronunciation: rhymes with “bog”) must have liked cats. Her most famous book was Millions of Cats, published in 1928 and for many years as much a part of a child’s literary shelf as Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are are today.

Millions of Cats was not only a wildly popular book (which still sells well today), but it was also a breakthrough in the design of children’s books.

Before it was published, the standard format of children’s books was to have a page of text facing a page of illustration. In Millions of Cats, Gág placed the large, hand-written text on the same page with the illustration. A child just learning to read did not have to switch back and forth from page to page to try to connect the text with the pictures. Gág also considered the double-page spread a single unit, and her illustrations often stretched across these two pages.

These were simple changes and ones that we take for granted today, but their impact on children’s books was profound.

Gág was born in 1893 into a close-knit community of German speakers in New Ulm, Minnesota. Her father was a photographer who died of tuberculosis when she was 15. Despite her family’s poverty, she continued her education, and when she graduated from high school, she became a teacher. That lasted for only about a year because Gág was much more interested in art than teaching.

She attended art school in Minneapolis and won a scholarship to the Art Student League of New York in 1917. By 1919 she was living in New York and working as a commercial artist. She had a particular interest in working with children’s books. She also developed a series of illustrated crossword puzzles for children that was syndicated in several newspapers. In addition, she successfully exhibited her own artwork in several solo shows.

Gág became part of the leftist-feminist community in New York, and she wrote magazine articles as well as illustrating them. She followed up the publication of Millions of Cats with other successful children’s books, including Gone Is Gone; or The Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework, published in 1935.

She made enough money to buy a farm in New Jersey, where she spent a good deal of time, and she supported her younger siblings by giving them work and encouraging their ambitions. After numerous affairs, she married her long-time business manager Earle Humphreys in 1943, but she died of lung cancer in 1946. She was only 53 years old.