February 7, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. It’s the birthday of writer Charles Dickens. It’s also the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, and poet David Ignatow. Our poem for today is “Diana in the Hunt,” by Forceythe Wilson. Thank you for reading, listening to, and sharing Bidwell Hollow.
Today is the birthday of Charles John Huffam Dickens (affiliate link), born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England.
After a few years toiling in the factory, though, Dickens became a law clerk and then a reporter. He started out as a local reporter before ascending to cover England’s Parliament.
At this time Dickens published a series of satirical pieces called “Sketches by Boz.”
“Sketches by Boz” published between 1833-1835. They were so popular that Dickens wrote another series, “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,” published in 1836-1837.
The Pickwick Papers focused on Samuel Pickwick, founder of the fictitious Pickwick Club. Readers gobbled up the Pickwick Papers, making Dickens a famous writer at age 24. His fame never waned.
Today, many view Dickens as the greatest writer of Victorian-era England, if not one of the greatest writers in Western literature.
It’s from Dickens we have memorable characters such as Uriah Heep, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Nell Trent.
Trent, called “Little Nell,” is the heroine of Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop.” The novel published as installments in 1840. It was so popular in America that, as a ship carrying the latest installment from England docked, readers crowded the pier asking the sailors, “Is Little Nell alive?”
Dickens published 15 books, hundreds of short stories and essays. But he never wrote an autobiography.
The closest he came was his autobiographical novel “David Copperfield.” It’s the story of an orphaned boy who goes from poverty to becoming a successful author.
In a preface to the 1869 edition of the book Dickens wrote, “Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”
Also born today, in Brooklyn, NY in 1914, was poet David Ignatow (affiliate link).
Ignatow was poetry editor for The Nation in 1962-1963. He served as president of the Poetry Society of America from 1980-1984. And he won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships in 1965 and 1973. He received the prestigious Bollingen Prize in 1977.
Ignatow’s known for poems that were clear and direct in their words and meaning. About his poetry, Ignatow said, “An ordinary man is a message to the world.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s also the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder (affiliate link). She was born on America’s frontier near Pepin, Wisconsin in 1867.
Wilder’s family moved a lot between Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota. The family farmed and often experienced tough times. It was while in Minnesota that the family lost all their crops two years in a row to locusts.
Wilder married and, in 1894, she and her husband, Alonzo, moved to a farm near Mansfield, Missouri. The stock market crash of 1929 wiped them out.
Desperate for money in the Great Depression, the couple’s daughter, Rose, encouraged her mother to write about her childhood. Laura did, writing an autobiography that publishers rejected.
Some publishers suggested Laura try writing about her childhood as fiction. She gave that a shot. And in 1932, at age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder became a published author when “Little House in the Big Woods” debuted.
The book, written for children, became the first of eight Little House novels. They published between 1932 and 1943, making a celebrity out of Wilder.
The American Library Association created in 1954 the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. And a popular television show based on the books, “Little House on the Prairie,” aired between 1974-1983.
And today in Sauk Centre, MN in 1885, the writer Sinclair Lewis (affiliate link) was born.
Lewis published a few books before he grabbed the public’s attention with “Main Street” in 1920. The novel’s about the hypocrisy and lack of sophistication in smalltown America. It focuses on the made-up town of Gopher Prairie, MN.
The Pulitzer Prize jury voted to give Sinclair the 1921 Pulitzer for Fiction for “Main Street.” But Columbia University trustees felt the book didn’t exemplify “wholesome” American values. The prize went, instead, to Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence.”
In 1926, though, the Pulitzer jury awarded Lewis the Pulitzer for his novel “Arrowsmith.” But Lewis turned down the award. He explained why in his rejection letter, writing, “the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.”
Columbia University Secretary Frank D. Fackenthal declined to name another winner. He decided the award went to the book, not the author. “Arrowsmith” remains the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner.
Lewis did accept, in 1930, the Nobel Prize in Literature. This made him the first American to receive a Nobel Prize.
“Diana of the Hunt”
All can see, in the shining places,
Vestiges of her classic graces;
Where her footsteps, fleet and stark,
Have beautifully embossed the dark.
We know indeed, that the stately and golden
Antlers, hunters and heroes olden,
Wood-nymph, satyr, and sylvan faun.—
Goddess and stag, are gone!—all gone!
But still,—as strange as it may appear,—
Sometimes when the nights are bright and clear,
The long-breathed hounds are heard to bay
Over the hills and far away!
And lovers who walk at Love’s high Noon,
See something flash in the light of the moon,
As a shining stag swept through the sky,
And the chase of the goddess were up, on high.
But be this as it may, in sooth,
It is only in the pursuit of Truth,
That the Soul shall overtake and possess
The most exalted Happiness.
– Forceythe Wilson, Public Domain