On April 10th, 1925, Scribner published a short novel by popular author F. Scott Fitzgerald which didn’t sell many copies or receive positive reviews. Today, The Great Gatsby is one of the most widely taught works of fiction in the United States. Safe to say, the publishing climate in the 1920s was about as unpredictable as international conflict at the time — so what other bookish things were happening in 1925?
1. the Argosy Book store opened
New York City’s oldest independent bookstore, Argosy Book Store, opened for the first time in 1925, although it later moved from 114 East 59th Street to 116 East 59th Street. This famous bookstore still sells rare, used, and new books to customers in its elegant townhouse setting — until 6 p.m. most evenings, anyway.
2. American ya author robert cormier was born
Although he didn’t write his first novel until he was thirty-five , I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War author Robert Cormier was born on January 17th, 1925, in Massachusetts. His books, later adapted into award-winning films, continues to receive flack today for its violent depictions of mental illness and abuse.
3. the new yorker published its first issue
The New Yorker magazine, a cultural vanguard for New York City and modern culture, published its first issue on February 21st, 1925 — and has hardly stopped releasing world-famous covers, cartoons, and commentary since then.
4. Flannery O’connor died
On March 25th, approximately a month before the publication of a book that would change the world, literature lost a legend when short-story writer and proponent of the Southern Gothic literary style Flannery O’Connor died from lupus at the age of thirty-nine.
5. T.s. eliot published the hollow men
20th Century poet T.S. Eliot officially published his haunting tribute to post-war Europe, “The Hollow Men,” on November 23rd, 1925, though there are many borrowed lines from some of Eliot’s previous works.
In the wake of Darwinism, the world was left with one loaded question: what does this discovery say about God and the afterlife?This search for meaning helped to spawn the Victorian Era obsession with the supernatural, a movement that sought the answers to life’s big questions- by any means necessary. Seances, astral projection, and psychic readings caught the interest of the era’s intellectuals, including some of your favorite authors.
1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
As it turns out, the author and creator of famous detective Sherlock Holmes was supernaturally gifted. Doyle was a devotee of the Spiritualist movement, a widespread pursuit of the mystical originating with three dubiously psychic sisters. In 1848, the Fox Sisters of Hydesville, NY used a pattern of taps to communicate with the spirits in their supposedly haunted house. In the United States, rampant industrialization (hello disease and poverty) led to a nationwideobsession with death. In a world where one-third of infants born in cities did not live over 1 year, the sisters thrived. Though they recanted their story in 1888, they later stated that they had beenpaid a bribe of $1,500 to… well, lie about lying. By that point, however, Spiritualism had its own supernatural power as a sweeping movement. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualist and mystery writer, was desperate to solve the greatest mystery of all: the secret of life beyond death.
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Conan Doyle’s fascination with the Fox Sisters led him to attempt a seance during his time as a physician. Known to fervently believe in telepathy, Conan Doyle publicized his beliefs during his notorious and brief friendship with magician Harry Houdini. Conan Doyle believed that Houdini had actual supernatural abilities, and, with his wife, convinced skeptic Houdini to participate in a seance. Conan Doyle’s wife claimed to receive a telepathic message from Houdini’s late mother; unfortunately, Houdini’s mother didn’t speak English. Yikes. Friendship over. Undeterred, Conan Doyle continued performing seances with his wife to contact his relatives who died in World War One. He would abandon his fiction writing at the height of his fame, focusing exclusively on his Spiritualist beliefs. After a lifelong obsession with ghosts, he eventually became one. Medium Estelle Roberts famously claimed to summon Doyle’s spiritin front of a large audience at his funeral in 1930.
The Mesmerist movement represented the crossover between proven science and faith in the unknown. A major part of Mesmerism was its focus on medical miracles and many (scientific?) attempts tocure disease with psychic energy. According to those who believed, a practitioner could put his patient into a trance and transfer his stronger energy into the weaker patient. This became (alarmingly!) a popular medical treatment in the 1830s and 1840s… not a time period known for its long lifespans. So much for your reason and skepticism, Dickens!
3. Henry James
Widely regarded as the bridge between American literary realism and modernism, The Turn of the Screwauthor Henry James had an occult connection through his brother. William James was a core member of the Society for Psychical Research, an organization of intelligentsia in pursuit of the secrets behind death. The Society sought to apply scientific principles to the unexplored territory of the supernatural. William himself was no crackpot, a Harvard man many call “the father of American psychology.” Although Henry James himself was not a member, the two brothers often stayed together, and Henry had frequent exposure to his brother’s ideas. One major area of William’s research was haunted houses, which he and the Society believed to be telepathic hotspots.
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The Society for Psychical Research had a documented impact on the rising Gothic literary moment. Elements of Gothic literatureinclude elements of horror, death, and gloom, along with the Romantic emphasis on intense emotions. William’s psychical investigations directly influenced Henry’s later ghost stories; it’s likely Henry also drew upon William’s paranormal research for his Gothic novel The Turn of the Screw.
As it turns out, anyone can believe in the supernatural, even the literary greats. So now the question is… do you?
A legend of American literature, William Faulkner is a name that simply oozes talent and impeccable writing. I can easily recall reading “A Rose for Emily” in school and the chilling feeling that followed after finishing the story. Faulkner was that good.
His birthday is today, but as a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner, he should be honored no matter what. Here are ten quotes from the literary legend.
1. “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
2. “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
3. “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
4. “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
5. “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.”
6. “Perhaps they were right putting love into books. Perhaps it could not live anywhere else.”
7. “The next time you try to seduce anyone, don’t do it with talk, with words. Women know more about words than men ever will. And they know how little they can ever possibly mean.”
8. “Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.”
9. “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to take a trip down to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee in the midst of southern culture. Although it was a fun trip, being in the south for the first time made me realize all the different ways in which it differs from the rest of the United States, and one particular thing that came to mind was literature.
There are endless amounts of literary legends that hail from the south and make their history what it is today. Here are five pieces of prime southern literature.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The story is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived. Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Tom dirties his clothes in a fight and is made to whitewash the fence the next day as punishment.
He cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work. He then trades the treasures for Sunday School tickets which one normally receives for memorizing verses, redeeming them for a Bible, much to the surprise and bewilderment of the superintendent who thought “it was simply preposterous that this boy had warehoused two thousand sheaves of Scriptural wisdom on his premises—a dozen would strain his capacity, without a doubt.”
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get “engaged” by kissing him. But their romance collapses when she learns Tom has been “engaged” previously to Amy Lawrence. Shortly after Becky shuns him, he accompanies Huckleberry Finn to the graveyard at night, where they witness the murder of Dr. Robinson.
It is a very short list of 20th century American plays that continue to have the same power and impact as when they first appeared―57 years after its Broadway premiere, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those plays.
The story famously recounts how the faded and promiscuous Blanche DuBois is pushed over the edge by her brutal brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.
Streetcar launched the careers of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, and solidified the position of Tennessee Williams as one of the most important young playwrights of his generation, as well as that of Elia Kazan as the greatest American stage director of the ’40s and ’50s.
One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country.
A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.
Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
Published to unprecedented acclaim, The Color Purple established Alice Walker as a major voice in modern fiction. This is the story of two sisters—one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence.
Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.
Traveling is appealing, amazing, and accessible—especially in the summer time. Imagine you travelled on the road or cast yourself into the wild, what kind of landscapes you would see, what people you would meet, and what stories you would make? The vast territory of America always conjures adventurers and inspires travelers to explore its beauty. If you are planning a road trip, just go, and tell me your story later! If you are stuck in the city for any reason, you still can hit on the road and go into the wild through reading these two amazing books about adventure: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. Ready? Let’s GO!
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over the West Coast, and all that road going…”
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This is one of the classic Beat Generation novels from 1950s America. The author Jack Kerouac describes the concept of freedom, the wave of jazz music, addiction to poetry, and the prevailing use of drugs in his books. This autobiographical novel is based on his travels with friends across the United States. Sal Paradise, the leading character, met Dean Moriarty after his divorce, and they became good friends who planned to drive on the road: from New York to San Francisco and finally arrived at Mexico. Along the road, they celebrated Zen, alcohol, jazz, sex, and the spirit of freedom. I enjoy this experimental writing so much. The reason why I call it experimental is that some people say the manuscript was typed on a continuous, 120-foot scroll of paper sheets. No margins and paragraph breaks—like their road trip, nothing can stop them hit the road!
“The only navigational aid in his possession was a tattered state road map he’d scrounged at a gas station.”
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This is also based on a true story, the life of Christopher McCandless. McCandless was an American young man who admired the landscape of wilderness and the spirit of carefree life. After graduating from college, he embarked on his journey across the States and made it to Alaska in 1992. After five months, his body was founded in a deserted bus. His cause of death is officially said starvation. In 1993, American writer Jon Krakauer wrote a short report on McCandless’ death and later decided to make it into a book. Reading this kind of heroic journey, I admire McCandless’ thinking about the society and the action of hitting on the road. One thing I think is noteworthy when you are reading the book: how the author “create” the narrative of McCandless’ journey.