Category Archives: Authors and Books
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë spent much of their short lives cloistered in a small English village parsonage, yet created some of the world’s most important novels, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But another gifted Brontë sibling, who shared the same upbringing and artistic ambitions as his sisters, failed at almost everything he tried. April 21 marks the 201st anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, but instead of celebrating that landmark, let’s take a look at Patrick Branwell Brontë and the impact he had on the lives and works of the Brontë sisters.
The Brontë Family
Patrick Branwell Brontë (Branwell) was born on June 26, 1817, one of six Brontë children, and the only son. In 1820 his father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, moved his family to the parsonage in Howarth, a village on the edge of West Yorkshire moors. After Branwell’s mother died a year later, his older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily, were sent to school, leaving Branwell and his younger sister Anne at the parsonage. Maria and Elizabeth soon died from tuberculosis, but Charlotte and Emily were brought home before they became ill.
The four surviving Brontë children were extremely close, and their imaginations and creativity flourished in the insulated parsonage. The four created drawings, maps, complex stories, and poems about an imaginary world, Angria, which was inspired by Branwell’s toy soldiers. Branwell and Charlotte collaborated closely on the Angria works, while Anne and Emily created their own fictional world, Gondal. The siblings continued escaping to the elaborate Angria and Gondal sagas into their twenties.
Branwell, slight with flaming red hair, was his father’s favorite, and the Reverend pinned his hopes for the family’s fortune on his son’s accomplishments. He was a fine scholar, described as “brilliant” and “genius.” He aspired to be a famous novelist, poet and painter.
Failures and Disappointments
In 1838 Branwell set himself up as a portrait painter near Haworth, but failed to earn a living and returned to the parsonage. He was, however, successful as a witty drinking companion for other local young artists. In 1840, Branwell gained work as a tutor with the Postlethwaite family. He spent his free time writing poetry and drinking with friends. He bragged that the family thought him to be a sober, virtuous young gentleman, when the opposite was true. He was fired after six months, when the family learned he had fathered a child (which died) with a local servant girl, and he crept home to Haworth.
Branwell next became “assistant clerk in charge” at a railway station. The Brontës’ hopes for his chances at advancement were dashed when he was fired for incompetence. Again, he returned to Haworth a failure.
In 1843, his youngest sister Anne, working as governess for the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, recommended him for a position as a tutor. Unfortunately, Branwell began an affair with his employer’s wife, Lydia. It is uncertain whether he or the much older Mrs. Robinson initiated the relationship. Mr. Robinson discovered the affair and fired the hapless young man, prompting his downward spiral.
Back in Haworth, Branwell had to face the shocked disapproval of his family. Charlotte was especially disappointed. Branwell’s use of alcohol and opiates increased, but he continued to write. He rejoiced when Mr. Robinson died, as he imagined finally achieving wealth and status by marrying the widowed Lydia. She rejected him.
After this last disaster, Branwell gave in completely to alcohol, opium, and depression. He flew into rages, threatened to kill himself or his father, and begged friends for money for alcohol. One evening he set fire to his bed, and from that point forward his father made him share his bed for the family’s safety.
The effect on the Brontë family of Branwell’s dramatic decline was profound, especially considering his early potential. Anne may have been the first to suffer directly from Branwell’s actions. She was respected in her position as the Robinson’s governess, yet she resigned a month before Branwell was fired. It is speculated that she left when she learned of his affair.
If the depiction of the situation at the Haworth parsonage portrayed in Masterpiece Theater’s To Walk Invisible is accurate, life with Branwell was a complete misery. Branwell’s violent rages, public drunkenness and steady deterioration were horrifying and embarrassing. Charlotte ceased speaking to him after learning of the affair, and wrote to a friend that she could not allow her to visit if “he” was at home. Emily was more accepting of Branwell, and stayed up to help him to bed after his nights of drinking. One biographer argues that Emily was destroyed by watching her beloved brother’s descent into madness. After his death, Emily hardly ate, and she only survived him by a few months.
While Branwell was wallowing in self-pity and addiction, his sisters were writing their famous novels, which were submitted with pen names. Jane Eyre (by Charlotte writing as Currer Bell), Wuthering Heights (by Emily writing as Ellis Bell), and Agnes Grey (by Anne writing as Acton Bell) were all published in 1847. All three were quickly successful, especially Jane Eyre. Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in 1848.
When Branwell died at age 31 in September 1848, the official cause was “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” (malnutrition). It is now thought that he actually died from acute tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism, drug use and alcohol withdrawal (delirium tremens).
After Branwell’s death, it was clear that both Emily and Anne were also ill. Emily never left the parsonage again after his funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later at age 30. Despite Charlotte’s care, Anne died in May of 1849 at only 29. Charlotte enjoyed much fame after publishing two more novels, Shirley in 1849 and Villette in 1853. In 1854 she married Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte found unexpected happiness with Nicholls, but died less than a year later in the early stages of pregnancy.
In addition to the sorrow and disruption Branwell’s deterioration caused in the Brontës’ daily lives, he also figured prominently in their works. Here are just a few examples:
- Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, was directly influenced by Branwell. A topic of debate in the 1840s was how best to care for the mentally ill. Was it better for families to send their drug addicted, deranged or mentally incompetent children to asylums or keep them at home? The Brontë family faced this issue with Branwell, just as Mr. Rochester did with Bertha. Mr. R’s torn feelings about Bertha – his rage toward her mixed with his determination to care for her – reflect the Brontës’ conflicted feelings about Branwell.
- Bertha’s intemperate conduct was Mr. R’s first hint that his new bride was deranged, and Branwell provided the model for that behavior.
- Bertha’s attempt to torch Mr. R in his bed was inspired by Branwell setting his own bed on fire.
- When scenes involving Bertha were criticized as “too horrid,” Charlotte replied that such behavior was “but too natural.” She knew this from her personal experience with Branwell.
- The character of Jane’s loathsome cousin John Reed could also have been influenced by Branwell, as he and the adult John shared several traits – drunkenness, indebtedness, and violent rages.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
- Helen Huntingdon, the heroine of Anne’s novel, escapes with her young son from her abusive, drunken, and philandering husband, Arthur. When Helen learns that Arthur’s degenerate lifestyle has made him ill, she returns to care for him until he dies. The red-headed Arthur is an unflattering portrait of Branwell, and Helen’s actions echo the Brontës’ horror at Branwell’s behavior combined with their concern for him.
- Alcoholism and lunacy are both elements of Emily’s novel. Paul Marchbanks states in A Costly Morality, “Cathy I demonstrates the ability to induce delirium, sickness, and prolonged mental illness in herself at will. The anti-hero Heathcliff, like the depressed and self-destructive Branwell, oscillates between desiring and spurning such madness, craving the restlessness of lunacy when generated by his dead lover’s haunting spirit and later spurning such mental disorder when triggered by the irritating presence of young Cathy II.”
- An early biographer of Emily, Mary Robinson, acknowledges Branwell’s influence on the creation of Heathcliff: “How can I let people think that the many basenesses of her hero’s character are the gratuitous inventions of an inexperienced girl? How can I explain the very existence of Wuthering Heights? . . . Only by explaining Branwell.”
- Cathy’s brother Hindley Earnshaw, like Branwell, descends into alcoholism, finally drinking himself to death.
The Brontë sisters’ lives were short, yet their accomplishments were great. In contrast, Branwell’s short life was marked by failure and ruin. Despite his influence on his sisters’ works, Branwell was probably unaware of their successful novels. As Charlotte explained, “We could not tell him of our efforts for fear of causing him too deep a pang of remorse for his own time misspent, and talents misapplied.”
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Every year on the Twenty-fifth of March the Tolkien Society holds a Tolkien Read Day. This is the day that marks the climactic moment in Professor Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. If you know enough to argue the vagaries of converting the Gondorion calendar or the Shire Reckoning into modern Gregorian calendars then you know enough about this already. The focus for this year for the Tolkien Society is “Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction”. Although, this is a very interesting topic for many students and fans of Tolkien’s work, I think it lacks appeal to the general reader. You can get too focused on the minutia of the true devotee’s passion and miss a chance to spread something you love to other readers, young and old alike.
My own journey through Middle Earth started when I was five and my dad started reading me The Hobbit. He really had no idea what he was starting. I’ve spread my love of these books to friends and family over the years. They’ve given me an appreciation for Tolkien’s work as well as many of the things that inspired him. Now it’s my turn to share with all of you the great experience of the depths of Tolkiana but I’m going to break it down for each type of reader.
For those of you who loved the books since the start of the fourth age and now want to pass along your passion to the hobbit girls and elflings in your life as well as those of you who have just refused to grow up, there are some great options. The best is a small beautifully illustrated book of Bilbo’s Last Song. It is a separate work and fairly spoiler free. You may also be interested in the books based on stories that Tolkien wrote for his children. Roverandom and Mr. Bliss are delightful stories that a creative father used to amuse and comfort his children and Tolkien’s collected Letters from Father Christmas are a great seasonal treat. If your children are interested in more of the author himself, there is the Tolkien volume of the classic Who Was… series. In my opinion, however, nothing can beat just sitting down and reading The Hobbit. It’s a great read for later elementary or middle school readers and also a great story for parents to read to (or with) their kids. Not much of a reading family? Take the unabridged audio on your next car trip. It’s fun, exciting and completely lacking in content that will make you grab at the volume knob.
So you liked the movies:
The movies, while they have their detractors, were good. You’re the person who went to see them because of the hype, but never read the books. The best suggestion for you is to read the books. Yeah, you think you know what happens, and you do have a good amount of general plot, but there is so much more you missed. There are iconic scenes, wonderful characters, and exposition you’ve never even heard of (unless it’s from hearing one of the true believers complaining). Many people, who’ve read the books, read them again and enjoy them just the same as the first time so please give them a try. If however you’re one of those headstrong trailblazers who won’t walk the same path twice there are hundreds of imitators. Many fall utterly short, but there are a few standouts. For younger readers there are the works of Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. Older readers may appreciate Terry Brooks Shannara series, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Saga novels, Juliet Marillier’s Seven Waters trilogy, or Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.
“I’ve read The Lord of the Rings”:
Tolkien fans are quick to discriminate between what they consider themselves to be and fans of The Lord of the Rings. Liking The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King is not fan boy or fan girl territory, not anymore. Neither is enjoying more of Tolkien’s writing. In the last several years the Tolkien Estate has released many of the Professor’s previously unavailable or unpublished works. It began with The Silmarillion in 1977. This is the history of Bilbo, Gandalf and Aragorn’s world. It’s almost like a Middle Earth Iliad/Bible, and it reads like it. The stories are great, but the language and phraseology can put some readers off. If you like it, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth will please you as well. The same can be said for The Children of Hurin and the forthcoming Beren and Luthien, although I have found The Children of Hurin to be easier to read than some of the others. Conversely, you could look at the professor’s more scholarly works like his attempts at interpreting King Arthur and the Nibelung with The Fall of Arthur and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. There are a few other titles like these that are more obscure, but this should keep you happy for a while.
The Tolkien Fanatic:
This isn’t for the people who memorized the Cirth runes or have a grammatically correct tattoo in Tengwar. It’s for the people who were in the last category and want to make the jump into true fandom. There are two camps here, the purists and the omnivores. For the purists we start with Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle Earth. For visually oriented fans this is a must. It has maps, paths, climatology and floor plans. It’s mostly conjecture, but well researched conjecture. Then we have the art books like Realms of Tolkien and Tolkien’s World which feature great artists’ rendition of scenes from Tolkien’s work, or better still The Art of the Lord of the Rings, which features Tolkien’s own drawings and water colors.
For the less discerning, or the more voracious, there are countless encyclopedias and guides, like J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion, or books that interpret Tolkien and his works through any number of disciplines like politics with The Hobbit Party.
The must read for everybody here is The History of Middle Earth series. This is a twelve volume set of notes, back story, commentary and alternative takes on the stories you’ve come to love so far. These are not for the faint of heart; they are interesting, but the narrative repeats and is broken up.
The Tolkien Scholar:
This is the post doc of the Tolkien realm. These books are for people who hit fandom and come out the other side truly intellectually curious. You want to know where these books came from, who was the author and where are the roots of Middle Earth. The Story of Kulervo is the most recent item on the list and a work of Tolkien himself, but it is a fragment of a greater work, The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Much of Tolkien’s early inspiration came from here. Tolkien also did his own translation of Beowulf and wrote a commentary, The Monster and his Critics. Both are interesting and enlightening but the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf is interesting as well. The Prose and Poetic Eddas are fascinating and full of names you will recognize, from Thorin to Gandalf. For more on Tolkien the man you can see any of the wonderful biographies, but I especially recommend Tolkien and the Great War. The Inklings can give you a wonderful look into the friendship and collaboration of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others.
Tolkien wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same is true for delving into Tolkien’s writing. You may just nip round the corner or you may start a journey that lasts a lifetime.
By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department
March is National Women’s History Month, an excellent time to recognize the talents and achievements of the South’s female writers. Through the years, Southern women writers have cooked up some amazing literary works, often focusing attention on relationships and families and advocating for gender, racial and socioeconomic equity. And of course, southern food is key in Southern life and culture and is often used as an important tool for these writers. Won’t you join me for this literary feast?
Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty
In Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty examines the complex relationships of the many individuals in the Fairchild family. The story is set in rural Mississippi during the 1920s, at the family’s plantation, Shellmound. The novel focuses on a wedding between the family’s 17-year-old daughter, Dabney Fairchild, and Troy, the caretaker for the plantation. From the rehearsal dinner, to the wedding feast, to the post-wedding picnic, Welty gives us Southern cuisine aplenty. As the Southern women in the story cook together and talk together, we learn much about them, their values, and their commitment to family.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg
From the first three words on the cover of Fannie Flagg’s book, our mouths are watering. All through the book, food is important. The novel tells the story of a friendship between the elderly Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode and the middle-aged and discouraged Evelyn Couch. When Evelyn’s husband visits his mother at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home, Evelyn instead visits with Mrs. Threadgoode in the lobby. She returns time after time.
As the two women talk, Mrs. Threadgoode reveals the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who opened a café together in Whistle Stop, Alabama, back in the 1930s. In a setting fraught with poverty and racial tension, Idgie makes the café food available to everyone – although she is unfairly required to feed her black friends outside the back door.
The Whistle Stop food was home-cooked, nourishing and comforting, based on recipes from Sipsey, a black woman who had been working in the Threadgoode house since she was a girl.
“Even at eleven they say she could make the most delicious biscuits and gravy, cobbler fried chicken, turnip greens and black-eyed peas,” recalls Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn. “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”
A sharp contrast is provided by the pre-packaged snack foods and vending machine fare that Evelyn eats and shares with Mrs. Threadgoode. We see that Evelyn has an unhealthy relationship with food, gnawing through dozens of candy bars in one sitting and then obsessing about being overweight.
Later in the novel, Flagg depicts a heightened understanding in Evelyn, who prepares a lovely dinner for her friend:
“When Mrs. Threadgoode saw what she had on her plate, she clapped her hands, as excited as a child on Christmas. There before her was a plate of perfectly fried green tomatoes and fresh cream-white corn, six slices of bacon, with a bowl of baby lima beans on the side and four huge light and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.”
Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, by Maya Angelou
I saved a book by one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou, for our final course. While best known for her autobiographical memoirs, poems and essays, Angelou has also crafted cookbooks among her “lighter fare.” The subtitle to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table invites the reader to enjoy “A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.” The Random House book jacket proclaims that the book is “a stunning combination of the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.”
Each section of the book is introduced with personal reflection. In one of these, Angelou recalls the desserts that were shared to cap off local quilting bees:
“Mrs. Sneed, the pastor’s wife, would bring sweet potato pie, warm and a little too sweet for Momma’s taste but perfect to Bailey and me. Mrs. Miller’s coconut cake and Mrs. Kendrick’s chocolate fudge were what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden just before the Fall. But the most divine dessert of all was Momma’s Caramel Cake.”
Angelou goes on to share a poignant memory of how her mother baked a caramel cake to lift her spirits after an incident earlier that day. A teacher had slapped the then-mute Maya and demanded that she talk. Read the rest of this entry →
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
No, not Meryl Streep. Not these awards, anyway. If you’re reading this blog, presumably you have an interest in and/or some knowledge about children’s literature, or you’ve heard about the hysterically witty and charming woman who writes a quasi-regular blog for the Williamson County Public Library website. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.
Much like the entertainment industry, there are literally (HA! See what I did there?) a plethora of honors that are awarded each year in the field of Kid Lit. I’m not going to make this article an exhaustive list of the aforementioned youth book awards, so I have narrowed it down to three: the Randolph Caldecott Medal; the John Newbery Medal; and the Volunteer State Book Award.
The first of these is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which has been awarded annually since 1938 to the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It is awarded to the illustrator by the American Library Association and is named for Randolph Caldecott, a 19th-century British illustrator. The two sides of the actual medal are derived from Caldecott’s illustrations: one side depicts a section of the front cover of The Diverting History of John Gilpin; the reverse is based on Caldecott’s illustration for “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,” from the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” Additionally, the committee acknowledges several worthy runners-up each year, and those recipients are referred to as Caldecott Honor Books. A random sampling of some past Caldecott winners includes some of my personal favorite children’s
books: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1964); The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (1986); Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005); and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (2013.) The entire list of Caldecott winners since its inception can be found at the American Library Association website, www.ala.org/alsc/caldecott, and all Caldecott books can be found in their own section in the Children’s department at WCPL. Oh, and here’s an awesome bit of news, hot off the presses (see what I did there?): the 2017 Caldecott Medal winner was just announced over the weekend at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, and the award goes to . . . Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe.
The John Newbery Medal is another kid-lit award which is also bestowed annually by the American Library Association, and the Newbery Medal recognizes the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century British publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery Medal was proposed by noted American publisher and editor Frederic G. Melcher in 1921, hence making it the first children’s book award in the world. The medal was designed by American sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan and depicts a man, presumably an author, giving his book to a boy and girl.
For a book to be considered for the Newbery, it must be written by an American citizen or resident and must be published first or simultaneously in the United States, in English, during the preceding year. Much like the Caldecott Medal, the selection committee awards a variable number of citations to runners-up, and those are referred to as Newbery Honor Books. Most Newbery winners appear on recommended reading lists for elementary and secondary schools, and they also have their own section at WCPL. The list of Newbery Medal recipients since 1922 can be found at www.ala.org/alsc/newbery, and the Newbery Honors winners are listed there as well. The 2017 Newbery Medal winner, also just announced at the ALA conference over the weekend, is The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
Last but not least in this list of literary luminaries (mercy, say that three times fast) is an award with some local flavor, and that is the Volunteer State Book Award. The VSBA, as we librarian types refer to it, is sponsored annually by the Tennessee Library Association and the Tennessee Association of School Librarians. Every year, schoolchildren from across Tennessee are asked to read books from a list of nominations. The VSBA has four divisions: Primary (Kindergarten-2nd Grade), Intermediate (grades 3-5), Middle School (grades 6-8) and High School (grades 9-12.) In the spring, students who have read or listened to at least three titles from the slate of nominees are allowed to cast their vote for their favorites. Those votes are then tabulated and sent to the Tennessee Library Association, and the book with the most votes statewide wins the award. Here at home in Williamson County, many teachers and school librarians from WCS (Williamson County Schools), FSSD (Franklin Special School District), and many private and parochial schools use the VSBA list as their recommended reading over the summer. The lists of current and past nominees can be found at www.tasltn.org/vsba .
So there you have it, friends—truckloads of fun book suggestions for the kiddos, and for yourself. Happy reading!
As always, the opinions about life, love, and literature expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way a reflection on the employees of Williamson County Public Library or their families, friends, neighbors, or pets.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Rudyard Kipling, the name brings up so many different connotations, depending on how old you are. If you’re an octogenarian you may have grown up on his adventure stories. Those of you who were children of the sixties, now in your sixties yourself, may remember him as another colonialist apologist whose inclusion in your curriculum was something to fight against. If you happen to be of the eighties then the strongest connection you may have is through the cub scouts where terms like akela and law of the pack proliferate. Finally, for grade school kids, he is the guy that wrote that movie they liked so much last year. So who is the real Kipling? He is all of these things and more, including a man who couldn’t stay in place until he was in his 40’s (which was especially impressive considering that travel during that time period was quite a long undertaking).
Kipling was named after a popular lake in Staffordshire, England where his parents had met and often visited, but he was a true child of empire. He was born at the end of December, 1865 in Bombay (now called Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a teacher and later principal there before moving 900 miles north to head another school in Lahore. The elder Kipling was an artist of some renown, having contributed designs to the Victoria and Albert Museum and other well-known buildings of the time as well as illustrations for his son’s books. Rudyard’s mother Alice (nee MacDonald) ran her husband’s household and did her best to help advance his career, but she also wrote and published poems, was musical and sewed.
Young Ruddy spent his first five years in Bombay with his parents before he and his younger sister Trix, then three, were sent to live and go to school in England (big move #1). Kipling refers to this time very darkly and was unhappy. After it had been determined he was not educationally suited for Oxford he returned to India (actually, what is now Pakistan) to work for a newspaper in Lahore where his father was now head of a new Art School (big move #2). It was during his time with the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore that his stories became known to others. An open minded editor allowed for more creative freedom and thus Kipling published thirty-nine stories through his newspaper. In late 1887 he transferred to a sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad where he would publish 41 more stories (big move #3). After a dispute with The Pioneer he was sacked and decided to return to England, via Asia and North America (big move #4, via the scenic route). He traveled to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and before traveling extensively through the United States and Canada.
Upon his return to Britain, he continued writing and had a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he acquired a new publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier. It was through Wolcott that he met Caroline, called Carrie, Balestier’s sister. While traveling (visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India), Kipling heard of Wolcott’s untimely death and proposed to Carrie by telegram. They were married in 1892. For a while, the Kiplings lived in the United States (big move #5) and it was here that many of his most famous works were written; Captain’s Courageous, Gunga Din and the Jungle Book. It was also here that his two daughters were born and where the older, Josephine died. After several years in new England near his wife’s family, the couple decided to return to England (final big move #6, even though he moved again within England).
It was in England that John, known as Jack, was born. Kipling continued to write and publish, and two of his works form this period, including White Man’s Burden, provide a great deal of fodder for his critics. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the first English language author to do so. He continued to travel (mostly to South Africa) and wrote Kim at this time as well.
Seven Years later a great tragedy befell the Kiplings. With the start of World War I, their eighteen year old son Jack wanted to enlist in the Navy and once refused, the army. He was kept from doing so by poor eyesight. Rudyard, ever the patriotic Briton, called in a favor and got his son posted to the Irish Guards as an officer. Sadly, like so many young men of that time he was killed in trenches, during the Battle of Loos. His body was not identified until 1992. The loss of Jack affected Kipling. His patriotism dimmed and he began to work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that maintains the overseas graves of British Commonwealth military personnel. He did continue to write for the next twenty years. He finally passed away January the Eighteenth, 1936.
In his time Kipling was considered a great writer and thinker, but his work has been up and down since then. Many literary scholars find his stance of imperialism to be, at best, an unfortunate relic of his time and place, and at worst, uncaring racial and regional superiority. Orwell admired his ability but decried his message. Many universities removed him from curriculum due to protests in the 1960s. In the field of children’s literature however he has remained, fairly consistently, well regarded. His Jungle Book and Just So Stories have been favorites for generations and have been adapted many times for film, stage and television. His work, the Jungle Book in particular provided a structure for the new junior division of Boy Scouts Kipling’s good friend Robert Baden Powell created in 1916. Laws of the pack, Akela and Baloo are terms familiar to many people who have gone through the cub programs in many countries. While he still carries a whiff of imperialist dogma around with him, many modern scholars choose to look at him as a window to a time outside of our experience.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
grincheaux (French, noun, masculine) also: grincheuse (French, noun, feminine) crank; crab; curmudgeon; grouch; grump; shrew; sourpuss.
As I was driving to work on a frigid day about a fortnight before Christmas, thinking less-than-charitable thoughts about my fellow humans (and possibly hissing through clenched teeth some unprintable epithets about the ones who were allegedly sharing the road with me) it occurred to me that I might be exemplifying many of the Grinch’s personality traits. NO, not those sweet, shiny Christmas morning ones, where The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day and he carved the roast beast from the head chair at the Who’s Who In Whoville dinner table, with his new best friend Cindy Lou Who by his side; but those dark, slithering, vile things that were rampaging through his Grinchy heart and mind as he stomped around his cave on Christmas Eve, plotting mayhem against all those insufferably cheery Whos down in Whoville.
A little background, for those of you who have no idea what I’m yammering on about: the Grinch that I speak of is a furry green reclusive character created by Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) in his 1957 Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Side note: the name of the character may or may not have been inspired by the French word grincheaux, which loosely translates to “grouch” in American English (or “misery guts” in British parlance—you’re welcome) and has evolved into an unflattering term for someone who embodies an anti-holiday spirit or has a mean, greedy attitude (like Scrooge). The Grinch derives pleasure by destroying others’ happiness, and on Christmas Eve he hatches a diabolical plot to annihilate Christmas for the residents of Whoville. SPOILER ALERT: He drafts his little dog Max into service as a reindeer, fashions himself a jaunty tunic that echoes Santa’s traditional outfit (Grinch opts to go pantsless, but that is a conversation for another time) and descends from Mount Crumpit in his bootleg sleigh, into which he loads all the Whoville residents’ Christmas presents, decorations, and food.
His schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) is short-lived, however; he is at first infuriated to hear all the Whos singing and celebrating anyway, even though he just totally stole all their stuff, right down to the last can of Who-Hash, but then he begins to twig to the possibility that maybe Christmas isn’t just about the boxes and bows:
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more?
The Grinch then experiences an epiphany (can you believe I made it this far into the blog without a pun? Neither can I! It’s a Christmas miracle!) and returns all the Whos’ purloined goods and joins them in their Christmas festivities.
So. Back to me cruising to work and thinking Grincheuse thoughts. If you are a sentient being (and since you’re reading this, presumably you are) then you may have noticed that it’s fairly common at this time of year to find oneself stomping around in one’s very own metaphorical Mount Crumpit cave of negative thoughts and emotional distress, feeling as isolated as the Grinch. Here’s my Christmas gift to you, Darling Reader: permission to turn loose a little. Let go of the reins of that sleigh full of pressures you put on yourself for the “perfect” holiday card photo/Christmas tree/present/six-course dinner/whatever. Because, as the Grinch learned that day, Christmas isn’t about the packages, boxes, or bags.
Opinions expressed in this blog are, as always, solely those of the author and in no way representative of the employees of WCPL or of their families, friends, or pets masquerading as reindeer. Further, the author wishes everyone a safe, joyous, stress-free holiday season and hopes to see you back here in 2017 for more exhilarating blog installments.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
I can’t remember the exact date that a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life. I’m reasonably certain that it was not November 18, 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school sophomore (do the math, Darling Reader) who was more concerned with my reflection in the mirror than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.
Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995. The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger. The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher. Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip: to Calvin, he is a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is an inanimate plush toy.
At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide. As of 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries and nearly 45 million copies of the compilation books of the strip had been sold. At the time of the strip’s creation, Watterson was employed in the advertising industry, and detested it, and began to devote increasing amounts of his spare time to cartooning. United Feature rejected Watterson’s fledgling strip, but Universal Press Syndicate took it on. Within a year of syndication, Calvin and Hobbes appeared in approximately 250 newspapers.
From the beginning, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, primarily over the issue of merchandising. Watterson insisted that cartoon strips should stand on their own as a form of artistic expression, and he adamantly refused for the images of Calvin and Hobbes to be used in traditional items for marketing and promotion such as apparel, plush toys, action figures, and the like. Of course, the strip’s overwhelming popularity gave rise to the appearance of various counterfeit items such as window decals and t-shirts that often depicted crude humor, drug usage, alcohol consumption, and other themes that were not found in Watterson’s work. Watterson once wryly commented that he had “clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.” To that end, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. The notable exceptions are two 16-month calendars that were produced from 1988-1990, and a textbook titled Teaching With Calvin and Hobbes, which has been described as the most difficult piece of official Calvin and Hobbes memorabilia to find. Only 8 libraries on the planet have a copy of the book.
Throughout the lifespan of Calvin and Hobbes’ syndication, Watterson took two extended sabbaticals from writing new strips, from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April to December 1994. In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all newspaper editors whose papers had carried Calvin and Hobbes, informing them that he would cease to publish the strip. The final Calvin and Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. It featured Calvin and Hobbes cavorting in a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow and pondering the endless possibilities of the day and the year:
It’s a magical world, indeed, Dear Reader . . . let’s go exploring in it every opportunity we get.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson (J 741.5073 WAT)
- The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Watterson (741.5 WAT)
- Peanuts, Pogo and Hobbes: A Newspaper Editor’s Journey Through the World of Comics by George Lockwood (070.92 LOC)
- Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson (J 741.5973 WAT)
Viewpoints expressed in this blog belong solely to the author, and are in no way representative of the opinions of WCPL employees, their long-suffering parents, or their pet tigers.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
“When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to who things happened. I wanted him to be a blunt instrument…when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.”
—-Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962
Ian Fleming, James Bond’s creator, was born on May 28, 1908 in London. His father was Member of Parliament representing Dundee Scotland, and was killed in WW I. The not yet world-famous Winston Churchill wrote his father’s obituary (that’s what I call connections). Fleming attended several schools, but never really excelled academically in any of them, but he always did well in athletics. He went to Eton College, and when that didn’t work out, he attended Sandhurst Military College, but he wasn’t interested in a military career either.
His frustrated mother decided to send him to a small school in the Tyrolian Mountains, where he improved his foreign language skills and also learned mountain climbing and skiing. He loved his schooling there. From Austria he went to Munich University to finish his education and take his Foreign Officer entrance exams. When he did not pass these exams, he became a journalist with Reuters. He enjoyed his time with Reuters honing his writing craft, and in 1933 he was sent to Moscow to cover a trial. Eventually he bowed to family pressure and became a banker and stock broker. He really didn’t enjoy that. Thankfully for him, and everyone who loves James Bond, his time in Russia paid off. He was asked by the Foreign Office to return to Moscow and write about a trade mission, but he was really sent there to spy.
He must have done well since his name was recommended for a new position, assistant to the director of naval intelligence. He became a lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and had some success with his ideas being implemented during World War II. After the war, he took a job with Kemsley News, which owned many newspapers in England. He was the foreign manager running the foreign correspondents but he was able to fulfill dream by taking two months off every year and live in Jamaica. Several years earlier, he had told friends he was going to move to Jamaica and write the best spy novel ever. And so he did. And continued to do so every year until his death
In April 1953, the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming was published. He believed that Casino Royale would not be popular, but it was an instant success! Even the London Times gave it a rave review. James Bond was a character based on some of the commandos Fleming knew during his service with the Naval Intelligence division. The name James Bond was chosen because it was short, strong and found on the cover of one of Fleming’s bird books. James Bond was also the name of an American ornithologist, who had several books, one about the birds of the West Indies.
In 1964, after years of failing health, he died from a heart attack. As his legacy, he had written these twelve James Bond novels
- Casino Royale
- Live and Let Die
- Diamonds are Forever
- From Russia with Love
- Dr. No
- For your Eyes Only
- The Spy who loved me
- On her majesty’s secret service
- You only live twice
These last two were published posthumously
- The Man with the golden gun
- Octopussy and The Living Daylights (2 short stories)
Since Fleming’s death, several authors have been authorized to continue the James Bond series. John Gardner wrote fourteen novels. Raymond Benson wrote six novels, some novelizations and short stories. Each of these authors wrote one book: Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz.
Interesting things about James Bond from Film School Rejects’ study of the men who played Bond, their movies, and their highs and lows
- Bond’s number—007—was assigned by Fleming in reference to one of British naval intelligence’s key achievements of World War I—the breaking of the German diplomatic code. One of the German documents cracked and read by the British was the Zimmermann Telegram, which was coded 0075, and was one of the factors that led to the US entering the war.
- Even though he is considered the best James Bond by many, Connery was not the first choice. Fleming wanted David Niven to play bond, and a list of other actors were also considered.
- Lazenby was the youngest actor to play James Bond, stepping into the role at the age of 30. Moore took the role of Bond at 45; he was the oldest actor to start playing Bond.
- Moonraker was the studio’s answer to Star Wars, sending Bond into space to fight a master race with lasers.
- Tomorrow Never Dies was the first movie to have its entire production budget covered by product placement consideration fees.
- Timothy Dalton was offered the role of James Bond twice: once for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and again in the middle of Roger Moore’s tenure. He did not become Bond until 1987. He thought he was too young when first offered the role.
- Pierce Brosnan was also considered for the role twice. When Roger Moore left the franchise, Cubby Broccoli tapped Brosnan as the next James Bond. But Brosnan had just started Remington Steele, and was not released from his contract.
- The franchise decided to reboot the entire Bond series after Brosnan’s last film and Daniel Craig won the role. Although not the youngest actor to play James Bond, he is the only actor to have been born after the release of Dr. No.
- James Bond has a Facebook page @James Bond 007
Interesting webpages about James Bond:
- How many men have been considered to play James Bond?
- Official James bond site
- Commissioned sketch of what Ian Fleming thought Bond should look like
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
After a particularly nerve-shredding week that saw citizens foaming at the mouth over the divorce announcement of a high-profile celebrity couple, schools placed on lockout over bizarre and inexplicable clown sightings, and a media frenzy surrounding the alleged armed robbery of millions of dollars in jewelry from a woman who is famous merely for being famous (and saying and doing obnoxious things), I was desperate for some calm. (Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” may insert a quote here from the delightful and unparalleled Daryl Dixon: “Am I the only one Zen around here? Good Lord!”) I needed some Zen and I needed it fast. How utterly fortuitous it is that I am employed in the Children’s Department of Williamson County Public Library, by which I was granted an unrestricted, all-access pass to some books about Alan Alexander Milne’s deceptively simple but actually quite wise “Silly Old Bear,” that delightful creature who has won the hearts of readers for more than nine decades, Winnie The Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young. The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin. Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories. Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation. Some of Christopher Robin Milne’s original toys have been on display at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.
Dear Reader, you’ll be thrilled to learn that after spending some time reminiscing with Pooh and his friends (and a delicious cup of black chai tea), I was able to regain my sense of Zen. While contemplating a second cup of tea, it occurred to me that Pooh is quite fond of snacks, and I think he would wholeheartedly encourage me to have another, and accompany it with a “smackerel” of something. If you recall, Pooh makes it a habit to eat a snack at around eleven in the morning. Seeing as how all the clocks in Pooh’s house “stopped at five minutes to eleven some weeks ago,” then pretty much any time of day or night can be considered Pooh’s snack time.
“Christopher Robin was at home by this time,
because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad
to see them that they stayed there until very nearly
tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly Tea,
which is one you forget about afterwards, and
hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before
it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl.”
–“The House at Pooh Corner”
So as my tea was brewing, I pondered to myself (ok, I might have actually verbalized some of my random thoughts to my cat Blackie Lawless, who was hovering around hoping for a “smackerel” of something herself, and was more than willing to hedge her bets and pretend to listen to my idle musings, if it resulted in her getting some food) how fabulous it would be if we all—librarians, movie stars, Department of Motor Vehicles employees, politicians, pizza delivery guys, rappers, and plumbers—were to manifest more of Pooh’s characteristics in our own lives. For instance, Pooh is portrayed in Milne’s books as naïve and often a little slow on the uptake, but occasionally Pooh has a really clever idea, often sparked by urgency and fueled by common sense. Pooh showed remarkable initiative the time he used one of his honey pots, which he christened The Floating Bear, to navigate to Christopher Robin’s house during a flood, and then together they utilized Christopher Robin’s umbrella to rescue little Piglet from rising floodwaters. How glorious it would be if we all shared our umbrellas, so to speak, with friends and strangers alike.
Pooh is also an extremely social animal (see what I did there?) and also very loving toward his friends, who are really more family than friends, in my opinion. In Pooh’s own words, “It’s always useful to know where a friend-and-relation is, whether you want him or whether you don’t.” Although Pooh chooses to spend most of his time with Christopher Robin and Piglet, he habitually pays visits to Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Tigger, Owl, and Eeyore. Pooh’s thoughtfulness and kindhearted nature compel him to go out of his way to be especially friendly to gloomy Eeyore, visiting him frequently and even building him a house (with Piglet’s help), despite getting lukewarm sentiments from Eeyore in return. How fabulous that would be, if we all followed Pooh’s example and put the needs of others ahead of our own from time to time, with disregard to personal gain.
Dear Reader, thanks for dropping by for another installment of my kid-lit-inspired mental meanderings. I believe that this charming, thought-provoking Silly Old Bear and his friends will continue to delight and inspire readers far beyond the century mark.
*All opinions and viewpoints advanced herein the above blog belong solely to the author and her cats: Blackie Lawless, Roxy Blue, Jack Bauer, and Pearl.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
I have a confession to make. (Don’t get excited, it’s severely tame as far as confessions go.) I’ve never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic girl-coming-of-age story, Little Women. I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations, either. As you might expect, this makes writing a blog about it somewhat challenging . . .
Louisa May Alcott (herein referred to as LMA) was born on November 29, 1832, on her father’s 33rd birthday, in Germantown (which later became part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. She was the second of four daughters born to educator and transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May Alcott, and joined 20-month-old sister Anna Bronson Alcott. The births of Elizabeth Sewall Alcott in June 1835 and Abigail May Alcott in July1840 completed the Alcott clan. Readers will notice the many parallels between LMA’s family and that of the March Family in her most widely known publication, Little Women, which was published on September 30, 1868.
The Alcott Family moved to Boston in 1834, where LMA’s father established an experimental school and joined the ranks of the Transcendental Movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The majority of LMA’s education came from her strict, high-minded father Bronson Alcott, but she also received instruction from Thoreau, Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends. In 1840, after several disappointing setbacks with the school, the Alcotts moved to a cottage on the river in Concord, Massachusetts. LMA has described this period of her life as idyllic, and it was in Concord that she first began writing poems and stories and keeping a journal. In 1843, the Alcotts and six other people moved to a communal farm called Fruitlands. A rigid lifestyle was maintained at this Utopian commune; members of the community did not eat meat, chicken, or fish, and they wore clothing made of rough linen spun from flax fibers, as they believed it was wrong to take the life of an animal for its hide or even to shear its coat (i.e., wool) or to use a product of slavery (cotton.) This grand experiment collapsed spectacularly, leaving Bronson bitterly disappointed and physically ill. LMA’s mother nursed him back to health, and with an inheritance from Abby’s family and financial help from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts were able to purchase a homestead in Concord in April of 1845. Hillside, later called The Wayside, is the backdrop for Little Women, and the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of LMA’s childhood experiences with her three sisters: Anna, Elizabeth, and May.
The Alcott clan endured periods of extreme poverty, due in large measure to the idealistic and impractical nature of LMA’s father. Family was everything to LMA, so when she realized just how poor her family was, and how terribly her beloved mother suffered as a result, she decided to devote her life to supporting her family. LMA went to work at a very early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, maid, and writer. As a coping mechanism to survive these pressures, writing became an emotional and creative outlet for LMA. Her first book, Flower Fables, was published when she was just seventeen years old. The stories that she wrote during her teenage years earned her very little money. Hospital Sketches, a collection of letters that LMA had written home during her stint as a nurse in the American Civil War, finally won her some critical acclaim, and the publication of Little Women in 1868 brought her fame that exceeded everything she had dreamed of, and freed her family from poverty forever.
In Little Women, LMA based her protagonist Jo March on herself, and nearly every character in the novel is paralleled to some extent on her family members and friends. Beth March’s death mirrors that of Lizzie Alcott from scarlet fever, and LMA’s love and admiration of her mother shines through the characterization of Marmee, the beloved matriarch of the March Family. Little Women (or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) was very well received, as readers and critics found it suitable for many age groups. It was said to be a “fresh, natural representation of daily life” in New England, and a reviewer at Eclectic magazine called it one of the very best books to reach the hearts of anyone from six to sixty. A second part to Little Women, titled Good Wives, was published in 1869, and afterward was published in a single volume. The next novel in the Little Women trilogy, Little Men: Life at Plumfield With Jo’s Boys, was published in 1871; the completion of the series was published in 1886 under the title Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out.
LMA endured many health problems in her later years, and died of a stroke at age 55 in March 1888, just two days after the death of her father. Early biographers have attributed her poor health to mercury poisoning from the treatment she received for typhoid fever during her service as a nurse during the American Civil War. More recent analysis suggests that LMA may have suffered from an autoimmune disease such as lupus, and not acute mercury exposure. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near her instructors, friends, and mentors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, on a hillside now known as “Author’s Ridge.” Her most famous creation, Little Women, has endured the test of time and is still widely read and enjoyed today.
*Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are in no way reflective of WCPL employees or their siblings. Additionally, the author takes full responsibility for her intellectual sloth in not actually reading the book that she so arrogantly blogs about, and hereby honestly swears to do better next time.
Sources and suggested reading:
- Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (J 92 ALC)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (J F ALCOTT)
- Louisa May Alcott: Her Girlhood Diary by Cary Ryan (J 818.403 ALC)
- Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough (J 92 ALCOTT)