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Posts Tagged ‘history’

19 JULY, 2011

7 Obscure Children’s Books by Authors of Grown-Up Literature

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What a moral cat has to do with a lost boy, a happy prince and the rules for little girls.

We’ve previously explored some beloved children’s classics with timeless philosophy for grown-ups, plus some quirky coloring books for the eternal kid, and today’s we’re looking at the flipside — little-known children’s books by beloved authors of literature for grown-ups.

JAMES JOYCE

James Joyce may be best known as a poet, playwright, short story writer and novelist. But in an August 10, 1936 letter his grandson, Stephen, Joyce planted the story seeds of what became The Cat and the Devil — a charming children’s picture-book, originally illustrated by French cartoonist Roger Blachon, about the cat of Beaugency and a moral dilemma, a classic fable narrative mixing Irish wit with French folklore, shaken and stirred with Joyce’s extraordinary storytelling.

Joyce’s original letter to “Stevie” can be found in Stuart Gilbert’s 1964 volume, Letters of James Joyce. We Too Were Children has more images, a synopsis and a timeline of different editions.

MARK TWAIN

In 1865, legendary satirist Mark Twain did something unexpected — he penned a children’s story, titled Advice to Little Girls, in which he challenged children to digest the kind of intelligent humor and knowledge he was, and still is, known for among his adult audiences. The story was eventually published in The 30,000 Dollar Bequest and Other Stories.

This year, Italian publishing house Donzelli Editore released a beautifully illustrated Italian translation of the story, envisioned in the style of the scrapbooks and small albums the children of Twain’s era used for doodling and collecting various curious ephemera.

You ought never to take your little brother’s ‘chewing-gum’ away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.”

VIRGINIA WOOLF

In 1923, with her greatest works still ahead of her, Virginia Woolf responded to a submissions call from a family newspaper called The Charleston Bulletin, published by her teenage nephews. The Widow and the Parrot is, roughly, a tongue-in-cheek moral story about kindness to animals and though Quentin, Woolf’s older nephew, bemoaned it as a disappointment and “a tease…based on the worst Victorian examples,” devoid of Woolf’s typical subversive humor he had hoped for, it remains a sweet reflection of character, her taking the time to contribute to a small family pet project in the heat of her literary career.

The Widow and the Parrot stayed dormant in the archives of The Charleston Bulletin for over half a century, until it finally saw light of day in the 1982 issue of Redbook, celebrating 100 years since Woolf’s birth.

Ariel Wright has more on We Too Were Children.

T.S. ELIOT

T.S. Eliot is often regarded as the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. In the 1930s, Eliot, under his assumed name “Old Possum,” wrote a series of letters to his godchildren, in which he included a handful of whimsical poems about feline psychology and sociology. They were eventually published in 1939 as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, originally illustrated by the author himself. But, given our affinity for mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, the even bigger treat is the 1982 edition illustrated by Gorey in his signature style of black-and-white drawings at the intersection of the macabre and the whimsical.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats inspired the iconic Broadway musical Cats.

MARY SHELLEY

Between the time Mary Shelley published anonymous edition of her iconic Frankenstein in London in 1818 and the publication of the second edition in France in 1823, where her name appears for the first time, she penned Maurice, or The Fisher’s Cot — a children’s story Shelley wrote in 1820 for a daughter of friends. Shelley tried to have the story published by her father, William Godwin, but he refused, burying the text for nearly two centuries. In 1997, scholars discovered a manuscript copy was in Italy, considered one of modernity’s great feats of literary forensics.

The story, written in the straightforward Romantic language of poet William Wordsworth, whose work Shelley was reading at the time she composed Maurice, is about a boy searching for a home and his encounters with a traveller who turns out to be his long-lost father. With its melancholy tone and autobiographical undercurrents, the rediscovered text revealed a new glimpse of Shelley’s character and offered a precious missing link in the evolution of her literary style.

LEO TOLSTOY

Iconic Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy may be best-known for his epics Anna Karenina and War and Peace, considered two of the greatest novels of all time, but he also had a keen and active interest in children and children’s literature. He founded a school for peasant children on his family’s estate, followed by a second, more experimental school with the motto, “Come when you like, leave when you like” — an early model for open education. Inspired by the simplicity and innocence with which the children of his schools told stories, he began writing about his own childhood, eventually publishing a series of alphabet books after War and Peace. Known as “The ABC Book” (Azbuka) and “The New ABC Book” (Novaia Azbuka), these easy readers were widely adopted in Russia’s education system and remained in use throughout the Soviet Era.

Classic Tales and Fables for Children features a selection of stories and fables from Tolstoy’s classic primers. Always delightful, frequently humorous and never patronizing, these wonderful tales bespeak Tolstoy’s profound respect and appreciation for children’s unique creative and moral sensibilities, as well as his dedication to the broader aspirations of education.

OSCAR WILDE

In 1888, before his most iconic plays and essays made grand their debut, Oscar Wilde wrote The Happy Prince and other Tales — a poetic collection of five children’s stories about happiness, life and death. Though the most popular Western version, illustrated by Laura Stutzman, is certainly a treat, nothing compares to the astounding 1992 Chinese translation (which features an English version in the back of the book) illustrated by renowned Chinese artist Ed Young.

The anthology’s title text, The Happy Prince, can be read online in its entirety, courtesy of The Literature Network.

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18 JULY, 2011

7 Celebrations of Nelson Mandela

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What Apartheid has to do with Victorian poetry and using peace as a weapon of mass reconstruction.

FIRST RECORDED INTERVIEW

In 1961, Nelson Mandela became leader of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets. On May 21st that year, mere months before being arrested for sabotage and other charges and sentenced to life in prison, a 42-year-old Mandela gave his first-ever interview to ITN reporter Brian Widlake as part of a longer ITN Roving Report program about Apartheid. At that point, the police are already hunting for Mandela, but Widlake pulls some strings and arranges to meet him in his hideout. When the reporter asks Mandela what Africans want, he promptly responds:

The Africans require, want the franchise, the basis of One Man One Vote — they want political independence.”

Towards the end of the interview, Mandela tries to reconcile the difficult dynamic between peace and violence, suggesting that the full force with which the police had gone after him might have triggered this shift from nonviolent to violent protest means — violence, it seems, does only breed violence.

THE RELEASE (1990)

On 2 February 1990, President F. W. de Klerk reversed the ban anti-apartheid organisations, announcing that Mandela would shortly be released from prison. Nine days later, after 26 years in prison, Mandela reentered the free world and gave a seminal speech to the nation. The event was broadcast live all over the world, and this recording from the BBC archive is the only surviving footage of the momentous moment. Here, a deeply overwhelmed Mandela shares his first impressions of the new South Africa he had just brushed up against and revisits the complex relationship between peaceful means and armed struggle.

I have committed myself to the promotion of peace in the country. But I have done so as part and parcel of the decisions and campaign that have been taken by the ANC . . . The armed struggle is a defensive act against apartheid . . . There is not a single political organization in this country, inside and outside of Parliament, which can ever compare to ANC in its total commitment to peace.” ~ Nelson Mandela

INAUGURAL ADDRESS

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first multi-racial elections in which full enfranchisement was granted. The ANC won with a 62% majority, and Mandela, as leader of the organization, was inaugurated as the country’s first black President on 10 May, 1994. His inauguration address was as much a vision for South Africa’s future was it was a declaration of humanity and justice for a new global era.

Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.” ~ Nelson Mandela

CONVERSATIONS WITH MYSELF

Released last fall, Conversations with Myself is a timecapsule of (an) extraordinary character if the world ever saw one — a remarkable anthology of materials that capture Mandela’s essence with equal parts humility and heroism. The Guardian‘s Peter Godwin eloquently called it not “so much a book as a literary album,” with its varied snippets of Mandela’s life — letters, calendars, prison diaries, vignettes of personal life, and transcripts from over 50 hours of audio recordings by TIME magazine editor Richard Stengel, who ghost-wrote Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. With a foreword by Barack Obama and an introduction by Verne Harris, head of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, the book is an absolute treasure about an absolute treasure, reminding us, as Godwin puts it, that we often see history through retrospectacles that lead us to think what happened was somehow inevitable, whereas in fact it, not unlike human character, is a series of conscious and not always easy choices.

The cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings.”

NEED TO KNOW: NELSON MANDELA

For the biographically inclined, this short documentary from The Biography Channel manages to cover the essential Mandela, from his birth in the small African village of Mvezo in the Thembu tribe to his early interest in political activism to his imprisonment, release and eventual rise to presidency, in just under 7 minutes.

WISDOM

Andrew Zuckerman’s fantastic Wisdom project is a longtime favorite. Driven by the insight that the greatest heritage of a generation is the wisdom gained from life’s experience, Zuckerman went wisdom-hunting among 50 of our time’s greatest thinkers and doers — writers, artists, philosophers, politicians, designers, activists, musicians, religious and business leaders — all over 65 years of age. The resulting brilliant book-and-film, Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give to Another, features remarkable interviews with and portraits of icons like Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall and Desmond Tutu, among a treasure trove of others. (Zuckerman subsequently divided the great tome into four smaller, more digestible sub-volumes, each with its own thematic DVD: Wisdom: Life, Wisdom: Love, Wisdom: Peace, and Wisdom: Ideas.)

Nelson Mandela

Image copyright Andrew Zuckerman | www.wisdombook.org

It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any people can have.” ~ Nelson Mandela

More on the project here.

INVICTUS

Say what you will of Hollywood, but they certainly know how to send chills down your spine. In 2009, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, starring Matt Daemon and Morgan Freeman as Mandela, swept the awards circuit to great acclaim. Titled after the short Victorian poem of the same name, published by William Ernest Henley in 1875, the film captures Mandela’s journey and character through the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted there immediately following the dismantling of apartheid.

In the closing scene, Matt Daemon’s character visits Mandela’s prison cell as Morgan Freeman’s voiceover reads Henley’s poem, which Mandela has professed to have inspired him in prison. The vignette is nothing short of an emotional tour de force — try, if you can, to stop the goosebumps from enveloping your whole body.

(In true Hollywood fashion, the studios seem to have disabled embedding on all clips of the Freeman-narrated poem floating around on YouTube.)

Invictus is based on John Carlin’s excellent book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation.

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15 JULY, 2011

How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made

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From the Middle Ages to the Digital Age, or what sheep skin has to do with content curation.

As we ponder the future of publishing, it’s worth revisting its past — not from a Better-Nevers perspective of romanticizing a bygone era in order to bemoan technological innovation, but out of a more philosophical reflection on the incredible craftsmanship that went into early “publishing” and how we can reintroduce this respect for and value of the art of publishing as we straddle these new digital platforms.

In this fascinating short documentary, part of The Getty Museum‘s excellent Making Art series on ArtBabble, we get to see the astounding patience and craftsmanship that went into the making of medieval illuminated manuscripts — remarkable books painstakingly written and decorated by hand, coveted as some of the most precious objects produced in the Middle Ages.

For more on these marvels of the written word, you won’t go wrong with Christopher De Hamel’s A History of Illuminated Manuscripts — though, regrettably, not an illuminated manuscript itself. And, in the meantime, perhaps we should consider what the new vehicles of patience and craftsmanship are for creating value in today’s greatest feats of publishing — journalistic integrity, curatorial sensibility, information discovery.

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14 JULY, 2011

The Lists, To-dos and Illustrated Inventories of Great Artists

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What a 21-point scale of self-confidence has to do with Adolf Konrad’s carry-on and Picasso’s favorite artists.

After a voyeuristic look inside the notebooks and sketchbooks of great creators, here comes a peek inside an even more private facet of the creative self: the list. Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum offers a surprisingly intriguing glimpse of some of the 20th century’s most remarkable creators — including Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others — revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schemata through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life.

From a list Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen made of his second wife’s positive attributes, to designer Harry Bertoia’s 1932 self-rating chart for a school assignment, rating 21 of his characteristics on a spectrum from Very Poor to Excellent, to Picasso’s recommendations of artists he liked for Walt Kuhn’s 1913 Armory Show, these wonderful and fascinating seventy-or-so artifacts reveal as much about their creators as they do about the values, fixations and points of interest of their respective eras.

Eero Saarinen's list of Aline Bernstein's good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Harry Bertoia's 'My-self Rating Chart' school assignment. Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-1979.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Pablo Picasso's recommendations for the Armory Show for Walt Kuhn, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show Records, 1859-1978.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Janice Lowry's Journal #98, 2002-2003.

Image courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

Franz Kline's receipt from John Heller's Liquor Store, Dec. 31, 1960. Elisabeth Zogbaum papers regarding Franz Kline, 1928-1965.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Adolf Konrad's graphic packing list, Dec. 16, 1973. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962-2002.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Complement Lists with pioneering journalist Nellie Bly’s illustrated packing list and Barthes’s likes and dislikes, illustrated.

via GMSV; images via Imprint

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