I had a wave of good reviews for Wednesday’s blog. (Okay, there was one, but you take what you can get in this business.) My examination of the excitements of the literary world in 1922 apparently found a response and that is naturally all I need to try again with something similar. (One of the few things I have in common with the modern literary world.) I promise well get back to pictures of people’s backsides on postcards again one of these days.
So I checked 1822, to consider what bicentennials we had on our list. I expected a lot of pioneering works, and a bit of gossip from that Byron, Shelley, Keats crowd. Well, Shelley’s body washed up on the shore in 1822, and was cremated in the presence of Lord Byron, and just whether or not one of Shelley’s other fans was able to reach into the fire at a key moment and pluck out Shelley’s heart as a souvenir is still a matter of some discussion. But I couldn’t see getting a whole blog out of that.
Well, a lot of other people are doing anniversaries from 1972, so maybe what we really need are semi-centennials. I considered the Number One Bestsellers for the year, and found a three-way battle among some of the usual suspects, Irving Wallace (The Word), Arthur Hailey (Wheels), and Herman Wouk (Winds of War), until October, when Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull knocked everyone else down a rung. Oh, and Watership Down came out in 1972, promoted as a children’s book on one side of the Atlantic, and a novel for adults on the other. So if birds or bunnies appeal to you, it was a decent year.
How about jumping back a half century. The whole Sesquicentennial business can be a little anticlimactic (kind of like a midterm centennial) but if we can turn up enough in the way of literary milestones, it can be turned into a blog, and we can all practice writing Sesquicentennial. (Some in the audience may remember that I was part of a push to popularize the word Quasquicentennial during the 125th anniversary of a major literary institution. We came out pretty much where we went in on that one.)
Um, well. Okay, let’s deal with this. This is the year that saw the publication of Middlemarch, a novel for which there has been a massive swelling of interest over the last couple of decades. I have not gotten around to reading it yet (after I finish Finnegan’s Wake, perhaps). If you are a fan of Susan Coolidge’s Katy series of children’s books, the first one, What Katy Did, came out this year. Haven’t read that one yet, either. (Maybe after Finnegan’s Wake.) Abd another children’s classic, Dog of Flanders, appeared first this year. (HRIY, MAFW.)
Picturesque America was published, one of the most popular of early coffee table books (predating the coffee table, in many ways). This was a massive volume of engravings of America, explained by a major literary light of the day, and generally came in two volumes, which generally came into three or more pieces after the kids had flipped through the pages enough. THAT was always fun to sell at the Book Fair.
Now, or readers of speculative literature, 1872 was not a bad year. J. Sheridan LeFanu published the second most famous Victorian vampire novel, Carmilla, which, the Interwebs tells me, really launched the whole Lesbian Vampire Genre. (I did read that when I was about ten; missed that part, somehow.) Jules Verne took us Around the World in Eighty Days, which was more science fictiony then than now, and had a very satisfying trick ending, George MacDonald’s classic children’s fantasy The Princess and the Goblin appeared. This was one of C.S. Lewis’s favorites, and those looking for somewhere to go after Narnia could check this out. And a scholar who had wrestled for years with ancient alphabets was able to let us read, for the first time in a couple of millennia, the adventures in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which has inspired more than one fantasy novel in its days.
1872 was the birth year of such memorable authors as Zane Grey, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and maker of eccentric cartoons W. Heath Robinson. Keeping to the fantasy and science fiction theme, however, we have Max Beerbohm. He would go on to become a raconteur *(gossip) and precursor to Truman Capote, now best remembered for one of the great time travel stories of all time, Enoch Soames, a story so beloved that when the date came for Enoch Soames to make his appearance in modern London, hundreds turned out to welcome him if he showed up.
Hey, look, I filled a blog with material which COULD have been written up in one sentence. “They can’t all be 1922.”