Week Fifteen: The Lost City of Z by David Grann and “The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh

 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

 

6145-770x433Percy Fawcett

Percy Fawcett was certainly one model for the character of Indiana Jones

 

By the time he disappeared, in 1925, Percy Fawcett was likly the best-known explorer on the planet – and his name’s been kept alive by authors such as David Grann, whose new book –The Lost City of Z  has been a surprise bestseller in America –and a movie in theaters. Grann’s book tackles not only the British artillery colonel’s final journey, but also his obsession with finding traces of civilization deep in the Brazilian interior: El Dorado; a settlement Fawcett named, for obscure reasons, The Lost City of Z.

Reader, don’t grow faint or fear we’ve lost our way. Stay with our party, and you’ll find some surprise twists this week, including some authors and characters from our past.

Let’s go along with reporter David Grann as he enters the Amazon and tries to solve the mystery of what happened to the lost explorer, Percy Fawcett.

Here is an introductory text and promotional website for Grann’s book.

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett DSO (18 August 1867 – 1925?) was a British geographer, artillery officer, cartographer, archaeologist and explorer of South America. Along with his eldest son, Fawcett disappeared in 1925 during an expedition to find “Z” – Fawcett’s name for an ancient lost city, which he and others believed to exist and to be the remains of El Dorado, in the jungles of Brazil.

Here is an except from Grann’s book, Chapter One, “We Shall Return”:

 

WE SHALL RETURN

On a cold January day in 1925, a tall, distinguished gentleman hurried across the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, toward the S.S. Vauban, a five-hundred-and-eleven-foot ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. He was fifty-seven years old, and stood over six feet, his long arms corded with muscles.

Although his hair was thinning and his mustache was flecked with white, he was so fit that he could walk for days with little, if any, rest or nourishment. His nose was crooked like a boxer’s, and there was something ferocious about his appearance, especially his eyes. They were set close together and peered out from under thick tufts of hair. No one, not even his family, seemed to agree on their color-some thought they were blue, others gray. Yet virtually everyone who encountered him was struck by their intensity: some called them “the eyes of a visionary.” He had frequently been photographed in riding boots and wearing a Stetson, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, but even in a suit and a tie, and without his customary wild beard, he could be recognized by the crowds on the pier. He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.PercyFawcett.1911jpg

He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public’s imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranha, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the “David Livingstone of the Amazon,” and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. An American explorer described him as “a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless”; another said that he could “outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else.” The London Geographical Journal, the pre-eminent publication in its field, observed in 1953 that “Fawcett marked the end of an age. One might almost call him the last of the individualist explorers. The day of the aeroplane, the radio, the organized and heavily financed modern expedition had not arrived. With him, it was the heroic story of a man against the forest.”

In 1916, the Royal Geographical Society had awarded him, with the blessing of King George V, a gold medal “for his contributions to the mapping of South America.” And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack into the Society’s hall to hear him speak. Among them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was said to have drawn on Fawcett’s experiences for his 1912 book The Lost World, in which explorers “disappear into the unknown” of South America and find, on a remote plateau, a land where dinosaurs have escaped extinction.

As Fawcett made his way to the gangplank that day in January, he eerily resembled one of the book’s protagonists, Lord John Roxton:
Something there was of Napoleon III, something of Don Quixote, and yet again something which was the essence of the English country gentleman._._._._He has a gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.

mapmato-grosso-fawcett-expedition (2)

Map of Mato Grosso from Expedition Fawcett

None of Fawcett’s previous expeditions compared with what he was about to do, and he could barely conceal his impatience, as he fell into line with the other passengers boarding the S.S. Vauban. The ship, advertised as “the finest in the world,” was part of the Lamport & Holt elite “V” class. The Germans had sunk several of the company’s ocean liners during the First World War, but this one had survived, with its black, salt-streaked hull and elegant white decks and striped funnel billowing smoke into the sky. Model T Fords shepherded passengers to the dock, where longshoremen helped cart luggage into the ship’s hold. Many of the male passengers wore silk ties and bowler hats; women had on fur coats and feathered caps, as if they were attending a society event, which, in some ways, they were-the passenger lists of luxury ocean liners were chronicled in gossip columns and scoured by young girls searching for eligible bachelors.

Fawcett pushed forward with his gear. His trunks were loaded with guns, canned food, powdered milk, flares, and handcrafted machetes. He also carried a kit of surveying instruments: a sextant and a chronometer for determining latitude and longitude, an aneroid for measuring atmospheric pressure, and a glycerin compass that could fit in his pocket. Fawcett had chosen each item based on years of experience; even the clothes he had packed were made of lightweight, tear-proof gabardine. He had seen men die from the most innocuous seeming oversight-a torn net, a boot that was too tight.

Fawcett was setting out into the Amazon, a wilderness nearly the size of the continental United States, to make what he called “the great discovery of the century”-a lost civilization. By then, most of the world had been explored, its veil of enchantment lifted, but the Amazon remained as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. As Sir John Scott Keltie, the former secretary of the Royal Geographical Society and one of the world’s most acclaimed geographers at the time, noted, “What is there no one knows.”

 

Ever since Francisco de Orellana and his army of Spanish conquistadores descended the Amazon River, in 1542, perhaps no place on the planet had so ignited the imagination-or lured men to their death. Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican friar who accompanied Orellana, described woman warriors in the jungle who resembled the mythical Greek Amazons. Half a century later, Sir Walter Raleigh spoke of Indians with “their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts”-a legend that Shakespeare wove into Othello:
Of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

What was true about the region-serpents as long as trees, rodents the size of pigs-was sufficiently beyond belief that no embellishment seemed too fanciful. And the most entrancing vision of all was of El Dorado. Raleigh claimed that the kingdom, which the conquistadores had heard about from Indians, was so plentiful in gold that its inhabitants ground the metal into powder and blew it “thorow hollow canes upon their naked bodies untill they be al shining from the foote to the head.”¹

Fawcett’s fate may never be discovered, but in recent years, evidence has shown that his theory about a sophisticated jungle city was not invented. As Grann points out in his book “The Lost City of Z,” many archeologists now believe the Amazon was home to sophisticated settlements in the centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Excavations have revealed the ruins of garden cities with earthen defensive walls, complex road networks and space for thousands of inhabitants. Some of these sites are deep in the modern day state of Mato Grosso—the very region where Percy Fawcett hoped to find his mythical city of Z.

 

Fawcett’s Last Letter (primary source):

 

Colonel Fawcett’s final written words, dated 29th May 1925, were to his wife Nina Fawcett:

 

 

    “My dear Nina,

    The attempt to write is fraught with much difficulty, thanks to the legions of flies that pester one from dawn till dusk – and sometimes all through the night! The worst are the tiny ones that are smaller than a pinhead, almost invisible, but sting like a mosquito. Clouds of them are always present. Millions of bees add to the plague, and other bugs galore, stinging horrors that get all over ones hands. Even the head nets won’t keep them out, and as for mosquito nets, the pests fly through them! It is quite maddening.

    We hope to get through this region in a few days, and are camped here for a while to arrange for the return of the peons, who are anxious to get back, having had enough of it – and I don’t blame them. We go on with eight animals – three saddle mules, four cargo mules, and a madrinha, a leading animal which keeps the others together. Jack is well and fit and getting stronger every day, even though he suffers a bit from insects.

    I myself am bitten or stung by ticks, and these piums, as they call the tiny ones, all over the body. It is Raleigh I am anxious about. He still has one leg in a bandage but won’t go back. So far we have plenty of food and no need to walk, but I am not sure how long this will last. There may be little for the animals to eat as we head further in. I cannot hope to stand up on this journey better than Jack or Raleigh – my extra years tell, though I do my best to make up for it with enthusiasm – but I had to do this.

 

    I calculate that I shall contact the Indians in about a week, perhaps ten days, when we should be able to reach the much talked-about waterfall.

 

    Here we are at Dead Horse Camp, Lat. 110 43’ S and 540 35’ W, the spot where my horse died in 1920. Only his white bones remain. We can bathe ourselves here, but the insects make it a matter of great haste. Nevertheless, the season is good. It is very cold at night and fresh in the morning, but the insects and heat are out in full force come mid-day, and from then until evening it is sheer misery in camp.

 

    You need have no fear of any failure ….”

 

 

Did you know . . .Literary Connections and Legacy

professorchallenger book

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories

 

Fawcett was friend to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as H. Rider Haggard.

‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his Professor Challenger character partly on Percy Fawcett, and stories of the “Lost City of Z” became material for his novel The Lost World?

Just as Sherlock Holmes was loosely based on Dr. Bell, one of his professors at the Medical School of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Challenger was inspired by real individuals. One of them was a professor of physiology named William Rutherford, who had lectured at the University of Edinburgh while Conan Doyle studied medicine there. The other, was the explorer Percy Fawcett.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Percy Fawcett were good friends and Fawcett told stories about his incredible exploits in the Amazon Jungle. Conan Doyle used lots of them in his novels. The most significant of is the description of the famous “Table Top Mountain” in The Lost World.’

 

Lost Cities as Genre

“The Lost City” and “The Lost World” are sub-genre categories of science fiction and fantasy literature?

From the tombs of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and the semi-mythical stronghold of Troy to the jungle-shrouded pyramids of the Maya, “Lost Cities” have captured the imaginations of the Victorian and Edwardian ethos and continue to capture our imaginations today. Check out this Wiki piece which discusses Doyle, H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines) and many others. Clearly, Steven Spielberg and other creators owe a great debt to actual explorers such as Fawcett.

 

Want more? Here’s an entire PBS episode about the Fawcett expedition!

 

An episode from PBS’s “Secrets of the Dead” about Fawcett

 

 

A bit about David Grann . . .

David Grann is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. david-grann

Grann’s other book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, contains many of his New Yorker stories, and was named by Men’s Journal one of the best true crime books ever written. The stories in the collection focus on everything from the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert to a Polish writer who might have left clues to a real murder in his postmodern novel. Another piece, “Trial by Fire,” exposed how junk science led to the execution of a likely innocent man in Texas.

His latest book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, will be released in April. Based on years of research, it explores one of the most sinister crimes and racial injustices in American history.

 

About El Dorado: “The Gilded Man”

 

El Dorado, The Golden Man

El Dorado refers not only to the great lost city but also to the “Golden Man”

Based on documentary research, Fawcett had by 1914 formulated ideas about a “lost city” he named “Z” somewhere in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. He theorized that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region and that isolated ruins may have survived. Did he believe that this was El Dorado? Or that El Dorado was nearby?

The conquistadores were convinced that El Dorado, which they had heard about from the Indians, was so plentiful in gold that the inhabitants ground the metal into dust and blew it through hollow canes about their bodies. “El Dorado” means “The Gilded Man.”

Yet El Dorado, at least in the Western imagination, has always seemed to represent something more than a golden kingdom—it is a lost world, even a paradise. Many have died seeking such a place, but that, at least in its more mystical incarnation, such a place will always lie beyond the horizon.

 

KnightAtTheCrossroads-vasnetsov.1

Knight at The Crossroads-Vasnetsov

 

 

Eldorado (1849)

 

By Edgar Allan Poe

 

Gaily bedight,

A gallant knight,

In sunshine and in shadow,

Had journeyed long,

Singing a song,

In search of Eldorado.

 

 

But he grew old—

This knight so bold—

And o’er his heart a shadow—

Fell as he found

No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.

 

 

And, as his strength

Failed him at length,

He met a pilgrim shadow—

‘Shadow,’ said he,

‘Where can it be—

This land of Eldorado?’

 

 

‘Over the Mountains

Of the Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,’

The shade replied,—

‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

 

 

Vocabulary:

  1. bedight: arrayed; dressed
  1. spot: perhaps a gold nugget, gem, or another sign of Eldorado
  1. pilgrim shadow: shadow of a traveler. Thus, the pilgrim shadow may be the knight’s own inner self (ambition, motivation) in the form of an apparition driving him on in spite of his weariness. One may also interpret it as death overtaking the knight.
  1. Valley . . . Shadow: These words echo the phrase valley of the shadow of death in Chapter 23:1 of the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament of the Bible.
  1. shade: reference to the pilgrim shadow. Shade is another word for apparition or ghost. But unlike ghost, wraith, phantom, spirit, or another word for apparition, shade maintains the ‘sh’ sound of shadow, thus keeping up the rhythm and musicality of the poem.

 

 

“The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh

 

themanwholikeddickens

From the movie A Handful of Dust, starring Alec Guinness and James Wilby.

 

“The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh is a fascinating piece which eventually became a chapter in Waugh’s novel, A Handful of Dust.
The protagonist, Mr. Henty, is a contented but shallow English country squire.
Yet the Camelot of old British landed aristocracy has faded away from society. Country estates are now something which must be kept up or rented to vacationers to produce income. Mr. Henty, who has seen his illusions of genteel country manor life shattered one by one, joins an expedition to the Brazilian jungle.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is no city of gold in the jungle, dear Wonderlings. Sometimes what we find is far stranger . . .

Here is “The Man Who Liked Dickens” the short story which Waugh eventually included as a chapter in his novel. Enjoy!

 

 

A bit about Evelyn Waugh . . .

Waugh incorporated several autobiographical elements into the plot, including his own recent desertion by his wife. In 1933–34 he travelled into the South American interior, and a number of incidents from the voyage are incorporated into the novel.

Evelynwaugh.jpeg

the author Evelyn Waugh

 

For more on lost worlds and cities . . .

 

Jimmy Nelson is a photographer who’s trying to photograph indigenous peoples around the world.

Several of these lost cities/ruins  have been virtually destroyed in recent years due to war, bombings and terrorism . . .Petra, Palmyra; the list goes on. But the fragments are beautiful:

http://www.touropia.com/lost-cities/

 

 

 

 

¹ The Lost City of Z-A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, By David Grann, Penguin Random House, 2010. From the Penguin Random House website “free” excerpt.

Week Fourteen: “The Company of Wolves” and “The Werewolf” by Angela Carter

thebloodychamberclassic

Harper and Row 1980 edition. Carter balked at the description “adult tales”

 

 

This week it’s into the woods with icon of feminist fairy tale telling, the author Angela Carter.

 

“The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter

In Week Fourteen we’ll be studying two of Carter’s Red Riding Hood tales. First up is “The Company of Wolves.”

It’s time to go into the woods, Wonderlings. Perhaps Mr. Wolf will be waiting for you. But be warned: sometimes, the antagonist is a wolf, but sometimes a ‘bzou’ (werewolf). Are you truly ready for him?

 

“The Werewolf”

In turning the classic gender power struggle on its head, Carter presents a tale in which Little Red Riding Hood is not the innocent little girl she appears to be.

For an excellent unpacking of this and Carter’s other wolf tales, see this piece from The British Library. The author does an excellent job of pointing out why readers might sympathize with Mr. Wolf in this Red Riding Hood variant.

 

Here is “The Werewolf” by Angela Carter.

 

A short video on Angela Carter and her oeuvre

 

 

A bit about The Bloody Chamber . . .

 

A darkly erotic reworking of Bluebeard’s Castle, a bawdy Puss in Boots and a sado-masochistic version of Little Red Riding Hood – Angela Carter’s subversive take on traditional fairy stories in The Bloody Chamber is as shocking today as when the collection first appeared in 1979, writes The Guardian’s Helen Simpson.

First published in the United Kingdom in 1979 by Gollancz, The Bloody Chamber won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. With clear homage to (and feminist excavation from) the works of fairy tale giant Charles Perrault, the tales include:

 

The Bloody Chamber (based on Bluebeard)

A teenage girl marries an older, wealthy French Marquis, whom she does not love. When he takes her to his castle, she learns that he enjoys sadistic pornography and takes pleasure in her embarrassment. She is a talented pianist, and a young man, a blind piano tuner, hears her music and falls in love with her.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon (based on Beauty and the Beast — the concept of the Beast as a lion-like figure is a popular one, most notably in the French film version of 1946)

Beauty’s father, after experiencing car trouble, takes advantage of a stranger’s hospitality. However, his benefactor – the Beast – takes umbrage when he steals a miraculous white rose for his beloved daughter. Beauty becomes the guest of the leonine Beast.

The Tiger’s Bride (also based on Beauty and the Beast)

A woman moves in with a mysterious, masked “Milord,” the Beast, after her father loses her to him in a game of cards. Milord is eventually revealed to be a tiger.

Puss-in-Boots (based on Puss in Boots and similar to The Barber of Seville)

Figaro, a cat, moves in with a rakish young man who lives a happily debauched life. They live a carefree existence, with the cat helping him to make money by cheating at cards, until the young man actually falls in love (to the cat’s disgust) with a young woman kept in a tower by a miserly, older husband who treats her only as property.

Angela Carter had described Puss in Boots as “the Cat as Con Man… a masterpiece of cynicism… a Figaroesque valet – a servant so much the master already”.

The Erl-King (an adaptation of the Erlking in folklore; a sort of goblin or spirit of the woodlands)

A maiden wanders into the woods and is seduced by the sinister Erl-King, a seeming personification of the forest itself.

The Snow Child (has roots in various folktales)

A Count and Countess go riding in midwinter. The Count sees snow on the ground and wishes for a child “as white as snow”. Similar wishes are made when the Count sees a hole in the snow containing a pool of blood, and a raven. As soon as he made his final wish a young woman of the exact description appears at the side of the road. The Count pays immediate attention to her, much to the chagrin of the Countess.

The Lady of the House of Love(based loosely on Sleeping Beauty and more directly on a radio play called “Vampirella”)

A virginal English soldier, traveling through Romania by bicycle, finds himself in a deserted village. He comes across a mansion inhabited by a vampire who survives by enticing young men into her bedroom and feeding on them.

The Werewolf (based on Little Red Riding Hood)

A girl goes to visit her grandmother, but encounters a werewolf on the way, whose paw she cuts off with a knife. When she reaches her grandmother’s house, the paw has turned into a hand with the grandmother’s ring on it, and the grandmother is both delirious and missing her hand. This reveals the girl’s grandmother as the werewolf, and she is stoned to death. The girl then inherits all of her grandmother’s possessions.

The Company of Wolves

(closer adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood)

“Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves.”

 

cover-illustrationDanielMackie

illustration for The Bloody Chamber by Daniel Mackie

 

We meet a girl walking in the woods. She was loved by everyone and feared nothing. She meets a handsome hunter who makes a deal with her; whoever can get to the grandmother’s house first wins, and if the hunter wins she owes him a kiss. She lets the hunter win because she wants to kiss him. The hunter arrives at the grandmother’s house tricking her. She is frail and sick. She holds a Bible in her hand for protection. He eats the grandmother, then waits for the girl. When she arrives, she notices her grandmother’s hair in the fire and knows the wolf has killed her. He threatens to kill and eat her too, but she laughs in his face and proceeds to seduce him, stripping off their clothes and throwing them into the fire.

Wolf-Alice

(based on an obscure variant of Little Red Riding Hood and with reference to Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, this tale explores the journey towards subjectivity and self-awareness from the perspective of a feral child.

 

Folk Tales, Fairy Tales . . .What’s the Difference?

 

Conte de Perrault-Le petit chaperon rougead064084

Perrault’s Contes de Fees

 

Vocabulary:

Folk Literature: Folk literature includes fairy tales, folk tales, songs, ballads, riddles, jokes, proverbs, sayings and incantations, many of which began in oral tradition. The early 20th Century compilations of Zora Neale Hurston are an example of scholarship to document folk traditions in the United States.

Folk Tale: A story that deals with popular subject matter and is part of the oral tradition of a particular country, region or language. The term refers collectively to anonymous narratives that may exist in many variants over time and place such as legends, fables, ghost stories and tall tales. Regional variations and changes in the story over time may occur as a result of the oral mode of transmission.

Fable: A short allegorical tale in which animals, plants, and things speak and behave like humans , told to illustrate a moral or lesson which is typically verbalized at the conclusion.

Fairy Tale: Fanciful story where magic is the norm; often involving fantastic creatures. For centuries, folklorists and writers have compiled collections of oral fairy traditions, such as the French Contes de Ma mere l’oye (Tales of Mother Goose); the German Kinderund Haausmarchen (Grimm’s Fairy Tales) and the Russian Narodnye Skazki (Russian Fairy Tales). Fairy Tales typically developed from an oral storytelling tradition but through time the literary fairy tale developed. Hans Christian Anderson, Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin are examples of authors of literary fairy tales. Fairy Tales are often retold or recast, emphasizing/excavating new innate material or regarding the tale from a new perspective. In popular English Literature, Philip Pullman, Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman have worked with tales in this sense.³

 

For more on classic fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and its worldwide variants, see the work of Charles Perrault and  The Brothers Grimm.

For a great website on fairy tales from around the world, check out Sur La Lune

 

A bit about Angela Carter . . .

 

AngelaCarter

Angela Carter

Angela Olive Carter-Pearce (née Stalker; 7 May 1940 – 16 February 1992) who published as Angela Carter, was an English novelist, short story writer and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism, and picaresque works. In 2008, The Times ranked Carter tenth in their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. In 2012, Nights at the Circus was selected as the best ever winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

In 1979, both The Bloody Chamber, and her influential essay, The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography, appeared. In the essay, according to the writer Marina Warner, Carter “deconstructs the arguments that underlie The Bloody Chamber. It’s about desire and its destruction, the self-immolation of women, how women collude and connive with their condition of enslavement. She was much more independent-minded than the traditional feminist of her time.”

A prolific writer, editor and journalist, at the time of her death, Carter had started work on a sequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre based on the later life of Jane’s stepdaughter, Adèle Varens; only a synopsis survives.

 

Angela Carter died aged 51 in 1992 at her home in London after developing lung cancer.

For more of Carter’s stories click here for an article from Ploughshares

For a webchat with Carter’s biographer Edmund Gordon, click here.

 

 

Here is a wonderful audio version of the story “The Company of Wolves”  introduced by Neil Gaiman (cue at 3:40) and read by actress Rita Wolf, in case you’d like to listen while you read.

The better to hear you with, my dear!

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/public-radio-international/selected-shorts/e/episode-18-angela-carter-the-company-of-wolves-49904942?autoplay=true

Did you know some fairy tales are over 6000 years old? Check it out here, in the journal Science.

Extra enrichment: Read Transformations, poetic fairy tale reworkings by Anne Sexton. Or this poem:

 

The Wolf’s Postscript to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’
Agha Shahid Ali, 1949 – 2001

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:
Little girls shouldn’t wander off
in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn’t speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn’t I have gobbled her up
right there in the jungle?
Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
As if I, a forest-dweller,
didn’t know of the cottage
under the three oak trees
and the old woman lived there
all alone?
As if I couldn’t have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester
though you’ll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman:
Was I sleeping while he snipped
my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?
I ran with that weight and fell down,
simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones
cutting through my belly,
at the garbage spilling out
with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale
should have come to an end.

From A Walk Through the Yellow Pages by Agha Shahid Ali, published by SUN-Gemini Press. © 1987 by Agha Shahid Ali.

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹Helen Simpson, Femme fatale: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, The Guardian, June 2006

²Source: Creative Commons

Week Thirteen: Mothers Writing Letters: “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin and “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton

the-awakeningloawharton

 

In honor of Mothers Day, here are rich stories about mothers and the theme of letters sent. In both “Désirée’s Baby” and “Roman Fever,” a mother (or soon-to-be mother) sends an epistle which will change the course of events of the characters’ lives.

 

“Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin

 

The author Kate Chopin, often compared to Guy De Maupassant,
set her short stories in in the bayous and backwaters of New Orleans—a lush Creole world surrounded by Louisiana plantations prior to the American Civil War when slavery was still “lawful,”

covers_desirees-baby

image:enotes.com artist unknown

Chopin boldly and intentionally inventories the differences among the mixed inhabitants:
negro, dark, yellow, quadroon, fair, La Blanche, white . . .

. . .what effect does color have when a mother gives birth in old NOLA?

Here is “Désirée’s Baby,” a slight and deceptively simple story by Kate Chopin, published in 1893. Let us know your thoughts.

You can read it here.

 

Vocabulary Terms:

La Blanche –“the white one”

quadroon –a person of ¼ African-American descent

creole –a descendent of original French settlers in Louisiana; the term comes from the Spanish word criollo, meaning “a child of the colony

high yellow– a term for very light-skinned persons of African-American descent. It is a reference to the golden yellow skin tone of some mixed-race people. The term was in common use in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century.

miscegenation: Interbreeding between members of different races; marriage or cohabitation between members of different races, especially in the U.S., between a black person and a white person.

 

A bit about Kate Chopin . . .

 

Kate Chopin’s biography:
Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis into a prosperous Irish-American family and her upbringing, with its convent schools and debutante balls, was conventional for a young woman growing up in the post-civil war period. At nineteen she married Oscar Chopin, a cotton broker from New Orleans. After her husband experienced setbacks in business, she lived with him on a plantation near Natchitoches (pronounced “Nackatish”) , an area that provides the setting of the stories later collected in Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). From her experiences there she absorbed a rich mixture of stories and dialects from the intermingled French and black cultures.katechopin
After her husband’s death in 1883, Chopin returned to St. Louis with her six children and began her literary career, soon placing stories and regional sketches in popular magazines such as Vogue. Much of her later work is remarkable for its frank depiction of woman’s sexuality, a subject rarely broached in the literature of the era, and Chopin became the subject of controversy after the appearance of The Awakening. The negative reception of that work caused Chopin to suffer both professional and social ostracism; her work was removed from libraries and Chopin was obliged to drop her membership in several St. Louis clubs. The scandal surrounding The Awakening effectively ended her active career as a writer, and she published little until her death five years later.

 

For more on Racial Distinctions:

The Strange History of the American Quadroon by Emily Clark pertains more to the Revolutionary War era but the information on Quadroon culture is worthwhile.

An article in the Huffington Post explores it

For more on Kate Chopin:

The International Kate Chopin Society

 

Works Available Online

“The Story of an Hour” (1894)
“A Pair of Silk Stockings “
Desiree’s Baby (in collection with other stories)
Desiree’s Baby (this story only)
“Regret,Century 50 (n.s. 28) (May 1895): 147-49.  (Page images at MOA)
“Ozeme’s Holiday,”  Century 52 (n.s.30) (Aug. 1896): 629-31 (Page images at MOA)
“I Opened All the Portals Wide” (poem; Century 58 (July 1899): 361-362 (Page images at MOA)
“Tante Cat’rinette” Atlantic 74 (September 1894): 368-373. (Page images at MOA)

The Awakening 

Bayou Folk (1894) at the University of North Carolina includes the following stories:

A Night in Acadie (1897) at the University of North Carolina contains the following stories:

 

“Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton

 

The author Edith Wharton adeptly depicts the seething emotions under the starched and corseted members of her society which inevitably surface.
Wharton portrays families such as the Astors and the Vanderbilts at the height of the social ladder; there are also the ‘arrivistes’ who come from old names and old money, earning their fortunes more recently; often richer than the aristocrats.
They entertained themselves by going to the theater and opera, by attending lunches and house parties, and by traveling abroad . . .
Sometimes it’s when travelling abroad that the true passions of the aristocracy are finally exposed.
And it’s while traveling abroad that we are first introduced to two mothers: Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley:
The two women simply dine together on the terrace of a restaurant in Rome. What could possibly be revealed on such a lovely day?


Here is “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton.

 

A bit about Edith Wharton . . .

EdithWharton

Edith Wharton moved to Paris in the early 1900s. Not long after, in 1913, after her affair with Morton Fullerton had ended, she divorced her husband of more than 20 years. (source: North Country Public Radio)

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into a tightly controlled society at a time when women were discouraged from achieving anything beyond a proper marriage. Wharton broke through these strictures to become one of America’s greatest writers. Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. She was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University, and a full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.¹

 

For information on The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home:

http://www.edithwharton.org/discover/edith-wharton/

Additional Reading:

Edith Wharton at Home: Life at The Mount by Richard Guy Wilson (2012)

My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann edited by Irene Goldman-Price (2012)

 

Novels

Novellas and novelette

 

Short Stories

Non-fiction

As editor

 

 

Bonus material: A letter from Bette Davis to her daughter:

 

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To round out our week on the theme of mothers, letters written, and regrets, here’s one from Hollywood icon Bette Davis to her daughter.

The actress Bette Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983. After surgery she experienced a number of strokes which left her partially paralyzed. Then, in 1985, her daughter, Barbara, published a controversial book, titled My Mother’s Keeper, that exposed their rumored troubled relationship and painted Davis in a terrible light. Two years later, Bette Davis published her own memoirs—at the very end was this letter to her daughter:

Dear Hyman,

You ended your book with a letter to me. I have decided to do the same.

There is no doubt you have a great potential as a writer of fiction. You have always been a great storyteller. I have often, lo these many years, said to you, “B.D., that is not the way it was. You are imagining things.”

Many of the scenes in your book I have played on the screen. It could be you have confused the “me” on the screen with “me” who is your mother.

I have violent objections to your quotes of mine regarding actors I have worked with. For the most part, you have cruelly misquoted me. Ustinov I was thrilled to work with and I have great admiration of him as a person and as an actor. You have stated correctly my reactions to working with Faye Dunaway. She was a most exasperating co-star. But to quote me as having said Sir Laurence Olivier was not a good actor is most certainly one of the figments of your imagination. Few actors have ever reached the towering heights of his performances.

You constantly inform people that you wrote this book to help me understand you and your way of life better. Your goal was not reached. I am now utterly confused as to who you are or what your way of life is.

The sum total of your having written this book is a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given.

In one of your many interviews while publicizing your book, you said if you sell your book to TV you feel Glenda Jackson should play me. I would hope you would be courteous enough to ask me to play myself.

I have much to quarrel about in your book. I choose to ignore most of it. But not the pathetic creature you claim I have been because of the fact that I did not play Scarlett in “Gone With the Wind.” I could have, but turned it down. Mr. Selznick attempted to get permission from my boss, Jack Warner, to borrow Errol Flynn and Bette Davis to play Rhett Butler and Scarlett. I refused because I felt Errol was not good casting for Rhett. At that time only Clark Gable was right. Therefore, dear Hyman, send me not back to Tara, rather send me back to Witch Way, our home on the beautiful coast of Maine where once lived a beautiful human being by the name of B.D., not Hyman.

As you ended your letter in “My Mother’s Keeper” — it’s up to you now, Ruth Elizabeth — I am ending my letter to you the same way: It’s up to you now, Hyman.

Ruth Elizabeth

P.S. I hope someday I will understand the title “My Mother’s Keeper.” If it refers to money, if my memory serves me right, I’ve been your keeper all these many years. I am continuing to do so, as my name has made your book about me a success.²

 

¹Information from the official website for The Mount, Wharton’s home.

²Letter seen in Letters of Note by Shawn Usher (Public Library)Chronicle Books (May 6, 2014).

 

Week Twelve: “Four Good Legs Between Us” by Laura Hillenbrand and “Pure Heart” by William Nack

 

 

 

It’s Derby Week ! Let’s look at some award-winning sports writing.

 

“Four Good Legs Between Us” by Laura Hillenbrand

 

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“It was the 1930’s. The lives of three vastly different men had come to an intersection, and their crowded hour had begun. The improbable partnership they formed would turn a battered little horse into one of the century’s most celebrated popular heroes.”

Here is the story of of a knock-kneed little horse named Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand. The piece was published in American Heritage Magazine and won an Eclipse Award. Enjoy!

“Four Good Legs Between Us” by Laura Hillenbrand

 

A bit about Laura Hillenbrand . . .

Laura Hillenbrand is an American author of books and magazine articles. Her two best-selling nonfiction books, Seabiscuit: An American Legend and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, have sold over 13 million copies, and each was adapted for film.

HillenbrandatRidgewoodRanch

Hillenbrand with Bronze Sea, a direct descendent of Seabiscuit

For Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2001. She first told the story through an essay, “Four Good Legs Between Us”, that was published in American Heritage magazine, and the feedback was positive, so she decided to proceed with a full-length book. The book received positive reviews for the storytelling and research. It was made into the Academy Award nominated film Seabiscuit (2003).

Both books were written after she fell ill in college, barring her from completing her degree. She told that story in an award-winning essay, A Sudden Illness, which was published in The New Yorker in 2003.

Her writing style belongs to a new school of nonfiction writers, who come after the New Journalism, focusing more on the story than a literary prose style:

 

 

“Pure Heart” by William Nack

 

secretariatbook

 

The author William Nack is considered royalty in the realm of thoroughbred racing journalism.
As we start a new bid for the Triple Crown, let’s read Nack’s classic, evocative, and deeply personal portrait of the greatest of racing’s champions, Secretariat.
It is a foundational piece of sports writing. The Sports Illustrated issue date was June 4, 1990. “Here, as California Chrome makes a bid for the 2014 Triple Crown, is William Nack’s evocative, deeply personal portrait of the greatest of racing’s champions.”

“Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message . . .Horses have a way of getting inside you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.”

Here is “Pure Heart,” by William Nack.

 

 

William  Nack and others remember Secretariat and discuss the making of the movie  which honors him.

 

A bit about William Nack . . .

Secretariat-with-Bill-Nack

“In 1971, William Nack was an environmental writer at Newsday, the Long Island newspaper. At a particularly festive office Christmas party that year, Nack stood on a table and recited the name of every Kentucky Derby winner, a list that stretched back to 1875. The paper’s sports editor was so impressed that Nack was soon asked to be a horse racing writer.

The following June, he went to Belmont Park to visit Riva Ridge, that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, and was pulled aside by exercise rider Jimmy Gaffney, who suggested Nack meet Ridge’s stablemate. “You wanna see the best-lookin’ 2-year-old you’ve ever seen?” he asked.”   (from Sports Illustrated)

 

Thus was Nack introduced to Secretariat.

 

Read the full back story here

 

Other writing to check out:

Red Smith on Willy Shoemacher

americanpastimesredsmith

Did you know . . .

. . .that the author William Faulkner once covered the Kentucky Derby?

“On May 16, 1955, Sports Illustrated ran an article entitled “Kentucky: May: Saturday.” It was about the 81st running of the Kentucky Derby, and it was written by none other than William Faulkner.FaulknerDerby
The single page of neatly typed prose had no punctuation. No commas. No periods. No capital letters. Just words strung together: “this saw boone the bluegrass the virgin land rolling westward wave by dense wave …”
The Derby was Faulkner’s second assignment for Sports Illustrated, which had debuted the previous year. In January 1955, the magazine published an An Innocent at Rinkside, in which Faulkner wrote of watching his first hockey game: “It was filled with motion, speed. … It seemed discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical, like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools”.
That spring, Sports Illustrated sent Faulkner to Louisville to record his impressions of Derby Day and the days leading up to it.”

 

And this from The Guardian: :Seabiscuit VS War Admiral: the horse race That Stopped the Nation:

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/nov/01/seabiscuit-war-admiral-horse-race-1938-pimlico

seabiscuit_race_horse_1

Seabiscuit

Be sure to check out our post “Horse racing: The Basic Facts” for great rookie info and some excellent vintage video clips. And in our Facebook group, enjoy member comments and listen to an authentic radio broadcast from the day Seabiscuit won at Santa Anita!

Horse Racing: The Basic Facts

Seabiscuitf2f855921aa9ac1091ed2dab7309b2b0

Seabiscuit takes to the track

Horse Racing:

Horse racing is one of the most ancient of all sports. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt.It also plays an important part of myth and legend, such as the contest between the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology.

There are many different types of horse racing, including:

Flat racing, where horses gallop directly between two points around a straight or oval track. Flat racing is the most common form of racing seen worldwide. In the U. S. flat racing tracks are typically oval in shape and are generally level.

Jump racing, or Jumps racing, also known as Steeplechasing or, in the UK and Ireland, National Hunt racing, where horses race over obstacles.

Harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky.

Endurance racing, where horses travel across country over extreme distances, generally ranging from 25 to 100 miles (40 to 161 km)

The Triple Crown:

The traditional high point of US horse racing is the Kentucky Derby, held on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Derby (held the first Saturday in May) ; the Preakness Stakes (held two weeks later at Pimlico in Baltimore) and the Belmont Stakes, held three weeks after the Preakness at Belmont Park on Long Island, form “The Triple Crown” of Thoroughbred Racing for three-year-olds. They are all held early in the year, throughout May and the beginning of June.

Betting, Wagering & Winnings at the Derby

Place Your Bets

With a race schedule in one hand and pencil in the other, gamblers (new and seasoned) fill their tickets with hopes of joining the victorious in the Winner’s Circle. As the horses dash over the finish line, the announcer’s play by play accounting echoes through the roaring crowd, and hopefuls dash to the betting booths to predict who will bring home the purse!

How Much Can I Win Betting on Horses?

When you win, you will receive back the money you bet, multiplied by the odds of your bet winning.

Famous Horses:

Famous Triple Crown winners include horses such as War Admiral (whom little Seabiscuit beat once!) Secretariat, and Seattle Slew.

Saratoga:

Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has its own Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. The Hall of Fame honors remarkable horses, jockeys, owners, and trainers.

Bloodlines:

Did you know . . .there are just three founding sires that all Thoroughbreds can trace back to in the male line: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk, named after their respective owners Thomas Darley, Lord Godolphin, and Captain Robert Byerly. They were taken to England, where they were mated with mares from English and imported bloodlines. The resultant foals were the first generation of Thoroughbreds, and all modern Thoroughbreds trace back to them.

The most famous horse from Canada is generally considered to be Northern Dancer, who after winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Queen’s Plate in 1964 went on to become the most successful Thoroughbred sire of the twentieth century; his two-minute-flat Derby was the fastest on record until Secretariat in 1973.

How big is a Thoroughbred?

Thoroughbreds range in height, which is measured in hands (a hand being four inches). Some are as small as 15 hands while others are over 17. Thoroughbreds can travel medium distances at fast paces, requiring a balance between speed and endurance.

 

Silenttomsmithwithseabiscuit

Silent Tom Smith with Seabiscuit

Santa Anita Park

Santa Anita Park is a thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, California, United States. It offers some of the prominent racing events in the United States during the winter and in spring. With its backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, it is considered by many the world’s most beautiful race track. The track is home to numerous prestigious races

santaanita

In its heyday, the track’s races attracted such stars Betty Grable, Lana Turner, Edgar Bergen, Jane Russell, Cary Grant, Esther Williams, and other stars. Bing Crosby, Joe E. Brown, Al Jolson, and Harry Warner were all stockholders.

bettygrable-harryjames-delmar19471

Actress Betty Grable and her husband, the band leader Harry James, at the races

The Story of Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit film footage; race against War Admiral at Pimlico in ’38

Seabiscuit beat War Admiral at Pimlico in 1938. The ensuing two years, punctuated by injury and adversity to horse, rider and trainer, built to a crescendo. The odds were stacked against Seabiscuit and his jockey.

In 1940, with one race was left in the season, Seabiscuit and Kayak II both took the gate for the Santa Anita Handicap and its $121,000 prize. 78,000 paying spectators crammed the racetrack, most backing Seabiscuit. Pollard found his horse blocked almost from the start. Picking his way through the field, Seabiscuit briefly led. As they thundered down the back straight, Seabiscuit became trapped in third place, behind leader Whichcee and Wedding Call on the outside.

Trusting in his horse’s acceleration, Pollard steered between the leaders and burst into the lead, taking the firm ground just off the rail. As Seabiscuit showed his old surge, Wedding Call and Whichcee faltered, and Pollard drove his horse on, taking “The Hundred Grander” by a length and a half from the fast-closing Kayak II. Pandemonium engulfed the course. Neither horse and rider, nor trainer and owner, could get through the sea of well-wishers to the winner’s enclosure for some time.

Seabiscuit_Red_Pollard

Red Pollard and Seabiscuit