Thursday, March 23, 2017

Notes For March 23rd, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 23rd, 1999, the famous American writer Thomas Harris delivered the completed manuscript for his classic fourth novel, Hannibal, to his publishers.

It was the third in a series of four novels featuring his most famous character - Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, classical music enthusiast, wine connoisseur, and gourmet turned cannibalistic serial killer - who had been terrifying readers for nearly 20 years.

(Harris's classic debut novel, Black Sunday (1975), told the story of a psychotic Vietnam veteran who conspires with a terrorist group to bomb the Super Bowl. It was adapted as an acclaimed film in 1977, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern.)

Lecter made his debut in Red Dragon (1981), where he was called upon by Will Graham - the FBI agent who captured him - to help profile a new serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Red Dragon.

The sequel, The Silence of the Lambs (1988) found Lecter called on again, this time by trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling, to help her gain insight into the mind of Buffalo Bill, aka Jame Gumb, a depraved serial killer who has abducted a Senator's daughter.

Although Red Dragon was filmed first in 1986 as Manhunter, (featuring British actor Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter) it would be the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 that made Hannibal Lecter a pop culture icon.

Stylishly directed by Jonathan Demme and featuring stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, and Ted Levine as Jame Gumb, the film swept the Academy Awards.

It became only the third movie in history to win all five major Oscars - Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), Best Director (Demme), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

After the huge success of The Silence of the Lambs, fans were clamoring for a sequel. It took some ten years for Thomas Harris to deliver. Hannibal was the result.

In this novel, Lecter himself is Agent Starling's quarry, as he escaped from custody in The Silence of the Lambs. What Starling doesn't know is that someone else is hunting Lecter.

Mason Verger is a victim of Lecter's who survived. Verger, the wealthy heir to a meat packing empire, was a depraved, sadistic pedophile whose long list of victims included his own little sister, Margot. When his father established a Christian summer camp for children, Verger used it to prey on more young victims.

When he was finally caught and arrested, Verger avoided jail time because of his family's wealth and position. He was ordered to perform community service and receive therapy. His court appointed psychiatrist? Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The good doctor's idea of therapy was to have Verger take hallucinogenic drugs, manipulate him into demonstrating his technique of autoerotic asphyxiation via hanging, then make him slash his own face to ribbons with a shard of broken glass and feed his mutilated flesh to his dogs.

Lecter then hanged Verger with his own noose, breaking his neck. Verger survived, but was left a quadriplegic with a horribly mangled face. He wants to catch Lecter before Agent Starling does and take revenge.

The revenge Verger has planned is a fate worse than death, and he has FBI officials on his payroll - including Starling's superior, Paul Krendler. Hannibal received mixed reviews due to its controversial ending, which I won't give away.

I will say that it does make sense after all that happens to Clarice Starling throughout the novel, and fits in well with the dark surrealism (and dark humor) of the story for a chilling, memorable coda.

I for one enjoyed Hannibal immensely. I believe it's the best book Harris has written so far, second only to The Silence of the Lambs. Horror master Stephen King, a big fan of the Hannibal Lecter series, proclaimed Hannibal, along with William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (1971), to be the two greatest modern horror novels of all time.

Hannibal would be adapted as a feature film in 2001, with Anthony Hopkins returning as Lecter and Julianne Moore taking over the role of Clarice Starling.

Directed by Ridley Scott, it received mixed reviews from fans because the screenplay (written by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian) omitted a major character (Margot Verger) and changed the ending of the novel.

To placate fans, the screenwriters did include part of the novel's ending - the famous Grand Guignol scene where Dr. Lecter lobotomizes corrupt FBI official Paul Krendler and... well... serves him a most unusual gourmet dinner.

Unfortunately, the most shocking part of the novel's ending - the fate of Clarice Starling - was omitted from the screenplay, which featured a completely different outcome.

Thomas Harris followed Hannibal with a a fourth novel, a prequel called Hannibal Rising (2006), which was published seven years later.

Expanding on flashbacks that appeared in Hannibal, it told the dark and chilling story of how a frighteningly intelligent little Lithuanian boy named Hannibal Lecter grew up to be the monster we know and love.

In 2013, a Hannibal TV series premiered. Featuring the great Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in the title role, the series was a prequel to Red Dragon, with Lecter helping FBI special agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) hunt bizarre and sadistic serial killers.

An unusual friendship develops between the two men, but soon it becomes apparent that Graham's pursuit of serial killers - using his uncanny ability to enter their depraved minds - poses a serious threat to his sanity.

What Will doesn't realize is that the main serial killer he's been pursuing, the Chesapeake Ripper, is really the brilliant psychiatrist who's been assisting him as a consultant - Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Stylishly gruesome and surreal, (and surprisingly graphic for network TV) the series, which ran for three seasons, was a hit with critics and viewers alike.


Quote Of The Day

"Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it." - Thomas Harris


Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 2001 feature film adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1999 novel, Hannibal. Enjoy!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Notes For March 22nd, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 22nd, 1947, the legendary American writer James Patterson was born in Newburgh, New York. He earned his Master's Degree from Vanderbilt University. In 1985, at the age of 38, Patterson retired from his successful advertising career to write full time.

Before he retired from advertising, Patterson had written three novels. His first, a mystery novel called The Thomas Berryman Number (1976), won him an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

His fifth novel, the first in a classic series of suspense thrillers, was a huge bestseller and established him as one of the greatest suspense novelists of all time.

Along Came a Spider (1993) introduced Patterson's most famous character, Alex Cross, an African-American homicide detective for the Washington, D.C. police. He's also a brilliant forensic psychologist.

The novel opens with Cross suddenly pulled off the case he's been working on - the bizarre and savage murder of two black prostitutes - and reassigned to investigate the kidnapping of two students from an exclusive private school.

Cross is angered at being pulled off his double murder case, and feels that the department cares more about rich white children that poor black women. What he doesn't know is that both cases are linked.

They are the work of Gary Soneji, a math teacher at the private school the children attended. After a standoff at a McDonald's restaurant, Soneji is captured, and Cross must figure out what he did with the children.

Using his skills as a psychologist, Cross hypnotizes Soneji several times and pieces together the horrifying truth. Soneji is a split personality. He is both Gary Murphy, a gentle teacher and loving family man, and Gary Soneji, a vicious, bloodthirsty psychopathic serial killer.

The kidnapping of the children was part of a ransom plot. In order to save the children, Cross must track down Soneji's partners in crime - a task that is complicated when Soneji escapes from prison. He wants to get to his partners - and the ransom money - before Cross does.

Along Came a Spider was adapted as a feature film in 2001, featuring Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross. There are eighteen novels in the Alex Cross series so far, with the 19th, Free Alex Cross, due for release in October. Another of James Patterson's popular suspense novel series is the Women's Murder Club series.

The first Women's Murder Club novel, 1st To Die, was published in 2001. In it, San Francisco police detective Lindsay Boxer is called to the scene of a horrific crime - a young newlywed couple has been viciously murdered in their hotel room on their wedding night, the bride still in her wedding gown.

Lindsay's investigation is complicated by her personal problems - she suffers from severe depression and a life threatening blood disease. She could use a little help, and she's about to get some.

Covering the story of the crime is Cindy Thomas, a rookie investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Lindsay and Cindy form an unlikely friendship as Lindsay begins tracking down a brutal, twisted serial killer.

Soon, two new friends join in - city medical examiner Claire Washburn and Assistant District Attorney Jill Bernhardt. The four ladies decide to pool their talents and resources to catch the serial killer, and The Women's Murder Club is born. There are eleven Women's Murder Club novels. The twelfth, 12th of Never, will be released next month.

In 2005, James Patterson began a new series of novels in a new genre - young adult fantasy. The series was called Maximum Ride and the first book, The Angel Experiment, introduced the heroine, Maximum "Max" Ride.

14-year-old Max is the leader of The Flock, a group of children ages 6-14 who are winged human-bird hybrids (98% human, 2% bird) created by genetic engineering. In addition to being able to fly, the Flock possesses other powers.

The Flock, which also includes Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel, are on the run from the scientists who created them. The scientists have dispatched superhuman assassins called Erasers to kill off The Flock in order to keep their creations a secret.

A feature film adaptation of The Angel Experiment, titled Maximum Ride, was released last year. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and is streaming on Netflix.

In addition to his series novels, James Patterson has written many stand-alone novels. Most of his novels are huge bestsellers. In recent years, he has outsold Stephen King, John Grisham, and Dan Brown - combined. One in 17 hardcover novels sold in the United States is by James Patterson.

Patterson's philanthropic endeavors are geared toward promoting literacy. In 2005, he established the James Patterson Page Turner Awards, which awarded nearly a million dollars a year to schools, institutions, companies, and individuals who encourage people to read.

In 2008, Patterson put the Page Turner Awards on hold and began a new initiative, ReadKiddoRead.com, which is for parents, teachers, librarians, and others who want to encourage children to read. The site helps them find the best books for kids and provides information such as lesson plans for teachers and social networking.


Quote Of The Day

"When I write I pretend I'm telling a story to someone in the room and I don't want them to get up until I'm finished." - James Patterson


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a recent interview of James Patterson at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Notes For March 21st, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 21st, 1556, the famous English writer and cleric Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake. Cranmer, a leader of the English Reformation and the Archbishop of Canterbury, was part of the Oxford Martyrs - three men who were executed by order of Queen Mary I.

The other two Oxford Martyrs were Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Worcester, and Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of Rochester. They had all run afoul of the heresy laws of Queen Mary I.

Mary I, England's notorious Catholic monarch, would be known as "Bloody Mary" for executing over 300 Protestant clerics and reformers during her five-year reign.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was Queen Mary's most prized target, for he had championed William Tyndale's English language Bible, which was deemed heretical by the Vatican, as it had declared the Latin Bible to be the true Bible.

Cranmer had also been partly responsible for the Church of England's break with the Holy See by building a case for the divorce of Mary's father, King Henry VIII, from her mother, Catherine of Aragon.

Worst of all, Cranmer had written and compiled the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer which contained not just prayers but also the complete liturgy of the Anglican Church. This was the ultimate violation of Queen Mary's heresy laws.

The Queen had not originally intended to execute Cranmer; she had a different plan for him which she hoped would result in a huge propaganda coup against the Anglican Church.

First, Cranmer was forced to watch his friends Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley be tried, convicted, and executed by burning right after the verdicts were delivered.

Then, Cranmer himself was tried for heresy and treason. He appealed to Rome to be tried by a papal court instead of the Queen's secular court. His appeal was denied.

After his conviction, he was sent to prison to await execution. He was offered a commutation of his death sentence if he would recant his Protestant faith in writing.

Thomas Cranmer would write not one, not two, but four recantations during the two years he spent in prison. The authorities believed that his fourth recantation was most likely genuine.

He was released to the custody of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. While living at the Dean's house, Cranmer was counselled by a Dominican friar, Juan de Villagarcia.

Although Cranmer had in writing pledged his loyalty to the English monarchy and recognized the Pope's authority as head of the Church, he had conceded little in the matter of Protestant versus Catholic doctrine, so he was returned to prison.

Two days after a writ for Cranmer's execution was issued, he wrote a fifth recantation which was deemed genuine. He was a broken old man so desperate to save his life that he wrote a sweeping confession.

In his detailed catalog of his sins against the Catholic Church, Cranmer begged for mercy, but Queen Mary would have none. She ordered his execution to take place, though he was told that he could make one final, public recantation to plead for his life. So he wrote one.

Then, the day before his execution, while on the pulpit at University Church to make his final recantation, Thomas Cranmer changed his mind and decided to go out in a blaze of glory - literally.

Instead of delivering a final, ultimate recantation of his Protestant faith, he renounced all of his previous recantations, blasted the Catholic Church, and denounced the Pope.

Cranmer was seized, removed from the pulpit, taken to the place where Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake before him, and executed. He put his right hand, which he used to write his recantations, into the fire before it consumed the rest of his body.

Ironically, two years later, Queen Mary I died of influenza at the age of 42. Her successor and half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I, would restore the Anglican Church to power, repeal the heresy laws, and broker a historic settlement between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

An adapted version of Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer would be designated the new Anglican Church's official liturgy.

The burning of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley would inspire the legendary American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury to write his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

The hero, Guy Montag, resists the government's attempts to force him to recant his belief that books shouldn't be burned. Bradbury quotes Latimer's last words to Ridley before their execution:

Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.


Quote Of The Day

"I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." - Thomas Cranmer, his last words


Vanguard Video

Today's video features the final speech given by Thomas Cranmer before his execution. Note: you'll want to expand this video to full screen. Enjoy!

Monday, March 20, 2017

IWW Members' Publishing Successes



Elma Schemenauer

Our own Mona Leeson Vanek, also known as the Montana Scribbler, kindly featured the upcoming Okanagan Valley Writers Festival [April 7-9] as well as my books Consider the Sunflowers and YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure.

Sue Ellis

A short story, Border Crossing, is up today at Flash Fiction Press.

I have a book review, The Heart, By Maylis de Kerangal up on the Internet Review of Books. It's an amazing piece of fiction about a heart transplant, capably translated for English readers by Sam Taylor.

Eric Petersen

My review of Department Zero, a horror / fantasy / sci-fi novel by Paul Crilley, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.

Anita Saran

Just edited and proofed an ex-boss Ramanathan Sridhar's nonfiction book, 'Unlock the Real Power of Ideation'. He gave me a great byline as editor of his book.

Wayne Scheer

I have, "A St. Patrick's Day Story," up at Everyday Fiction.

Kristy Kassie

My prose piece, "Eye on the Prize", has been published by Postcard Shorts.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Notes For March 17th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 17th, 1948, the legendary American science fiction writer William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina. Though he spent most of his childhood in Wytheville, Virginia - his parents' hometown - his family moved frequently due to his father's position as a manager for a large construction company.

While his family lived in Norfolk, Virginia, Gibson attended Pines Elementary School, where his teachers never encouraged him to read, much to the chagrin of his parents. Around this time, his father died suddenly; he choked to death in a restaurant while on a business trip.

The family returned to Wytheville, which was a small Appalachian town, a place that Gibson described as "a place where modernity had arrived to some extent, but was deeply distrusted." He hated it.

Living in such a disturbing and surreal atmosphere led William Gibson to become a shy, withdrawn adolescent who kept to himself. When he was twelve, he "wanted nothing more than to become a science fiction writer."

A year later, without his mother's knowledge or permission, he bought an anthology featuring works by the Beat generation's greatest writers - William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs would become Gibson's favorite writer and a major influence on his work.

As a teenager, Gibson rejected his religion and read voraciously, with the works of Burroughs and Henry Miller being his favorites. However, at school, his grades were poor. His mother threatened to send him to a boarding school.

To her surprise, he was enthusiastic about going to boarding school, so she sent him to the Southern Arizona School for Boys in Tucson. Gibson hated the structure of the school, but he was glad to escape from Wytheville and his "chronically anxious and depressive" mother.

He was also glad that the school forced him to come out of his shell and develop social skills. His academic performance was strangely uneven. When he took the SAT (Standard Achievement Test) exams, his teachers were baffled by his scores. In math, he scored near zero, but his score on the written test was near perfect.

When Gibson was eighteen, his mother died. He left school without graduating and drifted through the United States and Europe, choosing a mostly solitary life and becoming part of the late 1960s counterculture.

In 1967, he was called to appear at a draft hearing, and honestly told the interviewers that his goal in life was to indulge in every mind-altering substance known to man. He was never drafted, but moved to Canada anyway.

He would later quip that he avoided the draft not out of conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, but to remain free to "sleep with hippie chicks" and smoke hashish.

After arriving in Canada, Gibson met a girl in Vancouver and spent the rest of the 1960s traveling with her, as he couldn't stand living amongst the community of his fellow American expatriates, which was was rife with depression, suicide, and hardcore drug abuse.

He financed most of his travels with the $500 he was paid for appearing in a CBC newsreel story about the hippie subculture in Yorkville, Toronto. During their travels, Gibson and and his girlfriend spent time in countries such as Greece and Turkey.

In 1972, Gibson and his girlfriend returned to Canada. They settled in Vancouver and married. Gibson earned most of his living by scouring thrift stores for rare items priced well below their value, which he would resell to collectors at a huge profit.

When he realized that instead of working, he could receive generous financial aid from the government by going to college, he enrolled at the University of British Columbia, (UBC) from which he graduated in 1977 with a degree in English.

Gibson considered entering a Master's degree program with the topic of his thesis being hard science fiction novels as a form of fascist literature, but he changed his mind and worked at various jobs including a three-year stint as a teaching assistant in a film history course at UBC.

He also indulged in his passion for punk rock music. Around 1980, he attended a science fiction convention in Vancouver, which turned him off the genre, even though he had already written several early works of science fiction.

Around this time, Gibson met John Shirley, who would become his lifelong friend. Shirley was a punk rock musician turned sci-fi / horror writer. He encouraged Gibson to submit his stories for publication and introduced him to fellow sci-fi writers Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner.

When they read Gibson's stories, they proclaimed them to be "breakthrough material." So, Gibson began submitting his work, and soon, his short stories were appearing regularly in magazines such as Omni and Universe 11.

William Gibson's stories were indeed breakthrough material, far outside the mainstream of science fiction. They were in the cyberpunk tradition, akin to the legendary early 1960s "cut-up" novels of Gibson's idol, William S. Burroughs.

Gibson's stories dealt with concepts such as cyberspace - a term coined by Gibson which refers to a computer-simulated reality - and were written in the style of the pulp novels and noir films of the 1940s and 50s.

In 1984, Gibson's first novel was published. Neuromancer wasn't a commercial success, but word of mouth spread quickly and made the novel an overnight underground hit - a cult classic that sold over 6,500,000 copies worldwide.

It became the first novel to win all three major science fiction awards - the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Neuromancer was the first novel in Gibson's classic Sprawl trilogy. It eerily predicts the development of the Internet and its World Wide Web. Set in a futuristic, dystopic Chiba, Japan, the novel tells the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a low-level hustler who was once a talented computer hacker.

Then his employer caught him stealing, and as punishment, damaged his central nervous system with a mycotoxin, leaving him unable to access the global computer network with his brain-computer interface. Now, Case is an unemployable, suicidal drug addict.

While searching for a cure for his damaged nervous system in Chiba's "black clinics," Case is saved by Molly Millions, a "street samurai" and mercenary who works for Armitage, a shadowy ex-Green Beret officer.

Armitage offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Armitage fixes Case's nervous system but installs in his body sacs of mycotoxin that will burst if he fails to complete his work in time.

So, Case and Molly work together and form a close relationship. They don't know what Armitage really has planned, but they investigate and eventually discover the truth - he plans to merge two AI (Artificial Intelligence) entities, Wintermute and Neuromancer, into one all-powerful, godlike being.

William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy would include the novels Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). The trilogy brought the author out of obscurity and made his name as one of the all time great science fiction writers.

He would write more great novels, including the Bridge trilogy, Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996) and All Tomorrow's Parties (1999) as well as other novels and short stories.


In 1993, he wrote his first major nonfiction work, an article for Wired magazine called Disneyland with the Death Penalty, which was a stinging critique of life in modern Singapore.

Gibson describes Singapore as having a government that functions like a mega-corporation and is fixated on constraint and conformity, with a marked lack of creativity and humor. Life in Singapore is a "relentlessly G-rated experience."

It's a conservative Republican wet dream of meticulously clean streets, practically nonexistent crime, (thanks to a harsh capital punishment system where one can be executed for offenses such as drug smuggling) and a culture of mindless, vapid materialism where shopping becomes a nearly religious experience.

And yet, there are also no slums in Singapore, and instead of a visible sex trade, there are government sanctioned "health centers" which are really massage parlors where one can get far more than a massage.

The government enforces morality with strict censorship of movies, music, and the media. It places great value on marriage and procreation, and both organizes and enforces mandatory dating policies.

In his 1993 essay, Gibson predicted the explosion of online pornography and cast doubt on the resilience of Singapore's controlled, conservative society in the face of the mass exposure of its citizenry to the coming "wilds of X-rated cyberspace."

He speculated that "Singapore's destiny will be to become nothing more than a smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity, amid a sea of unthinkable weirdness." Creative Review hailed Gibson's essay as "fabulously damning."

Singapore reacted to it with outrage, banning the sale of Wired magazine there. "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" became a famous catch phrase used to describe Singapore - especially by Singaporeans opposed to their country's authoritarian conservative government.

Two of Gibson's short stories were adapted as feature films. Johnny Mnemonic (1995), featuring a screenplay by William Gibson, starred Keanu Reeves in the title role. New Rose Hotel (1998), directed by Abel Ferrara, starred Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe.

Gibson also wrote for television. He penned the teleplays for two classic episodes of The X-Files (1993-2002) - Kill Switch and First Person Shooter.

William Gibson's latest novel, The Peripheral, was published in October, 2014. It's a dazzling, surreal science fiction / mystery thriller that takes place through the 21st and 22nd centuries.


Quote of the Day

"To present a whole world that doesn’t exist and make it seem real, we have to more or less pretend we’re polymaths. That’s just the act of all good writing." - William Gibson


Vanguard Video

Today's video features William Gibson discussing his most recent novel, The Peripheral at the Politics and Prose bookstore and coffeehouse. Enjoy!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Notes For March 16th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 16th, 1850, The Scarlet Letter, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, was published in the United States.

The author, born in Salem, Massachusetts, changed the spelling of his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne to distance himself from the shameful acts of his relatives. His great-great-great grandfather, William Hathorne, was a magistrate infamous for his lack of compassion and extremely harsh sentences.

Hathorne's son John was even worse. John Hathorne served as a judge during the notorious Salem Witch Trials, where many innocent people were falsely accused of witchcraft, convicted in kangaroo courts, then tortured and executed.

John Hathorne was the only judge who refused to repent or express any regret for his contemptible actions during the Salem Witch Trials. His infamy would besmirch the Hathorne family name for generations.

It was the shame and guilt that Nathaniel Hawtorne felt for the actions of his ancestors and his own contempt for Puritanism that moved him to write his greatest novel.

Set in a Puritan village in 17th century Boston, The Scarlet Letter told the story of Hester Prynne, a married woman whose much older husband had sent her ahead to America while he settled some business affairs.

He never came to join her in Boston and is presumed dead, lost at sea. In the meantime, the lonely Hester had an affair and became pregnant as a result.

The novel opens with Hester led from the town prison with her baby daughter Pearl in her arms and a piece of scarlet cloth in the shape of the capital letter A pinned to the breast of her dress - a penalty for her adultery.

The scarlet letter is a badge of shame that she must wear for all to see. Hester is led to the town scaffold, where she is forced to endure the verbal abuse of the town fathers. An elderly spectator asks what's going on, and a man in the crowd tells him.

The elderly spectator is actually Hester's missing husband, who is now a doctor living under the assumed name of Roger Chillingworth. He wants to take revenge on the man who seduced his wife. He reveals his true identity to Hester, but she won't reveal the identity of her lover.

Several years pass, and Pearl has become a willful and impish little girl. Hester supports herself and her daughter by working as a seamstress.

Still scorned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. When town officials try to take Pearl away from her mother, the young, eloquent minister Arthur Dimmesdale intervenes to thwart their plans.

Dimmesdale appears to be dying, wasting away from a mysterious heart condition. Chillingworth takes him on as a patient, later moving in with him to provide round-the-clock medical care. The doctor believes that Dimmesdale's condition is psychosomatic, perhaps caused by guilt.

He begins to suspect that the minister is his wife's lover. One day, while Dimmesdale sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something that convinces him that his suspicions are correct - supposedly the capital letter A burned into the minister's chest.

Meanwhile, Hester Prynne's kindness, charity, and quiet humility finally earn her a reprieve from public scorn. When she and Pearl return home one night, they find Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. They join him on the scaffold.

The three hold hands, and Pearl asks the minister to publicly acknowledge that she is his daughter. He refuses. A streaking meteor forms a dull letter A in the night sky. Dimmesdale believes it's the sign of adultery, but the townspeople think that it means "angel," as a prominent member of the community died that night.

When Chillingworth refuses to abandon his plan for revenge, Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is really her missing husband. The lovers decide to flee with Pearl to Europe, where they can live as a family.

They both feel a great sense of release and relief. Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. In one of the novel's most striking metaphors, sunlight immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate Hester's joyous release.

The day before their ship is to sail, Dimmesdale gives his most eloquent sermon ever. Hester finds out that her husband has learned of her plans and booked passage on her ship. When Dimmesdale leaves the church, he sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold.

Dimmesdale impulsively takes them to the top and publicly confesses to being Hester's lover and the father of her child, exposing the mark supposedly seared into his chest. Pearl kisses him. Relieved of his burden, Dimmesdale collapses and dies.

Frustrated over being denied his revenge, a bitter Chillingworth dies a year later, and Hester and Pearl leave Boston. Although she is not his daughter, Pearl inherits all of Chillingworth's money.

Many years later, Hester Prynne returns to her old cottage alone and resumes her charity work. She receives letters from Pearl, now married to a European aristocrat and with children of her own. The townspeople finally forgive Hester for her indiscretion, and she - and the other women in town - feel a strong sense of liberation.

The Scarlet Letter is rightfully considered one of the greatest works of 19th century literature, and is still widely read and appreciated. It would be adapted numerous times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.

The most famous feature film adaptations were the brilliant 1973 version directed by legendary German filmmaker Wim Wenders, and the dreadful 1995 Hollywood version starring Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, which took great liberties with the novel and was widely - and rightfully - panned by critics.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the greatest writers of his generation. His other great works include the novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and the short story collections Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Tanglewood Tales (1853). He died in 1864 at the age of 59.


Quote Of The Day

"It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest degree that merit which I have spoken of as the mark of Hawthorne's best things - an indefinable purity and lightness of conception... one can often return to it; it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of great works of art." - Henry James on Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, The Scarlet Letter.


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Enjoy!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notes For March 15th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On March 15th, 1956, My Fair Lady, the acclaimed hit musical based on the classic play Pygmalion by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened on Broadway.

It premiered at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City. The production then moved to the Broadhurst Theatre, and finally, to the Broadway Theatre, where it closed in 1962 after 2,717 performances.

Set in Edwardian London, My Fair Lady told the story of Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics who meets a young flower seller named Eliza Dolittle when she tells off a young man named Freddy Eynsford-Hill for spilling her violets.

The ill-mannered Eliza speaks with an ear-torturing Cockney accent, her words filled with slang expressions and colloquialisms.

Professor Higgins makes a wager with his linguist friend Colonel Pickering, betting that Eliza could be taught to speak and act like a proper lady, after which, he will introduce her at the Embassy Ball. Pickering doesn't believe that he can make a lady out of such a vulgar girl.

Eliza moves into Higgins' house and begins taking lessons from him. Her father soon pays a visit, concerned that the Professor is compromising her virtue. Higgins buys him off with five pounds.

As Eliza's lessons progress, she grows frustrated and fantasizes about killing Higgins. But soon, the flower seller begins to bloom.

Eliza's first public presentation, at the Ascot Racecourse, proves successful, but then she suffers a relapse, returning to her Cockney vulgarity. This charms Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young man she had met and scolded earlier. He falls in love with her.

Higgins continues with Eliza's lessons. She faces her final test at the Embassy Ball and passes with flying colors. Afterward, Colonel Pickering praises Higgins for his triumph in making a lady out of Eliza.

When she learns of their bet, she feels that Higgins used her and is now abandoning her. Their relationship ends in a huff when Higgins insults Eliza and she storms off. Soon, even Colonel Pickering becomes annoyed with Higgins, who has always been a self-absorbed misogynist.

When Eliza plans to marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Higgins realizes that he loves her, but can't bring himself to confess his true feelings to her. The musical ends on an ambiguous note, suggesting a possible reconciliation between Higgins and Eliza.

My Fair Lady became a huge hit, one of Broadway's most famous and popular musicals. It was written by the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe.

The original cast featured Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, and a young, virtually unknown British actress named Julie Andrews as Eliza. The Original Cast Recording became the best selling album of 1957 and 1958.

George Bernard Shaw died in 1950; he never lived to see the Broadway musical adaptation of his play, Pygmalion. If he had, there wouldn't have been a musical for him to see.

In 1908, Shaw's classic play The Chocolate Soldier was adapted as an operetta, and he hated it so much that he vowed that none of his plays would ever be set to music again. He kept that vow for the rest of his life.

In 1964, eight years after the musical debuted on Broadway, My Fair Lady was adapted as a feature film, directed by George Cukor.

Rex Harrison reprised his role as Professor Higgins, but producer and studio boss Jack Warner decided to cast Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle instead of Julie Andrews.

This decision angered fans of the musical, but Warner was concerned that casting Andrews would be risky because she had no film experience. Then he found that Audrey Hepburn couldn't sing, so her vocals had to be dubbed by Marni Nixon.

But Julie Andrews got the last laugh - she gave an Oscar winning performance in the classic Disney movie musical Mary Poppins - beating Hepburn for the Academy Award!


Quote Of The Day

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." - George Bernard Shaw


Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 1964 feature film adaptation of My Fair Lady. Enjoy!

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