This Day In Literary History
On May 26th, 1897, Dracula, the classic horror novel by the legendary Irish writer Bram Stoker, was published in London. Though not a huge commercial success, it was very popular with Victorian readers and critics alike.
Stoker's epic epistolary horror novel is told in the form of letters and journal entries, as different characters, both male and female, narrate the story. The novel opens with entries from Jonathan Harker's journal.
The young solicitor travels to the border of Romania's Transylvania region in the Carpathian Mountains, where he has an appointment at the ominous Castle Dracula to help the nobleman Count Dracula complete his purchase of a new estate in London.
Though impressed by the Count's impeccable manners, Harker soon finds himself a prisoner in the castle. He meets "the sisters" - a trio of seductive female vampires that crave his blood. Dracula saves him, but Harker soon learns his host's terrifying secret.
Dracula himself is a bloodthirsty vampire and plans to move from Transylvania to London in search of new victims to feed on and add to his army of the undead. Harker barely escapes Castle Dracula with his life.
Later, in North Yorkshire, England, the Russian ship Demeter runs aground and the captain is found dead and bound to the helm. The log relates the story of the entire crew's disappearance. An animal resembling a large dog was seen leaping off the ship.
From there, we meet Jonathan Harker's fiancee, Mina Murray, and her friend, Lucy Westenra. One of Lucy's suitors is Dr. John Seward. When Lucy begins wasting away from a mysterious illness he can't diagnose, Seward contacts his old teacher. Dr. Abraham Van Helsing.
Van Helsing immediately recognizes that Lucy is the victim of a vampire's bite, but keeps his diagnosis to himself. After Lucy dies, the newspapers begin reporting on nighttime attacks on children by someone described by the victims as a "bloofer lady." (beautiful lady)
Knowing that Lucy has become a vampire, Van Helsing finally reveals the truth to Seward, and his former student is shocked that a man whom he considers one of the world's greatest scientists could believe in vampires.
Seward becomes a believer when he and his mentor team up with Lucy's other suitors and track her to her coffin. She attacks them, but they destroy her by driving a stake through her heart, beheading her, and filling her mouth with garlic.
Around this time, Jonathan Harker returns, marries Mina, and joins Van Helsing, Seward, and their friends to hunt and kill the vampire who attacked Lucy - Count Dracula - before he can add more victims to his army of the undead.
Victorian readers described Dracula as "the most blood-curdling novel of the paralyzed century." In a review in the Daily Mail published on June 1st, 1897, Dracula was proclaimed a classic of Gothic horror, the critic stating:
In seeking a parallel to this weird, powerful, and horrorful story, our mind reverts to such tales as The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein, The Fall of the House of Usher ... but Dracula is even more appalling in its gloomy fascination than any one of these.
Dracula is a novel very much the product of its time, that being the late 19th century - the waning years of the Victorian era, as a new century approached. The book speaks both metaphorically and directly of the conflicts between science and religion and traditional versus modern life.
The character of Mina Harker represents the conflict between traditional and modern womanhood. Some have suggested that in Dracula, vampirism is a metaphor for uncontrolled sexual desire, the ungodly lust for blood equated with lust for the flesh.
Sexuality in the Victorian era was a strange and sharp paradox; rigid morality and fear of the body and one's natural biological impulses ruled on the outside, with unwed motherhood a scandal worthy of suicide. Yet, behind closed doors, Victorians rarely practiced what they preached.
There was a thriving, seamy sexual underground in England at the time that included both female and male brothels catering to all desires. Some of the best literary erotica ever written was penned during the Victorian era and published in underground literary magazines and anthologies, all of which were distributed on the sly - usually under cover of darkness.
Though the suave and seductive Count Dracula's name was taken from that of the infamous Romanian prince Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad Dracul - dracul meaning devil in the Romanian language - the novel was partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's classic 1871 novella Carmilla.
Carmilla told the story of a lesbian vampire preying on lonely, vulnerable young women. Stoker added new aspects to the vampire mythos; in Dracula, for the first time, a vampire cast no reflection in a mirror, could be driven away with garlic, and could be destroyed by driving a wooden stake through its heart - though Dracula himself meets a different, much nastier fate.
Dracula would be adapted as a stage play by Bram Stoker himself. While Dracula's name may have come from the Romanian prince, his charisma, elegance, and gentlemanly manner were inspired by an actor named Henry Irving, who also managed the Lyceum Theatre, where Bram Stoker had worked for twenty years.
Stoker admired Irving greatly and hoped he would play the vampire count in his stage play adaptation of Dracula, but Irving wasn't interested. Years later in 1931, a Hungarian actor named Bela Lugosi, famous for his stage portrayal of the vampire, would play the part again in the first sound film adaptation of Stoker's novel.
The first film adaptation of Dracula was the classic silent feature film Nosferatu, made in 1922 by legendary German director F.W. Murnau. It was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel.
Though basically faithful to the plot of the book, in order to avoid a lawsuit, Murnau changed the ending and the names of all the characters. Florence Stoker, Bram's widow, still sued for copyright infringement.
The judge ruled in her favor. Prana Film, the studio that made the movie, went bankrupt. Nosferatu would be its first and only film. The judge's decision against Prana ordered all the studio's copies of the movie destroyed.
By then, the film had been distributed around the world, and the owners of those foreign release prints could not be forced to destroy them. As a result, the movie survived and fell into the public domain, where it could be distributed without payment.
Many distributors altered the title cards and restored the characters' original names to cash in on the Dracula names. Nosferatu would become a classic film, famous not for its sordid legal history, but for F.W. Murnau's brilliant direction and the surreal expressionist sets.
The most striking difference between Nosferatu and Tod Browning's Dracula is in the depiction of the main character. In Nosferatu, Count Dracula - renamed Count Orlock - is no suave, seductive aristocrat.
With his skeletal frame, long, claw-like fingers, bat ears, bald head, and mouth full of jagged, fangy teeth, Count Orlock, played by the legendary German character actor Max Schreck, looks like a human plague rat. There's nothing remotely alluring about him.
Though it wasn't the first classic novel to feature a vampire, over a hundred years since its initial publication, Dracula has inspired countless works of vampire fiction.
Bela Lugosi's legendary performance as the Count in the first sound film adaptation of Dracula in 1931 set the stage for the vampire on film. The character would played on film well over 200 times by other great actors such as Christopher Lee and Frank Langella. Jack Palance delivered a sympathetic portrayal of the count in a 1973 TV movie.
But it was Bram Stoker's novel that established the vampire as one of the most popular and intriguing characters in world culture. Dracula is more than just a horror novel. It's also a classic work of 19th century English literature.
Quote Of The Day
"There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part." - Bram Stoker
Today's video features a complete full cast reading of Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, starring Alan Cummming and Tim Curry!
Friday, May 26, 2017
Thursday, May 25, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 25th, 1803, the legendary American poet, essayist, philosopher, and orator Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Emerson's father, Rev. William Emerson, was a Unitarian minister who died two weeks before his son's eighth birthday.
Young Ralph would be raised by his mother and other female family members, all of whom were both intellectuals and devoutly religious. Emerson was especially close to his aunt Mary Moody Emerson. They wrote to each other frequently until her death in 1863.
At the age of 9, Emerson attended Boston Latin School, then at 14, he went to Harvard College, where he was appointed freshman messenger for the president.
During his junior year, he began compiling a list of books he'd read and started keeping a journal in a series of notebooks, which he called the Wide World. In his senior year, he served as Class Poet and recited an original poem on Harvard's Class Day, though by all accounts, he was an average student.
After graduating Harvard, Emerson helped his brother run a school for young women originally run out of their mother's house. Emerson took over the school when his brother went off study divinity.
Emerson hated running the school, as he was very awkward around women. But it gave him the experience that enabled him to work as a schoolmaster for a few years before going to divinity school himself.
Emerson was most likely bisexual. During his Harvard years, he wrote in his journal of being "strangely attracted" to a male classmate by the ironic name of Martin Gay, about whom he wrote sexually charged poems. Emerson also wrote of his other male infatuations, including the legendary writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.
However, in 1829, not long after being ordained as a junior pastor at Boston's Second Church, Emerson met a young girl named Ellen Louisa Tucker and fell love with her. He married her when she turned 18 - even though she was stricken with tuberculosis.
When Ellen died two years later, Emerson was devastated and visited her grave frequently. His wife's death forced him to come to terms with his simmering discontent with religion.
In his journal, he wrote, "I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers." He resigned as pastor.
Emerson then toured Europe, writing of his travels in English Traits (1856). During his trip, he met William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle was a strong influence, and Emerson would serve as his unofficial literary agent in the U.S., maintaining a lifelong friendship with him.
In 1835, he bought a house in Concord, Massachusetts, which is now a historical landmark. He married his second wife Lydia Jackson in September, 1835, and she bore him four children: Waldo, Edith, Ellen, and Edward. Ellen was named after Emerson's first wife at Lydia's suggestion.
The following year, Emerson and some like-minded intellectuals formed the Transcendental Club, which held its first meeting on September 19, 1836. Shortly thereafter, he published his first essay, Nature.
In this essay, Emerson puts forth the foundation of transcendentalism, defining nature - the very universe - as an all-encompassing divine entity that is part of us, rather than a kingdom ruled by a separate divine entity.
In pursuing his new philosophy, Emerson delved into the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedic Texts - all of which are the ancient, sacred writings of the Hindu religion.
A year later, Emerson delivered his famous Phi Beta Kappa Address at Cambridge, where he issued a declaration of literary independence from Europe, urging his fellow American writers to create a literary style all their own, free from European influence.
Around this time, Emerson struck up a friendship with writer Henry David Thoreau and asked him if he kept a journal. Thoreau's fascination with Emerson's journaling practice strongly influenced his own writing. He became Emerson's protege.
On July 15, 1838, Emerson was invited to Harvard Divinity School to deliver the graduation address at Divinity Hall. In what came to be known as his famous Divinity School Address, Emerson disputed biblical miracles and proclaimed Jesus to be neither God himself nor the son of God.
He was simply a great man and spiritual teacher whom organized Christianity had turned into a "demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo." Emerson's address caused considerable outrage. He was denounced as an atheist and a corrupter of young people's minds.
Nevertheless, Emerson remained a popular lecturer in New England and throughout the country. He also toured England, Ireland, and Scotland. By the 1850s, he was giving up to 80 lectures a year. His earnings from the lectures enabled him to buy eleven acres of land near Walden Pond.
In 1845, Emerson published his classic essay The Over-soul, which is clearly influenced by the Vedic Texts and has a distinct tone of non-dualism:
We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.
In 1847, Emerson published his first book of poetry, simply titled Poems. Among these is Threnody, a heart wrenching, dazzlingly lyrical ode to grief written after Emerson lost his firstborn son Waldo to scarlet fever in 1842. His second book of poetry, May-Day and Other Poems, was published in 1867.
In 1860, Emerson, a ferocious abolitionist, voted for Abraham Lincoln for President, but was greatly disappointed by Lincoln's initial inclination to allow the Southern states to maintain the institution of slavery in order to preserve the Union.
On January 31st, 1862, Emerson gave a public lecture in Washington DC, declaring "The South calls slavery an institution. I call it destitution. Emancipation is the demand of civilization." The next day, his friend Charles Sumner took him to meet Lincoln. He came away with a more favorable opinion of the President.
The decade of the 1870s marked the beginning of the end of Emerson's career. His Concord home burned down in July of 1872, and though his friends collected over $15,000 in donations to help him and his family rebuild, it added to the stress caused by the fact that Emerson's memory was failing.
In 1874, he edited and published a poetry anthology called Parnassus. By the end of the decade, his memory had failed considerably, and in 1879, at the age of 76, he finally retired from lecturing. When asked by friends how he felt, Emerson would reply in classic form "Quite well. I have lost all my mental faculties, but am perfectly well."
On April 19th, 1882, despite having a cold, Emerson went out for a walk and got caught in the rain. His cold turned into pneumonia, and he died eight days later at the age of 79.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the all-time great American intellectuals - a poet, essayist, philosopher, and orator years, if not decades, ahead of his time. He will always have a place in the annals of literary history.
Quote Of The Day
"Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book; a personality which, by birth and quality, is pledged to the doctrines there set forth, and which exists to see and state things so, and not otherwise." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today's Video features a complete reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson's classic essay, The Poet. Enjoy!
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 24th, 1951, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, the classic short story collection by the famous American writer Carson McCullers, was published. It included the title novella and five other stories.
Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, exploded onto the literary scene in 1940, with the publication of her classic debut novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Critics were floored by her sad and surreal tale of an intelligent, compassionate deaf-mute man who touches the lives of several unhappy people at the expense of his own happiness. McCullers was only 23 years old when she wrote the profound and moving novel.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, her classic short story collection, was most famous for its title novella. Set in a small Southern town, it told the story of Miss Amelia, a shopkeeper whom the townspeople believe to be a cold and calculating woman who never acts without reason.
Miss Amelia is also known for being masculine, bullying, confrontational, and greedy, and for wanting nothing to do with love, thanks to a rotten marriage that lasted only ten days.
One day, a hunchbacked man called Lymon arrives in town, carrying all of his belongings in one suitcase. He claims to be Miss Amelia's cousin, and has an old photograph that he says proves his claim. When Miss Amelia takes him in, the townspeople are shocked.
Assuming that she has ulterior motives, after not seeing Lymon in town for a while, they suspect that Miss Amelia murdered him for his meager belongings. Then they find him safe and sound in her store.
What the townspeople don't realize is that the lonely Miss Amelia's relationship with her long lost cousin has changed her for the better. Caring for him has opened her heart. She becomes more hospitable to her customers and even serves them food and liquor, turning her store into a cafe.
Lymon the hunchback is kind and grateful for the hospitality shown by Miss Amelia, but he also has faults. He has a dependent personality, he craves attention, he's a gossip, and he enjoys baiting people against each other and then watching them fight.
When Miss Amelia's ex-husband Marvin Macy suddenly shows up, Lymon comes to admire him greatly, not realizing that the handsome, charismatic Marvin is a cruel sociopath out for revenge against Miss Amelia, whom he blames for breaking his heart and unleashing the rage inside him that led to his crime spree and subsequent incarceration.
Marvin manipulates Lymon into helping him carry out his revenge against Miss Amelia, which culminates in the sacking of her store and the theft of her curios and money. Then in a final, crushing blow, Marvin invites Lymon to leave town with him, taking away the only one who ever really loved Miss Amelia.
Carson McCullers got the idea to write The Ballad of the Sad Cafe while out drinking with her friends George Davis (editor of Harper's Bazaar magazine) and British poet W.H. Auden. They were at a bar one night when Carson noticed two particular customers walk in - a very tall, masculine woman accompanied by a small, hunchbacked man.
Around this time, McCullers had been living in a famous boarding house in Brooklyn run by George Davis. In addition to McCullers and Auden, the boarding house had been home to some of the era's greatest bohemian writers, artists, and actors.
Some of Davis' other tenants included Paul and Jane Bowles, Richard Wright, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee. When McCullers lived there, they held evening gatherings where George Davis played piano - in the nude - while a gallon jug of wine was passed around. W.H. Auden loved to play housemother to what he called "our menagerie."
With the publication of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, Carson McCullers once again established herself as one of the greatest writers of her generation. The title novella would be adapted as a stage play by the legendary playwright, Edward Albee.
Albee had intended for Carson to play the role of the narrator, but by the time the play opened in the fall of 1963, her chronically poor health had deteriorated severely. She did attend the play's opening night, but had to do so in a wheelchair. She died four years later at the age of 50.
In 1991, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film by producer Ismail Merchant of the Merchant-Ivory film production company. It starred Vanessa Redgrave as Miss Amelia, Cork Hubbert as Lymon, and Keith Carradine as Marvin Macy.
Quote Of The Day
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." - Carson McCullers
Today's video features a clip from the acclaimed 1991 feature film adaptation of Carson McCullers' classic novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Enjoy!
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 23rd, 1910, the famous American children's book writer Margaret Wise Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York. The second of three children, she and her siblings suffered from their parents' rotten marriage. When Margaret had the opportunity to go to boarding school, she readily accepted.
Margaret graduated from Hollins College in 1932 with an English degree. She became a teacher, and in her spare time, an art student. But her true passion was writing, and she decided to write children's books. Her first, When the Wind Blew, was published in 1937.
Margaret Wise Brown would author dozens of children's books and work with different illustrators. Her most famous illustrator was Clement Hurd, who drew the pictures for her most famous book, a classic first published in 1947.
Goodnight Moon featured a story in the form of a rhyming poem which told of a bunny's unusual bedtime ritual: saying goodnight to various objects in his room. The story takes place entirely in the bedroom, and the incredibly detailed illustrations change slightly from page to page.
The subtle but noticeable changes in the same basic images were deliberately included so that the attentive child (or adult) reading the book would catch them.
The changes included socks that disappear, different numbers of books on the bookshelf, different stripes on the bunny's nightshirt, and the hands on the two clocks moving.
The gentle story and unforgettable pictures would make Goodnight Moon an all-time favorite. Parents still read it to their young children at bedtime. The book would be adapted for cable TV in 1999 as part of the animated HBO special, Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepytime Tales.
Over the years, new editions of Goodnight Moon would be published with different illustrations, but the original edition, with Clement Hurd's memorable illustrations, is still in print. The most recent edition was digitally altered for being politically incorrect.
Unlike other classic children's books where the text or illustrations were cut or altered, it was the photograph of Hurd that was digitally altered to remove the cigarette he held, leaving his fingers extended, but holding nothing.
Other classic children's books by Margaret Wise Brown include The Little Island (1946), which won a Caldecott Honor recognition, and Little Lost Lamb (1947), which won the Caldecott Medal. She also wrote several books for the famous Little Golden Books line.
The extremely prolific Brown would write dozens of children's books. She once claimed that every morning, she would wake up with a "head full of stories" that she had to put on paper. She fought hard for royalties at a time when most publishers would only pay writers a flat fee for their manuscripts.
As a writer, she employed a pioneering "here and now" philosophy, believing that children would rather read stories based on their own lives than read fairy tales and fables.
Brown enjoyed a flamboyant personal life. An early feminist and openly bisexual, she once dated Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. Later, she began a relationship with poet, playwright, and actress Blanche Oelrichs.
Oelrichs was best known by her pen name, Michael Strange, and most famous for being the ex-wife of legendary actor John Barrymore, who had starred in her play, Clair de Lune.
In 1952, after her relationship with Oelrichs had ended, Margaret met John Stillman "Pebbles" Rockefeller Jr. at a party and it was love at first sight.
They became engaged, but sadly, while on a book promotional tour in France, she died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism - a complication from emergency surgery for an ovarian cyst. She was 42 years old.
After Brown's death, her will revealed that she had bequeathed the royalties for many of her books to Albert Clarke, a neighbor boy who was nine years old when she died. Clarke was a troubled boy who grew up to be a troubled adult. He squandered the millions he made from Brown's royalties.
Clarke once claimed that he was Brown's illegitimate son, a claim that was widely dismissed. However, since Brown was cremated and her ashes scattered in the sea near her home in Maine, the claim couldn't be disproved by a blood test.
Brown's sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, later discovered a cache of over 70 unpublished manuscripts that Margaret had written. Unable to get them published, Roberta kept them in a cedar trunk for decades. They were rediscovered by Amy Gary of the publishing firm WaterMark, Inc. in 1991.
Quote Of The Day
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child's need for quietness is the same today as it has always been - it may even be greater - for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” - Margaret Wise Brown
Today's video features the animated adaptation of Margaret Wise Brown's classic children's book, Goodnight Moon - narrated by Susan Sarandon. Enjoy!
Monday, May 22, 2017
Theresa A. Cancro
I just found out that a poem of mine that was included in Three Line Poetry, Issue #33, is being featured on the journal's Facebook page. Scroll down to see the entry.
One haiku has been published in the May 2017 issue of Stardust Haiku Journal. Scroll to page 6.
Two poems, "Stick Woman" and "Spellbound," have been accepted by These Fragile Lilacs for their print anthology, The Women's' Voices, to be published this spring.
Friday, May 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 19th, 1930, the famous African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Carl Hansberry, was a prominent real estate broker.
In 1938, when Lorraine was eight years old, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood where a majority of homeowners had formed a covenant that banned blacks from buying homes in the neighborhood. So, he had a white friend buy the house for him.
After the Hansberrys moved into their new home, they were attacked by an angry mob. A brick was thrown through Lorraine's bedroom window, and she just barely avoided being struck by it.
Her father later sued the white homeowners for discrimination, and in the case of Hansberry v. Lee, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision banning homeowners' associations from discriminating against home buyers and renters on the basis of their race.
Although Lorraine's father had prevailed in court, the family was still subjected to harassment from their racist white neighbors. She later quipped that she had lived in a typical "warm and cuddly white neighborhood."
Ironically, after her death, her family home would be designated by the city of Chicago as a historical landmark. The climate of racism she grew up with would inspire her to write her first and most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).
The title comes from a line in the poem Harlem by legendary African-American poet Langston Hughes. Set in the 1940s, A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Youngers, a poor black family living in a small apartment in Chicago's South Side.
The family patriarch has died, and his survivors will soon receive an insurance check for ten thousand dollars. His widow, Mama, wants to fulfill the dream she shared with her husband and buy a house.
Her grown son, Walter, wants to use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends - an investment he believes will provide the whole family with long term financial security. Beneatha, Walter's sister, wants to use the money to pay for her medical school tuition.
Walter's wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, believing that a new house would provide more living space for themselves and their son, Travis. As the play progresses, the Youngers fight over their conflicting dreams.
When Ruth becomes pregnant, she considers having an abortion, as she and Walter really can't afford another child. Walter doesn't object, which drives Mama to put a down payment on a nice house in a white neighborhood.
Beneatha is not happy about her family mixing with whites. She's not the only one. When the Youngers' soon-to-be new neighbors find out that the black family is moving in, they send Mr. Lindner from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association to bribe them to stay out of the neighborhood.
They refuse the deal, even after Walter loses the rest of the insurance money when his friend Willy runs off with it instead of investing it in the liquor store. In the play's third act, Beneatha's Nigerian boyfriend wants her to move to Africa with him after she graduates.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family prepares to move out of their apartment and into their new house, fulfilling their dream but also exposing them to a dangerously racist environment. When A Raisin in the Sun opened in 1959, it became the first play written by an African-American to be produced for the Broadway stage.
The original cast featured Sidney Poitier as Walter, Ruby Dee as Ruth, and Claudia McNeil as Mama. It would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1961, with the entire original Broadway cast reprising their roles - including a young Louis Gossett, Jr. as George Murchison.
The play would also be adapted as a hit Broadway musical called Raisin in 1973. The musical would be nominated for nine Tony awards and run for 847 performances. Original cast members included Joe Morton as Walter, Debbie Allen as Beneatha, Ernestine Jackson as Ruth, Ralph Carter as Travis, and Virginia Capers as Mama.
Lorraine Hansberry wrote several other plays, including her second most famous play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. After 110 performances, the play closed on the day she died, January 12th, 1965. She was 34 years old and had lost a long battle with cancer.
Despite her illness, she continued to work as an activist for civil rights, women's rights, and other causes. Her other writings were turned into an acclaimed play called To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. It would be the longest running off Broadway play of the 1968-69 season.
Quote Of The Day
"Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be — if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking — but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Use it." - Lorraine Hansberry
Today's video features a rare recording of Lorraine Hansberry speaking in New York City, circa 1964. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 18th, 1593, a warrant was issued by the Queen's Privy Council for the arrest of the legendary English playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe. The warrant accused Marlowe of spreading "blasphemous and damnable opinions."
Five days earlier, Marlowe's friend, roommate, and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd had been arrested and charged with the same crime. During an interrogation in which Kyd was horribly tortured, he claimed that offending documents found in his possession really belonged to Marlowe.
Marlowe was subsequently arrested. He was released on bail while the prosecutors prepared their case. The day before Marlowe was scheduled to appear in court, he was killed in a drunken brawl when a dagger was driven through his eye. He was 29 years old.
Although in life, he had been a controversial personality - he was known to be a hot-tempered alcoholic frequently in trouble with the law - he proved to be far more controversial in death.
The same Privy Council that had charged Marlowe with blasphemy had intervened on his behalf six years earlier to explain to Cambridge University why Marlowe frequently cut classes.
Pleading that he not be expelled, they claimed that Marlowe wasn't a miscreant student - he had cut classes to be of service to the Queen in "matters touching the benefit of his country."
That was actually true. Christopher Marlowe had been recruited as a secret agent while at university, and it now appears that he died not at a pub, but at a government safe house, while in the company of other spies and their associates.
With Marlowe's volatile personality and controversial libertine philosophy, his housemates undoubtedly had motive to kill him, especially if he'd flown into one of his drunken rages.
Conspiracy theories continue to follow the death of Christopher Marlowe. Some believe that Marlowe's death was faked to protect him from enemy agents.
What became of him afterward? Well, some believe that while the rest of Britain thought that he was dead, Marlowe continued to write plays.
One conspiracy theory claims that Marlowe hired an actor named William Shakespeare to be the front for his plays. Another theory claims that William Shakespeare was Marlowe's pseudonym and that an actor with the same name decided to take credit for his work.
According to this theory, the fake Shakespeare either knew or hoped that the real author wouldn't (or couldn't) reveal himself and dispute the false claim. Both theories, while intriguing, have yet to be proven. Most scholars regard them as nonsense.
One thing is definitely true: as a playwright, Christopher Marlowe's talent was on a par with Shakespeare. For centuries, scholars have agreed that Marlowe's plays, such as Tamburlaine the Great, Edward II, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus were in the same league as Shakespeare's classic tragedies.
Quote Of The Day
"I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance." - Christopher Marlowe
Today's video features a complete reading of Christopher Marlowe's classic play, Tamburlaine the Great. Enjoy!