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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for November, 2017

Charles de Gaulle

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

November 22 is the birthday of Charles de Gaulle, born in Lille, France (1890). He was general and president of France from 1959 to 1969. De Gaulle was a brigadier general in 1940 when he found himself in London after escaping France, which had just fallen to German forces. In an impassioned speech on British radio, he famously said: “But has the last word been said? Must we abandon all hope? Is our defeat final and irremediable? To those questions I answer — No! For remember this, France is not alone. She is not alone. She is not alone. Behind her is a vast empire, and she can make common cause with the British Empire, which commands the seas and is continuing the struggle. I, General de Gaulle, now in London, invite French officers and men who are at present in British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I invite engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me. Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and shall not die.”

 

The French government declared him a traitor and sentenced him to death for treason, but de Gaulle didn’t give up. His exhortation to “Free France” led to the formation of the Free French Forces, which became the fourth-largest Allied army in Europe by war’s end. They participated in the Normandy landings and the invasion of Germany and eventually liberated Paris.

 

Military life was ingrained in de Gaulle from childhood. His father was a professor who taught him the history of France, and de Gaulle raced through military history books, reenacting key battles. His uncle, also named Charles de Gaulle, had written a book calling for the union of the Breton, Scots, Irish, and Welsh peoples. In a journal, the young de Gaulle carefully copied a sentence from his uncle’s book: “In a camp, surprised by enemy attack under cover of night, where each man is fighting alone, in dark confusion, no one asks for the grade or rank of the man who lifts up the standard and makes the first call to rally for resistance.”

 

Charles de Gaulle was known for his regal bearing and fastidious nature, so much so that his imperiousness became a kind of running joke for the citizens of France. A popular gag imagined de Gaulle’s wife, Yvonne, returning from shopping and exclaiming, “God, I am tired.” Her husband is purported to have replied, “I have often told you, my dear, it was sufficient in private if you addressed me as ‘Monsieur le President.’”

 

He was frugal and at banquets, his quick manner of eating became legendary: plates were snatched away while still full, and de Gaulle spurned fruit, thinking it took too long to peel. He found cheese too small to be of use and once quipped, “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?” State banquets rarely lasted even an hour.

 

He meticulously prepared for televised speeches, practicing his lines in a mirror and taking lessons from an actor. Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England, once told President Roosevelt, “De Gaulle may be a good man, but he has a messianic complex.” About Winston Churchill, de Gaulle said dryly: “When I am right, I get angry. Churchill gets angry when he is wrong. We are angry at each other much of the time.”

 

Charles de Gaulle once said, “I cannot prevent the French from being French.”

 

On August 25, 1944, Charles de Gaulle entered Paris, which had been liberated the day before. In a famous speech, he cried: “This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!”

 

George Eliot(Mary Ann Evans)

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

November 22 is the birthday of the author best known by her pen name, George Eliot . She was born Mary Ann Evans in 1819 in Warwickshire, England. Her novels include Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861). Middlemarch (1871), which charts women’s difficulties in ambition, love, commitment, and convention, is widely considered her masterpiece.

As an adolescent, Eliot participated in the conservative religious culture of her rural, farming family. When she moved to London as a young woman, she was exposed to new ways of thinking. In 1850, she began to edit and write for the radical intellectual publication Westminster Review. Surrounded by intellectuals who shucked the constraints of Victorian culture, Eliot met the married George Henry Lewes. The two moved in together, amid scandal, and remained controversially paired for 24 years until Lewes’s death.

Eliot was concerned that her early fiction, which dug into the grittier details of the lives of working people, would not be taken seriously. Novels by female authors were often dismissed as romantic drivel. She used the pen name George Eliot, and her first novel, Adam Bede, became wildly popular.

Success surprised Eliot, who suspected the work was too subversive to catch on. Here was a woman who lived outside convention and lacked prized feminine qualities of the era. In 1856, Eliot published an essay (anonymously) called “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Of the ideal female star, she wrote that “her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity,” and the reader can rest assured that the protagonist’s “sorrows are wept into embroidered pocket-handkerchiefs, that her fainting form reclines on the very best upholstery.” The rest of the essay is a not-so-subtle satire of the preferred female traits of the day, revealing Eliot’s awareness of how far she strayed from these norms.

If Eliot defied standards of conventional feminine beauty and behavior, she not did masquerade completely convincingly as a man. After reading her first collection of stories, Charles Dickens wrote to Eliot: “My Dear Sir: I have been so strongly affected by the first two tales in the book […] I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit.” Dickens went on to admit that he strongly suspected George Eliot was not a man after all: “I have observed what seem to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began.”

Eliot often made disparaging jokes about her appearance in letters to friends. Henry James described Eliot as “magnificently, awe-inspiringly ugly.” Another critic wrote of Eliot: “It must be a terrible sorrow to be young and unattractive: to look in the mirror and see a sallow unhealthy face, with a yellowish skin, straight nose, and mouse-colored hair.” And another critic who interviewed Eliot wrote that she was “a woman with next to no feminine beauty or charm.” Many of her biographers and interviewers have felt compelled to make similar remarks.

Eliot’s intellect and way with words, meanwhile, won her friends and lovers. After passing his initial judgment, Henry James said of his first meeting with Eliot, “Behold me, literally in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking!”

She seems to have lived more freed from the expectations of her society than hobbled by her refusal to accommodate them. After Lewes’ death, Eliot continued to set the rules for her own life. In her early 60, she married a friend 20 years younger. Her peers found this union even more shocking than her first.

Eliot’s novels have continued to sell for more than a century. In Middlemarch, she wrote, “And, of course men know best about everything, except what women know better.”

Song Writer, Hoagy Carmichael

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

November 22nd is the birthday of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana. Hoagy got his nickname from a circus performer who once lived with his family. Carmichael’s parents were a horse-and-buggy driver and a piano player for silent film, and his mother got him started playing the piano when he was six years old. Carmichael joined the Army one day before the end of World War I, then came home to Bloomington to play piano for high school dances.

On visits to Chicago, Carmichael got acquainted with speakeasy jazz and was a fan of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. The speakeasy scene set him up with a gig smuggling champagne, and he used the money to put himself through law school. Though his parents were supportive of his musical talents, Carmichael was eager to leave his poor roots, especially after his sister died from diphtheria — a “victim of poverty,” Carmichael said.

Law degree in hand, Carmichael barely got the chance to practice. He formed a band, began to write music, and by 1926 had penned his first hit, “Riverboat Shuffle.” After that, Hoagy dove into music full-time. His career took him to New York and eventually to Hollywood, where he wrote for soundtracks and appeared in many films.

His 1929 hit “Star Dust” quickly became a standard. By 1963, “Star Dust” had been recorded more than 500 times — the century’s most recorded song — and its lyrics had been translated into 40 languages. “Star Dust” was named by a friend, who said of the song: “That one’s all the girls, the university, the family, the old golden oak, all the good things gone, all wrapped up in a melody.”

Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” during a nostalgic visit to his alma mater, Indiana University, while recalling an old girlfriend. He said: “This melody was bigger than I. It didn’t seem a part of me. Maybe I hadn’t written it at all […] I wanted to shout back at it. ‘Maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you.’”

Margaret Atwood

Monday, November 20th, 2017

 

One of my favorite writers. Her books and poems are gems. Splendid literary style, marvelous character development and intriguing plots.

 

Margaret Atwood

November 18th was the birthday of Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood (1939) , best known for her searing explorations of feminism, sexuality, and politics in books like The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), a dystopian novel that takes place in a United States, which has become a fundamentalist theocracy where women are forced to have children. She started writing the book on a battered, rented typewriter while on a fellowship in West Berlin. The book became an international best-seller. Atwood’s daughter was nine when it was published; by the time she was in high school, The Handmaid’s Tale was required reading. Atwood once said, “Men often ask me, ‘Why are your female characters so paranoid?’ It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

 

Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father was an entomologist and the family lived for a long time in insect-research stations in the wilderness. She was 11 before she attended a full year of school. About growing up in near isolation, Atwood said: “There were no films or theatres in the North, and the radio didn’t work very well. But there were always books. I learned to read early, was an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on — no one ever told me I couldn’t read a book. My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet.”

 

One day she was walking across a football field on her way home and began writing a poem in her head and decided to write it down. She says: “After that, writing was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t know that this poem of mine wasn’t at all good, and if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have cared.”

 

Her first novel was The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who cannot eat and feels that she is being eaten. Atwood likes to write in longhand, preferably with a Rollerball pen, and is even the co-inventor of the LongPen, a remote signing device that allows a person to write in ink anywhere in the world using a tablet and the internet. Her books include Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin ( 20000, Oryx and Crake (2003), The Stone Mattress (2014), The Heart Goes Last (2015), and many others .

 

About the writing life, Margaret Atwood says: “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

 

John Keats/Ode to a Nightingale

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

November 1st is the birth date of English poet John Keats, born in London in 1795. He’s best known for poetic odes like Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn, about the famous Elgin marbles on display in the British Museum, which ends with some of the most famous lines in poetic history: “beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

By the time he died at the age of 25, John Keats had only published three small volumes of poetry, 54 poems in all. He’s now considered one of the finest poets in the English language. He once told a friend, “I carry all matters to an extreme.”

 

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?


William S. Frankl, MD, All Rights Reserved