• Home page of novelist William S. Frankl, M.D.
  • About author William S. Frankl, M.D.
  • Books by novelist William S. Frankl, M.D.
  • Reviews of the writing of author William S. Frankl, M.D.
  • Blog of author William (Bill) S. Frankl, M.D.
  • Contact author William S. Frankl, M.D.
Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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.”

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?

Happy Birthday, Boswell

Monday, October 30th, 2017

James Boswell

Yesterday, October, 29, was the birthday of the biographer, James Boswell , born in 1740 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family was descended from minor royalty, and they had occupied the same land more than two hundred years. Boswell’s father was a judge who insisted that his son study law. So James Boswell passed his bar exams in Scotland, but he didn’t really like law and he didn’t really like Scotland. Boswell loved gossip, drinking, and traveling, and he wanted to be in London, to be in the company of the rich and famous. He also wanted to be known as a great lover, so he bragged constantly about his love life.

James Boswell was a good writer with an incredible memory, and he started keeping a journal as a teenager, and he kept it for the rest of his life, filled with reflections and anecdotes about the famous people he befriended—Voltaire, Rousseau, Oliver Goldsmith, John Wilkes. Most of all he wrote about his friend Samuel Johnson. When Boswell was just 22 years old, he met Johnson, who was his idol, in the back of a bookshop. Johnson was 53, and he gave the young Boswell a hard time when he met him, but Boswell went back to visit him anyway and they soon became good friends. Over the next 20 years, Boswell followed Johnson around, and he always had paper and took notes constantly. Johnson was often frustrated with Boswell, and Boswell could be critical of Johnson, but they still liked to spend time together, and they traveled together through Scotland and the Hebrides.

After Johnson’s death, Boswell spent years writing a biography of his friend. He used letters, interviews, as well as his own diary, of which he said, “A page of my Journal is like a cake of portable soup. A little may be diffused into a considerable portion.” Finally, in 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson was published, and people loved it. There had never been a biography like it before. Instead of a dry recitation of facts, Boswell filled his book with personal anecdotes and vivid descriptions, and overall it was fun to read, and he made Johnson sound like a real person who wasn’t totally perfect. It’s still considered one of the greatest biographies ever written, and it’s a big part of the reason why Samuel Johnson is still so famous today.

The Conquest of Britain and the English Language

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Once more, my friend Dan Garshman, tells me that on September 23 in 1066 A.D., William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil . He defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings, and on Christmas Day he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abby. What nobody knew at the time was how much this would affect the English language. The British back then were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans spoke French. Over time, the languages blended, and as a result English became a language incredibly rich in synonyms. Because the French speakers were aristocrats, the French words often became the fancy words for things. The Normans gave us “mansion”; the Saxons gave us “house.” The Normans gave us “beef”; the Saxons gave us, “cow.”

The English language has gone on accepting additions to its vocabulary ever since, and it now contains more than a million words, making it one of the most diverse languages on Earth. Writers have been arguing for hundreds of years about whether this is a good thing.

The critic Cyril Connolly wrote, “The English language is like a broad river … being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck.” But Walt Whitman said, “The English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all.” And the poet Derek Walcott said, “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.”


William S. Frankl, All Rights Reserved
Design by Yikes!