Saturday

Oct. 16, 1999

London Bells

by Anonymous

Broadcast Date: SATURDAY: October 16, 1999

Poem: "London Bells" Anonymous, from the early 18th Century.

Today is the 72nd birthday of German novelist and playwright Guenter Grass [GUHN-tr GRAHSS], born in Danzig (1927)—who two weeks ago was declared this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy credited his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), with restoring honor to German literature "after decades of linguistic and moral destruction." Unlike the novel's narrator (a dwarf named Oskar Matzerath, whose voice is so shrill it can shatter glass), its author did not, at age 3, consciously stop growing as a protest against adulthood. But like Oskar, Grass was a member of the Hitler Youth. Drafted at 16, a year later he was almost killed when many young members of his company were ripped to shreds by shelling. After the German surrender, he was briefly held prisoner by the Americans. Later he supported himself as a black marketeer, a tombstone cutter, a jazz drummer and a speechwriter for Berlin's mayor, Willy Brandt. His other novels include Cat and Mouse (1963) and Dog Years (1965)—which, with The Tin Drum, make up The Danzig Trilogy. A new work, My Century: A Novel of Stories, came out this year in Germany and will be available in English translation next month—a collection of 100 stories, one for each year of the 20th century, each told in the voice of a different narrator.

It's the birthday of playwright Eugene O'Neill, born in New York City (1888) in a hotel room on Broadway. His actor father and morphine—dependent mother served as models for James and Mary Tyrone in his play Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956, produced after his death). His other plays include Emperor Jones (1921), Strange Interlude (1928), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and The Iceman Cometh (1946). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936.

Today is the birthday of playwright and wit Oscar (Fingall O'Flahertie Wills) Wilde, born in Dublin (1854). After graduating from Trinity College in Dublin and Magdalen College at Oxford, Wilde wrote 9 plays between 1879 and 1894, but his fame rests on 4 comedies: Lady Windermere's Fan (1892); A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He also wrote a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891); two collections of fairy tales; The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898—his account of inhuman prison conditions in England); and De Profundis (published in 1905, 5 years after his death—a long letter in which he berated his close companion Alfred Lord Douglas for having encouraged his dissipation). A leading light of the Aesthetic Movement in England, he promoted Art for Art' s sake, believing that style, in life as well as art, was of supreme importance.

On this day in 1846, the first operation with the patient under anesthesia was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. The surgeon was Dr. John C. Warren; the other was administered by Dr. William T. Morton, a dentist, while other local physicians looked on. After finishing, Dr. Warren looked around at his witnesses—many of whom had doubted the value of ether—and declared, "Gentlemen, this is no humbug!"

On this day in 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined in Paris. With her thoughtless remarks and frivolous habits, this "queen consort" of King Louis the 16th had contributed mightily to general dissatisfaction with the monarchy, overthrown 14 months before her beheading. Her most famous words, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!", translated as "Let them eat cake," didn't help her case. Found guilty of treason and of plotting civil war, she was executed two weeks before her 38th birthday.

It's the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster, born in West Hartford, Connecticut (1758)—who did more than anyone to form a sense of American English as our language. A patriot, he joined the Continental Army with his father, and was in the force that marched against Burgoyne. After the revolution he published The American Speller (1783) and his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).

On this day in 1701, the forerunner of Yale University was founded. Congregationalists, alarmed by the trend toward liberalism that seemed to be taking over Harvard, split off to form the Collegiate School in Brantford, Connecticut. Fifteen years later the school was relocated 5 miles to the west, in New Haven, and took the name Yale College.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »