Dec. 21, 1999

Richard Cory

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Broadcast Date: TUESDAY: December 21, 1999

Poem: "Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson from his Selected Poems published by Macmillan.

On this day in 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, the day after writing the first episode of Chapter 6 in The Last Tycoon, his unfinished novel about the movie business. He was 44 years old, and had been writing film scripts in Hollywood the previous 3 years. His plan had been for the The Last Tycoon to be 60,000 words long—roughly as long as The Great Gatsby—but by the time of his death, heíd already written 70,000 words, and, judging by his outline, was only halfway through the story. "The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward."

Itís the birthday of writer Edward Hoagland, born in New York City (1932). The first of his several novels was accepted before he graduated from Harvard, but in his late thirties he turned to writing mostly nonfiction—essays and travel pieces—and since then, his interests have led everywhere from the waters around Manhattan to the Saharan wastes of the Sudan [soo-DAN]. "I write to live. I love life and believe in its goodness and rightness, but I seem not to be terribly well fitted for it—that is, not without writing. Writing is my rod and staff. It saves me, exults me."

Itís the birthday of novelist Heinrich Böll, born in Cologne, Germany (1917)—winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1972) for his ironic novels dealing with the travails of German life during and after World War Two. Drafted into the German army in 1938, he served throughout the war, and later recalled "the frightful fate of being a soldier and having to wish that the war might be lost." Bollís novel Group Portrait with Lady (1971), singled out for praise by the Nobel Prize Committee, crystallized his view that Christianity and capitalism are incompatible with each other.

Itís the birthday of novelist and journalist Dame Rebecca West (original name Cicily Isabel Andrews), born in London (1892)—whose many novels drew less attention than her other writings, especially her New Yorker pieces about the Nuremberg War Trials (1945- 46). In her teens she denounced capitalists; in her fifties she denounced traitors; in her sixties she denounced Communists. One critic described her book The Meaning of Treason (1947) as "reporting raised to the level of literature." At 90 she wrote, "I do not myself find it agreeable to be 90, and I cannot imagine why it should seem so to other people. It is not that you have any fears about your own death, it is that your upholstery is already dead around you."

In 1879 on this day, Henrik Ibsenís play A Dollís House was first performed—in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a revised happy ending (written to placate a German actress who played Nora). In that ending Nora—after realizing she had always been treated as a Ďdollí—did not walk out of her home for good but eventually returned, at least to her three small children. Ibsen later admitted this ending was "a barbaric outrage," violating the thrust of his play. Today his original ending—with Nora slamming the door on her former life and leaving it irrevocably—is used.

On this day in 1620 the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after sailing across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, a little ship that took 64 days to transport its 102 passengers to the New World.

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