Jul. 19, 2006
Poem: "Nineteen-Thirty-Eight" by Andrea Hollander Budy from Woman in the Painting. © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission.
I remember the way my mother
answered when people asked
where she'd gone to school:
South Side High, 1938,
adding the year in the same breath
though I knew
she never graduated,
when her father lost his job.
Now it was her turn
to make herself
useful, he told her.
Hadn't he put
food on the table
all her life and all her little sister's?
to tell a lie like hers, to answer
South Side High, 1938, and smile
the blaze in her chest, her envy
for the questioner who likely met
her own husband at some university.
But wasn't my mother the lucky one,
my grandfather was fond of telling her
even into my childhood, sometimes
in front of my friends, lucky
to have got my father, a college man
who sat beside her at a ballgame
in 1939? Just look at her
who didn't finish high school!
Didn't I tell her then it wouldn't matter?
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the anniversary of the first women's rights conference in history, organized in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. It was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott. They had been getting together frequently to talk about the abuses they suffered as women, and they finally decided to have a public meeting to discuss the status of women in society. At the meeting, on this day in 1848, they drew up a declaration, which said in part, "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman." Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the declaration and then made a radical suggestion, that the document should also demand a woman's right to vote. At that time no women were allowed to vote anywhere on the planet. And many of the other women there objected to the idea. They thought it was impossible.
It was on this day in 1954 that the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was publishedThe Fellowship of the Ring. Seventeen years had passed since the publication of The Hobbit (1937), to which The Fellowship of the Ring was a sequel. The Hobbit had gotten a great review in The Times Literary Supplement, and it went on to become a best-seller. So J.R.R. Tolkien (books by this author) began working on a sequel, about the nephew of the hobbit Bilbo, the nephew being named Frodo. He decided that the story would center on the magical ring, which hadn't been an important part of The Hobbit.
Tolkien spent the next seventeen years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. The book became more complicated as Tolkien went along, and it was taking much longer to finish than he had planned. He went through long stretches where he didn't write anything and considered giving the project up altogether. He wanted to make sure all of the details about the geography, language, and mythology of Middle Earth were consistent. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of his story, showing dates, days of the week, the direction of the wind, and the phases of the moon.
Finally, in the fall of 1949, Tolkien finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy out himself, sitting on a bed in his attic, balancing the typewriter on his lap, and tapping it out with two fingers.
The Lord of the Rings turned out to be more than half a million words long. Tolkien wanted to publish it in one volume, his publisher wanted to divide it into three volumes and so the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, came out on this day in 1954.
Only about three and a half thousand copies were printed, but it turned out to be incredibly popular, and it went through a second printing in just six weeks.
It's the birthday of CIA agent and author Philip Agee, born in Tacoma Park, Florida (1935). He worked for the CIA for nine years and then resigned and published his exposé, Inside the Company (1975).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®