Aug. 27, 2007
Poem: "Flash Cards" by Rita Dove, from Grace Notes. © W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don't understand,
master, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.
I could see one bud on the teacher's geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.
My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark
before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I'm only ten.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (books by this author) born in Stuttgart, Germany (1770). He started out studying Christianity, and he was particularly interested in how Christianity is a religion based on opposites: sin and salvation, earth and heaven, church and state, finite and infinite. He believed that Jesus had emphasized love as the chief virtue because love can bring about the marriage of opposites.
He eventually came up with was the concept of dialectic, which is the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites. He argued that each political movement is imperfect and therefore gives rise to a counter-movement, which, if it takes control, is also imperfect and therefore gives rise to yet another counter-movement, and so on to infinity. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx argued that the most important dialectic of history was between worker and master, rich and poor, and their ideas lead to the birth of Communism.
It's the birthday of novelist who wrote under the name C. S. Forester, (books by this author) born Cecil Smith in Cairo, Egypt (1899). His first really successful novel was The African Queen (1935), about an evangelical English spinster and a grizzled boat captain who fall in love while navigating a river through Central Africa. The book was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
Forester went on to create the character Horatio Hornblower, one of the most popular characters in English literature, a Royal Navy man who suffers from seasickness, is full of self-doubt, is class-conscious, is a fanatic about discipline and efficiency, and is a hater of the poetry of Wordsworth. The first novel featuring the new character was The Happy Return [called Beat to Quarters in the U.S.] (1937). Forester went on to publish many successful sequels. Not one of the Hornblower novels has ever been out of print.
It's the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser, (books by this author) born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He moved to Chicago in the 1880s and became a newspaper reporter, covering labor issues, murder trials, lynchings, and politics. He wrote his first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), about a chorus girl who becomes a success by sleeping around.
The book was accepted for publication by Doubleday, on the recommendation of the novelist Frank Norris. But when Frank Doubleday and his wife read the manuscript, they found it shocking and amoral, and they refused to give the book any advertising or marketing. Only 456 copies were sold, and Dreiser made only $68 from the book. But Dreiser's brother, a successful songwriter, helped him get a job as an editor, and in 1907, he used his influence to republish Sister Carrie and it became a great success. Dreiser went on to write his novel An American Tragedy (1925), based on a true story about a man who had murdered his pregnant girlfriend to keep their relationship a secret. Though he lived another 20 years, Dreiser never published another novel in his lifetime.
It's the birthday of the religious activist and missionary Mother Teresa, (books by this author) born in the city of Skopje, Macedonia (1910). Her father was murdered when she was seven years old, and her family fell into poverty. She was educated by Irish missionary nuns, and she decided to follow in their footsteps. She went to Dublin to train for missionary work when she was 18, and for her first missionary assignment she was sent to Calcutta, India. She taught high school for several years and worked her way up to school principal. Then, one day, she found a woman dying in the street and sat with the woman, stroking her head until she died. That experience inspired her to found a new religious order, called the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, devoted to anyone "unwanted, unloved, and uncared for." When she began her project, Mother Teresa's Order of the Missionaries of Charity members included a dozen nuns. By the time she died, the order consisted of more than 5,000 nuns and brothers, operating more than 2,500 orphanages, schools, clinics, and hospices in 120 countries, including the United States.
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