Monday

Oct. 28, 2013

Things

by Lisel Mueller

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

"Things" by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together. © Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of convicted murderer and best-selling detective novelist Anne Perry (books by this author), born Juliet Hulme in London (1938). She had tuberculosis, and her doctor said she wouldn't survive another winter in England, so she was sent away to live in the Bahamas, and then South Africa. She rejoined her family when she was 13, after her father — a well-known physicist — got a job as a president of a university in Christchurch, New Zealand. She became close friends with a classmate, Pauline Parker, who also struggled with health issues. When Juliet was confined to a sanatorium for several months, she exchanged daily letters with Pauline. They created an elaborate fantasy world together; they were both working on novels, which they were convinced were brilliant. They planned to run away to New York together, find publishers for their novels, and then make them into Hollywood movies — they would be actresses and they would handpick famous actors to star in their films.

Then Juliet's parents decided to leave the country and take their daughter to South Africa. The two girls were absolutely devastated and begged for Pauline to move to South Africa too. Juliet's parents thought the girls needed to be separated, but they said all right, as long as it was OK with the Parkers — knowing full well they would never consent. Sure enough, Pauline Parker's mother refused. The teenage girls decided that Pauline's mother was the only thing ruining their lives, and that the only way to solve everything would be to kill her. So they did, inviting her to go on a walk in the park and then bashing her head with a brick tied in a stocking. When the girls returned to the teahouse where they had eaten lunch, they were covered in blood, and quickly arrested. Juliet was 15 years old, and Pauline 16.

The brutal murder shocked the country, and the two girls were given a high-profile trial. The prosecution read extracts of Pauline's diary, in which the girls coldly planned the murder. They were each sentenced to an indefinite prison sentence, and were released separately about five years later under the condition they never contact each other.

The girl who had been Juliet Hulme changed her name to Anne Perry. She converted to Mormonism, and settled in a remote Scottish village with her mother. In 1978, she published a murder mystery called The Cater Street Hangman, set in Victorian England. She expanded the book into a series, and then wrote another detective series. For decades, no one knew that Anne Perry and Juliet Hulme were one in the same. Then, in 1994, the Parker-Hulme murder case became the inspiration for the film Heavenly Creatures, starring Kate Winslet as Juliet. A reporter was writing a story about the film and discovered that not only was Juliet Hulme still alive, she was a best-selling, world-famous writer named Anne Perry. She writes for 12 hours a day, and she has written more than 50 novels, which have sold more than 25 million copies.

Perry said of her writing: "It is vital for me to go on exploring moral matters."

It was on this day in 1886 that the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and opened to the public. It was gift from France intended to celebrate the two countries' shared love of freedom, shipped to the U.S. in pieces packed into 214 crates. Workers put it back together in New York. The day of the dedication was cold and rainy, but huge crowds came out for the celebration anyway. The statue was under veil, and the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was alone in the statue's crown, waiting for the signal to drop the veil. A boy down below was supposed to wave a white handkerchief at the end of the big speech. The boy accidentally waved his handkerchief before the speech was over and Bartholdi let the curtain drop, revealing the huge bronze lady, and gunshots rang out from all the ships in the harbor. The speaker, who had been boring everybody, just sat down.

It's the birthday of Evelyn Waugh (books by this author), born in London, England in 1903. His family was affluent, and he was upset when he found out that he couldn't attend the same prestigious school as his father and brother. He wasn't allowed in because his brother, Alec Waugh, had a homosexual relationship, was dismissed from the school, and then wrote a book about it. So Evelyn went to a less prestigious school, where he thought all his classmates were unsophisticated. Then he went to Hertford, one of the Oxford Colleges, where he did art and wrote and drank, and neglected his academics. When someone asked him if he'd done any sports at college, he replied, "I drank for Hertford." He left Oxford without a degree. He tried teaching and he hated it, he was in debt, so he attempted suicide by drowning himself in the ocean, but he got stung by a jellyfish so he ran back out. He decided to give his life another chance, and he wrote his first novel, Decline and Fall (1928). It's about an innocent schoolteacher named Paul Pennyfeather who is expelled from Oxford for running across campus without his trousers, and has no choice but to become a schoolteacher. He's surrounded by bigots, drunks, and pedophiles, and he almost marries the mother of one of his students, but it turns out she makes her money trafficking in brothels in South America. Evelyn Waugh went on to write many novels, including Brideshead Revisited (1945).

Evelyn Waugh said, "The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish."

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

 









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