Jun. 13, 2014
The cold remote islands
And the blue estuaries
Where what breathes, breathes
The restless wind of the inlets,
And what drinks, drinks
The incoming tide;
Where shell and weed
Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,
And the clear nights of stars
Swing their lights westward
To set behind the land;
Where the pulse clinging to the rocks
Renews itself forever;
Where, again on cloudless nights,
The water reflects
The firmament's partial setting;
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart.
It's the birthday of British mystery writer Dorothy L. (for Leigh) Sayers (books by this author), born in Oxford in 1893. She was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, which she did in 1915, with a degree in medieval literature. Her first two books were volumes of poetry, published in 1916 and 1919; she published her first mystery novel, Whose Body?, in 1923, and it featured Lord Peter Wimsey, a witty aristocrat who solved mysteries as a hobby. Lord Peter is featured in 11 novels and two collections of short stories.
She worked as an advertising copywriter from 1922 to 1931, and came up with the "zoo" series of Guinness ads, which have become classics. She's also credited with coining the phrase, "It pays to advertise."
Today is the birthday of English novelist and diarist Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752) (books by this author). She was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, the daughter of a music historian. She didn't learn to read and write until she was 10 years old, but once she did learn, she wasted no time in putting her skills to work writing plays, poems, and songs. Her mother died when she was 15, and her father remarried that same year; her stepmother didn't think writing was a suitable hobby for young ladies, and Fanny burned all of her early work.
When she was 16, she began keeping a diary, a practice she maintained for more than 70 years. She was a keen observer of society and manners, and her journals recount visits by such luminaries as Dr. Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, and Sir Joshua Reynolds — all friends of her father. She also described the Battle of Waterloo, the madness of King George III, and her own mastectomy, performed without any anesthesia beyond a single glass of wine.
Her first published novel, Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778), was a comedy of manners, informed in large part by her own observations and experience as a young woman in society. She published it anonymously and disguised her handwriting, afraid that publishers would recognize her hand from her work as her father's literary assistant. The novel was a great success, and she followed it with a second — Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) — which would inspire Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813). Burney succeeded in making novel-writing an acceptable enterprise for women, and she paved the way for many 19th-century social satires.
Burney went to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1786, and she served as "Second Keeper of the Robes" for five years. She was unhappy in her post, since she was too busy to write novels, though she kept up with her diaries. When she was released from service, she married French expatriate general Alexandre d'Arblay, and proceeds from her third novel, Camilla, or a Picture of Youth (1796), paid for a house for the newlyweds. In 1802, they took their young son to France for a brief stay that ended up lasting 10 years, due to a renewal of the Napoleonic Wars. She recorded it all in her diaries, and her account of the Battle of Waterloo may have provided Thackeray with material for Vanity Fair.
She wrote one more novel, The Wanderer (1814), and several plays, only one of which was staged in her lifetime. And near the end of her life, she dedicated herself to publishing her father's memoirs and to organizing her sizable collection of diaries and personal papers. She died in 1840, at the age of 88.
It's the birthday of William Butler Yeats (books by this author), born in Dublin, Ireland (1865). He lived during great political and social changes in his home country, but he spent much of his life obsessed not with politics but with mysticism. His aunt gave him a popular book of the era called Esoteric Buddhism (1884), about Eastern mystical philosophy, and Yeats especially loved its idea that the world of matter was an illusion. When he was 20, he and a group of friends formed the Dublin Hermetic Society, in order to conduct experiments into the nature of ghosts and psychic powers.
He got involved in the London Theosophical Society in 1887 and later joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, a group that performed a variety of ancient magic rituals. He attended séances and tarot card readings. Seeing the performances of mediums and learning about reincarnation inspired him to study Celtic myths and folklore.
In 1889, he met Maud Gonne, a beautiful actress who had become an activist and who spoke out for Irish independence. She became the love of his life, and though she refused his proposal of marriage, she believed that they were spiritually married, that they could communicate telepathically, and that they had been brother and sister in a past life. She helped him gather folklore from the peasants, and to learn about ancient Celtic culture. Yeats came to believe that if he could get in touch with the deep, mythic history of the Irish people, he could pull the country together with the power of poetry. Yeats spent years writing plays about Irish nationalism for Maud Gonne to star in. But by 1910, Maud Gonne had married someone else and Yeats had given up on trying to win her love.
He continued to consult with mediums and to experiment with automatic writing and séances for the rest of his life, but he gave up on the idea of writing poetry for the collective soul of Ireland, and wrote instead for himself. He said, "We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." Many critics consider his greatest poems those that he wrote after he gave up on Irish Nationalism, collected in books such as The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933).
Yeats wrote, "Now that my ladder's gone / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®