Dec. 12, 2004

1100 The last Night that She lived

by Emily Dickinson

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Poem: "1100" by Emily Dickinson, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson © Little, Brown and Company. Reprinted with permission.


The last Night that She lived
It was a Common Night
Except the Dying - this to Us
Made Nature different

We noticed smallest things -
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our Minds
Italicized - as 'twere.

As We went out and in
Between Her final Room
And Rooms where Those to be alive
Tomorrow were, a Blame

That Others could exist
While She must finish quite
A Jealousy for Her arose
So nearly infinite -

We waited while She passed -
It was a narrow time -
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot -
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce -
Consented, and was dead -

And We - We placed the Hair -
And drew the Head erect -
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate -

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1897 that "The Katzenjammer Kids" made its debut in the New York Journal. The comic strip was created by Rudolph Dirks and featured such novelties as the dialogue balloon, the multi-panel story, and a regular cast of characters.

It's the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert, born in Rouen, France (1821). He is best known for Madam Bovary (1857) a novel about a doctor's wife who commits suicide because of infidelity and debt. The book was first published in installments in the periodical Revue de Paris (October 1 to December 15, 1856). The French government denounced the story as immoral and brought Flaubert to trial (1857). He was not convicted, but six months later, the court would find poet Charles Baudelaire guilty of the same crime.

Flaubert was born into a family of doctors. His father was a surgeon and his mother was the daughter of a physician. He considered his bourgeois upbringing a burden and developed a distaste for accepted ideas. For fun, he created a "dictionary" that defined the worst offenders. He attended law school in Paris, but quit because of a nervous disease that is now assumed to be epilepsy. Flaubert moved into a house his father bought him and began writing. After his father's death in 1846, he moved in with his mother.

Flaubert met Louise Colet in Paris in 1846. She was a poet, a feminist, and a great beauty. She was also 11 years older than he--and a married woman. They began a turbulent affair that would last for nine years. Flaubert called Colet his "muse" and faithfully corresponded with her. They discussed everything from passion to art. In one letter he said, "It is a delicious thing to write, whether well or be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating." Colet is considered the inspiration for Emma Bovary, but when asked, Flaubert said, "Madame Bovary is myself."

Henry James wrote, "Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone." William Faulkner claimed to read Madame Bovary once a year.

Flaubert said, "Mediocrity cherishes rules; as for me, I hate them; I feel for them and for every restriction, corporation, caste, hierarchy, level, herd, a loathing which fills my soul, and it is in this respect perhaps that I understand martyrdom."

Flaubert said, "The better a work is, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linens."

It's the birthday of novelist Patrick O'Brian, born Richard Patrick Russ in London, England (1914). Master and Commander (1969) was the first installment of his seafaring epic. It was followed by 19 volumes. The novels focus on two characters: the British navel officer, Captain Jack Aubrey and his shipmate the Irish-Catalan spy, Doctor Stephen Maturin.

O'Brian's first story was published when he was 15. He went on to write novels that he said were, "quite good but filled with anguish and written with even more." He decided to write a book for fun and six months later completed The Golden Ocean (1956), his first novel set at sea.

O'Brian became famous late in life. His books were first published in America in 1990. In 1992, the Washington Post described him as "the best writer you've never heard of". That would not be true again. All of his books published after 1993 appeared on national bestseller charts.

O'Brian was a private, methodical man. He lived in a secluded French village and wrote 1,000 words a day. He avoided personal interviews. He justified his reserve by quoting his own character Maturin who says, "question and answer is not a civilized form of conversation."

It's the birthday of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts (1805). He helped found the Anti-Slavery Society and served as its president for 23 years. He also published an antislavery weekly called the Liberator (1831-1865). Garrison believed writers had a responsibly to inform the public. He famously said, "I will be as harsh as truth". He followed his motto by publishing several slave narratives including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845).

Garrison's first job was selling homemade molasses candy on the streets of Newburyport. He was five years old. When he was 21, he began editing the Newburyport Free Press. He became friends with John Greenleaf Whittier and published some of his earliest poems.

Garrison joined the abolition movement when he was 25 and a short time later started the Liberator. Though its circulation was never larger than 3,000, it was well known. Garrison would send copies to Southern editors who reprinted sections as a warning to their readers. The articles caused outrage and a flurry of letters to the editor. Northern newspapers would then pick up the story and reprint both the original article and the responses.

In 1856, the Liberator published one of the earliest personal ads. A young woman wrote a letter to the editor informing, "marriageable males of her desirability and availability"

Advertisers in the Liberator promised that their product avoided, "the use of materials produced by unrequited labor of the slave."

Garrison stopped publishing the Liberator after the Thirteenth Amendment had been adopted. He said, "my vocation as an abolitionist is ended." He continued to support pacifism, temperance, free trade and women's rights.

It's the birthday of playwright John Osborne, born in London, England (1929). He is best known for his play Look Back in Anger (1956), which he wrote in a month. Theatergoers had come to expect drawing room comedies and were startled by the play's realism. The complicated hero is a working class man who feels stifled by society. The play became a commercial success and transformed British theater. Critic Kenneth Tynan said, "I could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger."

Reviewers labeled John Osborne an "Angry Young Man." The phrase came to represent a generation of artists who rebelled against the establishment and its class distinctions. Osborne went on to write several more plays, to act in films and to create screenplays. He won an Oscar for his adaptations of Tom Jones (1963).

Osborne said, "The whole point of sacrifice is that you give up something you never really wanted in the first place. People are doing it around you all the time. They give up their careers, say - or their beliefs - or sex."

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




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