Jun. 21, 2005

A Thunderstorm in Town

by Thomas Hardy

TUESDAY, 21 JUNE, 2005
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Poem: "A Thunderstorm in Town" by Thomas Hardy from The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy © St. Martins Press. Reprinted with permission.

A Thunderstorm in Town

She wore a new 'terra-cotta' dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom's dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
   We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
   Had lasted a minute more.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the summer solstice, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. Today is the longest day of the year, and tonight is the shortest night. It's not that we are any closer to the sun. In fact, the earth is about three million miles further from the sun at this time of year. The difference is due to the fact that the planet is tilted on its axis, with the northern hemisphere tilted toward the sun. And it's that slight tilt, only 23 1/2 degrees that makes the difference between winter and summer and allows most of the plants we eat to germinate. Wheat and many other plants require an average temperature of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit to grow; corn, 50 degrees; rice, an average temperature of 68 degrees.

It's the birthday of Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris (1905). He started out as a novelist and a playwright. He published his first novel, Nausea, in 1938, and received great reviews. He was drafted into World War II, and captured by the Germans. He was released, and went back to Paris in 1941 and joined the resistance. During that time, he developed his philosophy of existentialism which made him famous, in which he said that the world is basically meaningless, but that once we realize this we can each create our own meaning. He wrote about it in his book Being and Nothingness, in 1943.

It's the birthday of novelist Ian McEwan, born in Aldershot, England (1948). His father was a Scottish soldier in the British Army. McEwan grew up in various places around the world: Singapore and North Africa. He went to a boarding school in England and then to a creative writing program in East Anglia, taught by the writer Malcom Bradbury, where he was allowed to write fiction for credit and found that it came very easily to him.

At the time, most English fiction was rather tasteful and polite. McEwan said, "It was nicely modulated, full of observation about class and furniture. I wanted much more vivid colors. I wanted something savage." His first book was full of short stories about incest, infanticide and bestiality. His first novel, Cement Garden, is about a group of children who hide their dead mother in the basement by covering her with cement. His novel The Innocent featured one of the lengthiest scenes of human dismemberment in contemporary literature. Critics started calling him "Ian Macabre."

His more recent novels, like Amsterdam and Atonement, are less grisly, but he's still one of the few literary writers in England who doesn't shy away from violence and suspense in his work. His novel Saturday came out this year.

It's the birthday of the author Mary McCarthy, born in Seattle (1912), author of several novels including The Group, and also her memoir, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, which came out in 1957. Gore Vidal said, "She was our most brilliant literary critic, [because she was] uncorrupted by compassion."

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