Jan. 28, 2014


by Jack Ridl

It's a bed. Can't gripe.
Plenty of coffee. Have
my mug. Been here
with the show ten years.
Once took off to try
some factory work.
Hated it. Every day
was Monday. Always
the same place. Here it's
a new town, something
new to talk about, deal
with—mud, wind, broken
rigging, ripped canvas.

During matinees we bet
on Alfredo, if he'll try
a triple, and every night
after tear down, we see
if the town's got any action.
But you turn on a townie,
you're gone. One guy lost it
in Nebraska somewhere. "No
one pulls a knife on me," he
growled walking off the lot.

Most guys last two, three years.
A few jump mid-July. I can't
settle. Rather be nowhere, be
nobody. Put up the tent,
play some cards, during the show
take a nap, eat, tear down, roll up
the canvas, pull up the stakes.

"Roustabout" by Jack Ridl from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was published on this date in 1813 (books by this author). Austen had completed the first draft of the book — which was originally titled First Impressions — by August 1797, when she was 21. Her father queried a London bookseller about publishing the novel. The bookseller turned him down without ever looking at the manuscript, so Austen put the book aside. Fourteen years later, encouraged by the success of Sense and Sensibility, she picked First Impressions up again and began reworking it into the novel we know today. Thomas Egerton of Whitehall bought the rights for £110 and published it in three volumes. It was well received and made decent money for the publisher, but Austen never saw another penny. Although she had sold Sense and Sensibility on a commission basis and eventually made a fair amount of money, Austen sold Pride and Prejudice for one lump sum. She was widely read during her lifetime, but her name never appeared on any of her books; the title page of Pride and Prejudice read only "by the author of Sense and Sensibility."

Anne Isabella Milbanke (later the wife of Lord Byron) wrote to a friend: "I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres [duels] and disguises. I really think it is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy. The characters which are not amiable are diverting, and all of them are consistently supported."

Charlotte Brontë, on the other hand, dismissed it as "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but ... no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck."

In 1815, William Gifford wrote: "I have for the first time looked into [Pride and Prejudice]; and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger — things that should now be left to ladies' maids and sentimental washerwomen."

Emerson, for his part, wrote: "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched & narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer in both the stories I have read, Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, is marriageableness; all that interests any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming?"

And Mark Twain remarked: "I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

It's the birthday of the novelist Colette (books by this author), born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in a village in France (1873). She's the author of more than 50 novels, including Chéri (1920) and Gigi (1944), which was made into a movie. She died in 1954 at 81 years old, the first woman in the history of France to be given a state funeral — 6,000 people filed by her casket and covered it in flowers.

Collette said: "Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

It's the birthday of the English novelist and critic David Lodge (books by this author), born in suburban London, England (1935), to a traditional Catholic family. His early novel, The Picturegoers (1960), is about a Catholic family in South London who take in a university student as a lodger. Other early novels draw on Lodge's own life: Ginger, You're Barmy (1962), about compulsory service in the British military, and The British Museum is Falling Down (1970), about a Catholic graduate student working on his thesis. His most recent work, A Man of Parts (2011), is a novel based on the life of H.G. Wells.

It's the birthday of writer Sue Hubbell (books by this author), born in Kalamazoo, Michigan (1935). She became a journalist, a bookstore manager, and a librarian at Brown University, where her husband, Paul, taught. But they weren't satisfied with their lives, and they quit their jobs and bought 99 acres in the Ozarks in southern Missouri and took up beekeeping. After 30 years of marriage, the couple divorced, and Hubble found herself alone, middle-aged, living on a big farm, producing honey. At that time, she started to write down her own story. She said: "I was writing for myself, and what I put on paper over the next couple of years was unlike anything I had written before. I traced the natural history of my hilltop from one springtime to the next, discovering by the second spring that I was in a new place and understanding the value of where I was. That book was A Country Year: Living the Questions (1986). Her other books include A Book of Bees (1998), Waiting for Aphrodite (1999), and From Here to There and Back Again (2004).

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