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Today in Literature

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 6, 2010

This is site I get an email from daily
http://www.todayinliterature.com/. Very good way to introduce your kids and yourself to literature

September 6, 2010

Conrad, Marlow, Africa

On this day in 1890, thirty-two year-old Joseph Conrad took command of a small stern-wheeler, the Roi des Belges, for the trip down the Congo river from Stanley Falls (now Boyoma Falls) to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Conrad was in the employ of a Belgian trading company; his primary cargo on this occasion was not rubber or ivory but Georges Klein, the company agent at their Inner Station, now gravely ill and soon to die on the downriver journey. The stern-wheeler’s regular captain was also ill, thus requiring Conrad to take temporary command — his only captaincy in all his years at sea.

These experiences were the genesis of Heart of Darkness, published twelve years later. In actuality, the company’s Inner Station was quite organized, and Klein was no Kurtz (though “Klein” was the name used in early drafts); nor was Conrad exposed to the full horror that Marlow witnessed and felt beckon:

In his memoirs, Conrad recalls his early temptation towards Africa, filing it in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ category:

He turns Marlow into a similar child, one who would pore over maps “and lose myself in the glories of exploration” imagined in South America or the North Pole:

Henry David Thoreau left his Walden Pond cabin on this day in 1847, after a stay of two years, two months and two days. Ralph Waldo Emerson bought the cabin from Thoreau and sold it to his gardener, who had plans to make it is family home. He also had a drinking problem: the plans came to nought, and the cabin, one of the most enduring symbols in the American literary landscape, went through an ignoble devolution, one at which Thoreau would have chuckled. After two years of standing empty, the cabin was sold to a local farmer, who moved it across town and used it as a grain shed; over the next twenty years the roof was removed to build a pigsty, and the wall timbers were used first for a stable, and then to patch a barn, now long-gone. Below, a c.1908 photo of the cabin site.

Thoreau himself moved into Emerson’s house, a sort of handyman-babysitter while Emerson was on a ten-month trip to England. The portrait which biographer Walter Harding paints of this period in Thoreau’s life seems to correct the view that he was only and always a prickly contrarian:

Thoreau’s great joy was the children…. He would carry Eddy around on his shoulders, make pan’s pipes for the girls from pumpkin stalks, onion tops, or willow shoots, or gather them all around the fire and tell them stories of the adventures of his childhood or of a duel between turtles he had observed on the river or of the battle of the ants he had seen at his Walden cabin. When they tired of stories, he would make pencils and knives disappear and redeem them magically from their ears….
On the spot in the woods where Thoreau had his solitary house is now quite a cairn of stones, to mark the place; I too carried one and deposited on the heap.” (Walt Whitman, after a visit in 1881)
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Robert Pirsig was born on this day in 1928. Some have described Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a sequel to Walden. Pirsig packed a copy of Thoreau’s book on his trip — his only book, apart from two motorcycle manuals — and brought it out for discussion time with Chris:
I read a sentence or two, wait for him to come up with his usual barrage of questions, answer them, then read another sentence or two. Classics read well this way. They must be written this way. Sometimes we have spent a whole evening reading and talking and discovered we have only covered two or three pages. It’s a form of reading done a century ago … when Chautauquas were popular. Unless you’ve tried it you can’t imagine how pleasant it is to do it this way.
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The Austrian writer Felix Salten was born on this day in 1869. Like Walden, Salten’s Bambi is subtitled, “A Life in the Woods,” though his deer encounters no human as companionable as Thoreau, or as cuddly as Disney. The illustration at right is by Kurt Wiese, for the first English edition (1928); the passage below is from the end, the old stag and Bambi standing over the bloodied body of one of the hunters, killed by another’s bullet:
Do you see, Bambi,” the old stag went on, “do you see how He’s lying there dead, like one of us? Listen, Bambi. He isn’t all-powerful as they say. Everything that lives and grows doesn’t come from Him. He isn’t above us. He’s just the same as we are. He has the same fears, the same needs, and suffers in the same way. He can be killed like us, and then He lies helpless on the ground like all the rest of us, as you see Him now.”
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