Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Romanticism was a movement that began in Europe at the end of the 18th century, centering in Germany, France, and England. The term 'romanticism' comes from medieval romances - adventurous tales about knights, damsels, and fighting, full of magic and imagination. The father of the movement is the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau:

1. Romantics emphasized imagination and emotion over reason and logic. Rousseau said, "To feel is to exist. And, our feelings come, most incontestably, before our thoughts."
2. Romantics valued the rights, freedom, and dignity of the individual over the good of society as a whole. They were anti-authoritarian. There was also a religious movement in England called Evangelicalism that wanted the same thing for the church - emphasizing the importance of the individual, and one's ability to change the world for the better.
3. While others looked to the classics for inspiration, Romantics turned to medieval themes, and the nostalgia of nature.
Socially, romanticism was a time of unguided change, of great hopes and bitter disappointments. At the forefront was the tyranny of monarchy, which limited people's freedom. Rousseau watched in horror as his friend, the philosopher Diderot, was imprisoned for writing an encyclopedia in which he left out references to God.
The industrial revolution, while leading to many technical advances, also contributed to human misery and poverty. The privatization of communal farmland in England forced many farmers into cities. Workers were treated brutally and forbidden to organize. Common people had no rights, only duties.
The English government did little to help the poor, arguing in favour of laissez faire economics. To make matters worse, King George III, of England, was declared incurably insane in 1811, and rule transferred to his son, who hosted lavish parties and ignored England's problems.
This was typical of European countries at the time. Dissatisfaction and unrest led to revolutions in America and in France. Many leading voices of the romantics welcomed this change. Diderot himself said, "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
The romantics cheered when a Parisian mob charged the Bastille prison and freed those inside. But, then France fell into its "Reign of Terror". Thousands of people, not just from aristocracy, were taken to the guillotine and beheaded. Priests and nuns were killed for refusing to take republican oaths.
The democratic movement in France fell apart, leading to Napoleon, who tried to rule all of Europe. England's triumph at Waterloo was seen as one tyranny defeating another - no real victory at all. England became a global super power, controlling the seas after the Battle of Trafalgar, starting settlements in Australia, New Zealand, and India, and taking Dutch settlements in South Africa. England was now an empire.
But there was still no freedom in England, up until the First Reform Bill of 1832 which expanded voter rights, limited the power of the aristocracy, and redistributed parliamentary representation to the middle class, by eliminating "rotten boroughs" - seats to villages controlled by squires. This bill was passed largely due to Evangelicals who believed in humane causes, and also banned slavery in all British colonies in 1833.
Romanticism in England began with the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, who collaborated on a book of poetry titled Lyrical Ballads, in 1798. They wanted to turn poetry in a new direction with:
1. vernacular language and slang.
2. stories of everyday, rustic life and common people.
3. supernatural events and exotic places.
4. love of nature, as a cure for humanity's ills.
5. based on the writer's emotions and feelings, rather than cold logic. Wordsworth said, "All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."
Poetry was the dominant form of writing in this age. There was also the London Magazine, which ran from 1820-29. It published many essays of personal, daily life. Frightening, Gothic novels were also popular, such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The best known English romantic authors today are Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
In America, famous romantic authors include Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Although different in beliefs and style, each of these writers questioned man's place in society, and the importance of individual thought and freedom.

Monday, February 16, 2015

J. D. Salinger - Biography

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)

v     J. D Salinger is one of America's most famous and mysterious authors, best known for his controversial, yet popular, and semi-autobiographical novel The Catcher in the Rye.

v     Several schools banned the book due to swearing and loose morals. Some teachers were even fired for assigning it to their students. At the same time, it's one of the most widely read books in school.

v     The Catcher in the Rye gained infamy when found in the pocket of Lee Harvey Oswald, after he shot John F Kennedy. Many speculated what role the book may have played in a conspiracy.

v     Salinger also wrote a series of short stories about the Glass family, a fictional household of child prodigies, suffering from a variety of traumas. It was the inspiration for Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenenbaums.

v     Salinger published his last book in 1965, choosing to live the rest of his life on a secluded farm in New Hampshire. He gave one last interview in 1980.

v     There has been much speculation as to what Salinger wrote in private, and if it will ever be published. According to his daughter Margaret, he had at least fifteen novels ready for print.

v     Salinger got into a legal battle with biographer Ian Hamilton, which Salinger won, since Ian wanted to include many private, personal letters that invaded Salinger's privacy. But, since the court transcripts were public, people soon learned what was written anyway.

v     Several memoirs by Salinger's close relations give conflicting reports of who Salinger was and what he was like. Son Matthew wrote of his sister's memoir, "I can't say with any authority that she is consciously making anything up. I just know that I grew up in a very different house, with two very different parents from those my sister describes."

Personal Life:

Jerome David Salinger was born into a middle-class, Jewish family in New York City. His father sold cheese. Jerry Salinger went to a military academy, as his father wanted him to become a soldier. J. D. liked acting.

After high school, Salinger dropped out of two colleges before finding a mentor at an evening class at Columbia University, Whit Burnett, who was also editor of Story Magazine. Whit helped publish Salinger's first works. In 1941, Salinger dated Oona O'Neil, daughter of the famous playwright Eugene O'Neil. But, she left him to marry Charlie Chaplin.

In 1942, Salinger was drafted to fight in WWII. He was active on Utah Beach on D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Bloody Mortain, and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. While fighting, Salinger met with Hemingway and they became friends. Hemingway said, "Jesus, he has a helluva talent." Because Salinger was fluent in French and German he was used to interrogate the enemy, and also helped liberate a concentration camp. While serving as a soldier, he sent a number of stories to magazines to be published. While Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post accepted them, The New Yorker did not.

At the end of the war, Salinger was hospitalized for stress. He later told his daughter, "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." Salinger then chose to stay in Germany, working for counter intelligence, and fell in love with a German, Sylvia Welter. They married and moved to America, but things fell apart after eight months, and Sylvia returned to Germany.

Salinger turned to Zen Buddhism and writing, with "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" finally being accepted by The New Yorker, which would publish his works exclusively from then on. Looking for more money, Salinger sold one story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" to Hollywood. The resulting film, renamed My Foolish Heart, was so bad, and departed so far from the original story, that Salinger vowed never to sell film rights again, despite a great deal of pressure to adapt The Catcher in the Rye, which became an enormous success.

In 1955 Salinger, age 36, married again, to a college student named Claire Douglas, who dropped out, just four months shy of graduation. They had two children, Margaret and Matthew. The couple was isolated, practicing yoga, meditation, and a variety of new age religions. When Margaret was sick, Salinger refused to take her to a doctor. At one point Claire was so angry, she considered killing Margaret and herself. They divorced in 1967.

In 1972, age 53, Salinger started a relationship with 18-year-old Joyce Maynard, after she gained fame writing stories for Seventeen magazine. She quit Yale University, losing her scholarship, to live with him (her mom actually encouraged her!). In her memoir, Joyce explained that after ten months together, he, for no reason, ended the relationship, and that he was having affairs with other young women, starting with letter writing. He said she wanted children, and he was too old for that.
In 1988, aged 69, Salinger married a nurse named, Colleen O'Neill, age 29. This final marriage lasted until his death in 2010.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Outline of American Literature

Colonial Literature

v     Some of the earliest writings in America were pamphlets used as advertising to encourage more settlers to come from Europe.

v     Most of the writing focused on religion and religious debates.

v     English was not the only language in use. Many people spoke Spanish, French, Dutch, and German.

v     The earliest colonial printing presses were in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Annapolis, Maryland.

v     The first book of poetry was the Bay Psalm Book, which translated biblical Psalms.

v     Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote Letters from an American Farmer, discussing what it meant to be an American, and comparing urban and rural life in the colonies.

Poets: Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Phillis Wheatley

Noted Historian: Cotton Mather

Revolutionary Literature

v     Consisted mostly of political pamphlets, arguing for independence.

v     Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense arguing for American independence from Britain.

v     Benjamin Franklin wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac, and an autobiography.

Post Independence

v     The Federalist Papers became a public forum for debate, printed in newspapers, they were widely read and distributed throughout the states, primarily a debate between Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

v     Sentimental Novels – typically revolve around themes of women’s social equality, resisting emotional passions with reason and logic, and emphasizing the goodness of humanity.

v     Susanna Rowson, wrote Charlotte Temple, the best seller of the time. It was a seduction story warning against falling in love.

v     Hannah Webster Foster wrote The Coquette, about a young woman suited by two men. She couldn’t decide which she wanted, and they both married other women, one of them first getting her pregnant with an illegitimate child.

Transcendentalism - 1820-1850

Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement that believed in the goodness of mankind and the corrupting influences of organized society, specifically of the kind of intellectualism supported at Harvard University, and the Unitarian church (intellectualism stresses the importance of logic over emotion and feelings). The term ‘transcendentalist’ first came from critics who thought it transcended sanity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a poet and ex-minister who wrote the essay Nature, saying that man could quit organized religion, or transcend it, by studying nature. Emerson influenced Henry David Thoreau who lived alone in a cabin for two years and wrote his memoir Walden Pond, about the importance of independent thought and nonconformity.

Transcendentalism led to a failed attempt at a utopian society called Brook Farm, outside of Boston. All member would do an equal share of the work, choosing the tasks they preferred, and take an equal share of the profits, believing this would lead to more leisure time for all. It didn’t. They tried to raise money through selling crafts, and teaching, starting a primary and secondary school, but after a fire burned down their (uninsured) central building, the project was ruined.

American Gothic/Dark Romantic Literature – considered anti-Transcendentalism

While transcendentalists could be called optimists, believing in people’s wisdom to make the world better, the dark romantics are more cynical. They portrayed characters whose moral weakness leads to bad decisions, self-destruction, and ruin.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first full-time American writer to earn a living from his writings. He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) wrote The Last of the Mohicans, part of a series of novels called the Leatherstocking series.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) wrote Twice-Told Tales and The Scarlet Letter. He was one of the founders of Brook Farm, but was disillusioned with its failure, writing the satire The Blithedale Romance, where a similar utopian farm is ruined through love triangles and arguments.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): wrote many short stories and poems dealing with death, horror, and one of the first detective stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He also wrote The Raven, Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Fall of the House of Usher. He was an outspoken critic of transcendentalism, and was such a harsh literary critic, he was called the Tomahawk man. Poe became more popular in Europe than America, though a lack of copyright law kept him poor.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote Moby Dick, a whaling voyage that becomes a way for Melville to examine obsession, the nature of evil, and man’s struggle against nature.

Abolition of Slavery

Slavery was legal in the US until emancipation in 1863. It was a source of contention all throughout the 19th century. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was an abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book shows the lives of several slaves, as they are bought and traded, their lives dictated by cruel fate.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was a slave who escaped and wrote about his experiences, surprising Americans with his prose and public speaking skills. He proved that the arguments of slaves’ intellectual inferiority were false, and dedicated his life to promoting equality for all, including women, native Indians, and immigrants.

Fireside Poets

The name for these poets comes from their popularity. Before TV, radio, and cinemas, reading was the most common form of entertainment. Many families would read their poems at home by the fire, and students would memorize them in school. The poems explored domestic life, mythology, and US politics. Mark Twain called them all drunkards in a satirical speech at one of their parties.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878),
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882),
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892),
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894),
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891).

Other Poets: Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote Leaves of Grass
                     Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

American Realism & Naturalism

Mark Twain (1835-1910) actual name Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was the first major American writer not to come from the east coast. He wrote Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Henry James (1843-1916) wrote about Americans living in Europe. He wrote The Turn of the Screw.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900) wrote The Red Badge of Courage.

Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, advocating socialism.


Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote The Age of Innocence.
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) wrote Three Lives.
William Faulkner (1897-1962) wrote in stream of consciousness.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1899-1961) wrote The Great Gatsby.
Ernest Hemingway
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote Grapes of Wrath
Henry Miller (1891-1980) wrote Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn.
John Updike (1932-2009) wrote his Rabbit series
Philip Roth (1933-) wrote the Zuckerman series, American Pastoral
Gore Vidal (1925-2012) wrote Myra Breckinridge, the screenplay Ben-Hur

Poets: Robert Frost (1874-1963),
           Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
           William Carlos Williams (1883-1962)
           Ezra Pound (1885-1972) the fascist
           Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
           Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
           E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
           Hart Crane (1899-1932)
           Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
           W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Post Modern Literature, Post WWII

Richard Wright (1908-1960) wrote Native Son
Harper Lee (1926-) wrote To Kill a Mockingbird
JD Salinger (1919-2010) wrote The Cather in the Rye
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) wrote On the Road
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922-2007) wrote Slaughterhouse-Five
Joseph Heller (1923-1999) wrote Catch-22
Norman Mailer (1923-2007) wrote The Naked and the Dead
Toni Morrison (1931-) wrote The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved
Cormac McCarthy (1933-) wrote The Road, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses.
Thomas Pynchon (1937-) wrote Gravity’s Rainbow


Pop Fiction Genres:

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) wrote science fiction: A Wrinkle in Time
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) wrote science: I Robot
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) wrote science: The Illustrated Man
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) wrote science fiction, most notably Jurrasic Park
Stephen King (1947-) writes stories about horror and fantasy.
John Grisham (1955-) writes novels about crime and lawyers.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Tribe of Ben Jonson - The Cavalier Poets

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) – Shakespeare's Greatest Rival

Ben was very controversial and arrogant. He was a main figure in the "War of the Theatre" between him and other playwrights. He went to jail many times for mocking politicians and for religious reasons. His greatest luck came when King James I came to power. Ben wrote many masques for the royal court - a masque is a kind of play/dance/party where anyone invited can join in. Ben Jonson became England's first poet laureate, and was very popular with his own "tribe" of followers. While he criticized Shakespeare, Ben also respected him, dedicating a poem to Shakespeare in the introduction to his First Folio.

Robert Herrick  (1591-1674) – The Loyalist Vicar

Raised as a goldsmith by his family, Herrick went to St. John’s College and then Trinity Hall. He began writing poems, dedicating five to Ben Jonson. He became a minister in 1623, and then vicar (farár) of the village of Dean Prior. He remained loyal to the king during Cromwell’s Civil War, for which he lost his job. Upon the restoration of Charles II, Herrick appealed and got his old job back. Herrick wrote over 2,500 poems, half of which were published in the book Hesperides. His poems emphasize that life is short, and love is great, so make the most of your time.

Thomas Carew (1595-1640) - Last Name Pronounced "Carey"

Son of a judge, the most interesting anecdote in this man's life was when he was walking with King Charles I to his queen's bedroom. According to legend, he "tripped" and fell as soon as he saw the queen with another man, Lord St. Albans, and King Charles never noticed, as Carew's candle went out as it hit the ground, giving Lord Albans time to hide. This made him good friends with the queen.

Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) - The Card Shark
The son of a diplomat by the same name, Sir John was a soldier and master card player, inventing the game "Cribbage" and winning over £20,000. He was loyal to King Charles I to a fault, even planning to use French soldiers to break in and free Thomas Wentworth. Suckling had to flee to France, where he died mysteriously. Some say he drank poison, fearing poverty.

Richard Lovelace  (1618-1657)

Richard came from a military family, and became a soldier himself. Considered a charming and handsome man, he supported the king, for which he was imprisoned throughout much of the Civil War. He's famous for these lines from his poem, "To Althea, from Prison":

     Stone walls do not a prison make,
     Nor iron bars a cage;
     Minds innocent and quiet take
     That for an hermitage

Chart of Mythological Gods

King of the Gods
Amun, Atum & Ra
Queen of the Gods
Mut & Nebethetepet
God of the Sky/Lightning
Enlil (god of the sky) & Ishkur (god of storms)
also Zeus
also Jupiter
God/Goddess of War
Ninurta (god)
Anhur, Montu & Wepwawet
Freyja (goddess)
Goddess of Love
Ishtar (goddess)
Isis & Qetesh (goddesses)
also Frigg, & Sjöfn
God/Goddess of the Sun
Shamash (god)
Ra & Atum
also Apollo
Sól (goddess)
God/Goddess of the Moon
Nanna (god)
Iah, Khonsu, & Thoth
Diana, also Luna
Máni (god)
God/Goddess of Farming
Enbilulu (god) & Nisaba (goddess)
Renenutet (goddess)
Freyr (god)
God of Wine
Shezmu (god)
God/Goddess of the Sea
Nammu (goddess)
Hapi (god of the Nile flood)
Ægir (god)
God/Goddess of the Underworld
Birdu (god) & Ereshkigal (goddess)
Osiris, Anubis, Apophis & Set
Hel (goddess)

Introduction to Norse Mythology

v     Norse mythology isn't just from Norway. It comes from Scandinavia, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.


v     Norse mythology begins with fire and ice. Muspellsheimr was a world of fire, and Niflheimr was a world of ice. When these two worlds mixed, it created the first Jötunn, a giant named Ymir. Ymir created the first people, Ask and Embla, and he also made other giants.

v     Another god came from this mix of fire and ice, named Búri. He had three sons: Óðinn, Vili and Vé. These three sons killed Ymir and all the other jötnar, except Sól and Máni, the sun and moon.

v     But they didn't kill people. Instead they gave us gifts.

            Óðinn gave us souls.
            Vili gave us intelligence (more would be nice)
            Vé gave us speech, hearing, and sight.

v     These three brothers also created the Earth, from Ymir's body. From his body they made land, and from his blood they made seas and lakes. They made mountains from his bones, and used his skull to hold up the sky.

v     They also put the sun and moon in chariots to circle around the world. To keep them at top speed, Óðinn created two giant wolves to chase them: Hati and Sköll.

v     After building the Earth, Óðinn and his brothers built the palacial world of Ásgarðr. It includes these halls:

            Válaskjálf - Óðinn's hall, from which he can see everywhere.
            Gimli - a golden hall for the souls of good people.
            Valhalla - a hall for the souls of warriors killed in battle.
            Bifröst - the rainbow bridge to get in and out of Ásgarðr. It's guarded by the god Heimdall.

The Universe:

v     From fire and ice also came a cosmic "world tree" named Yggdrasil. It connects nine different worlds together, one being Earth. These nine worlds include:

            Ásgarðr - homeworld of the gods, the Æsir.
            Alfheimr - home of the light elves.
            Jötunheimr - home of the jötnar, the first gods, giants who competed with the Æsir.
            Vanaheimr - home of the vanir, another group of gods who compete with the Æsir.
            Miðgarðr - the Earth, at the center of all the other worlds.
            Muspelheimr - world of fire.
            Niflheimr - the world of mist and cold, home of the Hrímthursar, or frost giants.
            Svartálfar - world of the dökkálfar, or dark elves, and dwarves
            Helheimr - the world of the dead

v     The world tree is cared for by three goddesses called the Norn. When they water it, whatever water falls below becomes rain.

v     There's a giant eagle at the top of the tree. When it flaps its wings, that's where wind comes from.

v     At the bottom of the tree a dragon named Niðhǫggr eats at the tree.

Norse mythology includes a prophecy of a great battle in which many gods will be killed, the worlds will all burn, and then be reborn. Two people will be left to repopulate everything - like Adam and Eve in the Bible.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Robert Frost - Biogrpahy

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

v     Robert Frost was one of America's greatest poets, focusing his work primarily on the rural life of New England. He was heavily influenced by the earlier generation of Fireside Poets.

v     He won four Pulitzer Prizes in his life, and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1960.

v     He was also given over 40 honorary degrees from prestigious universities.

v     His home state of Vermont created the position Poet Laureate of Vermont, so he could be the first.

v     He also read a poem for the inaugeration of president John F Kennedy in 1961.

Personal Life:

Although born in San Francisco, California, his father had strong roots in New England. His ancestors first sailed to New Hampshire in 1634. His father, William, was a teacher and later, the editor to the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. He died of tuberculosis when Robert was eleven, leaving his family with just eight dollars, and so his family then moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his grandfather took care of them. After finishing high school, he attended two months of university before leaving to find work in a factory. But, his true calling was poetry.

At age 20, he sold his first poem for $15 and proposed to the love of his life, Elinor White. They married a year later. They had six children together, although several died tragically. Elinor died of breast cancer in 1938, and Frost never remarried.

At 23, Frost entered Harvard, and studied there three years before leaving due to illness in 1900. This was the same year his mother died of cancer. His grandfather bought him and Elinor a farm, which Frost worked for nine years. Although unsuccessful as a farmer, the poems he wrote early in the mornings would make him famous. He then became a teacher.

In 1912, he and his family moved to England, where he first published his poetry. Ezra Pound wrote good reviews for him. When WWI began, He took his family back to America. As Frost became more popular, he taught at a variety of universities, sold collections of poems, gained awards, got rich, and began buying houses, travelling around the country as the seasons changed.

Frost and his family were plagued by depression. His sister Jeanie was committed in 1920, and his daughter in 1947. He eventually died of prostate cancer, age 89.