Edgar Allan Poe
One would be hard pressed to come by an author whose works were chilling and scary to the people a hundred years ago and still continue to awe readers of today. That is Edgar Allan Poe for you. A writer’s work invokes shock and surprise even to the modern reader. Poe introduced the field of Detective fiction and has been a source of inspiration for one of the greatest detective fiction writers of all time – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Every year, The Mystery Writers of America bestows “The Edgar Award” for distinguished work in the genre of mystery.
Born to actor parents, one would have believed that he would have led a comfortable life. Nothing could be further from the truth.His father abandoned the family two years after he was born, and the subsequent year brought further misfortune when he lost his mother too. Separated from his siblings and orphaned, he was taken in by John and Frances Allan. John was a successful tobacco merchant. Though Poe grew close to Frances, he could never establish bonds with John. Business and poetry were divergent courses for father and son.
Matters came to a standstill when Poe went for higher education. Allan never sent him funds that would cover all his expenses. One thing led to another and Poe took to gambling to make up the difference, only ending up in a deeper mire. He returned home after the very first semester to the fact that his finance had been engaged to someone else. That was the last straw, distraught and discouraged he left the Allans.
Poe seemed to be at crossroads. He had just published an annymous collection of poems – Tamerlane and Other Poems and had also enlisted in the Army. He wanted to go to West Point, a military academy where he did manage to find a spot. Before making it to West Point, he had published his second collection – Al Aaraaf, Tamberlane, and Minor Poems. Though he excelled in studies, his dereliction of duties led to his summarily dismissal a year later. This was when he turned his attention to full time writing.
He moved around the United States in pursuit of opportunity. That is when while staying with his Aunt in Baltimore, he married her daughter, his cousin Virginia. Viriginia was barely 14 years old then and became his source of love and inspiration. Poe then went to work for magazines as a critic. As before, this association was also not to last long. His scathing criticism and brutal reviews of other authors did not go well with the magazine. Two years hence, he was asked to leave.
This was when Poe came out with some of his greatet work, a collection of stories – Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. This collection contained a number of of his most spine chilling narratives – “William Wilson”, “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue ” served as the foundation stone for detective fictiion and soon he was bestowed a literary prize for “The Gold Bug”. A tale of suspense and intrigue.
Two years later in 1845, Poe became a sensation. His publication of “The Raven”, a poem that explored death and loss is considered as one of the finest American literary work. Poe’s woes though were far from over. Being one of the first writers who tried to live only off his writing, he had never been financially stable. 1847, brought the loss of the one person whom he adored, his wife Virginia. This was too much for him to take.
Fact they say is sometimes stranger than fiction. Poe’s death also is somewhat of a mystery akin to the stories he wrote. In 1849, he was to travel to Phiadelphia but was found in Baltimore – suffering. He was taken to a hospital but breathed his last soon. His death a subject of perpetual conjecture
His works have influenced literature in the United States and around the world. They continue to be rendered through music, films, and television.
Regrettably though, the genius of Edgar Allan Poe went unrecognized most of his life. The Raven finally soars high.
All the difference
Poignant, stoic, ironic and evocative. Just some of the words that rush into a reader’s mind when a Robert Frost poem is recited. Meaning so deep, yet conveyed in words so simple that even a young child could easily read. Such was the wonder of this man.
Even though he attended college, he never earned a formal degree. He tried his hand at many an occupation – a teacher, a cobbler and as an editor, before marrying his high school sweetheart ‘Elinor’ in 1895. Together they moved to England in 1912 after trying and failing at farming. Elinor served as a great source of inspiration to his poetry right until her death in 1938.
The life and the background of New England would seem to have influenced his work, but it does not end there. His depictions of rural life and his introspection of intricate philosophical themes put him in a league of his own. He was someone who stayed true to the traditional verse form of writing unlike other contemporaries of his time who were swayed with changing styles.
His interpretations expressed in the simple spoken language are inherently complex and speak volumes of the deep understanding of human psychology that Frost possessed. His poems conveyed an extensive range of human experience which may have been in part due to his personal life that was beleaguered with pain and loss. He had lost his father when he was only 11, his mother to cancer, his sister, and his daughter had to be committed to a mental hospital. Of the six children he was blessed with, only two outlived him, and he also lost his beloved wife to a heart failure perpetuated by cancer.
He had published two full-length collections before he returned to the United States in 1915. By then his standing as one of the greats had already been proven. By 1920, he had become the most acclaimed and celebrated poet in America. Each new book only served to increase his fame Also bringing with them four Pulitzer Prizes. In 1960, he was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor conferred by the United States Congress for his poetic works.
For forty-two years, Frost continued to write, teach and lecture. Ironic most would think for a man who never earned a formal degree, he has been honored with over 40 honorary degrees. His work has been attributedas a major source of inspiration to the development of writing programs at the schools he taught.
His life could be visualized through the very words of his oft-quoted poem – The road not taken.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Long live Robert Frost. For his words that will endure forever and for all the difference he has made to many a life.
The Great Expectations of Charles Dickens
To be considered a literary genius by both scholars and critics alike is an accomplishment only a select few can even dare dream of. Charles Dickens has managed that and more.Through countless ages, Dickens work has captured the hearts and the imaginations of all those who have read his stories. A man with great expectations in the Victorian Era may not have seen a novelist more prolific than him.
Born over two centuries ago in 1812, Charles Dickens has created fictional characters so whimsical and iconic that have stood the test of time.None may still match the master storyteller for his supreme authority over prose, humor and satire, the portrayal of the lives of his characters and the depiction of social causes. His popularity can be judged by the fact that a number of his classics have either been televised or have been immortalized on the big screen.
Without a great deal of formal education to bolster him, Dickens still went on to author over 15 novels and hundreds of short stories both fiction and non. His repertoire of work also include a number of novellas and plays. He spent over 20 years editing a weekly journal, lecturing and campaigning forcefully for a number of social causes. He worked ferociously for various social reforms – children’s rights and education being on top of the list. He has often been considered a spokesman for the poor, the exploited and the disadvantaged, as he brought considerable awareness to their predicament,.
His vehement work for the rights of children and their education are a reflection of the hardships he endured as a child. While schooling, he had been forced to work in a factory having to forgo his education. His only crime being that he was the son of a man who had debts that could not be repaid.
‘The Pitwick Papers’ was what started his jourey to fame. A few years hence and he was acclaimed as an international literary luminary. His serial form of writing, where he would pen his stories in weekly or monthly portions became the de-facto mode of writing during his era. A keen observer, he would incorporate feedback from his readers and change his storyline to suit the tastes of the majority. So intriguing were his stories, woven with current events that he introduced reading to an entirely new audience- the unlettered poor. They would flock to buy these periodic installments, to have them read out by someone who could.
‘Oliver Twist’, “David Copperfield”, “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations” are just a few of his works that fortify his legacy as one of the greatest storytellers that the world may ever see. To have risen from obscurity to achieve what he has is the story of his expectations – the Great Expectations of Charles Dickens.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’
Even in the hyper-active world we live in there are certain quotes whose usage is second nature – Slow but steady wins the race; Necessity is the mother of invention; a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush; once bitten, twice shy; beauty is only skin deep; birds of a feather flock together; every man for himself; one good turn deserves another and think before you act. Quotes that have become part of our daily language.
Rarely does a day pass when you would not hear one of these oft-mentioned quotes being repeated. Hard to believe, but all these quotes come from the work of one man.
One may be hard-pressed to come by anyone who has not heard or read about the “The Boy who Cried Wolf” or the “Ant and the Grasshopper”. Two of the many fables that have stood the test of time, considering the fact that its author had written them sometime between the 620 to 560 BC. And it is not a small body of work by any stretch of the imagination. The author’s fables number more than 600. Not many though may recollect the man behind these beloved and much read Fables – Aesop.
Mystery shrouds Aesop’s existence. Was he actually real or was someone using a pseudonym has been a matter of debate. Aesop does find mention in Greek History and if someone were to pen his life, it would make pretty interesting reading.
Aesop was believed to be a slave in ancient Greece who through his wit and story-telling abilities attained freedom. His intelligence soon bought him the favor of the ruling kings, and he became a trusted adviser to them. Word has it that he was afflicted with many physical deformities and also had a strikingly unpleasant countenance. It was his wit and story-telling abilities that saw him through many a punishment. It is said that he would often regale his persecutors with stories of great irony and in turn earn his freedom. As his oft used quote – “Necessityis the mother of invention’. He was a master at inventing stories, conjuring them up at moments when he needed them most. Especially when his own life was at stake.
His fables comprise mostly of animals. Animals that talk and behave like humans but still have all their individual personalities. With stories that are simple and easy to read, they are a fond favorite with children. There isn’t any breathtaking visual imagery nor are there scenes of magnificence. There are no wars or battles and no sights of gory destruction. Yet his fables hold your attention and are entwined with a rich moral fabric. Every story ending with its own moral. Morals whose significance have only increased with the passage of time. Morals that our world so desperately needs today.
No wonder that his fables have stood the test of time.
And then there were none like Agatha
The best-selling novelist of all time. That’s how the Guinness Book of World Records lists Agatha Christie. Her books have sold over 2 billion copies and continue to sell like hot cakes. Over 30 of her novels have been turned into blockbuster movies and a score of others have been televised and adapted for radio. Though she breathed her last in 1976, her crime novel the “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” was adjudged the best crime novel ever in 2013.
No small feat for a woman who never set foot in a formal school.
Always at home and being tutored by a governess, she was a shy child. A trait commonly found in children who have not had the opportunity to mingle with their peer group. Agatha was a bright child. One who created her own games to keep herself occupied. She turned to music being unable to express her feelings and later took up writing as a means of giving vent.
Her work spawns crime novels, short stories and even playwright. Yet she is best known for the 66 detective novels she has penned. It all started during the first World War. Agatha had married a fighter pilot when she was just 24. He had left to serve in the war while she worked as a nurse. It was in the hospital that she hit upon the idea of writing a detective novel. It took her another five years to get it published. The rest, as they say, is history.
This first attempt was “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”. In 1920, the world was introduced to the retired Belgian police officer – Hercule Poirot. A character that had grown as the writer put in her own words – over the years and course of 33 novels and 50 short stories- from being ‘insufferable’ to a ‘detestable, ego-centric little creep’. A character who was so loved for his eccentricities by readers that he may remain the only fictional character who had an obituary in the New York Times and on the front page at that.
In 1930, after her second marriage to Max Mallowan, an archaeologist, she gave her readers another adored character. Miss Jane Marple. A lady who despite her age and frailties was blessed with intuition and an incredibly sharp mind. Over the course of 12 novels. Miss Marple solved many a mystery using those two very tools.
Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple remain some of her finest creations. An antithesis of what most people would envision a detective to be. One a short-statured, slightly portly character with impeccable taste in clothes, a limp and a most perfect waved moustache. The other an elderly spinster who could otherwise never be envisaged by any to have the keen sense or abilities so needed of a detective.
In 1939, she came out with a book she called the most difficult to write. “And then there were none” –turned out to be her best selling novel with over a 100 million copies sold. It also happens to be one of the best-selling books of all time.
Trust Agatha Christie to write a book like that.. but then there were none like Agatha.