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From: Today in Literature <list@todayinliterature.com>
Date: Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 3:06 AM
Subject: Sept. 15 - Tennyson, McKay, Nabokov, Rochefoucald
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Tennyson and In Memoriam

Sept 15, 2010
On this day in 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died at the age of twenty-two; in 1850, he would be eulogized in Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H.: “. . . I hold it true, whate'er befall; / I feel it, when I sorrow most; / 'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” [full story]

The Jamaican-American poet and novelist Claude McKay was born on this day in 1889. A central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, McKay's Home to Harlem (1928) was the first novel by a black author to make the best-seller lists. This accomplishment was not applauded on all sides: horrified by the novel’s vivid portrayal of Harlem’s sex-crime-unemployment subculture, W. E. B. Du Bois and many others accused McKay of selling his race out, “under the direction of the White man” who wanted to publish or read such trash. Langston Hughes, on the other hand, regarded the book as “the flower of the Negro Renaissance, even if it is no lovely lilly.” Caught in the “How Shall the Negro Be Portrayed?” debate, McKay threw up his hands: “Between the devil of Negro intellectualism and the deep sea of Negro life stands the Negro artist.”

McKay first came to America on a United Fruit Company passenger-cargo ship. His poem “The Tropics in New York” describes a double dispossession, the speaker unable to either buy the tropical fruit behind the window or return to the homeland which produced it:



Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root
     Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
     Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Sat in the window, bringing memories
     of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
     In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grow dim, and I could no more gaze;
     A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways
     I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

The first edition cover of McKay's 1937 autobiography
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was published in Paris on this day in 1955; below the first, Olympia edition. In his Afterword, this written in 1956 and included in most subsequent editions, Nabokov describes his struggles to find a publisher, and scoffs at the post-publication uproar:

No writer in a free country should be expected to bother about the exact demarcation between the sensuous and the sensual; this is preposterous; I can only admire but cannot emulate the accuracy of judgment of those who pose the fair young mammals photographed in magazines where the general neckline is just low enough to provoke a past master's chuckle and just high enough not to make a postmaster frown. I presume there exist readers who find titillating the display of mural words in those hopelessly banal and enormous novels which are typed out by the thumbs of tense mediocrities and called 'powerful' and 'stark' by the reviewing hack. There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray's assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm….


Old people love to give good advice; it compensates them for their inability to set a bad example.

Duc Francois de la Rochefoucald, who was born on this day in 1613

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