Monday, April 21, 2014

Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday is today

Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 in the village of Thornton, West Riding, Yorkshire. Her father, Patrick Brontë, was the son of a respectable Irish farmer in County Down, Ireland. As the eldest son in a large family, Patrick normally would have found his life's work in managing the farm he was to inherit; instead, he first became a school teacher and a tutor and, having attracted the attention of a local patron, acquired training in the classics and was admitted to St. John's College at Cambridge in 1802. He graduated in 1806 and was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1807. In addition to writing the sermons he regularly delivered, Patrick Brontë was also a minor poet, publishing his first book of verse, Cottage Poems, in 1811. His rise from modest beginnings can be attributed largely to his considerable talent, hard work, and steady ambition—qualities his daughter Charlotte clearly inherited.

Charlotte Brontë's earliest experience with school life could not have made teaching seem an attractive career. As Juliet Barker notes in The Brontës (1994), the record of her abilities in the school register hardly suggests that her potential was noticed: "Reads tolerably—Writes indifferently—Ciphers [arithmetic] a little and works [sews] neatly. Knows nothing of Grammar, Geography, History or Accomplishments [such as music, drawing, French]." Since the assessment of every other student is essentially the same, the register tells little about Charlotte but certainly reveals that Cowan Bridge was unlikely to recognize individual talent, much less foster it. The evaluation concludes with a telling comment: "Altogether clever for her age but knows nothing systematically."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez died aged 87

Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate and author of the bestselling novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, died at home in Mexico City on Thursday, age 87. Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, García Márquez’s literary celebrity spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

His flamboyant and melancholy works, including Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera and Autumn of the Patriarch, outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967, sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Wikimedia Commons)
When he accepted the Nobel prize for literature in 1982, García Márquez, described Latin America as a “source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune.

“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Memoirs: My Left Foot by Christy Brown

Published when the author was only 22 years old, My Left Foot is the story of an extraordinary person. Christy Brown was an imaginative, sensitive soul trapped in a body twisted and crippled by cerebral palsy. Barely able to talk, at the age of five he picked up a piece of chalk with his left foot, the only part of the body with any flexibility, and thus began to communicate.

Brown has the Irish gift of storytelling, and writes simply and lirically about his life. At times, when he tells of his feelings of loneliness, entrapment and suffocation, it is heartbreakingly painful. But through painting and writing - with his left foot - he is able to express his pent-up feelings and experience moments of transcendence. One of the most moving scenes is of the candlelight procession at Lourdes, which Brown describes as 'the most beautiful moment of my life'.
The book is not without humour, however. particularly funny are the author's descriptions of his large brood of siblings, who take him on adventures through working-class Dublin in a battered little go-cart named Henry.

Throughout his autobiography, Brown acknowledges the friends and guides who have helped him along the way: social worker Katriona Delahunt, doctor and writer Robert Collis, teacher M. Guthrie, and especially his mother, who from the time he was born, vehemently denied that he was mentally defective and refused to let him be placed in an institution.
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