Remembering Virginia Woolf

She was an author, essayist, critic, a thought-provoking feminist and literary pioneer. She is most famous for her novels Mrs. Dolloway and To The Lighthouse. She is considered one of the most important modernist writers of the 20th century and among the first to use stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

** CAUTION! TRIGGER WARNING!!! ** The following essay contains references to suicide and sexual abuse.

Virginia Woolf died on this day. March 28, 1941, by suicide. After writing a note to her husband, Leonard Woolf, she walked to the nearby River Ouse, filled her pockets with heavy stones, then walked into the water and drowned. Her suicide note reads:

“Dearest,

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”

What led to the suicide? What was the terrible disease, and what caused the voices in her head? To answer these questions, I did some sleuthing into Virginia Woolf’s life.

Virginia Woolf (Adeline Virginia Stephen) was born on January 25, 1882, into an affluent household in South Kensington, London. She was the seventh child in a blended family. Her mother, Julia (Jackson Duckworth) Stephen had three children from her previous marriage to Herbert Duckworth, who had died. These children were: George (age fourteen at the time of Virginia’s birth) Stella (age thirteen at the time of Virginia’s birth) and Gerald (age twelve at the time). Her father, Leslie Stephen, had a daughter named Laura, from his previous wife Harriet Thackaray who died in childbirth. Julia and Leslie then had four children of their own: Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian. The Stephen family had many artistic and literary members, including famous Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who was Virginia’s great aunt.

Virginia playing cricket with Vanessa 1894
Virginia with sister Vanessa in 1894

Death, Depression and Devastation

Virginia was home schooled. She learned English Classics and Victorian Literature, Mathematics and Science. The family spent summers in Cornwall, which later became a great influence on her writing. The Godrevy Lighthouse in Cornwall was the inspiration for her novel To The Lighthouse.

Virginia’s childhood might seem idyllic, but there was darkness lurking in the corners. In 1895, her mother died of influenza. Julia was just thirteen years old and the death shattered her. (Virginia’s half brothers George and Gerald would have been twenty-seven and twenty-five, respectively.) She sank into a severe depression, which was to be the first of many. Just two years later, her half sister Stella (who had been a mother figure to Virginia) also died. This too was a devastating blow that really affected Virginia.

Vanessa, Stella and Virginia, circa 1897

Despite her depression and grieving, in 1897 Virginia enrolled in the Women’s Department of King’s College, London. She studied there for four years. It was there she came in contact with early reformers of the women’s right’s movement, which would later influence her writing as well.

In 1904, Virginia’s father died. She was then said to suffer a “full blown nervous breakdown” and was hospitalized. These three family deaths no doubt affected Virginia’s mental state for the rest of her life. Some historians believed she may have suffered from bi-polar disorder (although at the time psychology did not yet have a name for it.)

Bohemian Rhapsody

After the death of their father, the four Stephens siblings (now all twenty-somethings) moved to Bloomsbury, known as the “Bohemian” section of London. They lived independently of George and Gerald Duckworth. Or perhaps, more accurately, Virginia had finally escaped cruel treatment from her half-brothers… Something sinister had been going on in Virginia’s childhood home. She would hint at it later in her autobiographical writings.

Fortunately, the four siblings were wealthy and had a lot of time to paint, write, entertain, and engage in artistic pursuits. They began hosting weekly gatherings of what were considered “radical” young people. These avant-garde parties and the people attending them came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. Participants included art critic Clive Bell (who Virginia’s sister Vanessa would later marry) writer Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keyes. The irreverent and sometimes bawdy gatherings encouraged Virginia to speak out and exercise her sharp wit (which was still rather frowned upon in Victorian circles.)

Some Bloomsbury members
The Bloomsbury Group, early 1900s

Through her Bloomsbury friends, Virginia became interested in radical new art forms such as Surrealism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. The artwork would later influence her writing. She claimed she wanted to write in a language that was “some kind of whole, made of shivering fragments,” and could capture “the flight of the mind.”

But what was actually going on in Virginia’s mind? What kind of flight was taking place, and why?

Left Duncan Grant - Portrait of Vanessa Bell Right Vanessa Bell - Flowers
Left, a portrait of Vanessa Bell, 1917 by Duncan Grant. Right “flowers” by Vanessa Bell

Virginia began writing critical reviews of literature for the Times Literary Supplement and other journals. She never used her real name, and instead signed her reviews as “Anonymous”. Interestingly later in her book A Room of One’s Own, she would claim “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

It was during this time that Virginia got the idea to “re-form” the standard novel. She wanted to create a “holistic” form embracing “aspects of life that were fugitive from the Victorian novel.” She attempted to write such a novel, and it would later be published as The Voyage Out, the tale of a sheltered young woman who embarks on an excursion to South America and is introduced to freedom and sexuality.

Marriage, Demons and More Death

Through the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia became acquainted with, and fell in love with, Leonard Woolf, a writer and political activist. They married in August, 1912.

Shortly after, Virginia began to have bouts of severe depression. She was plagued with irrational fears, and worried that she was a “failure as a writer and a woman.” She also believed her sister Vanessa hated her and that Leonard did not love her. These obsessions provoked a suicide attempt in September 1913.

What followed was an extremely productive period. The Woolfs bought their own printing press and published books, including the works of T.S. Elliot and Sigmund Freud, from their basement. Between 1924 and 1940, Virginia wrote her most popular novels including To The Lighthouse, Mrs. Dolloway, and Orlando.

Yet her demons were never far behind. During the thirty years of her marriage, Virginia continued to see a variety of doctors and mental health professionals for her illnesses. Reportedly, she made several more suicide attempts during this time. She suffered from hallucinations, as well as periods of both mania and depression.

Virginia tried various psychiatric treatments, but nothing worked. One of these treatments even involved pulling several of her teeth out — it was believed at the time that mental illness was associated with dental infection! It must have been a living hell. In her diaries and letters, Woolf provided a vivid picture of her symptoms and how she tried to reconcile them.  “But it is always a question whether I wish to avoid these glooms… These 9 weeks give one a plunge into deep waters… One goes down into the well & nothing protects one from the assault of truth.”  

For Virginia, writing was actually a therapy that helped her cope with her mental illness.  “The only way I keep afloat… is by working… Directly (when) I stop working I feel that I am sinking down, down. And as usual, I feel that if I sink further I shall reach the truth.

What was this horrible “truth” she kept referring to?

Sinking under water was Woolf’s metaphor for both the effects of depression and psychosis— but also for finding truth. Ironically, it was through drowning that she ultimately ended her own life.

Surrealist photography, Siegert Collection

Was There More to the Story?

More recent biographers have pointed out that Virginia’s mental illnesses may have been caused by childhood sexual abuse. Her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell, states that Virginia’s nervous breakdowns and recurring depressive periods were a result of this abuse. Allegedly, Virginia and her sister Vanessa were continually molested by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth.

Is it true?

It is entirely plausible.

In her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and “22 Hyde Park Gate”, Virginia tells of George’s nighttime prowling, and even describes him as her first lover. She states: “The old ladies of Kensington and Belgravia never knew that George Duckworth was not only father and mother, brother and sister to those poor Stephen girls; he was their lover also.”

In the veiled world of Victorian sensibilities, Woolf may have not had the courage to write about the abuse specifically.

Biographers have pointed out that when Stella died in 1897, there was no no one left to control George’s torment of his young sisters. This would explain Virginia’s severe depression and breakdown after the deaths of Stella and her mother.

According to Virginia Woolf’s History of Sexual Victimization: A Case Study in Light of Current Research by Lucia C. A. Williams, Department of Psychology, Federal University of São Carlos, São Carlos, Brazil:

Virginia Woolf was “an incest survivor” (DeSalvo, 1990: p. 1). She was sexually abused by her two older half brothers George and Gerald Duckworth, according to her own testimony. DeSalvo (1989) characterizes the abuse reported by Woolf as being “extremely traumatic”, and identifies variables which may be categorized in this case study as the following risk factors: 1) “she was abused when young” (p. 8); 2) the abuse had long duration (it started when Woolf was about six or seven, and only stopped when she was 24); 3) “it probably involved many incidents” (p. 8); 4) the abuse was perpetrated by close trusted members of the family, that is, it was incestuous in nature; 5) there was more than one perpetrator; and 6) “another member of the family was also abused” (p. 8), referring to Woolf’s sister Vanessa.

You can read the report for yourself HERE https://file.scirp.org/pdf/PSYCH_2014081809564684.pdf

It does seem highly unlikely that Virginia Woolf would use such terms to describe her brother if incest had not taken place. And it certainly would explain her mental illness. I also wonder why more hasn’t been written about this.

What we know for sure is Virginia Woolf was an accomplished writer, a trail blazer, a woman of many talents and a literary innovator. We honor her on this day, the anniversary of her tragic death.

I will leave you with this telling quote:

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

— Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf in 1927

Happy Birthday Charles Perrault!

He was called the “French father of fairy tales”, a politician turned story-teller who is largely responsible for the popularity of fantasies such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Over one hundred years before the Brothers Grimm cemented German culture and language in their chilling and horrific retellings, Charles Perrault introduced what came to be known in 17th century book circles as “a new literary genre” — the Fairy Tale.

Primed For Politics

Charles Perrault was born on this day, January 12, 1628. Ironically, he was the seventh child (sometimes considered to be clairvoyants) born into a wealthy Parisian family. His father and brothers before him had been government employees, and young Charles was groomed from birth to follow in their footsteps.

He studied Law at prestigious universities and had a reputation for his quick mind and wit. He served in the court of King Louis XIV and in 1663 he was appointed as a secretary to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, a society devoted to Humanities. He was later appointed to the Académie Française, a council which oversaw all matters regarding French language and literature. He persuaded the King to bring his brother Claude into court, where Claude famously became a designer for the Louvre.

Perrault was well aware of how to use clout and wield influence. His connections to people in high places helped cement his family’s place in elite society. Interestingly, years later, Perrault would write Puss in Boots — a tale of a determined cat who uses wit and charm to elevate his lowly owner to a high position.

Perrault’s writing talents were obvious. In 1668, he wrote La Peinture (Painting) to honor the king’s first painter, Charles Le Brun. In 1670 he wrote Courses de tetes et de bague (Head and Ring Races), to commemorate celebrations staged by King Louis in honor of his mistress, Louise Francoise, Duchess de La Valliere.

Perrault also had a hand in designing the layout of the gardens of Versailles. In 1669 he advised King Louis to include thirty-nine fountains. Each fountain represented one of Aesop’s Fables. Water jets spouted from the animals’ mouths, intended to give the impression the creatures were talking to one another.

Years later, Perrault would write of more talking animals — seductive wolves, slick cats, birds and rabbits who could be commanded to do a human’s will.

Dangerous Liaisons

In the 1670’s an intellectual dispute began in the Académie Française between the “Ancients” and the “Moderns”. This was known, quite famously, as Le Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes. It caused sharp divisions and much debate, not to mention bruised egos and political manipulation. The central argument was over which was to be valued more — “modern” art, created by contemporaries, or the “ancient” tried and true classics.

Perrault sided with the Moderns, taking the position that civilization, literature, art and culture must evolve together. He wrote a poem,  Le Siècle de Louis le Grand  (“The Age of Louis the Great”) which honored modern writers such as Moliere and Francois de Malherbe. Perrault saw these writers as greater than those of ancient Greece and Rome. Perrault’s stand was a landmark in the eventually successful revolt against the confines and restrictions of traditions. Interestingly, the French Revolution, overthrowing the “old monarchy” in favor of the “new rule” of liberty, would also take place in Perrault’s lifetime.

Father of Fairy Tales

Tensions at court between Perrault and his boss, the finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, eventually drove Perrault from court. He retired early, in 1682 at age fifty-six. It was then that he began to devote more time to his children. (Perrault had married late in life, at age forty-four. His bride, just nineteen years old, sadly died a few years later, leaving him with three young children.).

Perrault enjoyed telling the children folk tales which had been passed on by oral tradition. These stories were told in salons and had become very popular in France. Although Perrault is credited for introducing the “fairy tale” as a new literary genre, the term was actually coined by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel, Baroness d’Aulnov, who was writing stories of this nature as early as 1690.

Eventually, Perrault published his own versions of the oral traditions in his collection Tales of Mother Goose.

Interestingly, Mother Goose has never been identified as a real person, but several goddesses have been associated with her. The Alpine goddess Berchta, who is said to have one goose foot, is often thought to personify her.

Perrault’s stories, particularly his versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Blue Beard, emphasize the dark side of human nature. They offer the lesson that success can be achieved if one can maintain virtue — even though the world is full of cruelty, trickery, chicanery and decrepit morals. Some scholars have suggested that Perrault used his fairy tale “spin” to reflect the evil nature of human beings, as he had experienced in his long career in politics.

Wolves, Beauties, Castles and Cats

One of Perrault’s most beloved tales is Little Red Riding Hood. It was written as a warning to readers about men preying on young girls walking through the forest. For anyone who has forgotten — Little Red goes out into the dangerous woods to deliver some goodies to her sick Grandma. She gets sidetracked by a conniving wolf. The wolf sneaks away and arrives at Granny’s house before Red, then actually poses as Granny, luring Red into more trouble. (It doesn’t end well.)

Perrault ends his tale with a moral, cautioning women and young girls about the dangers of trusting men. He states, “Watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves/ Are the most dangerous of all… I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are, of all such creatures, the most dangerous!”

In Perrault’s version, Little Red even goes so far as to get in bed with the Bad Wolf. This results in her being eaten alive. (Disney it is NOT!)  

Perrault remained true to his principles of favoring the “modern” over the “ancient.” He updated the ancient folk tales to fit his current audience (albeit the 17th century.) He used images and characters taken from everyday life. For example, his palace for Sleeping Beauty was modeled after the Chateau Usse, a French castle that would have been recognizable to his readers.

In Puss in Boots, the Marquis de Carabas was modeled after Claude Gouffier, the real-life Marquis of Caravaz. Perrault’s stories are full of quips, details, asides, and subtexts. Many of these are drawn from the contemporary world of fashion. (Very important to 17th c French Society,)

Happily Ever After

Charles Perrault died in 1703 at age seventy-five. This was just eight years after his first fairy tales were published. His works continue to be popular to this day, best known for their easy-to read style, creativity and deep cutting moral lessons. The Mother Goose collection was translated into English by Robert Samber in 1729.

Happy Birthday Charles! Thanks for the forbidden forests, spectacular spells and magnificent magic!

Anais Nin: Writer, Wildcat, Bigamist and Bon Vivant

 

She was an author, a philosopher, a makeshift psychoanalyst, a flamenco dancer, an actress and an international woman of mystery. Her love affairs were legendary, and her tell-all erotica is hailed by critics as the finest ever written.

Born To Be Wild

Anais Nin, birth name “Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell” (you can see why she shortened it!) was born on this day, February 21, 1903 in Nueilly, France. Her father, Joaquín Nin, was Cuban pianist of Spanish descent, and her mother Rosa Culmell, was a Cuban singer of French and Danish descent. Even at birth she seemed destined for an artistic life which would lead her across continents. 

Sadly, her parents separated when Anais was only two years old. Rosa then took Anais and her brothers to Barcelona and later New York City.  Anais began high school but dropped out at age sixteen. She then worked as an artists model.

In 1923, she found herself living in Havana, Cuba. It was there she met and married her first husband, Hugh Parker Guiler.

The couple moved to Paris. Hugh was a banker and sometime artist who dabbled in film making.  During this time Anais began to pursue her interest in writing. She kept volumes of scandalous diaries which would later be published as part of her erotic collections. Her first published work, however, was a critical evaluation of author D. H. Lawrence called D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. 

She also studied Flamenco dancing.

The Psyche and The Pen

Anais became interested in psychoanalysis. With the onset of new research and practices, the human mind was now Freud’s territory, ripe for childhood trauma and sexual symbolism. Anais studied with prominent doctors René Allendy and Otto Rank. Both men eventually became her lovers.  It was a somewhat “sophisticated” kind of hanky panky, bordering on mentorship (at least according to Nin.)  She said of Otto Rank:

“As he talked, I thought of my difficulties with writing, my struggles to articulate feelings not easily expressed. Of my struggles to find a language for intuition, feeling, instincts which are, in themselves, elusive, subtle, and wordless.”

Nin eventually found her voice, later publishing several novels, journals and short stories including Winter of Artifice, A Café in Space, The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Delta of Venus, Little Birds and Under a Glass Bell. 

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
― Anais Nin

Bohemian Rhapsody

During her years in Paris, Anais led an unconventional lifestyle which was almost systematically removed from her husband Hugh. (Reportedly, Hugh requested that he never be mentioned in any of her published diaries.)

Anais slid into a literary circle which included Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Gore Vidal, James Agee, and Lawrence Durrell. She had love affairs with some of them. Even steadfast homosexual Gore Vidal was known to write her romantic letters. Most famously, Nin was involved with Henry Miller. She also seems to have fallen in love with Henry’s wife June, an irresistible, cunning and beautiful femme fatale.  Their relationship is one of much speculation, and was examined in the 1990 film Henry and June. 

Anais was obsessed with June, often using her as an archetype in her fiction. In her diary Henry and June Anais wrote poetically and reverently of her infatuation, even stating, “I have become June.” Although Anais denied having an affair with June, she continuously gave her money, jewelry and clothing, even to the point of leaving her own self broke for June’s benefit.

In the summer of 1939, with the Nazis closing in and the threat of war, Anais and Hugh left Paris and relocated to New York City. There Anais continued her sexual escapades. She reunited with her old psychoanalyst, Otto Rank, and moved into his apartment.  (The relationship between Anais and Hugh is unclear at this point. Maybe he realized he simply could not control her, or maybe he no longer cared.)

While living with Otto,  Anais actually began to act as a psychoanalyst herself. She “counseled”  patients in the room next to Rank’s, and also had sex with them on the psychoanalytic couch!

After several months, even the voracious wildcat Anais could not keep up the pace.  She quit, stating: “I found that I wasn’t good because I wasn’t objective. I was haunted by my patients. I wanted to intercede.”

L.A. Woman

In 1947, while still living in America and still married to Hugh, Anais met the actor Rupert Pole.  After a chance encounter in a Manhattan elevator, the two ended up dating and traveled to California together.

Anais was sixteen years older than Pole.  On March 17, 1955,  even though she was still married to Hugh, Anais married  Pole in Quartzsite, Arizona! She then lived with him in Los Angeles.

What was Hugh doing all this time? Well, he either was clueless, or he pretended to be clueless. Biographer Deirdre Bair alleges that Hugh knew everything, but “chose not to know”. Anais referred to her simultaneous marriages as her “bicoastal trapeze”. She wove a wild web around it. 

According to Deidre Bair: “Anais would set up these elaborate façades in Los Angeles and in New York, but it became so complicated that she had to create something she called the ‘lie box’. She had this absolutely enormous purse and in the purse she had two sets of checkbooks. One said ‘Anais Guiler’ for New York and another said ‘Anais Pole’ for Los Angeles. She had prescription bottles from California doctors and New York doctors with the two different names. And she had a collection of file cards. And she said, ‘I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight.'”

In 1966, Nin had her marriage with Pole annulled, due to the legal issues arising from both Guiler and Pole trying to claim her as a dependent on their federal tax returns. (Yep. The IRS will get you ever time! 🙂 )

However, Anais continued to live with Pole until her death in 1977.

Believe it or not, love was not lost between Anais and Hugh. Prior to her death, Anais wrote to Hugh asking for his forgiveness. He wrote back that his life had been “more meaningful” because of her.  

A Jill of All Trades

In addition to her writing, Anais’ artistic endeavors also included work as an actress. In 1946 she appeared in the Maya Deren film Ritual in Transfigured Time. In 1952  she starred in Bells of Atlantis, a film directed by her husband Hugh under the name “Ian Hugo”.  In 1954 she had a role in the Kenneth Anger film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. 

When the Feminist Movement exploded in the 1960’s, Nin’s writing was examined under a new lens. She became something of a feminist icon. She was a popular lecturer and spoke at various universities. Anais herself, however, refused to be politically active and disassociated herself from Feminism. In 1973 she  received an honorary doctorate from the Philadelphia College of Art. She was  elected to the United States National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1974, and in 1976 was presented with a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year award.

She even had a perfume named after her, Anais Anais by Cacherel!

Sadly, Anais was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1974.  She died  at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 14, 1977.

Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay in Mermaid Cove.  This brings me to my favorite Nin quote:

 

Happy Birthday Anais! You were one of a kind.

 

 

 

 

National Book Lovers’ Day!

 

Are you a reader? Are you an obsessive reader?  Do you become enmeshed in the other worlds of fantasy, futuristic sci-fi or dystopian societies? Do you like heady romances, frightening horror, or historical recreations? Perhaps you like thought provoking non-fiction, or the vicarious thrill of a good biography.  If so, you are in luck. Today, August 9th, is National Book Lovers Day!

While the nay-sayers keep trying to convince us that the art of reading is dead, book publishing and its various forms continue to thrive. And why wouldn’t it? Ever since the dawn of time, humankind has loved story.

The Need to Read 

Storytelling has always been a part of human culture. Some scientists believe as far as 60,000 years ago our ancestors, the Neanderthals, were making their own crude attempts at it.

Cave painting was perhaps the first form of story telling. It can be dated back to around 40, 000 years ago.  The oldest known cave painting is that of a bull in  Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Was there a tale that went along with the bull? Most likely.  “Once upon a time, Jack took his cow to the market in search of some magic beans…”

For thousands of years, oral tradition has existed among the ancients. Eventually they developed the tools to keep the stories in print.  In around 3000 BC, the people of  Mesopotamia developed round cylinder seals for rolling images onto clay tablets.  Societies in China and Egypt also created small stamps that were used to print on cloth. In around  the second century A.D., a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun is credited for first inventing paper.

The oldest European book in existence was taken from the grave of Saint Cuthbert in the year 1104. The book contains the Gospel of John in Latin. It is believed that the book was buried with Cuthbert in around the seventh century. This leather bound gem is in excellent shape, considering its age!

Throughout the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century, woodcuts were used for printing in Europe and Asia. Reproduction was a tedious and laborious task taken on by scribes. But in 1440, a miracle happened. A man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press was the first device which used movable type to produce books. It revolutionized publishing.

The press was vastly modernized over the next few hundred years, creating news print, typewriters and eventually the keyboards we have today. Nonetheless, if you are a book lover, you have Gutenberg to thank for the printed word as we know it.

Great Books

Reading frees the mind,  reels the senses and opens doors to the imagination.  What is your favorite book? Perhaps you have several. Here’s my short list, in no particular order:

** Dracula by Bram Stoker. Oh you have never known horror and apprehension until you have read it! Enter the dark abyss of Castle Dracul where the infamous Count lives among his howling wolves and coffins.

** The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Travel down to New Orleans and become acquainted with the creepy Mayfair sisters. Dark and diabolical things have long occurred in their mansion home, not the least of which are murder and ghost sightings.

** The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Enter the ritzy world of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in 1920’s New York. Daisy keeps a passionate secret regarding neighbor Jay Gatsby, with whom she once had a doomed love affair. Can she rekindle it, now that Jay has amassed a fortune and is on a level playing field with the Buchanans?

** On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Hit the highway with Sal Paradise as he travels the road of America in tears, all the way to Frisco to hang out with some hip cats, perhaps better known as Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.

** Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The moors are alive with haunting and torment, as Heathcliff, who was once a nice little orphan, turns into an abusive tyrant who can never reconcile his lost love.

** Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  On the cliffs of Cornwall, the newly married narrator is inundated with memories of her  husband’s first wife Rebecca, who died in a mysterious boating accident. Or did she? The creepy housekeeper will do her best to drive our heroine insane.

** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  It’s not just for children! Travel down the rabbit hole with Alice, a girl to be reckoned with.  She comes of age, questions authority and learns to stand up for herself. Among the mad tea parties, faux beheadings and painted roses there lurks political satire, as well as cutting commentary about human nature.

My list could go on and on. What about you? Let me know your favorites in the comments! And whatever you do, take some time out today to enjoy a book 🙂

 

 

Free Horror Anthology! (For a limited time.)

 

Dark Visions

With just twenty-five days to go before Halloween, I am pleased to announce the release of our second annual Horror Anthology, Dark Visions!

It will be available on Amazon on October 15. And I have a proposition for you.

We are looking for ARC’s  (advanced-copy-readers) who would be willing to read a free download of the book and post an honest review on Amazon for the release date.

Such a deal!  You’d be crazy to refuse.

I mean, like, really crazy.

 

As you may recall, last year I teamed up with author/editor Dam Alatorre and a group of very talented writers to bring you The Box Under The Bed.

This year, we have an even bigger and better anthology, full of spine tingling tales to haunt your dreams and nightmares.

If you are a horror loving loving lunatic like me, and would like to read this, please CONTACT ME through this blog.

I will need your email, but don’t worry, no one will see it except me. And I am sworn to secrecy. By Vito.

I will then send you a link for your FREE download.

Are you up for the challenge?

In case you’re wondering what you’ll get — here is a list of our stories. (Yes, three by me. Not one, three.)

Prologue: Now Comes Death, part one

  1. The Corner Shop – Dan Alatorre
  2. The Stranger – Allison Maruska
  3. The Right Time To Move On – Jenifer Ruff
  4. Devil’s Hollow – Adele Marie Park
  5. Where The Black Tree Grows – MD Walker
  6. The Storm – J A Allen
  7. The Bloody Dogwood Tree – Dabney Farmer
  8. Ghosts Of Tupelo – Sharon Cathcart
  9. Cabin 5 – Heather Kindt
  10. Bella And Button – Allison Maruska
  11. Doll’s Play – Bonnie Lyons
  12. Spirit Lake – Sharon Connell
  13. Ice Cream – Geoff LePard
  14. A Glimpse Of The Monster – Anne Marie Andrus
  15. A Best Selling Lie – Christine Valentor
  16. Normal Things – BA Helberg
  17. Roadkill – Ernesto San Giacomo
  18. Behind The Leather Apron – Alana Turner
  19. Clicking And Clacking – Nick Vossen
  20. The Haunting Of William – Robbie Cheadle
  21. Where The Power Hides – Anne Marie Andrus
  22. Nightmare Man – Betty Valentine
  23. The Willow Tree – Robbie Cheadle
  24. The Changeling – Christine Valentor
  25. What If – Geoff LePard
  26. Swimming – Frank Parker
  27. The Call – Juliet Nubel
  28. La Garconniere – Bonnie Lyons
  29. Lucifer’s Revenge – Christine Valentor
  30. The Nightmare – Lori Micken
  31. Who Am I – Chuck Jackson
  32. The Documentary – Ellen Best
  33. The Doctor’s Walk – Betty Valentine
  34. Excavation Murder – Victoria Clapton

Epilogue: Now Comes Death, part two

 

After you are finished reading, we ask that you post an honest review on Amazon on October 15.  That’s it! Simple 🙂

But hurry! This promo is available for a limited time only!

Let me hear from you  before the door of opportunity permanently closes…

Happy Birthday Lewis Carroll

 

Lewis Carroll

Today we celebrate the life of Lewis Carroll, best known for his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass.  He was an author, mathematician, Oxford don, part time babysitter, photographer, inventor, and a bit of an all-around inscrutable person.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know of my big obsession with Alice in Wonderland. I have long been fascinated by its white rabbits, mirrors, painted rosebushes, flamingo croquet, and the man who brought then to life.

His given name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, but I will call him Lewis, since he is best known by his pen name Lewis Carroll. He was born on January 27, 1832 in Daresbury, Cheshire, England.  Yes, Cheshire! No evidence as to whether or not he had a cat 🙂

Cheshire_Cat

Carroll’s father was a conservative minister in the Church of England, one in a long line of Dodgson men who had respectable positions in the Anglican clergy. Lewis was home-schooled until the age of twelve and developed an early love for reading amd writing. He attended grammar school at Rugby in Warwickshire, and began study at Oxford University in 1850.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and graduated with high honors.  In 1855 he won the Mathematical Lectureship for the college of Christ Church at Oxford, which he held for the next 26 years.

In 1856, a man named Henry Liddell took a position as Dean at Christ Church. Henry arrived in town with his young family, all of whom would eventually serve to influence Lewis’ writing. Lewis became close friends with  Liddell’s wife Lorina and their children, particularly the three sisters Lorina, Edith, and Alice Liddell.

LewisCarroll3

It was this Alice Liddell who served as the inspiration and namesake for the fictional Alice.  Lewis frequently took the children on outings. It was on one such outing, a rowing trip, that the girls begged to hear a story; the result eventually became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

It is said that Carroll never intended to publish Alice’s adventures, but his friend, fairy-tale author George MacDonald convinced him to do so after Macdonald’s own children read the stories and and loved them. Good thing they did! Can’t imagine a world without Alice.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. The book quickly became an international hit, and was liked and promoted by Queen Victoria herself! In 1871, Carroll published the sequel Through the Looking-Glass. The Alice books are still among the most popular in the world. Reportedly they are also among the most quoted, second only to the Bible and Shakespeare.  And many of those quotes are really phenomenal, full of wisdom and humor.  Some of my favorites:

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”

“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter. 

“I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended,” Alice thought to herself.

“Shall I never get any older than I am now? That will be a comfort, in one way — never to be an old woman. But then — always to have lessons to learn? Oh, I shouldn’t like THAT!” 

“How am I to get in?” asked Alice. “Are you to get in AT ALL?” said the Footman. “That’s the first question, you know.”  It was, no doubt; only Alice did not like to be told so.

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

real

Lewis Carroll was also an amateur photographer. He ran in artistic circles with pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

He took this photo of Alice Liddell. dated 1868. Alice would have been about six.

Alice LIddell

Years later, Julia Margaret Cameron photographed the grown up Alice.

Alice LIddell 2

Despite the fact that the Alice books brought him fame and fortune, Carroll never left his position as don at Oxford. Other than traveling a bit throughout Europe, he seems to have lived modestly. He wrote a few more books — The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical “nonsense” poem, and Sylvie and Bruno, a fairy tale which satirized English society. Neither had the astounding success of the Alice stories. He also wrote several treatises  on mathematics, which he published under his real name, Charles Dodgson. His writings included works of geometry, linear and matrix algebra, mathematical logic and recreational mathematics. Yes, complicated stuff!

Carroll/ Dodgson’s mathematical contributions are noteworthy. Apparently, he was exploring The Matrix long before Keanu Reeves.

matrix

At Oxford he developed a theory known as the “Dodgson Condensation”, a method of evaluating mathematical determinants and patterns within equations. His work attracted renewed interest in the late 20th century when mathematicians Martin Gardner and William Warren Bartley reevaluated his  contributions to symbolic logic. This led them to the “Alternating Sign Matrix” conjecture, now a theorem. The discovery  of additional ciphers that Carroll had constructed showed that he had employed sophisticated mathematical ideas in their creation.  Perhaps he understood that through mathematics and chemistry, humankind may eventually reach the kind of alternate worlds he created for Alice.

alice matrix

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll died of pneumonia on 14 January 1898 at the age of 65.

Some Fun Facts:

  • He was one of eleven children, the oldest son
  • As a young child, he suffered a fever which left him deaf in one ear
  • He was six feet tall — really tall by Victorian standards.
  • A self- deprecating guy, he often referred to himself as “the dodo” and is said to have modeled the Dodo in Alice after himself!
  • In actuality he was hardly a dodo, more like a near genius.
  • He invented the earliest version of Scrabble — a type of word ladder in which the words were changed by adding one letter.
  • He was an ordained deacon of the Anglican Church.
  • Don’t let the stoic pictures fool you. Although he never married, his letters and diary entries indicate he had relationships with several women, both married and single, which would have been considered “scandalous” by Victorian standards.

 

Happy Birthday Lewis!

alice-vogue