Archive | Birthdays/Deathdays RSS feed for this section

Happy Deathday, Edgar Allan Poe!

7 Oct

Today marks the one hundred and sixty first anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe (January 19th, 1809 – October 7th, 1849).  Poe is perhaps best remembered for his poem “The Raven,” but also published such important short stories as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”  He’s also probably the most famous person to live in Baltimore probably ever, and is likely remembered as just being downright creepy.

The events surrounding Poe’s death remain shrouded in mystery.  On October 3rd, Poe was found in the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium, while wearing clothes that were not his own and yelling out the name, “Reynolds.”  He never remained coherent enough to explain how he came to be in his condition.  After his death, all medical records including his death certificate were lost, and historians continue to debate the exact cause of death.

The memory which stands out to me the most about Edgar Allan Poe is a trip my eighth grade class took to somewhere to see a performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Although I don’t believe this happens in that story, I distinctly remember the actor ripping out his own eye and holding it above his head.  

From that point on, I had this perception of Poe as being tremendously weird and kind of dismissed him and his work as a whole.  But I must say, dear reader, that I have been unfair to Mr. Poe.  He is actually a fantastic writer despite my preconceived notions of him.  

I think that we all have a writer like that–someone whose work we’ve read and had a negative reaction to, and avoided their work like the plague.  Oftentimes, I believe these reactions can be attributed to the time and place surrounding when we’ve read those pieces, and if we were to revisit them, we would find that our notions about the author were false. 

So, dear reader, today I ask you to pick up a book by an author whose work you think you don’t like and give it another shot.  Come on, do it for Edgar.  How can you resist that face?

Seriously, just look at him.

-Bryan Etheridge
Prose Committee Chair 

Happy Deathday, Émile Zola!

1 Oct

Let’s all pretend that this blog post was made yesterday, okay?

Anyway, this week marked the 108th deathday of French author Émile Zola (April 2, 1840 – September 29, 1902).

Twenty of Zola’s twenty-eight novels were part of a cycle known as Les Rougon-Macquart.  The cycle explores the life and times of a family (the Rougons and Macquarts) during the Second French Empire (1852-1870), and are fantastic examples of both naturalism and realism.

I must confess, however, that I have only read one of the novels which I am praising so highly–GerminalGerminal is often considered Zola’s masterpiece and one of the greatest French novels.  It follows the story of Étienne Lantier, a young man who, while looking for work, stumbles upon the mining town of Montsou.  There he is taken in by a mining family by the name of Maheu, and is found a job pushing carts in the mine.  What follows is not only a damn good love story, but also an account of the terrible life of a French miner during the Second Industrial Revolution.  The family, despite sending its father, grandfather, and most of the children to work from dawn til dusk, can barely support itself.  The novel also explores some socialist principles, as we see Étienne somehow rise to a role of leadership in the movement to unionize.

That’s all well and good, but what’s the point?

You know that book some teacher made you read in high school (or college, even) that you thought you were going to hate but ended up loving?  This was that for me.

My AP European History teacher, Mr. Combs, made us all read this book, and everyone was intimdated by it due to its length–after all, this was a history class–but by the end of the year, several people actually thanked him for making us read it, and I personally know one guy who kept his assigned copy and was glad to pay the fee.

So I guess here I’m masquerading as Mr. Combs.  I am telling you to read Germinal.  It may be a little hard to get into at first, but it’ll be worth it by the time you’re through.

So here’s to you, Émile Zola.  You wrote a damn good book and inspired an Oscar-winning film based on your life (The Life of Émile Zola, 1937).  I’d say you did all right.

-Bryan Etheridge
Prose Committee Chair