Literary Musings

Sketch of Childhood by Louisa May Alcott

This autobiographical sketch by beloved American author Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) is filled with memories and observations of her childhood. It was first printed in Louisa May Alcott: Life, Letters, and Journals, compiled and edited by Ednah D. Cheney, and first published in 1899.

Playing with books

One of my earliest recollections is of playing with books in my father’s study—building houses and bridges of the big dictionaries and diaries, looking at pictures, pretending to read, and scribbling on blank pages whenever pen or pencil could be found. Many of these first attempts at authorship still remain in Bacon’s Essays, Plutarch’s Lives, and other works of a serious nature, my infant taste being for solid literature, apparently.

On one occasion we built a high tower round baby Lizzie as she sat playing with her toys on the floor, and being attracted by something out-of-doors, forgot our little prisoner. A search was made, and patient baby at last discovered curled up and fast asleep in her dungeon cell, out of which she emerged so rosy and smiling after her nap that we were forgiven for our carelessness. Read More→

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Willa Cather Loved and Hated Fame & the Press

While laboring in obscurity, many writers dream of doing radio shows, granting interviews, going on author tours, and appearing on television. If and when this becomes a reality , however, these fame-themed flights of fancy can morph into sheer panic. Me, a public person? That’s not what I signed up for!

Willa Cather seemed to have a fierce love/hate relationship with the press. She courted fame in her youth, but claimed discomfort with it once it arrived. Yet, Cather left a trail of public pronouncements, derived mainly from interviews she granted and public speeches she made. She also wrote many autobiographical sketches, press releases, and even semi-reviews in the third-person as a way to promote her work. Still, the more known she became, the more irritable she grew with loss of privacy.

For someone as ambivalent about publicity as Cather claimed to be, she granted tons of interviews, and judging by the vigor of her responses, she gave the impression that she was enjoying holding forth on subjects dear to her heart—to wit, her writings. Read More→

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The Biggest Myth About Jane Austen’s Writing Life

Can we ever have enough of Jane Austen? From the search for the modern Mr. Darcy (think Mark Darcy in Bridget Joneses’ Diary) to the appropriation of her iconic narratives (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) to fan-fiction sequels (Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife), to using the books themselves as a device for telling a contemporary story (The Jane Austen Book Club), there seems to be no such thing as Too Much Jane. And that’s just considering books — counting all the film and TV adaptations of her novels is a topic in and of itself.

The perpetual  adulation of Jane Austen makes it even harder to believe that this beloved author’s legacy, modest enough during her lifetime, began to decline soon after her death in 1817.

Memoir of Jane Austen: Planting the Myths

It took the biography — Memoir of Jane Austen —by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, to revive her flagging reputation. And for reasons not readily apparent, it did just that. Published in 1871, some fifty years after his aunt’s death, it’s respectfully written. Read More→

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L.M. Montgomery on Her Writing Life

From her sunny characters, notably Anne Shirley (of Anne of Green Gables) and happy plots, you’d think that L.M. Montgomery was reflecting on an idyllic life. But writing was something that served as a  pleasurable escape, especially as she grew older. She struggled with severe bouts of depression, and was the primary caregiver to her husband, whose mental illnesses eventually incapacitated him.  

Montgomery wove her personal experiences with marriage and motherhood into her work. Fiction became a buffer against resentment at the roles she maintained, first as a dutiful granddaughter, then as an upstanding minister’s wife and devoted mother. Though these weren’t entirely facades, her spirited female characters hint at rebellion, and a longing for freedom and greater opportunities.

As a writer, she experienced the gamut, from lots of rejection, to being cheated by her publisher, to great success and fame within her lifetime. Read More→

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Amy Lowell on Her “Vers Libre” Poetry

Prolific American poet Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925) was above all considered an Imagist, which in her definition was the “concentration is of the very essence of poetry” whose aim is to produce verses “that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.” She also mastered vers libre, or free verse. Here to shed more light on her work is the poet herself, from the Preface of Men, Women and Ghosts (1919):

It has long been a favorite idea of mine that the rhythms of vers libre have not been sufficiently plumbed, that there is in them a power of variation which has never yet been brought to the light of experiment. I think it was the piano pieces of Debussy, with their stance likeness to short vers libre poems, which first showed me the close kinship of music and poetry, and there flashed into my mind the idea of using the movement of poetry in somewhat the same way that the musician uses the movement of music. Read More→

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