Literary Musings

How Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Came to the Page

Betty MacDonald (1907 – 1958) was an American author of humorous memoirs and children’s books. The Egg and I, her bestselling 1945 memoir of running a chicken farm in rural Washington State in the late 1920s, catapulted her to international fame. Her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for children were also hugely successful. From Paula Becker’s 2016 biography, Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I, here’s the story of how Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle came to the page and became a series:

As sales of The Egg and I soared, Lippincott eagerly sought to capitalize on Betty’s success. Accordingly, fifteen months after Egg made its debut, the publisher introduced Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The book was a collection of children’s stories about a wise, kind, magical woman who gently but firmly assisted errant children and their beleaguered parents. Betty dedicated Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to her daughters, nieces, and nephews, “who are perfect angels and couldn’t possibly have been the inspiration for any of these stories.” Read More→

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8 Literary Love Affairs and Marriages

Relationships between brilliant writers were nearly always a tangle of complication and passion. Some couples preferred non-monogamous arrangements; others agreed that marriage was never to be part of the bargain. An intellectual bond was part of the attraction, and the glue that held many of these couples together.

Of the couples listed below, only the union of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning seemed like pure bliss. But even in their case, it was complicated. Her father was so dead-set against the marriage that he disinherited her. Read on for a capsule of 8 famed literary love affairs and marriages — truly, for better or worse. Read More→

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Sweet Lorraine — James Baldwin’s Tribute to Lorraine Hansberry

“Sweet Lorraine” is a love letter and tribute to Lorraine Hansberry by her friend and colleague, James Baldwin. It opens her posthumous book of collected writings, To Be Young, Gifted and Black (1969). Both were relatively young artists when they first met in the winter of 1958. Lorraine, then 28, came to the Actors’ Studio where the stage version of Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room was being workshopped. He was then 34.

Both were aware of one another’s work, and Lorraine would soon go on to defend her new friend Jimmy’s charge to introduce theater audiences to black and queer themes. Broadway producers, not surprisingly for the time, were uncomfortable with the content of Giovanni’s Room. As she would throughout her brief but blazingly brilliant career, Lorraine believed that the artist’s voice in whatever medium was to be as an agent for social change. The two bonded, for Lorraine was developing her own black, feminist, and queer politics. Read More→

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Willa Cather’s Inspiration for The Song of the Lark, Olive Fremstad

The Song of the Lark is a 1915 novel by Willa Cather, telling the story of Thea Kronborg and her desire to be a world-class singer. Born into the family of a Swedish Methodist minister in a Colorado village, she has a voice, an ambition, and a native sense of the true and fine — qualities all in contrast with the cheapness and tawdriness she perceives around her.

From her girlhood, when her ambition takes hold, to her triumph as a prima donna at thirty, Thea’s whole life is focused around her supreme desire for artistic perfection. Willa Cather had already outlined this novel, having had an interest in opera. Fortuitously, she crossed paths with the real-life opera singer Olive Fremstad during this time, which helped her make Thea Kronborg an even more vivid character. The following excerpt is from Willa: The Life of Willa Cather by Phyllis C. Robinson, © 1983: Read More→

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The Death of Emily Brontë

Though Emily Brontë (1818 – 1848), the British author and poet, only lived to age thirty, she left the classic novel Wuthering Height, which was to be her legacy. The sister of Charlotte and Anne Brontë, she was the fifth child born to Maria Branwell Brontë and Reverend Patrick Brontë.

In many ways, Emily was a more enigmatic figure than her sisters. An 1885 article in the Chicago Tribune stated that “Emily Brontë was perhaps the most original of the Brontë children in character; and it is thought by many that she was possessed of an even more striking genius than Charlotte. She was of a peculiarly reserved nature, and never during her life made any friend outside her family.”  Read More→

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