Category Archives: Writers

Remembering Sir Walter Scott

Born August 15, 1771, Sir Walter Scott’s enjoyed widespread acclaim throughout his life. Despite his reputation declining in the late 19th century as writers turned from romanticism to realism, he was still recognized as the inventor of the genre of the modern historical novel—although many give that distinction to Jane Porter, whose work ‘The Scottish Chiefs’ about William Wallace was published in 1810, four years before Scott released ‘Waverley,’ his first novel.

Still, his Waverley novels played a significant part in rehabilitating the public perception of the Scottish Highlands and its culture, which had been formerly perceived as barbaric, and as a breeding ground of hill bandits, religious fanaticism, and Jacobite rebellions.

Sir Walter Scott may have been onto something when he wrote, “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education” as author and conservationist, Beatrix Potter recalled that she learned to read by painfully spelling her way through the Scott novels ‘Rob Roy,’ ‘Ivanhoe,’ and ‘The Talisman.’

Given Potter’s own love of nature, she may have enjoyed Scott’s estate, Abbotsford, which, in addition to the home he built that would have cost nearly £2 million in today’s money, he also grew over time to include over 1,000 acres.

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Remembering Percy Bysshe Shelley

img_6112On July 8, 1882, less than a month shy of his 30th birthday, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned with two companions when his small sailboat encountered a storm off the Northwest coast of Italy.

His wife, Mary Shelley, would claim years later that the custom built boat had a defect in its construction and was not seaworthy, however most experts believe that despite her assertion and other theories involving pirates and assassination plots, a death wish on Shelley’s part, and even an alleged deathbed confession involving a local fisherman claiming to have rammed Shelley’s boat in order to rob him, that it was simply poor seamanship and the severe storm that was responsible for the vessel’s destruction.

Due to his extreme politics for the time, both socially and religiously, and his reckless behavior, Shelley did not find fame or even the widespread publication of his poetry during his lifetime. Fearing charges of blasphemy or sedition for his political and religious views, many publishers refused his work and what was published was done anonymously or for private distribution. His popularity was limited to other poets and literary circles for decades after his death, many of the Romantic, Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite schools, and including the poets Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who are featured prominently in Matthew Pearl’s recent novel, The Dante Chamber.

In 2008, “The Original Frankenstein” was published with Percy Shelley credited as coauthor, given the extensive alterations and contributions he is alleged to have made to Mary Shelley’s story. Some believe the couple conspired to give Mary sole credit for the work despite the bulk of the novel having been written by Percy, however much of the evidence to the support that is dismissed as anecdotal or coincidental.

img_6123After his drowning on July 8, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s body washed ashore and later, according to quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier depicts the cremation of Shelley on the beach with Edward John Trelawny, Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron in the foreground, and Mary Shelley kneeling behind them; despite Mary not being allowed to attend, Hunt remaining in his carriage and Byron leaving early, unable to bear the entire process. Based on the graphic description Trelawny offered later of the condition Shelley’s body was recovered in, this reaction on Byron’s part is not surprising.

Byron later said of his friend, “I never met a man who wasn’t a beast in comparison to him”. This was a more sentimental reaction than the English newspaper The Courier offered when announcing the avowed atheist’s death, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is God or no,” because what good is a newspaper if not to have the last word on a man’s tragic death?

Remembering Nathaniel Hawthorne

Born on July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne was known for writing the novels the Scarlet Letter, the House of Seven Gables, the Blithedale Romance and, in his later years, growing an epic mustache that led many to confuse him for a walrus.

Nathaniel Hawthorne with epic moustacheAs a young man, Hawthorne attended school with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future president that no one remembers, Franklin Pierce. It was after college that he changed the spelling of his name from Hathorne, to match its pronunciation, although some will say it was to distance himself from July he Hathorne, his great-great-grandfather who served as a judge during the Salem Witch Trials.

While his writing is typically described as dark romanticism and part of the Romantic movement, he was good friends with Transcendentalist writers, Thoreau and Emerson, who would serve as a pall bearer at Hawthorne’s funeral in 1864.

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