On this day in history….14th January 1886

On this day in history : 14th January 1886 – The birth, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, of Hugh Lofting – the English author and poet who created Dr. Dolittle….

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Hugh Lofting – Fair use

Most of us grew up reading the Dr. Dolittle books – the tales of Dr. John Dolittle, the Victorian doctor who could converse with animals…. Polynesia the parrot, Chee-Chee the monkey, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck, Too-Too the owl, Jip the dog and Whitey the mouse…. Then there is the Pushmi-Pullyu – a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, with a head at each end, so it could talk and eat at the same time without seeming rude….img_5593

Hugh Lofting never set out to be a writer…. He studied civil engineering overseas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning home to enlist in the Irish Guards to serve in World War 1….

From the trenches Lofting wrote letters home to his children…. Not wanting to write about the horrors of war he created characters and stories – which were later to become the foundation of his Dr. Dolittle tales….img_5594

In 1919 Lofting was seriously wounded – it was after this that he moved his family to Connecticut in the United States…. In 1920 his first book was published – ‘The Story of Doctor Dolittle : Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed’…. The sequel – ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’ followed in 1922; there are 10 books in all in the series….img_5596

Other works by Lofting written for children include the ‘Mrs Tubbs’ series of picture books for younger children – ‘Porridge Poetry’ and ‘Noisy Nora’, a story about a little girl who is a very noisy eater…. He also wrote ‘The Twilight of Magic’ for older readers….

‘Victory for the Slain’ was published in 1942 and was Lofting’s only work for an adult audience…. It is a lengthy poem in seven parts, lamenting war and the futility of it…. Victory for the Slain was only ever published in the United Kingdom….img_5595

On this day in history….12th January 1976

On this day in history : 12th January 1976 – Crime writer Dame Agatha Christie dies peacefully of natural causes, at the age of 85, at her home in Wallingford, Oxfordshire….

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After a simple funeral service she was buried in the nearby churchyard of St. Mary’s at Cholsey – having chosen her own final resting place 10 years earlier….

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on the 15th of September 1890 in Torquay, Devon…. She was born into a wealthy upper-middle class family and was the youngest of three children…. Her parents only decided on what name to call her minutes before her christening….

We all know Agatha Christie as perhaps the most successful writer of modern times…. She has sold over 2 billion books worldwide – having only ever being outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible…. Agatha never actually intended to become a writer, she only found her vocation after being challenged by her elder sister, Madge, to write a detective story…. During her writing career she also wrote six non-crime novels, under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott….

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Agatha as a child, date unknown – Public domain

Agatha did not go to school, she received a home education, where her parents taught her to read and write and the basics of arithmetic…. She was also musical, playing the piano and mandolin….

An avid reader from an early age, her own favourite authors as an adult were Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen…. Agatha gained her knowledge of poisons for her own novels whilst working in a hospital dispensary during the First World War….

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Image credit : Ninian Reid via Flickr

Here are a few more little facts about Agatha Christie which you may not have known….

She was a keen gardener and won prizes for horticulture…. She loved the sun and the sea and flowers…. Her favourite colour was green…. She enjoyed travelling, trying different foods, going to concerts and the theatre…. She liked sport and relaxed by doing embroidery…. She didn’t drink alcohol and hated smoking…. She detested cockroaches and marmalade pudding! In her own words her chief dislikes in life were : ‘crowds, loud noises, gramophones and cinemas’…. Agatha’s last public appearance was in 1974 at the film premier of’Murder on the Orient Express’….

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Agatha in 1925 – Public domain

On this day in history….19th December 1843

On this day in history : 19th December 1843 – The classic story ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens is published….

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First edition cover – Photographer : Heritage Auctions, Dallas, Texas – Public domain

We are all familiar with the tale of how Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser, was visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley – chained and tormented, doomed to an eternity of wandering the earth as a punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive…. Then came the visits from the spirits of Christmas past, present and future….and how Scrooge was transformed into a better person….

A Christmas Carol in prose. - caption: 'Marley's Ghost.  Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost.'
Marley’s Ghost – original illustration by John Leech – Public domain

The story touched a chord with many Victorians, with its attitude towards poverty and the Christmas spirit…. Earlier in 1843 Dickens had read a government report on the abuse of child labourers in mines and factories – and it sickened him…. It was something that resonated with him – as at the age of 12 he had been sent to work in a factory after his father was thrown into debtors prison…. His memories and the report prompted Dickens to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ – something he did feverishly – it took him just six weeks….

The book was published by Chapman and Hall but funded by Dickens himself…. Dickens had already had many successful books published: ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’, ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’…. But the publishers began to lose faith in his work when ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ failed to live up to expectations…. they wanted to publish ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a less expensive format – or even serialised as part of a magazine…. However, Dickens was adamant he wanted it to be published as a proper book – and so struck a deal with Chapman and Hall…. It was agreed he would pay all printing and publishing costs and they would also receive a fixed commission on every book sold…. 6,000 copies were initially produced – and had sold out by Christmas Eve…. By the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released….

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John Leech – Public domain

In early 1844 ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published illegally by another company…. Dickens sued them and although he won the case, the rogue publishers declared themselves bankrupt….leaving Dickens to pick up all of the legal costs…. What with that and the high publishing costs Dickens made little money from ‘A Christmas Carol’….a story that is just as popular today as it ever was….

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster” ~ A Christmas Carol….

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Charles Dickens in 1842 – Francis Alexander – Public domain

On this day in history….27th October 1914

On this day in history : 27th October – The birth of Dylan Thomas, perhaps the most legendary of 20th century poets – but also known for his hard drinking and boisterous behaviour….

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Dylan Thomas in New York, 1952 – Fair use

Born Dylan Marlais Thomas, in Swansea, Wales, his father an English teacher and his mother a seamstress, the young Dylan developed an interest in language at an early age…. His father would read Shakespeare to him at bedtime – Dylan loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to understand them….

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5, Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea – birthplace of Dylan Thomas – Photo credit : Hywel Williams CC BY-SA 2.0

On leaving school at 16 Dylan became a journalist for a while – but had his first poems published whilst still in his teens…. Dylan wrote hundreds of poems, short stories, a novel and a play during his lifetime…. He was a disciplined writer, often re-drafting his work to the point of obsession – his poetry having a musical, nostalgic tone, frequently focusing on childhood and death…. Some of his greatest work was produced in the 1940s, particularly his 1946 collection which was heavily influenced by war….

In 1936 Dylan met Caitlin Macnamara and they married the following year at Penzance Registry Office…. They moved to Laugharne, a Welsh fishing village, in 1938 – where they settled and raised their three children…. It was a stormy marriage, fuelled by alcohol, infidelity and money problems – but they remained together until Dylan’s death….

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The Boat House, Laugharne – where Dylan and Caitlin raised their family – Photo credit : GerritR CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1950 Dylan fulfilled an ambition to tour the United States, giving readings of his work – which attracted large audiences…. The very nature of the trip meant much socialising was done and Dylan returned home with very little money – he had effectively drank his profits…. Another two trips to the States ended the same way – not surprisingly this caused a rift between himself and Caitlin….

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Dylan’s writing shed at Laugharne – Photo credit : wardyboy400 CC BY 2.0

Dylan’s father died on the 16th of December 1952; as an English teacher at a grammar school he had been disappointed with his position in life – he had longed to be a poet; how proud he must have been of his son…. Dylan had great respect for his father and watching him succumb to the ravages of cancer would have torn him apart…. Indeed whilst his father lay on his deathbed, Dylan wrote one of his most emotive poems ~ “Do not go gentle into that good night”…. Little did Dylan know at that time that in less than a year he would face his own untimely death – at the age of just 39…. On a last fateful trip to New York in October 1953 and after several bouts of heavy drinking Dylan was taken ill at the Chelsea Hotel on the 4th of November…. He was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he died five days later – the cause of his death pneumonia and pressure on the brain – due to excessive alcohol…

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forced no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
                              ~ Dylan Thomas

On this day in history….17th September 1954

On this day in history : 17th September 1954 – William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is published by Faber and Faber, in London – a book familiar to many of us from our school days….

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Original UK book cover – Fair use

The plot of Lord of the Flies centres around a group of school boys marooned on an uninhabited island after a plane crash…. It is about the boys’ survival and how they attempt to govern themselves – and explores how quickly society breaks down without any form of proper authority or establishment….

Lord of the Flies was the first novel by Sir William Gerald Golding CBE (19th September 1911 – 19th June 1993) – who was a British novelist, playwright and poet…. At first, when Golding first submitted his manuscript, the book was rejected by Faber and Faber – but after catching the interest of Charles Monteith, a new editor at the firm – and who advised on some changes to the text – the novel was published…. It was slow to make an impact but eventually became an international bestseller – and has been in the 100 best novels of the Modern Library and listed at No.70 on the BBC’s best 100 English language works….

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Sir William Golding CBE, in 1983 – Photographer unknown – CC BY-SA 3.0

Lord of the Flies has twice been made into an English language film; in 1963 directed by Peter Brook and again in 1990, this time directed by Harry Hook…. In 1975 a Filipino version was released, directed by Lupita A. Concio…. In August 2017 plans for a further film were announced by Warner Bros….this time to feature an all female cast…. A concept that was not very well received – as the general feeling being that it goes against the grain of the story’s original aim of exploring the theme of male power and the fight for dominance and leadership….

Golding was incredibly sensitive to reviews and criticism of his work – even being known to leave the country when his latest book was about to be published…. I don’t know about you – but Lord of the Flies is one of those books that has stayed ingrained in my memory….

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Pere Ubu via Flickr