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

On this day in history….24th August 1847

On this day in history : 24th August 1847 – Charlotte Brontë sends her manuscript for ‘Jane Eyre’ to London publishers Smith, Elder and Company – under the pseudonym Currer Bell….

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image : Uploaded to en.wikipedia by Chick Bowen – Public domain

It was not unusual for female authors at this time to write under a male name…. Women authors were not taken as seriously as their male counterparts – it was assumed women’s heads were full of fluff and frivolity; they were deemed as having no perception of the real world – their place was in the home…. The Brontë sisters collectively felt that their work would not be regarded as being feminine and would be looked upon with prejudice if their real gender was revealed….

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Charlotte Bronte – George Richmond Public domain

Charlotte, who was the eldest of the three sisters, had been unable to find a publisher for her first manuscript, ‘The Professor’ – however, Smith, Elder & Co of Cornhill expressed an interest to any longer works Currer Bell may wish to send…. So towards the end of August 1847 ‘Jane Eyre’ was submitted and published six weeks later….and was an instant success, gaining good reviews…. Because little was known about the author suspicions began to form that Currer Bell may be a woman – strengthening when ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë) was published – and then ‘Agnes Grey’ by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë)…. In 1848 the sisters admitted to their assumed names….and became celebrated in literacy circles – and their novels became classics of English literature….

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Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, painted by brother Branwell Bronte – Public domain

On this day in history….20th June 1906

On this day in history : 20th June 1906 – Dame Catherine Cookson, one of Britain’s most widely read novelists, is born in Tyne Dock, South Shields….

 

Registered as Catherine Ann Davies but known as Kate as a child, Catherine was born at 5, Leam Lane in Tyne Dock, East Jarrod – close to the mouth of the River Tyne…. She was the illegitimate daughter of Kate Fawcett, an alcoholic barmaid who had fallen on hard times…. Catherine grew up thinking that her mother was her sister and she was brought up by her grandparents, Rose and John McMullen; she was 7-years-old before she found out that her ‘sister’ was in fact her mother….

Catherine left school around the age of 14 and went into service as a maid for a while, before going to work as a laundry checker at the Harton Workhouse…. In 1929 she moved to the South Coast to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse….

She worked hard, saved every penny she could and in 1933 managed to get a £1,000 mortgage….with which she bought a large 14 bedroom Victorian house – ‘The Hurst’…. She turned this into a lodging house/old-peoples’ home/nursing home….

In June 1940 Catherine married Tom Cookson, a teacher at Hastings Grammar School…. They could not have been more like ‘chalk and cheese’…. Whereas Catherine was strong-willed and of a dominant nature, Tom was shy and softly-spoken…. Catherine came from a working-class, poverty-stricken background…. Tom, the son of a verger, was an Oxford graduate…. Catherine was 34 when they married, senior to Tom by 6 years….

Their first child, a boy, was born three months premature and was still-born; during the Second World War years Catherine suffered a further three miscarriages…. It was also discovered she had telangiectasia – a rare vascular disease which causes bleeding…. She had a breakdown which was to take the best part of 15 years to recover from….

 

As part of the therapy for her depression Catherine took up writing…. She had been an avid reader as a child and had written her first short story ‘The Wild Irish Girl’ at the age of 11…. She had sent it to the local newspaper – but it had been returned unpublished….

She joined the Hastings Writers’ Group and started her first novel ‘Kate Hannigan’ in 1946 and it was published in 1950…. But her writing career really took off in the late 1960s; her first major success ‘Our Kate’, published in 1969, took her 12 years to write….

 

Catherine Cookson wrote 103 books, often two a year, selling over 123 million copies – and her work has been translated into nearly 20 languages…. She was also published under the pseudonyms of Catherine Marchant and Katie McMullen…. For 17 years she was the most borrowed author from British libraries…. Many of her books have been adapted for film, radio, stage and particularly TV…. Between 1990 and 2001 some 18 of her books had been adapted for the small screen….

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Most of her novels were set in a run-down North East, reflecting the poverty of her early life; Tyneside was then one of the poorest parts of the Country…. But in later life the North East was where she and Tom were to return…. After living in several locations they finally settled in 1989 in the Jesmond area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne…. Catherine’s health had deteriorated considerably and she spent the last few years of her life bedridden….her final novels were written whilst she was in her sickbed….

Catherine died at home 16 days before her 92nd birthday, on the 11th of June 1998…. She had vascular disease, had suffered five heart attacks and was almost blind…. Her husband died just 17 days later…. After their deaths the couple’s £20m fortune was donated to charities…. Catherine had done much for charity in her lifetime; in 1985 she had given £800,000 to the University of Newcastle….who in gratitude set up a lectureship in haematology….

Catherine was awarded an OBE in 1985 and became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993…. In 1997 she was appointed Honorary Fellow of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford….

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On this day in history….28th March 1941

On this day in history : 28th March 1941 – English novelist Virginia Woolf, whilst suffering from depression, commits suicide by drowning herself in a river near to her Sussex home….

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Virginia Stephen (Woolf) 1902 – Photo: George Charles Beresford

Born Adeline Virginia Stephen on the 25th of January 1882 Virginia suffered with her mental health throughout her life…. Her first breakdown occurred in 1895, after the death of her mother….

Virginia met her future husband, Leonard Woolf, in November 1904 – they eventually married on the 10th of August 1912…. However, she continued to suffer periods of mood swings, manic excitement and psychotic episodes; she attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Psychiatrists today consider her illness to have been bipolar disorder….

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Virginia and Leonard Woolf – 1912

Her diary indicates she had become obsessed with death after the beginning of World War II…. After the Woolfs’ London home was bombed during the Blitz they moved to another house nearby – only for that to be made un-inhabitable in the same way…. It was at this point they moved to their country home near to Lewes, Sussex….

After completing the manuscript for what was to be her final novel ‘Between the Acts’, which was published posthumously, Virginia fell into a deep depression…. It was on a Friday that she decided to take a walk, along the banks of the River Ouse, which lay close to her home….it was a walk she was never to return from…. She left behind two notes; one for her sister, Vanessa Bell – who lived nearby – and the other for her husband…. It read….

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Public domain

“Dearest. I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V”….

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Virginia and Vanessa 1894 – Public domain

Without a doubt the letter stated her intention, it was a suicide note – but gave no indication as to where or how she meant to carry it out….she simply did not come home. Her hat and walking cane were discovered on the river bank but this was the only evidence the family had as to what may have happened to her…. Newspaper reports said that she was missing – but stated that at this stage the police were not investigating her disappearance…. The hope was that she would turn up alive – having been ill for some time perhaps she had just needed some time alone – but as time went by this hope diminished….

Eventually, three weeks later on the 18th of April the gruesome discovery was made by some children…. Her body washed up near to the bridge in the village of Southease….the Press announced the story the following day….

Virginia Woolf had drowned herself by filling the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walking into the River Ouse…. She is considered to be one of the most important modernist writers of the 20th Century…. Leonard buried her cremated ashes beneath an elm tree in the garden of Monk’s House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex – which is now owned by the National Trust….

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Monk’s House – image credit: Elisa.rolle CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….23rd November 1990

On this day in history : 23rd November 1990 – The death of much-loved children’’s author Roald Dahl…. But did you know he was also an ace fighter pilot, spy, medical inventor and chocolate historian?

Roald Dahl in 1954 – Public domain

Roald was born on the 13th of September 1916 to Norwegian parents living in Llandoff, Wales…. He was named after Roald Amundson, the Norwegian adventurer and explorer who was the first man to reach the South Pole…. Norwegian was Roald’s first language, as this is what the family spoke at home….

When he was three years old his seven year old sister died from appendicitis – and then just a few weeks after his father succumbed to pneumonia…. Soon after his mother gave birth to another little sister…. His father had always believed that English schools were the best in the world and had wanted his children to be educated in them…. With this in mind his mother chose not to return to Norway but to remain in Wales so she could honour his wish…. Roald first attended Cathedral School in Llandoff before being sent to St. Peter’s Boarding School in Weston-Super-Mare…. He was desperately homesick and wrote to his mother every week – but never let on how unhappy he was…. Then in 1929, at the age of thirteen, he was sent even further away, to Repton School in Derbyshire…. He was even more miserable here; corporal punishment was frequently used – Roald detested the cruelty and found it hard to accept that beating children was permissible….

Repton School – Image credit : J. Thomas CC BY-SA 2.0

Roald’s talent for writing was not recognised during his schooling…. He was seen as an accomplished sportsman though; he was captain of the school’s squash team and was good at cricket, golf and football…. He grew tall, ending up at a height of 6ft 6in….

He had other varied interests; he was keen on photography – and he discovered a love of chocolate…. The Cadbury’s factory was near to the school and occasionally boxes of new chocolates would arrive for the boys to try out…. Roald would daydream about making up a chocolate bar of his own to wow Cadbury’s…. It was his passion for the confection that inspired his third children’s book in 1964 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…. He would often refer to chocolate in his stories….

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Roald left school in 1934 and started to work for the Shell Petroleum company, being posted to Kenya and Tanzania…. In August 1939, with World War Two approaching, he was still in Tanzania and was draughted as a lieutenant into the King’s African Rifles…. Then in the November of 1939 he joined the RAF to become a pilot…. After completing his training he was assigned to No.80 Squadron, flying the RAF’s last fighter bi-planes, Gloster Gladiators…. It was whilst flying one of these that on the 19th of September 1940 he was forced to make an emergency landing in the desert…. The aircraft crashed – Roald suffered a fractured skull and lost his vision…. He was rescued and taken to a Royal Naval hospital where he eventually regained his sight – and in February 1941 he was declared fit enough to fly again….

Gloster Gladiator – Public domain

To rejoin his squadron Roald had to travel to Eleusina near to Athens – where they had been transferred to join the Greek Campaign…. This time he was to fly Hawker Hurricane aircraft and on the 15th of April 1941 he was to take part in his first aerial combat and in which he was to shoot down is first plane…. The following day he shot down another…. On the 20th of April he took part in the Battle of Athens….

Hawker Hurricane – Image credit : Arpingstone – own work – Public domain

By May the Germans were advancing and the squadron was evacuated to Egypt…. For over a month Roald was to fly sorties every day but during the second half of June he began to suffer severe headaches causing him to blackout…. He was invalided out of the squadron, returned to Britain and posted to an RAF training base at Uxbridge – with the idea of him becoming an instructor once his health had sufficiently recovered…. It was whilst on a trip to London in the late March of 1942 that he was to meet Major Harold Balfour, Under-Secretary of State for Air…. Balfour was so impressed by Roald that he appointed him assistant air attaché to the British Embassy in Washington DC….

While in the States Roald was to meet the writer C.S.Forester, who had been commissioned by the Saturday Evening Post to write a piece on Roald’s flying experiences…. He asked Roald to jot something down that he could work with…. However, when he received the account he was so impressed that Roald’s story was published exactly as he had written it – this was to be Roald’s first ever published work….

Roald was beginning to move within different circles…. He was to meet and work with British army officer Ian Fleming – author of the James Bond stories…. And he was then introduced to the world of espionage – and to Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, code name Intrepid….. It was Roald’s task to supply intelligence from Washington back to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and to MI6…. By now he had been promoted to Wing Commander and before long he had become Squadron Leader…. But in August 1946 his ongoing injuries from his aircraft crash meant him being invalided out of the RAF – as a flying ace having more than five victories to his name….

On the 2nd of July 1953 Roald married American actress Patricia Neal and they were to have four daughters and one son…. In December 1960 four month old Theo’s pram was struck by a New York taxi cab, leaving him with serious injuries…. Little Theo suffered with Hydrocephalus – an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in his brain…. Roald worked with neurosurgeon Kenneth Till from Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade to develop a valve – the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve – which was used with a shunt to alleviate the condition…. The valve went on to be used to help nearly 3,000 children all around the world….

Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl – Public domain

In November 1962 Roald’s eldest daughter, Olivia, died from measles at the age of seven…. He was beside himself with grief and guilt at not being able to help her…. (His 1982 book, The BFG, is dedicated to her)…. Roald became a promoter of immunisation…. Then in 1965 his wife suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms whilst pregnant with their fifth child…. Roald had to help her learn how to walk and talk again – eventually she recovered enough to be able to return to her acting career…. A film was made about their story in 1981 The Patricia Neal Story – starring Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde….

In 1972 Roald began an affair with Felicity d’Abreu Crosland – who he later married after he and Patricia divorced in 1983…. With his new wife he lived at Gypsy House, a home he had owned since 1954 in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire…. His first children’s book, The Gremlins, had been published in 1943 – and he went on to write some of the best loved children’s stories of all time: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, The Witches, The Twits, Danny Champion of the World and George’s Marvellous Medicine…. He also wrote stories for adults, which were often macabre – and many were adapted for TV and film, such as Tales of the Unexpected and Alfred Hitchcock Presents…. He wrote screenplays and for television…. Roald was a prolific writer – but then with his own life experiences he would never have been short of something to write about…. He has been named one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 and it is estimated over 250 million of his books have been sold; he has been published in some 60 different languages….

Roald book signing in Amsterdam – Image credit : Bob Bogaerts / Anefo CCO

On the 23rd of November 1990, at the age of 74, Roald died from a rare cancer of the blood…. He was buried at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire – along with his snooker cues, a good bottle of Burgundy, some chocolates, HB pencils – and a power saw!

Image credit : MilborneOne – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0