Literature: Authors

Figure 1.--.

The life experiences of an author provides important information helpful in understanding his or her works. NBC is developing biographies on major authors. Some of their works are also assessed on our site. In keeping with the basis theme of our website, we are especially interested in their childhood experiences. Often this is the key to their literary themes. Childhood does not address their talent which is basically innate, but it does pertain to their experiences which does affect their work and the characters they create.

Burnett, Frances Hodgsen (United States, 1849-1924)

It is interesting to speculate if Mrs. Benett was an American or English author. One of the purposes of this website is to try to see what social trends in different countries can be found by assessing clothing styles. Mrs. Benett is difficult to categorize as she was born in England but lived in America. She clearly wrote for an international audience; she crossed the Atlantic numerous times after immigrating to Tennessee as a child. She seems to have remained very British at heart. Little Lord Fauntleroy, of course, was based on her all American son, Vivian. Even so, her book and resulting teatrical production was an enormous success in England suggesting the story appealed to both American and English sensibilities.

Dickens, Charles (England, 1812-70)

Charles Dickens is regarded by many as the greatest novelist in the English language. He is especially notable for the wonderfully diverse chracters he created. Among them are some of the most famous boy characters in literary history. Oliver Twist was in fact the first boy character to be the main character of a novel. Dickens authored 15 major novels and numerous short stories and articles. Oliver David, and Pip are the best known, but many other boys and girls populate his novels. The most memorable are those wounded and in some cases destroyed by poverty, in pat because of his boyhood experiences. The epitat on his tombstone in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey reads: "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world".

Grass, Gunter (Germany)

German poet, novelist, playwright, sculptor, and printmaker who, with his extraordinary first novel Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum), became the literary spokesman for the German generation that grew up in the Nazi era and survived the war. In 1999 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his accomplishments. In his native Danzig, Grass passed through the Hitler Youth movement, was drafted at 16, wounded in battle, and became a prisoner of war. The Tin Drum was the first of Günter Grass' works attempting to understand what happened in Germany during and after the NAZI nightmare. It was recognized as a great woirk, but was very controversial in Germany. The book was followed by a series of other novels, plays, articles, and even poems. His works have continued to be controversial in Germany. His novel Too Far Afield received scathing reviews. Grass in the book criticized the unification of East and West Germany, comparng it to the NAZI Anschluss of Austria in 1938. This was in part because it was the West (Federal Republic) absorbing the East and not a merger of equals. Another 1990s book My Century received mixed reviews. His latest book, Crabwalk addresses the issue of German suffering during World War II, a subject that German authors are just beginning to seriously address. His latest book (Peeling the Onion), is an obviously contrived account of his youth, designed to explain how this litrary giant had hidden his service in the Waffen SS.

Hemmingway, Ernest (United States, 1899-1961)

Ernest Heminway, the noted American novelist, was born in 1898 and raised in Oak Park, Ill. His tough guy, hard boilled style had a profound influence on other American authors. In contrast to this image, he was rather a coddled child. His mother doted on him and outfitted Ernest and his older sister in identical dresses when he was a small boy and insisted he pursue cultural activities such as music lessons and singing. His father, however, encouraged him to pursue outdoor activities such as hunting and fushing. Ernest reveled in the outdoors and secretly turned the music room into a boxing ring, a step even his father would not have approved.

Irving, Washington (United States, 1783-1859)

Washungton Irving as a youth seemed an unlikely prospect to become an important author. He appears to have been something of a dunce in school. Even so, he must have been listening because of the beautiffyly structured and elegant prose. As a youth spent much of his time with a gang of rowdy young man. As an adult he suffered from depression and was aflicted by skin rashes. He has been viewed by some critics as a coren-pone story teller. This may in part because his works such as t"The Legend of Sleepy Hallow" and "Rip Van Winkle" are today best known as cartoons and less commonly read. Irving was anything but a rustic. He was one of the most celebrted Americans of the early 19th century. He was the first American author recognized in England. He spoke several languages (French, German, Spanish, and some Itkian). He moved socially with six presidents. He danced with Dolly Madison in the White House (before the British burned it.) He was admired by important authors of the day, Poe, Scott, Dickens, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Cooper (who disliked him personally). Besides the litterary value of his works, Irving made important cultural contributions to the young United States. The New York terms "Gotham" and Knickerbockers" come from Irving. Irving made important contributions to two of the mosy important holidays for American children. His stories about Bracebridge Hall contributed to the developing American festive Christmas. (Here Dickens is better known, but Irving should not be forgotton.) And of course Sleppy Hallow and the Headless Horsemen contributed to another developing holliday--Halloween. Other important phrases such as "the almighty dollar".

Lee, Harper (United States)

Harper Lee only wrote one book of significance--To Kill a Mockingbird. It was, however a literary masterpiece of enormous importance, You would have thought anyone that could have written such a wonderful book would have authored others. Lee was a childhood friend of Truman Capote and the character of Dill was written to protray Capote as a boy. An online biography of Truman Capote contains this passage, "Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead."

Mann, Thomas (Germany, 1875- )

Thomas Mann was born June 6, 1875 in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. He was a German novelist and essayist. Mann wrote The Magic Mountain in 1924, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929. When 19 he settled with his mother in Munich. After dabbling at university he joined his brother (Heinrich Mann (1871-1950), also a novelist) in Italy and wrote Buddenbrooks. Mann married a Jewish woman, Katja Pringsheim, so his children were half-Jews according to NAZI classifications. The NAZIIs < href="/country/ger/chron/20/iw/ng/ng-bookburn.html">burned his books and he was forced into exile in 1933. He settled in the United States in 1936 and in 1944 he became an American citizen. After the War in 1947 he returned to Switzerland and was the only returning exile to be féted by both West and East Germany. His novella Death in Venice was made into a film. He also addressed the subject of child prodigies.

Schiller, Friedrich (Germany, 1759-1805)

Friedrich Schiller is one of Germany's most noted poet, dramatist, historian and philosopher. Along with Gothe he is cinsidered a founder of German literature. He is widely considered second only to Gothe. He was born in November 11, 1759 in a small village Marbach near Stuttgart in Württemberg. We know little about his childhood. His work in German language have similar importance in literature than Shakespeare’s work in Britain. (Shakespear of course is also important linguistically as he wrote a time when modern English was just begin to emerge.) Schillerwrore with an already well-developed German language. His first important play was "Die Råuber", a fairly standard Sturm und Drang play (1781). A major work wa :An die Freude" (1785), this was the ode to joy used bt Betoven in his 9th SymphoThis was followed by one of his most notable works--Juan Carlos (1787). There were several historical works--a genre Schiller was particularly adept at. He published a work on the Thirty Years War (1793). There was a dramatic trilogy on Wallenstein (1798-99). Colleridge trnslated part of this for his poem "WAllensttein (1800). Nexy was Maria Stewart (1800) and ther Die Jung frau von Prleans (1801). A favorite of many was "William Tell" (1804). Schiller is notable for this account of Swiss hero Wilhelm Tell, giving the Swiss their national hero. Perhaps no work is more widely known than "THe Song of the Bells". He and Gothe had a celebrated friendship. He was active in Weimar during his last years. He died May 9, 1805 at Weimar in Thüringen.

Shakespere William (England, 1564-1616)

English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is generally considered to be the greatest writer in the English language and perhaps the most important dramatist. He played a major role in the development of the English language. A vast number of modern words and phrases first appeared in his 38 known plays in addition to 2 long narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems. He was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are lots of speculations about Shakespeare's childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon, but there are no documentable facts beyond his baptism. We know that his father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and Alderman from Snitterfield and the family lived in comfortable circumstances. His mother was Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning family. William was the eldest surviving son. We assume that the young William went to the local grammar school--the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford. King Edward was known for supporting education. Historians believe that the youngv William almost certainly was educated there. Given his father's status in the community and his literary accomplishments, he clearly had an education and the local grammar is the only place that he would have gotten his education. William lived close to the school and there were no other schools in that Warwickshire town. Shakesperian scholars speculate as to John's loss of possition as Alderman. Some believe it was because of Catholic sympathies and this would have significantly colored William's prospects. Our first documented knowledge of Shakespeare concerns his marriage to Anne Hathaway and his early career in London in connection with the theatre. He had three children, but these stayed behind with his wife in Stratford while Shakespeare lived a single life in London. Ironically, the great writer made no provision for his daughter's education. HBC has done some work on his plays in our Renaissance drama section.

Tolstoy, Leo (Russia, 1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy was one of the greatest novelist of all time. Chrologically is life span was very close to the great American novelist Mark Twain. He was born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1828 at Yasnya Polyana, in Tula Province. He was one of 5 children. During the Crimean War Tolstoy commanded an artillery battery during the bitterly fought siege of Sebastopol. He had a long life in which he was a soldier, a writer, teacher and political and moral thinker. Tolstoy in 1862 married an 18-year old girl named Sofya Andreyevna. They had an incredinblre 19 children. She was also an influence in his writing. Tolstoy as an older man became a radical Christian thinker. He conceived a Christian philosophy which opposed violence. He died at a railway station on his last pilgrimage to find harmony in 1910.

Twain, Mark (United States, 1835-1910)

Mark Twain or Sammul Clemens American writer, journalist, humorist, is perhaps best known for his humor, but he is was in fact a serious writer and among the most important in the 19th century. His most famous novels are of course The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other books, along with essays, critical work, and more. Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, of a Virginian family. He was brought up in Hannibal, Missouri. The books are based on the authors observations growing up as a boy on the Mississippi Riverin the 1830s and 40s. This is important for HBC as we have so little information on that period. Many believe that Huck's and Jim's saga is the greatest American novel. Tragically some schools ban it because of the use of the "n" word. Twain of course has to be the most influential voice for racial tolerance in the 19th century. Influential of course because many read the books, especially Huckleberry Finn, wihout realizing what Twain was doing. (If they had many would not have read the books or allowed their wives and children to read them.)

Zola, Emil (France, 1840-1912)

Emile Zola is one of the most aclaimed writers in French loterature. He was the leading French author in the late 19th century. He was the leading light of French naturalism and a cutting novelist and polemical writer. Had he died in 1895 he would today be remembered as an important French author. Today he is primarily remembered as a leading advocate of human rights for a letter written at considerable personal risk and published in 1898 accusing the French military of unjustly convicting a them obscure French army officer of treason. Zola had two children. The girl, Dennis, was born in 1889 and her younger brother, Jacques, was born 2 years later in 1891. Zola was an avid amateur photographer and there are many wonderful photographs of the children. These are very valuable because many were taken in the 1890s before amateur photography and family snapshots were common.


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Created: 7:09 PM 1/21/2008
Last updated: 7:09 PM 1/21/2008