With autumn beginning in October, there is no better way to spend the cold evenings and the bleak weekends snuggled indoors with a cup of hot chocolate and your favourite book. Great writers, it seems, have a knack for transporting you from the dreary and chilly to an exciting and warm place. Here is this month’s edition of kickass facts about authors born in October.
(October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963)
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
Sylvia Plath is considered one of the most celebrated and controversial writers of the twentieth century. Her works are described as attempting to catalogue despair and filled with violent emotion. Many critics have also stated that her works showed that she had an obsession with death.
FACT – She published her first poem, “Poem,” in the Boston Herald in 1941. She was nine years old! At twelve, her IQ was recorded at around 160 (certified genius, literally).
Plath’s poems were very autobiographical and they explored her mental anguish, her marriage to poet Ted Hughes, her unresolved conflicts with her parents, and her own vision of herself. Her works are noted for expressing elemental forces and primeval fears.
FACT – Even in her teens, Plath was a passionate pacifist: she was publicly against the Korean War and called the dropping of the atomic bomb “a sin” in a personal letter.
Critics have said that her works that they hinted at the tensions beneath the surface of the American way of life in the post second world war period.
FACT – She worked her way through Smith College even though she had been accepted to Wellesley for free. She worked on a farm, doing manual labor. She later turned this experience into a poem “Bitter Strawberries.”
During college, Plath began showing symptoms of severe depression, which would ultimately lead to her suicide. A journal entry made in 1958 by the author stated that she felt her life was “magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative.” She also wrote that either the positive or negative feeling dominated her life turn by turn.
She was describing symptoms of bipolar disorder, to which there were no medications during that time.
“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.”
(October 31, 1795 – February 23, 1821)
“Poetry should please by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance.”
One of the great Romantic poets, Keats however, never wanted to be associated with them. He had a liberal education and was trained to become a surgeon. Despite not having a formal literary education, Keats is today known as one of the shrewdest readers, interpreters, questioners, of the “modern” poetic project. This he saw as beginning with William Wordsworth – who created poetry in a world devoid of mythic grandeur, works that looked for wonder in the desires and sufferings of the human heart.
FACT – When John found out that his brother Tom had tuberculosis he went to him in order to nurse him putting his medical skills to use. Tom died in December 1817 and unknown to John he had caught the disease from his brother.
In April 1817, Keats embarked on a four-month tour through Carisbrooke, Canterbury, Hastings, etc. During this time he wrote the first books of Endymion and other compositions. The unaccustomed solitude and intense work affected Keats deeply. For the first time in his life, he was able to focus completely on his poetry and realize both the extent of his own ambition and ability.
FACT – According to traditions, he was said to have been born in his maternal grandfather’s stable, the Swan and Hoop, near what is now Finsbury Circus.
Critics say that Keats’s works deal with the struggles with aesthetic form becoming an image of a struggle for meaning against the limits of experience. His work’s very form embodies and interprets the conflicts of morality and desire.
FACT – His friends say that on his deathbed in great emotion at his cruel destiny Keats said that his greatest pleasure had been the watching the growth of flowers.
Keat’s works have an urgency, which has always appeared greater to his readers for his intense love of beauty and his tragically short life.
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”
(October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005)
“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
Born in Harlem, Arthur Miller grew up in an affluent family till they lost everything in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. After school, he worked a lot of odd jobs till he earned enough to attend the University of Michigan. There he wrote his first play – No Villains.
FACT – His younger sister is actress Joan Copeland, and his older brother was Kermit Miller.
When he began his playwright career, it did not go as smoothly as he would have hoped. His 1940 play The Man Who Had All the Luck was received poorly by the critics and audiences alike. Miller, however, kept at it and in 1949 released his masterpiece – Death of a Salesman. The play won him the triple crown of theatrical artistry: the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Tony.
FACT – The theme of his play The Crucible, along with Miller’s general disposition, made him appear as a Communist sympathizer, and earned him a summon to the Un-American Activities Committee.
In 1956, Miller left his first wife, Mary Slattery. Shortly thereafter, he married famed actress Marilyn Monroe. In 1961, Monroe starred in The Misfits, a film for which Miller supplied the screenplay. Around the same time, Monroe and Miller divorced.
FACT – His play After the Fall (1964) was based on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. The play came under heavy criticism for being a disturbingly personal account of their time spent together, especially following the mysterious death of Monroe only a few years earlier.
His final works continued to grapple with the weightiest of societal and personal matters. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright became engaged to 34-year-old minimalist painter Agnes Barley. However, before the couple could tie the knot, on February 10, 2005 (the 56th anniversary of Death of a Salesman’s Broadway debut) Miller died of a heart attack.
“I’m the end of the line; absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theatre has died in my lifetime.”
(October 16, 1854- November 30, 1900)
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
Born in 1854 in Dublin, Irish writer Oscar Wilde is considered one of English literature’s greatest writers. His notable works include The Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde is also famous for his arrest and imprisonment for being gay.
FACT – Wilde was an impressive linguist. Home schooled, he was taught French and German, Wilde also had working knowledge of Italian and Ancient Greek.
“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”
When Wilde graduated from Oxford, he moved to London and continued focusing on writing poetry, publishing his first collection, Poems in 1881. He then travelled to New York to embark on a lecture tour. He delivered a staggering 140 lectures in just nine months. In the United States, he met some of the leading American literary figures of that time, including Walt Whitman, OIiver Wendell Holmes and Henry Whitman.
FACT – Though thought of as an author, he only published one novel, “The Portait of Dorian Gray” (1891).
“A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”
Prison broke Oscar Wilde. He was physically depleted, emotionally exhausted and flat broke. After he was released, he went into exile in France, where, living in cheap hotels and friends’ apartments, he briefly reunited with his old lover. Wilde wrote very little during his last years; his only notable work was a poem he completed in 1898 about his experiences in prison, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”
Wilde died of meningitis on November 30, 1900 at the age of 46. More than a century after his death, Wilde is remembered for his literary accomplishments, consummate wit and his exuberant personality.
FACT – Oscar Wilde’s last words were “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”