While compiling this list, we realized that the month of December has blessed us with some of the finest writers in history. Their works range from adventures in unexplored forests to discussions of women’s place in society, from works on heaven and God to books on science fictions that seriously raises questions on the existence of God. So without further ado, lets dive into this compelling list of prominent writers that have enriched literature and our lives.
(December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674)
“A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
John Milton’s father was a successful real estate mogul and a copyist, which is why Milton grew up in a prosperous neighborhood of merchants. The author spoke of his mother’s “esteem, and the alms she bestowed.” About his father, Milton said that he “destined me from a child to the pursuits of Literature, . . .and had me daily instructed in the grammar school, and by other masters athome.”
“Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image, but thee who destroys a good book, kills reason its self.”
In 1625, Milton matriculated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, hoping to become a minister. However, after graduating in 1632, he decided to pursue his passion of writing. After a few years in England, he took a long tour across Europe. He was inspired by many of people he met which included the famous astronomer Galileo and the theologian Hugo Grotius.
When he got back, England was on the brink of civil war. During this time, Milton wrote pamphlets entitled ‘Of Reformation, Of Prelatical Episcopacy, and Animadversions’ in 1641, and ‘The Reason for Church Government’ in 1642.
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
After the end of the civil war, Milton assumed the position of Secretary for the Foreign Tongues. Apart from his other duties, his job also required him to protect the new government from political attacks.
In his later years, the monarchists came back to power and he was stripped of his title. It was during this time that he also lost his eyesight.
However, he showed great resolve and wrote his magnum opus – ‘Paradise Lost.’ During this period Milton also wrote some of the greatest works in the history of the English language; namely ‘Paradise Regained’ and ‘Samson Agonistes.’ He died soon after, and just a few years later ‘Paradise Lost’ was already recognized as a classic.
“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
(December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)
“Luck is not chance, it’s toil; fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”
One of the major figures in American literature, Emily Dickinson wrote over seventeen hundred poems in her lifetime. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts; her family was one of the affluent families in the region. Her father, Edward Dickinson, served as the treasurer of Amherst College, he also represented Hampshire district in the US Congress.
A quiet and well-behaved child, Dickinson attended Amherst Academy. She lost her best friend and cousin during that time; this had a deep effect on her mentally. When she was eighteen, she met Benjamin Franklin Newton. He had a great influence on her. Newton gave her a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first book of collected poems, which shaped her poetic mind.
“I dwell in possibility.”
The loss of her close friend Leonard Humphrey and brother Austin also impacted her health. She became more and more withdrawn from the world. It was during this time she started arranging her manuscripts. She still had not published anything
In 1874, her father died after a stroke. Dickinson didn’t attend the funeral and the memorial service instead stayed at her room only. This loss pushed her further in seclusion. During the years 1872-73 she had become acquainted with Otis Phillips Lord, an elderly judge on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from Salem. Many believed that their relationship was more than just a friendship.
“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.”
The duo exchanged letters in which they shared literary interests. Phillips Lord died in March 1884 after suffering from critical illness for years and Emily again lost one of her close friends.
Emily Dickinson died soon after and her sister Lavinia burned most of her letters as promised. She did keep her poems and got them published. The first volume was an instant critical and financial success. The early critics talked more about her eccentric nature, but now Emily Dickinson is considered an innovative and pre-modernist poet.
“Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.”
Joseph Rudyard Kipling
(December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936)
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
One of the most popular English short-writer, novelist and poet, Kipling was born in Bombay during the height of the British Raj. His national allegiance and his love for India created a complex issue for the writer and it would become a prominent feature in his works.
He was sent to boarding to England and he later admitted that the horrors he encountered there pushed him to literature. After finishing his schooling, Rudyard Kipling returned to India and he became the principal of Mayo College of Arts in Lahore. He also worked for the local newspapers such as the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and The Pioneer in Allahabad.
“Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”
Kipling’s job allowed him to discover the local areas. His experiences during this time helped him form the backbone of his later works. After almost 8 years he returned to England and from there on he traveled across the United States. There he wrote ‘Plain Tales from the Hills,’ ‘Wee Willie Winkie,’ and ‘American Notes,’ which chronicled his early impressions of America.
In this period Kipling also flourished as a writer. His work during this time included ‘The Jungle Book,’ ‘The Naulahka: A Story of the West and East’ and ‘The Second Jungle Book,’ among others. His tales enchanted boys and girls all over the English-speaking world. By the age of 32, Kipling was the highest-paid writer in the world.
“He travels the fastest who travels alone.”
At the onset of World War I, Kipling wrote pamphlets and poems, which enthusiastically supported the UK’s war aims. However, after he had pushed his son to join the cause, news came that he was missing. Kipling himself went to the battlefront to search for him, but to no avail.
He returned home a broken man. Despite continuing to write, he stopped writing the cheerful and bright tales that used to once delight him. In his old age, he was plagued with health problems and he died in 1936. His ashes were buried in Westminister Abbey in Poets’ corner next to Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
“A woman’s guess is much more accurate than a man’s certainty.”
(December 16, 1775 – July 18, 1817)
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, Jane Austen grew up in an environment that encouraged learning and creativity. She was sent to a boarding school for formal education where she caught typhus that almost became fatal. Her health and financial problems forced her to quit formal education and return home.
“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”
During her adolescence, she started writing her own novels, her first one being ‘Love and Friendship.’ It was a parody of romantic fiction that showcased her wit. Her dislike of sensibility or rather romantic hysteria was something that characterized her later works.
As she was developing her style she wrote more ambitious works like ‘Lady Susan,’ a story about a manipulative woman who uses her sexuality, intelligence and charm to have her way with others. It was during this time that she started writing a few of her major works. The first she titled Elinor and Marianne, later published as ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ It was also during this time that she started working on her magnum opus – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or as it was called in the beginning First Impressions.
“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
After her father died there were many financial constraints on the Austen family and they had to keep shifting. Jane Austen also died pretty soon at the age of 41.
Although she did receive some accolades for her works while she was alive, they were nothing compared to the acclaim which she receives today. She is considered one of the greatest writers of all time and in 2002, in a BBC poll the British public voted her No. 70 on a list of “100 Most Famous Britons of All Time.”
“A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”
Arthur Charles Clarke
(December 16, 1917 – March 19, 2008)
“It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.”
The son of a farmer, Arthur Charles Clarke was born in Sri Lanka. He was science writer, a science fiction writer and an inventor. Clarke was fascinated by space travel and while still a teenager he joined the British Interplanetary Society. The writer was also an avid scuba diving fan. He discovered the underwater ruins of the ancient Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee.
During World War 2, he was a radar instructor and in 1945, he wrote about the idea of satellite communication in a scientific article, decades before they became a reality. Clarke also predicted space shuttles, super-fast computers, lightning quick communications and that man would reach the moon.
“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
He wrote more than 100 books with a theme of exploration and about the position of humanity in the universe hierarchy. His first book ‘Interplanetary Flight,’ a non-fiction book about space exploration, was published in 1950.
In 1951, he published ‘Prelude to Space,’ and went on to write sci-fi classics including ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and ‘The Fountains of Paradise,’ however, his greatest work is ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ The great director Stanley Kubrick adapted it into a movie, which has generally been called the greatest science fiction movie of all time.
“Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.”
Arthur Charles Clarke died in 2008 at the age of 90. He along with Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov are known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.
“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.”