Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
April 22, 1899: Vladimir Nabokov is born.
Vladimir Nabokov was born in Saint Petersburg and wrote many of his novels (including his earliest nine) in Russian, but his most famous work, the controversial classic Lolita, was written in English. Nabokov was born to an aristocratic Russian statesman (killed in 1922 by monarchist assassins) and his wife; the Nabokovs enjoyed a cushy and privileged lifestyle in St. Petersburg until 1919, when they were forced into exile in Western Europe. There, Nabokov studied at Cambridge, wrote short stories and poetry under a pseudonym, and composed his first major work in English - The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, shortly before he and his family (including his Jewish wife, Vera Nabokov née Slonim) fled to the United States from France in 1940 with the onset of the German invasion of France.
In the U.S., Nabokov worked at a number of institutions (New York’s Museum of Natural History, Stanford, Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell) teaching in a number of different fields (entomology, creative writing, comparative literature, Russian, and Russian and European literature). In addition to his fiction writing, Nabokov was also an accomplished literary critic, chess problemist, and entomologist - in fact, he wrote his most famous novel while studying butterflies in the Rocky Mountains. Lolita and Pale Fire (1962) were ranked fourth and fifty-third on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels List, respectively.
Sketch of Cthulhu drawn by H.P. Lovecraft in 1934:
To R.H. Barlow, Esq., whose Sculpture hath given immortality to this trivial Design of his oblig’d of all servants.
11th May, 1934
Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart (and many other novels) and icon of modern African literature, died today at 82.
She looked at each in turn with a strained smile on her countenance. `Truth is beauty, isn’t it? It must be you know to make someone dying in that pain, to make him … smile. He sees it and it is … How can I say it? … It is unbearably, yes unbearably beautiful.
March 18, 1893: Wilfred Owen is born.
Wilfred Owen was a British poet who wrote primarily during (and on) World War I. In 1915, he enlisted in the British Army and left for the Western Front in early 1917, only to come face-to-face with the horrors of war and senseless slaughter that would become subjects for his most famous poems, including Dulce et Decorum est, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and Parable of the Old Man and the Young; these were poems that condemned the war and condemned the romanticized notions of war that misled so many of his generation to their deaths. A few months into his service, Owen was diagnosed with shell-shock after a shell exploded near him, and he was sent to a war hospital in Edinburgh, where he met another English war poet - Siegfried Sassoon. The two struck up a friendship that was ultimately very creatively beneficial for Owen; Sassoon both inspired Owen as a poet and helped publicize his works, which were unknown at the time of his early death.
Owen’s short but important output of war poetry was primarily written within a span of a year and a few months; in August of 1918, he returned to the Western Front. He was killed in action in France on November 4, 1918, one week before the signing of the Armistice that ended military hostilities all across Europe.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
March 8, 1010: Ferdowsi completes the Shahnameh (شاهنامه).
Ferdowsi’s “Book of Kings”, a poem consisting of over 50,000 couplets, took him over three decades to complete; the end result was the poet’s magnum opus and a national epic worthy of the long and rich historical and cultural legacy of Persia and Persian speakers. The poems chronicle the history of Iran over three eras - the mythical age, the heroic age, and the historic age, beginning at the creation of the Earth according to the beliefs of prei-Islamic Persians. In his work Ferdowsi wrote of the legendary shahs of Iran (the earliest kings who ruled for hundreds of years each) and of figures like the epic hero Rostam and Prince Siavash, and finally of the last kings of the Sassanid Empire and the conquest of Persia by the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century. The Shahnameh was several times longer than both the Iliad and the Nibelungenlied, and its composition was ordered by Mahmud, emir and later sultan of the Ghaznavid Empire; however, Ferdowsi was also heavily influenced by older compilations that had been commissioned by rulers of the Samanid dynasty, who were instrumental in the revival and celebration of Persian culture through their patronage of poets.
Other links: English translation of the Shahnameh by Helen Zimmern.