October 20 in Literature: The Return of the King is Published

The most significant events in the history of books on the 20th of October

1822: Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, is born. The character of school bully Flashman would prove so popular with generations of readers that George Macdonald Fraser would make him the antihero of a whole series of novels, beginning with Flashman in 1969.

1833: Alfred, Lord Tennyson completes his poem ‘Ulysses’, just over a month after he had learnt of the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem is often interpreted as a response to news of Hallam’s untimely death, with Ulysses’ determination to face the odds and carry on in the face of adversity mirroring Tennyson’s own resolve to overcome the paralysing grief he felt for his friend. Hallam’s death – and life – would more famously be commemorated by Tennyson’s long elegy, In Memoriam (1850), but Tennyson himself felt that ‘Ulysses’ contained ‘more about myself’ than In Memoriam. ‘Ulysses’ (which can be read here) would not be published until 1842.

1854: Arthur Rimbaud is born. The French poet was something of a teen prodigy, writing nearly all of his poetry as Dorothy Parkeran adolescent and giving up creative writing more or less altogether aged 19.

1890: Richard Francis Burton dies. The translator of the Kama Sutra and the unexpurgated Arabian Nights, he was a flamboyant figure who shocked and fascinated the Victorians in equal measure.

1921: T. S. Eliot‘s essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ is published in the Times Literary Supplement. In the essay Eliot champions the style of Metaphysical Poets of the seventeenth century such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell, arguing that shortly afterwards – at around the time of John Milton in the mid-seventeenth century – a ‘dissociation of sensibility’ set in, which resulted in thought and emotion becoming two different things to the poet. The Metaphysical Poets, for Eliot, thus represented the last gasp of a dying tradition in which emotion and thought were experienced as one thing.

1928: Dorothy Parker publishes her scathing review of The House at Pooh Corner in the New Yorker. Writing under the name ‘Constant Reader’, Parker memorably ridiculed what she saw as the infantile nature of the book, famously concluding: ‘And it is that word “hummy,” my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.’

1955: The Return of the King, the concluding volume of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is published. Tolkien saw The Lord of the Rings as one novel, but the book is so vast that it is also often reprinted as three volumes.

2004: Anthony Hecht dies. One of his most acclaimed poems is ‘More Light! More Light!’ (adapted from Goethe’s final words), which can be read here, though we warn that it’s a harrowing read (but a brilliant poem).

Image: Dorothy Parker, in the 1910s or early 1920s (author: unknown), Wikimedia Commons.

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