November 24 in Literary History: Black Beauty is Published

The most significant events in the history of books on the 24th of November

1394: Charles of Orléans, Duke of Orléans and accomplished poet, is born. He wrote poems in both French and English, largely as a result of the 24 years he spent imprisoned in English castles, following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It was an exciting time in English poetry, with Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, John Gower, and the author of Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight having helped to create a canon of great English poetry in the late fourteenth century. The first English king to use English at his royal court was Henry IV, who usurped the throne in 1399, when Charles of Orléans was five. Charles appears in William Shakespeare’s Henry V as ‘Duke of Orléans’. Here is Charles’s ‘Confession of a Stolen Kiss’:

My ghostly fader, I me confess,
First to God and then to you,
That at a window, wot ye how,
I stale a kosse of gret swetness,
Which don was out avisiness—
But it is doon, not undoon, now.

My ghostly fader, I me confess,
First to God and then to you.

But I restore it shall, doutless,
Agein, if so be that I mow;
And that to God I make a vow,
And elles I axe foryefness.

My ghostly fader, I me confesse,
First to God and then to you.

1713: Laurence Sterne is born. He is best known for writing Tristram Shandy – in many ways the first postmodern novel. Sterne’s body was stolen shortly after his death and was nearly dissected by medical students.

1849: Frances Hodgson Burnett is born. She was the author of The Secret Garden and Little Lord BurnettFauntleroy, among other books. She would die in 1924, though the obituaries would neglect to mention The Secret Garden, which is now probably her most popular novel.

1859: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is published. As we’ve revealed elsewhere, Darwin was not the first person to put forward a theory of evolution – but nor was he the first to propose the idea of ‘natural selection’. But he was the first to work out the mechanism and compile the evidence for the idea. On the Origin of Species was recently voted the most influential academic book in history.

1870: Comte de Lautréamont dies. This Uruguayan-French poet was born Isidore-Lucien Ducasse. He only wrote two books, but that was enough to leave a lasting legacy, despite the fact that he was just 24 years of age when he died. Les Chants de Maldoror and Poésies are his two volumes of poetry, and they would later influence both the Surrealists and the Situationists. He once used the memorable simile: ‘As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’

1877: Anna Sewell’s classic novel Black Beauty is published. It is one of the biggest-selling novels of all time, and although Sewell died five months after the book appeared, she lived long enough to learn that she had written a bestseller. The book has sold over 50 million copies in total, making it one of the biggest-selling books in English. It was Sewell’s only novel.

1922: Nine Irish Republican Army members are executed by firing squad, by the Irish Free State. One of the nine is the author of the spy thriller The Riddle of the Sands, Robert Erskine Childers. Often called the first spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands would go on to influence Ian Fleming and John le Carré, among others. The influence of Childers’ book can be seen in both James Bond and George Smiley, as well as in a raft of spy films.

1990: Dodie Smith dies. She is best remembered for The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956), later filmed by Disney, although she also wrote I Capture the Castle (1948).

Image: Frances Hodgson Burnett, by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-96), public domain.

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