The most significant events in the history of books on the 8th of December
1626: John Davies dies. A minor poet who was championed in the twentieth century by T. S. Eliot, Davies was an accomplished calligrapher as well as a poet and courtier. This led Jonathan Bate, in his biography of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age, to propose the theory that Davies was the ‘rival poet’ in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
1660: A woman appears on an English public stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in a production of Shakespeare’s play Othello. We know the name of the character, but the name of the actress remains uncertain: it was either Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall, but scholars remain divided over this issue. But the main point was that women could play women’s roles on the English stage, where before young men and boys had taken the roles (as in Shakespeare’s day). Since 1660 and Margaret Hughes’ (or, alternatively, Anne Marshall’s) historic performance as Desdemona, many women have played not only the female roles in Shakespeare’s plays but also some of the male roles, too: for instance, there is a long history of women playing the role of Hamlet.
1860: Amanda McKittrick Ros is born. Often named as the worst novelist who has ever been published, Ros found a pair of unlikely ‘fans’ in J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: they would hold a competition to see which of them could read the longest section from her work without bursting out laughing. Cruel? Perhaps a little. But Ros, like William McGonagall in poetry, attained recognition of sorts…
1894: James Thurber is born. An American cartoonist, journalist, and noted wit, Thurber observed in 1939, ‘Don’t get it right, just get it written.’ Good advice for anyone struggling with colygraphia…
1951: Bill Bryson is born. One of Bryson’s first books, from 1985, was about ‘unusual, unspoiled, and infrequently visited spots in 16 European countries’. It would be in 1989 that Bryson would hit the big time with his memoir-cum-travel-book, The Lost Continent (1989), about his travels around small-town America.
Image: James Thurber in 1954 (author: Fred Palumbo), Wikimedia Commons.