The most significant events in the history of books on the 14th of December
1640: Aphra Behn is (possibly) born. Few details about Behn’s early life are known for sure, but it’s possible that she was the ‘Eaffrey Johnson’ who was born in Harbledown in Kent, on December 14 1640. Behn is often named as the first woman writer to make a living from her pen (by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, for instance); it’s certainly true that she was the first consistently popular female playwright in England whose plays were put on the London stage. She also wrote an early novel (or novella) in English, Oroonoko, about an African prince who is taken to be a slave in South America.
1916: Shirley Jackson is born. This American author has influenced a raft of later writers, especially in the horror genre, including Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Neil Gaiman. Her short story ‘The Lottery’ (1948) has been widely acclaimed, and her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House is viewed as one of the best ghost stories published in the twentieth century.
2001: W. G. Sebald dies. This German author was tipped to be a future recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature when he died suddenly on December 14 2001, aged just 57. His 1995 novel The Rings of Saturn, set in East Anglia, is often named as his masterpiece.
And finally … as it’s Monkey Day today, a day that recognises our fellow primates in the animal kingdom, here are a few facts about writers and our simian friends:
Lord Byron kept a menagerie of wild animals which included monkeys, badgers, cranes, and crocodiles.
While serving in the British navy, Joseph Conrad befriended a pet monkey in India.
H. L. Mencken coined the term ‘monkey trial’ to refer to the Scopes trial in 1925, when US schoolteacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution at a Tennessee high school.
Image: Sketch of Aphra Behn by George Scharf (1820-1895), Wikimedia Commons.