December 10 in Literary History: Huckleberry Finn is Published

The most significant events in the history of books on the 10th of December

1824: George MacDonald is born. His fantasy novels are important precursors to the more famous work of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom knew his novels, which include Lilith (1895), a Christian fantasy novel about a man who steps through a portal into another world. MacDonald’s two-word poem ‘The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs’ – probably the shortest poem in the entire canon of Victorian poetry – is discussed in our article about how to close-read a poem.

1830: Emily Dickinson is born. Hardly any of her poems were published during her lifetime. Indeed, fewer than a dozen of her many poems – she wrote some 1,800 – would be published before her death in 1886. It was only four years after her death, in 1890, that a book of her poetry would appear before the American public.

1884: Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is published. Ernest Hemingway would later claim, ‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.’ Mark Twain wrote a Mark Twain in bednumber of other books, including The Prince and the Pauper and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and claimed that his best book (in his personal opinion) was Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

1896: Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi premieres in Paris. Irish poet W. B. Yeats is among the audience for this iconoclastic theatrical event – which some credit as one of the events that helped to spark literary modernism. The French Jarry was just 23 when Ubu Roi was performed, and would be dead just over a decade later. He came up with a literary idea called ‘pataphysics’, a pseudo-philosophy based around imaginary solutions to real problems, which is meant to underpin Ubu Roi. The plot of Ubu Roi is a sort of burlesque of Shakespeare’s Macbeth – a man kills the King of Poland and seizes the crown for himself. The ghost of the murdered king returns, seeking revenge (thus throwing Hamlet into the mix), and chaos then ensues which results in fleeing to France.

1901: The first Nobel Prizes are awarded, with the first Nobel Prize in Literature going to French poet Sully Prudhomme.

1907: Rumer Godden is born. Godden (1907-98) was a prolific novelist, and gave her name to Rumer Willis, the actress daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and to Rumer, the musician born Sarah Joyce. Before she started writing, Rumer Godden ran a mixed race dancing school, the Peggy Godden School of Dance, in Calcutta. As a young woman Godden was known as ‘Peggy’ by her family, after he real first name, Margaret (Rumer was her middle name).

Image: Mark Twain lying in bed, 1906 (author: Underwood & Underwood), Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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