Monday, February 07, 2011

In Memoriam: Charles Dickens

When I began* reading Peter Ackroyd's superlative (not to mention thorough to the point of obsession) 1990 biography of Charles Dickens as part of a larger campaign to become better acquainted with the most influential novelist in the history of English literature, the plan was to read the biography until I get to the point where he published a novel, then to set aside the biography until I'd read the novel in question. Ambitious, perhaps**, but as a spur to get my own literary career moving far superior to the method I've previously used, which is yelling at myself in the mirror over what a loser I am; surprisingly, this hasn't been successful at all***...

Photobucket Born on this day in 1812, the foremost writer of the Victorian era was actually born well before the woman who gave that remarkable age her name, meaning that his formative years were spent in far more licentious (and therefore, more interesting) times - the Regency. Despite this, Dickens is very much a Victorian novelist; there is very little sex in his works, for instance, even compared to those of his contemporaries.

As described by Ackroyd the child Dickens was precocious, sensitive, funny, and possessed of a photographic memory; though the first dozen years of his life saw the family's fortunes dwindle, such a happenstance served to spur the adult Dickens on, causing in him a kind of restless ambition that eventually saw a dozen hefty novels published in as many years while simultaneously writing nonfiction pieces and editing newspapers besides.

Born in Hampshire, at five the family moved from Portsmouth to Chatham; Dickens was ten when his family left Kent for London, and just twelve when his father was imprisoned at Marshalsea for insolvency. At this time the younger Dickens was sent to work in a factory where he bottled shoe polish; much of the anguish inherent in this time of his life would later inspire the reforming zeal present in Dickens' works, especially where it concerned the expression of compassion towards the downtrodden. No politician was ever as successful at winning hearts and minds to the cause of charity as Charles Dickens, likely because none had ever actually been in need of it as he once had.

Within the year his father was out of prison and the younger Dickens was finally sent to school; by all accounts it wasn't a very good school, and so was born the famous disdain for authority. As an ebullient youth Dickens longed for a career on the stage, but fortunately was both too small and too bright for the theatre; given his size the only parts he could have gotten would have been character parts, and given his high spirits and engaging mien he could have easily upstaged the leads even while standing still, which surely would have killed his career before it began.

After a brief time clerking in a legal office (during which time was born his virulent ambivalence to lawyers and the law) Dickens taught himself shorthand and within a couple of years he was the most sought after Parliamentary reporter in London. The work was hard, though, and soon he began looking for an alternative outlet for his ambitions. Having seen much of the country in the course of his work, and ever one to seize upon an opportunity, Dickens took to writing fiction as quickly and as passionately as the reading public took to the fiction he wrote.

Over the next three decades he chronicled the exploits of hundreds of beloved characters in more than a dozen novels, none of which has ever gone out of print; if anything, his popularity has grown since his early death in June 1870, and now just about every place with any connection to him houses a museum of some sort. Though many of his works have been adapted again and again for film and television, no biopic has ever been made about the man himself, which is surely an egregious oversight, and one which the Pop Culture Institute would like to see remedied forthwith.

*Sometime in 2007.
**Also pretty near impossible! Several years later and I'm not even finished 1837's
The Pickwick Papers
yet. Nor am I close to finishing the biography. (Sigh...)
***I have had better luck following his example, though, by serializing my own first novel,
The Barington Encounter, here.

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Gratuitous Brunette: Steve Nash

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Because he's a sports figure, Steve Nash is constantly falling off my cultural radar... This despite being a hairy-chested hottie from Victoria. Every so often, though, he will re-appear and it's all I can do to stop from bursting out in my rendition of Falling In Lust Again...

Aside from being soft-spoken in a field which praises trash talk, and having a charitable inclination amongst the greedheads and egomaniacs which dominate professional sports in general, the point guard for the Phoenix Suns is tall and lean and looks like he blushes easily. Plus, his smile is wider than the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Happy Birthday, Steve Nash... It's all good.
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"How Not To Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police" by Chris Rock

Birthday wishes go out today to Chris Rock, whose insights on such hot-button issues as race are so on the money that you should hear the crackers ragging on him for it; in fact, all you have to do is check the comment rolls for any of his YouTube videos. The closer he gets to the truth the harder they try to get that cross lit...

Well, I liked him on Saturday Night Live, I liked him on HBO (where his specials Bigger & Blacker and Never Scared aired in 1999 and 2004), and I like him still (despite its title) on Everybody Hates Chris, which he produces and narrates. If you want to know why I like him so much, watch the above clip.
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Happy Birthday Emo Philips

While this 1987 clip of Emo Philips is cut off at the beginning, what better way to suggest the surreal ramblings of this most unique of comedians? A master of paraprosdokians and skilled in the art of garden path sentences, Philips' humour isn't for everyone, but it suits me just fine.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Ashton Kutcher

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It was three long years ago now when I first instituted the dubious honour known as the Gratuitous Brunette, on the high-flown ideal (or shallow fixation, or possibly a bit of both) that looking at someone who is aesthetically pleasing is ultimately medicinal. On that day the Pop Culture Institute's very first honouree was the young man pictured above, the delicacy known as Ashton Kutcher, who today turns 33 - meaning that for as hot as he is, he's now also about to get interesting...

In the years since being the first to receive this little-sought after accolade*, he hasn't done much in front of the camera, preferring to stick to his new-found role as producer of such TV shows as Room 401; much like People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, the Gratuitous Brunette is a certified career killer, which puts me and my work in some very prestigious company indeed. Apart from that, he seems to enjoy spending time with his wife Demi Moore; in fact their relationship has pretty much been the only thing keeping them both in front of the paparazzi cameras lately, despite a lack of work for either of them - although in her case, I ain't exactly crushed.

Fear not, fans of Ashton Kutcher! He just appeared in the 2008 film What Happens in Vegas and is hard at work (and probably at home too. But I digress...) filming another - something about a hit man, apparently - meaning 2009 might just prove to be his comeback year; to which I can only say, he'd certainly never get a come back from me. Failing that, fans of Michael Kelso also have his seven seasons of That '70s Show to peruse on DVD at their leisure.

*Which is, after all, essentially just having some old gay troll perving on straight guys, although I have tried to branch out by occasionally including women and even gay guys, just to be fair.

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POPnews - February 7th

[Richard Brydges Beechey - one of 18 children of the painter Sir William Beechey - was serving as an admiral in the Royal Navy at the time he painted the foundering of the HMS Orpheus in 1863.]

457 CE - Leo I was crowned emperor of the Byzantine Empire following the death of Marcian.

1045 - Japan's Emperor Go-Suzaku died; he was succeeded by his son, who would reign as Emperor Go-Reizei.

1074 - Pandulf IV of Benevento was killed by invading Norman forces at a battle outside the Italian castle town of Montesarchio.

1497 - The so-called bonfire of the vanities occurred, in which supporters of Girolamo Savonarola burned thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in the central piazza in Firenze.

1799 - Qianlong, Emperor of China, died; he was succeeded by his son, who reigned as Jiaqing Emperor.

1807 - During the Napoleonic Wars, at the Battle of Eylau, troops of Napoléon's French Empire began fighting against Russian and Prussian forces of the Fourth Coalition at Eylau in Poland; by the time the battle ended the following day the Grande Armée would sustain massive casualties to send the much larger force commanded by Generals Bennigsen and L'Estocq into retreat and gain nothing but a muddy, blood-soaked field for their trouble.

1837 - King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden - who'd been forced to abdicate in March 1809 - died; he'd been succeeded by his uncle, who reigned as Charles XIII, in June 1809.

1842 - At the Battle of Debre Tabor Ras Ali Alula, Regent of the Emperor of Ethiopia, defeated warlord Wube Haile Maryam of Semien.

1863 - HMS Orpheus sank off the New Zealand coast near Auckland, killing 189 of the 259 crew on board.

1878 - Blessed Pope Pius IX - with a papacy of nearly 32 years the longest serving pontiff in history - died; he was succeeded by Leo XIII on February 20th.

1898 - Émile Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing J'Accuse, which condemned the government of Félix Faure for its anti-Semitism in the court-martial and unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus on charges of espionage.

1979 - The final session of the Iranian National Consultative Assembly prior to the Islamic Revolution was held.

1984 - The XIV Winter Olympic Games were opened in Sarajevo (which was then in Yugoslavia and is now in Bosnia and Herzegovina); only the second Olympic Games in history to be held in a Communist country (the first being the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which were boycotted by some 64 countries including the US in protest of the 1979 Soviet war in Afghanistan), they were nonetheless dominated by athletes from Communist countries - namely East Germany and the Soviet Union.

1986 - Twenty-eight years of one-family rule ended in Haiti when President Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife Michèle fled the Caribbean nation they'd spent years plundering; Duvalier was succeeded by Henri Namphy, who served as President of the country's National Council of Government.

1991 - Haiti's first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was sworn in.

1992 - The Maastricht Treaty was signed, which led to the creation of the European Union from the European Community.

1995 - Ramzi Yousef - mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center - was arrested in the Pakistani city of Islamabad.

1999 - Crown Prince Abdullah become the King of Jordan on the death of his father, King Hussein.

2009 - Bushfires in Victoria left 173 dead in the worst natural disaster in Australia's history.

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