Thursday, December 20, 2007

12-20-07: Literary-Historical Notes

It is the birthday of Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, the woman who broke the heart of William Butler Yeats. Gonne was legendarily beautiful — six feet tall with cascading red hair, and the poet Yeats proposed shortly after meeting her and he stayed a virgin until he was 31 in the hope that she would marry him. Gonne refused his repeated proposals and focused all of her passion on the cause of Irish independence. She campaigned for land reform, advocated for political prisoners, and founded the Daughters of Erin to oppose British cultural influence in Ireland. She was also the model for many of Yeats' heroines. In his 1902 parable of Ireland's troubles, Cathleen ni Houlihan, Gonne played the title role, an old woman, Mother Ireland, who sheds her cloak to reveal a young, vibrant, free nation.

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, and essayist Andrei Codrescu, (books by this author) born in an old medieval fortress city in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania (1946). Codrescu witnessed the Communist takeover of Romania, and he always remembered how the smell of apple strudel in his hometown was overpowered by the smell of boots. He didn't know any English when he landed in the United States. He said, "It's still a mystery to me exactly how I learned the language. [But] I was 19 years old and I had very urgent things to tell girls." When he traveled back to Romania in 1989 to witness the democratic revolution, Codrescu watched 45 years of Communist rule undone in eight days. He is the author of Wakefield (2004) and A Bar in Brooklyn (1999).

On this day in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed for $15 million, which was roughly three cents an acre. The land, which spanned from Montana to the port of New Orleans, doubled the size of the United States.

-The Writer's Almanac

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