Friday, May 30, 2014

Going West

Twain, Harte, Stoddard, Coolbirth - Ben Tarnoff's The Bohemians (Penguin, 2014)
Excuse the absence - I've been on a long voyage to the West and points thereabouts. With some inevitably, I finally ended up in San Francisco in the 1860s and 1870s, and got stuck there for a while. I've been working on what will be one of the first chapters of my book about Mark Twain and the Mississippi, which means I've finally been getting to grips with his time in California and the rich literary world of which he was a part. At the same time, I've also been chasing the ghost of Ralph Keeler - remember him? - which meant uncovering his early career in the Alta California and other San Francisco publications. And then, with some uncanny timing, I got asked to do some filming about the Gold Rush, which left me westering for a little while longer. How lucky, then, that these occidental travels coincided with the publication of Ben Tarnoff's The Bohemians (Penguin, 2014), one of the most engaging and readable books ever written on this pivotal and underexamined moment in literary and cultural history.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"A right fat, jolly, roistering little fellow" - Irving, Paulding, Saint Nicholas

It's Saint Nicholas' Eve, which means that in Holland - and in plenty of other places, too - Sinterklaas celebrations are in full swing. I'm paying brief homage to the Dutch part of my heritage by gesturing to the development of Saint Nicholas in the New World in works by early American writers - specifically Washington Irving and James Kirke Paulding. Yes, little Saint Nick was a popular chap amongst the Knickerbocker set.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mr. Pooter Remembers the Fifth of November

To mark the day, Mr. Pooter's account of a firework party:


From, of course, George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody, first published in Punch magazine, 1888-1889. Here's the original appearance of the entry above - from November 24, 1888. And because there's nothing, but nothing, more Pooterish than blogging, a couple of thoughts...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Countdown To Halloween: "A Hallowe'en Party" (1896)

"Pumpkin Carving", Benjamin Franklin Reinhart, 1872  (via)
It's Halloween! Which means we've come to the end of the Countdown for another year. There's still time to take in the glory of Benjamin Franklin Reinhart's pumpkin carvers, above, another illustration that comes courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. It also means it's time for a party - Caroline Ticknor's "A Hallowe'en Party" (1896), to be precise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Countdown to Halloween: War Wounds


Today, a Halloween story from Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine in 1870, in which the emerging holiday touches upon the trauma of the Civil War and the project of reunion.