Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

If any of you majored in English lit at BYU, you had to buy this book. It is gigantic, about 4 inches thick, and nearly 3000 pages. I got one for American Literature, which I also love, but it was quite used and falling apart when I bought it. Whereas the English lit anthology was brand new. Don't even remember how much it cost, but I believe it was enough to feed a family of six for a month.

I love reading the author bios, to see where they came from, how they lived and what drove them to write against all odds. This is from Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797):

"Mary Wollstonecraft's father inherited a substantial fortune and set himself up as a gentleman farmer. He was, however, both extravagant and incompetent, and as one farm after another failed, he became moody and violent and sought solace in heavy bouts of drinking and in tyrannizing over his submissive wife. Mary was the second of five children and the oldest daughter."

Any wonder that she wrote essays on women's rights?

I love reading about the life of Wordsworth. The man walked practically all through Europe, even as a boy. And in college, he and a friend "journeyed on foot through France and the Alps".
He found inspiration for his poetry in nature, and walked daily for long periods of time. I find that so motivational, makes me want to get out there and take a walk.

This is on Robert Browning (1812-1889):

"During the years of his marriage Robert Browning was sometimes referred to as 'Mrs. Browning's husband.' Elizabeth Barrett was at that time a famous poet, whereas her husband was a relatively unknown experimenter whose poems were greeted with misunderstanding or indifference. Not until the 1860's did he at last gain a public and become recognized as the rival or equal of Tennyson."

I find that kind of information incredibly fascinating. I could browse through this volume all day, discovering interesting little tidbits about the lives of writers past. Or I could browse the internet and find interesting tidbits about my fellow writers now. I guess it's pretty much the same thing, learning these things about one another, following their books, seeing the covers, finding out who their publishers are, reading about the editing process, sharing in the joys and frustrations.

It may be 200 years later, but writers still do pretty much the same thing, only with more advanced equipment. We write, we gather to talk about what we are writing, we learn from one another, we sit isolated for long periods of time, we have histories that led us to this point, we care about what others think about our work, we go for long walks to clear our minds.


  1. To go on a slight tangent, I was fascinated with how many writers and artists appeared before Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple along with the founding fathers to ask that their work be done since they had done their part for helping to establish I suppose the right time for the restored gospel to take root.

    Vicki Jo Anderson's book, The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff gives a brief detail of the event in St. George and then brief biographies on the non-founding fathers notably among them
    Lord George Gordon Noel Byron-poet, Robert Burns-poet, Johan Wolfgang von Goeth-German Lit, Baron Edward George Bulwer-Lytton-novelist, Edmund Burke-politcal author, Frederick the Great-king of Prussia (that was surprising),Edward Gibbon-historian, Oliver Goldsmith-playwright,novelist, Washington Irving-father of American lit, Stonewall Jackson-confedrate general (another surprise)Samuel Johnson-english writer and moralist, Hiram Powers-sculptor, Sir joshua Reynolds-painter, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller-poet, Sir Walter Scott-novelist (I love Ivanhoe), William Makepeace Thackeray-novelist, William Wordworth-poet, Jean Armour-wife of Robert Burns, Jane Austen-novelist, Charlotte Bronte-novelist, Felicia Dorothea Browne-poet, Elizabeth Browning-poet-wife of Robert Browning, Charlotte Margaret Carpenter-wife of Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth-novelist, Matilda Hoffman-betrothed of Washington Irving, Lydia Huntley-author, Emily Chubboch Judson (pen name-Fanny Forester)-author, Letitia Elizabeth Landon-novelist, Frances Locke-poet, Marie Antoinette-Queen of France (another surprise that tells me we don't know the full story), Anna Isabella Milbanke-wife of Lord Byron, Mary Russell Mitford-novelist, Hannah More-author, Lady Sydney Morgan-novelist, Euphrosyne Parepa-opera singer, Catherine Maria Sedgwick-novelist and this list is just getting too long and I am sorry for threadjacking.

    I just started thinking about the writers you mentioned and this is what came to mind. I thought you might be more familiar with some of them than me.

  2. I loved these books. The summer after my mission, I was extremely broke. I hated to sell back my Norton Anthology (I can't remember which one it was), but I desperately, desperately needed the $70 I'd get back. It was the only one I didn't keep. I hated that.

  3. I love that Stonewall Jackson was there, David. I guess I'm turning too Virginian after touring the Battle of Bull run, standing at the monument where he got his nickname, then stood where he was shot in Fredericksburg and followed his trip by ambulance to the home where he finally died. And I loved his depiction in The Killer Angels. I know it's not nonfiction but still... I've become a fan. Go Stonewall! (And no, I don't hang a Confederate flag.) But what a stellar leader! Someone who left an impression!

  4. What an amazing list, I have never seen that before, but I am surely not surprised that so many authors/poets are included, since they have traditionally been so close to the spirit especially during those times before the Gospel was restored.

    Even now, I feel that writers have a special mission to share the truth as they see it and interpret it, through the amazing power of the story. Which may explain why there are so many LDS writers out there.

    Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in one of her essays that she is looking for a great man to lead in the emancipation of woman. To me, that was Joseph Smith. Once he turned the key in behalf of women, that event did not just establish the Relief Society organization, but it literally turned the key for womens basic rights. From that point on, the advancement of women happened at lightening speed. I give that credit to Joseph the Prophet, who significantly opened the heavens for blessings to be poured down upon us as women.

  5. This is one of the most interesting posts I have ever read. Thank you all for your comments.

    David, I don't mind your thread-jacking, I read every word.

  6. One can only wonder what modern authors' bios will look like a century from now. Given people don't themselves write about how their fathers squandered their fortunes or how they lived in their spouse's shadow (not usually at least). Amazing the tidbits that come out once all people concerned have passed on.

  7. The textbooks you purchase in college almost gain personality. In college I first began to care about learning. High school was a big joke, just a place where I did choir and gymnastics. My college chemistry books became my friends. I would study them all the time, soaking up their information. The sidebars were of scientists, their lives, and how they made their discoveries. Aspartame (Sweet N Low)was discovered because the scientist accidentally licked his finger in the lab to change a page and discovered it was sweet. He had to backtrack everything he had done to figure out where the sweetness came from before he could replicate it. I still go back to those old books and read from them. I no longer understand what they are talking about, but I am still amazed by the process of discovery.