Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
435 Much Madness is divinest Sense
by Emily Dickinson
Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you’re straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —
“Much Madness is divinest Sense” by Emily Dickinson. Public domain. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of writer and humorist Leo Rosten, (books by this author) born in Lodz, in what is now Poland, in 1908. He grew up in Chicago, went to the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, but still wasn’t sure what to do with his life. He worked for a while teaching English to adults in night school, and wrote critical essays and sold them to magazines like Harper’s. But then his wife, Priscilla Ann Mead (Margaret Mead’s sister), contracted pneumonia and appendicitis, and they needed more money to pay her medical bills. So he decided to try writing humorous pieces, which were published in The New Yorker, and soon everyone thought of him as a humorist.
He published a book of his humorous sketches, which were based on his experience teaching new immigrants at the night school. The book, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937), was a huge success, praised by everyone from Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse to the Nurses Association of America, who wrote Rosten to tell him that he should put a warning label on it so that their patients who read it didn’t burst their stitches from laughing so hard.
He published several more humorous books, including The Joys of Yiddish (1968), also a best-seller — a book that he described as “a relaxed lexicon of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Yinglish words often encountered in English, plus dozens that ought to be.” He describes the 20 situations where one should say feh; 19 meanings of Nu? (including “What’s the hurry?” and “How are things with you?”); and has entries on oy, chutzpah, mish-mosh, and many more words.
It’s the birthday of novelist Dorothy Allison, (books by this author) born in Greenville, South Carolina (1949) to an unwed 15-year-old mother, grew up poor, sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of five. But she became the first person in her family to graduate from high school, went to college on a National Merit Scholarship, embraced the feminist movement and started dating women. She wrote a book of short stories, Trash (1988). In the preface she described herself as a “cross-eyed, working-class lesbian addicted to violence, language, and hope.” She talked about her class, her sexuality, her past. Her work was respected, but still only read within a small community.
And then she published her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), based on her own life — it was a best-seller, it got great reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was made into a movie.
It’s the birthday of the poet Christopher Smart (books by this author), born in Shipbourne, England (1722). His nicknames were Jack, Kit, and Kitty; and coincidentally for a man known as Kitty, one of his most well-known poems is an ode to his beloved cat, Jeoffry. The ode is a surviving fragment from his great poem Jubilate Agno, which he wrote while he was locked up in an insane asylum.
No one knows whether Christopher Smart was actually insane. He definitely underwent some sort of intense religious conversion, and this was enough to convince his friend Samuel Johnson. Johnson said, “My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place. Now although, rationally speaking, it is greater madness not to pray at all, than to pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that their understanding is not called in question.”
Smart was sent to the asylum by John Newbery, who was not only his publisher and his landlord but also his father-in-law. Their relationship had deteriorated, and Newbery might have had his own reasons for wanting his son-in-law out of his way. Smart produced his two most famous poems during his confinement — A Song to David (1763) and Jubilate Agno, which wasn’t published in its entirety until the 1950s.
Seventy-four lines of Jubilate Agno are devoted to Jeoffry the Cat. T.S. Eliot, the author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1930), wrote in an essay: “His poem about his cat is to all other poems about cats what the Iliad is to all other poems on war.”
Christopher Smart wrote:
“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. […]
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.”
It’s the birthday of a noblewoman whom the scholar Samuel Putnam called “the first modern woman”: Marguerite de Navarre (books by this author), born in Angoulême, France (1492). Her mother, Louise, was extremely well educated, and when Marguerite’s father died a few years after her birth, Louise became the head of the household. She taught her children herself or hired the best tutors for them. Marguerite spoke at least five languages and studied literature. When she was a teenager, she was married off to a duke, Charles IV of Alençon, a man who was kind but basically illiterate. He had no interest in fostering his wife’s contributions to the intellectual world of France. They were married for more than 15 years and didn’t have any children, but then Charles died and Marguerite married again, this time to Henry II of Navarre. She gave birth to a daughter; and then, when she was 38, to a son, Jean, who died when he was a few months old.
Marguerite was so distraught that she wrote Le miroir de l’âme pécheresse (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul, 1531). It combined her mysticism with her strong ideas for political action within the Church. She was a Catholic, but she believed that the Church needed to be completely reformed, and that didn’t go over well with everyone. After the publication of The Mirror of the Sinful Soul, one monk even suggested that Marguerite be put in a sack and drowned in the Seine. But her brother, Francis I, was the King of France, and he made sure that nothing happened to his sister.
Throughout her life, Marguerite advocated for religious reform, was sent on high-profile diplomatic missions, and continued to write. The French historian Brantôme said of Marguerite: “She composed most of these novels in her litter as she traveled, for her hours of retirement were employed in affairs of importance. I have heard this account from my grandmother, who always went with her in her litter as her lady of honor and held her ink-horn for her; and she wrote them down as quickly and readily, or rather more so, than if they had been dictated to her.”
Her most famous work was the Heptameron, a collection of more than 70 short stories — stories about women and their relationships with men, and whether it was possible to be virtuous and also experience real love. They are stories of unplanned pregnancies, jealous murders, women locked up for life, corrupt monks, cheating wives, and unforgiving patriarchs.
Marguerite de Navarre had intended for The Heptameron to be a collection of 100 stories, but she died before it was completed. She said, “Never shall a man attain to the perfect love of God who has not loved to perfection some creature in this world.”