25 Jun 2017

The Dramatic Life of Oscar Wilde


Numerous books and articles have been written on Oscar Wilde, reflecting on his life and works. He was a celebrity in his own time and his influence on the world's literature can't be denied. Oscar Wilde's dramatic portrayals of the human condition came during the Victorian Era of the late 19th century. At a time that was considered a height of prosperity in London Wilde wrote many short stories, plays and poems that continue to inspire millions around the world and that focused on human nature, inequalities, cruelty.
William Robert Wilde (1815 - 1876)

But let's start at the beginning. His father was a respected and well-known person in Dublin. By the time William Wilde was 28, he had graduated as a doctor, completed a voyage to Madeira, Teneriffe, North Africa and the Middle East, studied at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, written two books and been appointed medical advisor to the Irish Census of 1841. When the medical statistics were published two years later they contained data which had not been collected in any other country at the time, and as a result, William became the Assistant Commissioner to the 1851 Census. He held the same position for the two succeeding Censuses and, in 1864, he was knighted for his work on them. When William opened a Dublin practice specializing in ear and eye diseases, he felt he should make some provision for the free treatment of the city's poor population. In 1844, he founded St. Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital, built entirely at his own expense.
Before he married, William fathered three children. Henry Wilson was born in 1838, Emily in 1847 and Mary in 1849. He provided financial support for all of them, which was quite unusal at those times and one can consider him quite generous...  He paid for Henry's education and medical studies, eventually hiring him into St. Mark's Hospital as an assistant. Mary and Emily, who were raised by William's brother, both died in a fire at the ages of 22 and 24.
Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (Jane Elgee, 1821-1896)Speranza
Oscar's mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a writer and independist. She first gained attention in 1846 when she began writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym "Speranza" for a weekly Irish newspaper, The Nation. In 1848, as the country's famine worsened and the Year of Revolution took hold of Europe, the newspaper offices were raided and had to close. Jane, who was also a gifted linguist with working knowledge of the major European languages, went on to translate Wilhelm Meinhold's gothic horror novel “Sidonia the Sorceress.” Oscar would later read the translation with relish, and draw on it for the darker elements of his own work.
Jane's first child, William "Willie" Charles Kingsbury, was born on September 26, 1852 and her second, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie, on October 16, 1854. The daughter she had longed for, Isola Emily Francesca, was delivered on April 2, 1857. Ten years later, however, Emily died from a sudden fever. Oscar was deeply affected by the loss of his sister, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.
Early biographers look at this childhood photo of Wilde dressed in frills and suggest that his mother wanted him to be a girl, thus arousing Wilde’s interest in men, but this was not true in anyway. In mid-nineteenth century Ireland, boys were traditionally dressed as girls to protect them from the dred due, a kind of blood-thirsty fairy, who abducted little boys, but ignored little girls. Wilde’s mother adored old Irish myths and legends, almost as much as she adored her little boys.

Willie and Oscar attended the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, where Oscar excelled at studying the classics, taking top prize his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college's Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.
An accomplished student, Wilde attended some of Dublin’s finest educational institutions—the Protestant public school Portora Royal (1864) and Trinity College, to which he won a scholarship in 1871. He later attended Magdalen College, Oxford.
Oscar's father died on April 19, 1876, leaving the family financially strapped. Henry, William's eldest son, paid the mortgage on the family's house and supported them until his sudden death in 1877. Meanwhile, Oscar continued to do well at Oxford. He was awarded the Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna,” and a First Class in both his "Mods" and "Greats" by his examiners. After graduation, Oscar moved to London to live with his friend Frank Miles, a popular high society portrait painter. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. “Poems” received mixed reviews by critics, but helped to move Oscar's writing career along.
In December 1881, Oscar sailed for New York to travel across the United States and deliver a series of lectures on aesthetics. The 50-lecture tour was originally scheduled to last four months, but stretched to nearly a year, with over 140 lectures given in 260 days. In between lectures he made time to meet with Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. He also arranged for his play, “Vera,” to be staged in New York the following year. When he returned from America, Oscar spent three months in Paris writing a blank-verse tragedy that had been commissioned by the actress Mary Anderson. When he sent it to her, however, she turned it down. He then set off on a lecture tour of Britain and Ireland.
Wilde’s income was meager and always short of his extravagant spending. 
In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, the beautiful young daughter of a Dublin barrister, whose small fortune helped to rectify his financial difficulties.
On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd. Constance was four years younger than Oscar and the daughter of a prominent barrister who died when she was 16. She was well-read, spoke several European languages and had an outspoken, independent mind. Oscar and Constance had two sons in quick succession, Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886. 
They had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). 


With a family to support, Oscar accepted a job revitalizing the Woman's World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889. The next six years were to become the most creative period of his life. He published two collections of children's stories, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892). His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in an American magazine in 1890 to a storm of critical protest. He expanded the story and had it published in book form the following year. Its implied homoerotic theme was considered very immoral by the Victorians and played a considerable part in his later legal trials. Oscar's first play, “Lady Windermere's Fan,” opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theater. His subsequent plays included “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.



In the summer of 1891, Oscar met Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Bosie was well acquainted with Oscar's novel “Dorian Gray” and was an undergraduate at Oxford. They soon became lovers and were inseparable until Wilde's arrest four years later. In April 1895, Oscar sued Bosie's father for libel as the Marquis had accused him of homosexuality. Oscar withdrew his case but was himself arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labor. Constance took the children to Switzerland and reverted to an old family name, “Holland.”
In 1891, Wilde was introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas, then a student at Oxford and a handsome and spoiled young man. The two quickly struck an intimate friendship and soon became lovers as well as literary collaborators.

Alfred Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensbury, outraged by his son’s relationship with Wilde, went to the theater on opening night intending to embarrass the playwright by tossing rotten vegetables onstage. Wilde caught wind of the plan and denied Douglas entrance. Four days later the Marquess sent an insulting card to Wilde’s club which read, “For Oscar Wilde, posing as somdomite [sic].” On the picture: envelope and nore that were basis of libel suit (1895)


Upon his release, Oscar wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a response to the agony he experienced in prison. It was published shortly before Constance's death in 1898. He and Bosie reunited briefly, but Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sadly, he was unable to rekindle his creative fires. When a recurrent ear infection became serious several years later, meningitis set in, and Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Apart from the Pére Lachaise Cementary, we can find at least two other places that are dedicated to the memory of Oscar Wilde:
A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, London


Wilde's house in Dublin, where he spent the first years of his life. Merrion Square1...

...and a natural-sized statue in a park in front of it.

11 Jun 2017

Mysteries of Isaac Asimov's Life

Isaac Asimov was one of the 20th century's most prolific writers, writing in many genres. He was mostly known for sci-fi works like "Foundation" and "I, Robot". But even being so famous, he still left a few unsolved mysteries about his life. Foe example: ask Google when his birthday was and it’ll say January 2nd, but the truth is, he chose that date himself so he’d have a day on which to celebrate. He was born sometime between October 4, 1919, and January 2, 1920, in in Petrovichi in Soviet Union, as Isaak Yudovick Ozimov, first of 3 children. There are no accurate records of his birth so nobody, not even his family, really knew the exact date.

The Asimovs, Anna Rachel Berman and Judah Ozimov moved to Brooklyn with young Isaac in 1923, where his father opened a candy store. There was no question Isaac was smart. Judah called upon his son to work in the store as a youngster. Isaac was fond of learning at a young age, having taught himself to read by the age of 5; he learned Yiddish soon after, and graduated from high school at 15 to enter Columbia University. Asimov's interest in science fiction had begun as a boy when he noticed several of the early science fiction magazines for sale on the newsstand in his family's candy store. His father refused to let him read them. But when a new magazine appeared on the scene called Science Wonder Stories, Asimov convinced his father that it was a serious journal of science, and as a result he was allowed to read it. Asimov quickly became a devoted fan of science fiction. He wrote letters to the editors, commenting on stories that had appeared in the magazine, and tried writing stories of his own. Asimov himself said this about his knowledge about literature: "I never read Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Joyce or Kafka. To this day I am a stranger to 20th-century fiction and poetry, and I have no doubt that it shows in my writing."
So, Asimov was shocked by his father's suggestion that he submit his story to the editor in person. But mailing the story would have cost twelve cents while subway fare, round trip, was only ten cents. To save the two cents, he agreed to make the trip to the magazine's office, expecting to leave the story with a secretary. Campbell, however, had invited many young writers to discuss their work with him. When Asimov arrived he was shown into the editor's office. Campbell talked with him for over an hour and agreed to read the story. Two days later Asimov received it back in the mail. It had been rejected, but Campbell offered suggestions for improvement and encouraged the young man to keep trying. This began a pattern that was to continue for several years, with Campbell guiding Asimov through his beginnings as a science fiction writer. His first professionally published story, "Marooned off Vesta," appeared in Amazing Stories in 1938.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1939 and went on to get his M.A. and Ph.D. from the same institution. In 1942, he married Gertrude Blugerman. In 1949, Asimov began a stint at Boston University School of Medicine, where he was hired as an associate professor of biochemistry in 1955.
with Gertrude

They had a nice house in a nice Boston suburb, and along the way they - two babies: David and Robyn. daughter Robin was his clear favorite. Son David is apparently developmentally disabled and lives off of a trust fund his father set up a number of years before he died. He is barely mentioned in the initial autobiography. And in 1998 there was a scandal: Santa Rosa police arrested him after searching his home and discovering what investigators say may be the biggest child pornography collection in Sonoma County history. was sentenced on March 28, 2001 to six months' home detention with electronic monitoring and three years federal probation for possessing child pornography. U.S. District Court Judge Maxine M. Chesney sentenced Asimov after reviewing a series of sealed psychiatric reports, one of which was ordered by the court.
with his daughter, Robyn

The Asimovs stayed married through the decade of the 1960s, but that was the end. Isaac was by quite a large margin more interested in sex than Gertrude was. He started having affairs.
He eventually became a professor at the university by the late 1970s, though by that time he'd given up full-time teaching to do occasional lectures. He published his first novel, "Pebble in the Sky", in 1950.

An influential vision came with another 1950 release, the story collection "I, Robot", which looked at human/construct relationships and featured the Three Laws of Robotics. (The narrative would be adapted for a blockbuster starring Will Smith decades later.) Asimov would later be credited with coming up with the term "robotics."

The year 1951 saw the release of another seminal work, "Foundation", a novel that looked at the end of the Galactic Empire and a statistical method of predicting outcomes known as "psychohistory." The story was followed by two more installations, "Foundation and Empire" (1952) and "Second Foundation" (1953), with the series continuing into the 1980s.
Asimov was also known for writing books on a wide variety of subjects outside of science fiction, taking on topics like astronomy, biology, math, religion and literary biography. A small sample of notable titles include The Human Body (1963), Asimov's Guide to the Bible (1969), the mystery Murder at the AB A (1976) and his 1979 autobiography, In Memory Yet Green. He spent most of his time in solitude, working on manuscripts and having to be persuaded by family to take breaks and vacations. By December 1984, he had written 300 books, ultimately writing nearly 500.
There was one woman whom Isaac met in that period when his marriage to Gertrudewas crumbling but had not yet got to the stage of a divorce who became both large and permanent in Isaac’s life. She was a New York psychiatrist named Janet Jeppson, who now and then wrote science fiction. Janet and Isaac had once or twice bumped into each other at science-fiction events in the city, but nothing much came of it until they were both present at an annual banquet of the Mystery Writers of America. They found themselves talking mostly to each other, and thereafter Isaac regarded her as a good friend. But his devotion to her grew and once he explained to a freind why she was incontestably the most desirable woman in the world for him, he thought for a moment and then said, “Because Janet has never once failed to make me feel welcome.”
with Janet
Janet Asimov's first published writing was a "mystery short" sold to Hans Stefan Santesson for The Saint Mystery Magazine and appearing in the May 1966 issue. According to Isaac Asimov, Janet Asimov's books that were written in association with him were 90 percent Janet's, and his name was wanted on the books by the publisher "for the betterment of sales".
In 1972, Isaac discovered that there was something going on in his thyroid gland that might well be malignant, requiring dietary changes and medications to take, while Janet found a lump in her breast that was definitely so, requiring surgery.
That made a problem in Isaac’s mind, because he had always admitted that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood or of the visible results of surgery. (That was one of the things that had made his long-ago rejection by the medical schools quite bearable.) He was sure that the removal of one of her breasts would make Janet worry that her body would become repulsive to him.

He was also sure that that could not happen, that no imaginable change in Janet’s physiology could make him love her less. But the person he had to convince was Janet herself. In 1973, the divorce from Gertrude was granted, and then it was less than a week before Janet and Isaac were married.

Asimov died in New York City on April 6, 1992, at the age of 72, from heart and kidney failure. He had dealt privately with a diagnosis of AIDS, which he'd contracted from a blood transfusion during bypass surgery. He was survived by two children and his second wife, Janet Jeppson. 
Over the course of his career, Asimov won several Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as received accolades from science institutions. He stated during a televised interview that he hoped his ideas would live on past his death; his wish has come to fruition, with the world continuing to contemplate his literary and scientific legacies.
It was he who conceived of the idea of the positronic brain, brought to life in iconic pop culture shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and of course, the 2004 Will Smith blockbuster I, Robot. He had a lot to say about contemporary life on Earth as well, believing strongly that overpopulation was one of our biggest challenges, that homosexuality was a moral right, and that the survival of our species was tied to the equality of women. Part of ne of the fine example's of his views you can read below:

Sources:

4 Jun 2017

Jack Kerouac's "On the Road": Fiction or Autobiograpy?

Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac on March 12, 1922, the youngest of three children in a French-Canadian family in the factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts. The family lived in French-Canadian neighborhoods in Lowell and spoke the French-Canadian dialect of joual in their home. It was Kerouac’s first language, and he spoke it in conversations with his mother, whom he called “Mamère,” and lived with on and off throughout his adult life, she in fact was a model for the character of aunt in "On the Road". He spent his childhood in Lowell, attending local Catholic and public schools, and his early adulthood in the East, attending Columbia College in New York City on a football scholarship. It was at Columbia College where he first met Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.



Following a quarrel with the football coach in his sophomore year, Kerouac left Columbia College, joined the Merchant Marines, and sailed to various Atlantic and Mediterranean ports as a seaman during World War II. In 1944, he was arrested as a material witness, having failed to report a homicide committed by Lucien Carr, one of his friends at Columbia. Believing him to have “disgraced the family name,” his father refused to post the $100 bail. On the condition that Jack marry Edie Parker, an art student at Columbia through whom he’d first met Lucien Carr, his father came up with the money. Jack and Edie separated soon afterwards and Kerouac signed aboard another merchant ship.

His first book, The Town and the City, published in 1950, was an attempt to explain “everything to everybody.” Kerouac had borrowed the style and structure of Thomas Wolfe’s Look HomewardAngel as his literary model for The Town and the City, but grew dissatisfied with the conventional result. As he later stated in a note prefacing his collection of poetry, Mexico City Blues: “I want to be considered a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday.” 

In a struggle to fashion a method of writing that could capture the freedom and creativity of Bebop in his prose fiction, Kerouac’s encounter with Neal Cassady, whom he would portray as Dean Moriarty in On the Road, proved to be pivotal. Cassady was visiting from Denver with his teenage wife, LuAnne, and staying with Hal Chase, a student at Columbia. Having grown up in Denver, living in skid row hotels with his alcoholic father, and serving time in a reformatory for stealing cars and joyriding, Cassady later decided to become a writer by learning how to write from Kerouac and Ginsberg. At first disconcerted by Cassady’s tough looks and demeanor, Kerouac’s second meeting with Neal early in 1947, described in the opening chapter of On the Road, opened him to the world of sex, drugs, and other wild “experiments” of his Columbia friends.

Kerouac with Neal Cassidy

As early as 1948, Kerouac had begun writing and making notes for the book he was already calling “On the Road.” Following initial bursts of excitement and hope for the project, he ended up dissatisfied, believing his work was too imitative of his models, Theodore Dreiser and Thomas Wolfe, and that his writing failed to capture the spontaneity and freedom of his “road” adventures. Having returned to his mother’s home from one of his trips in February 1949, and emotionally shattered by his wild rides with Cassady, he realized his “factualist” attempts at his “road book” could not be salvaged. In November 1950, feeling his life was drifting, Kerouac impulsively married for a second time a woman he had met a short time before in New York named Joan Haverty. Back in Denver, Cassady had begun writing letters to Jack that stunned both him and his new wife, Joan, with their loose, rambling sentences and meticulously detailed observations. Thinking Cassady’s letters “among the best things ever written in America,” as well as being inspired by the honesty of Burroughs’ first-person narratives of his drug addiction, Kerouac finally found the catalyst he needed to break with his earlier literary models, making the decision to “write it as it happened.”

In April 1951, taping together twelve-foot-long sheets of tracing paper, and feeding them into his typewriter as a continuous roll, Kerouac completed On the Road in a marathon burst of typing that lasted three weeks. Discouraged that his “road” book, along with several other novels and collections of poetry written between 1952 and 1957 were continually turned down by New York publishers, Kerouac gave up on the publishing world and turned to Buddhist practice. 

In 1953, he began writing reading notes on Buddhism for his friend, Allen Ginsberg. As his Buddhist study intensified, what had begun as notes evolved into an all-encompassing work of nonfiction, incorporating poems, haiku, prayers, journal entries, meditations, fragments of letters, ideas about writing, overheard conversations, sketches, blues, and more. The final manuscript (published as Some of the Dharma by Viking in 1997) was completed in 1956, to become part of what Kerouac thought of asThe Duluoz Legend.

Kerouac was thirty-five years old when On the Road was published in 1957. The media response was unrelenting, and he was besieged with questions about the lifestyle he had described in his novel. Kerouac was never able to convince his critics that the Beat Generation was “basically a religious generation,” and that the specific object of their quest was spiritual. And unfortunately, he never managed to gather all his autobiographical novels together in a uniform binding published with the names of the “real life” people returned to them. His novel Big Sur (1962) contains an account of the disintegration of all his hopes.



At eleven o'clock, on the morning of October 20, 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kerouac was sitting in his favorite chair drinking whiskey and malt liquor, working on a book about his father's print shop in Lowell, Massachusetts. He suddenly felt nauseated and walked to the bathroom, where he began to vomit blood. Kerouac was taken to a nearby hospital, suffering from an abdominal hemorrhage. He received several transfusions in an attempt to make up for the loss of blood, and doctors subsequently attempted surgery, but a damaged liver prevented his blood from clotting. He died at 5:15 the following morning at St. Anthony's Hospital, never having regained consciousness after the operation. His cause of death was listed as an internal bleeding, the result of longtime alcohol abuse. A possible contributing factor was an untreated hernia he suffered in a bar fight several weeks earlier.
He is buried at Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts.

At the time of his death, he was living with his third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, and his mother Gabrielle. Kerouac's mother inherited most of his estate.

Jack Kerouac and his mother, Gabrielle


He was honored posthumously with a Doctor of Letters degree from his hometown University of Massachusetts Lowell on 2 June 2007.

It is important to remember that the term “Beat Generation” was Invented by Kerouac in 1948 and introduced to the public by an article on “New York Times Magazine”. 


Beat

1. tired - reaction against capitalism and Puritan middle-class values.

2. beatific - Kerouac’s reverence for certain aspects of Catholicism and Buddhism.


Beatniks 1950s

And that is how "the beatniks" were born: a suffix -nik was borrowed from Sputnik, a Russian satellite. They prefered illegal way of life, acting on first impulses over the tradition. They also advocated escapism and created an original underground culture. Their influence upon artisctic movements was undeniable. Among any other things, they believed in:

  • Spiritual and sexual liberation.
  • Liberation from censorship.
  • Decriminalization of the use of marijuana.
  • The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll.
  • The spread of ecological consciousness
  • Attention to a “second religiousness” 
  • Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures (“The Earth is an Indian thing”.)

Considering the above information, it's not surprising that many considered "On the Road" to be kind of a diary of Kerouac. In fact the actual journal written by Kerouac is almost identical to On The Road. And many of the characters can be identified as people who were his friends:Sal (the narrator) stands for Kerouac himself; Dean - for Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassidy. Other characters are: Carlo (Allen Ginsberg), Marylou (Carolyn Cassidy), Ed (William S. Burroughs), Terry (Bea Kozera; you can read about her life in “Mañana Means Heaven” by Tim Z. Hernandez).


part of Kerouac's journal

                              


But one has to admit that there are some changes: though many of his poet and artist friends were gay, Kerouac, as revealed in his personal correspondence and journals, considered homosexuality to be a fault, a sin, a vice. In On the Road, Sal’s friend Carlo Marx (based on Allen Ginsberg) is openly gay, but Kerouac decides to hide the fact that in real life he had an affair with Dean (Neal Cassidy). So, the final decision if it's a novel describing his life, or just inspired by some elements of it, I leave up to you.

Gerard de Jong and his Road to Donostia

On May 8th we had an amazing opportunity to talk before our monthly meeting to Gerard de Jong, current resident of the programme Other Words in the Basque Country. You might remember we had previously hosted Bart Kingma in November (https://donostiabookclub.blogspot.com.es/2016/11/meeting-with-bart-kingma-november.html?q=other+words) and the results of his stay in San Sebastian are already available on the Other Words website (http://otherwordsliterature.eu/uploads/work/sera.pdf), for now only in Frisian, but we are hoping to read it soon in English too!

Gerard de Jong, picture taken from: http://otherwordsliterature.eu/eng/writers/

It was Gerard's first public event and we certainly hope he felt our interest and hunger for knowledge. Below you can find some main points from the presentation he had prepared for us (all the descriptions and pictures come from Gerard's original presentation, so all the credit for this post, in reality should go to him!)


"Het Bildt used to be part of the Middle Sea. In 1505, some 1500 men were put to work to make land from the sea. They would first build a 14 km long dike, after which they could start ‘poldering’ in the land. This work was all done with mere shovels and wheelbarrows. Because it was terra nova, ‘new land’, there was nothing there at first. Most of the workers – coming from both the South of Holland and from Friesland – decided to stay on what would be called ‘het Bildt’: meaning ‘silted up land’."


"In honour of their hard work, this statue was placed at the sea dike. It’s called ‘De Slikwerker’, ‘the Mud worker’, as a tribute to those who worked very hard (and were very poorly paid) to create this new ‘enclave’."
Gerard brought and showed us a replica of that statue, given to him by his parents as a 'lucky charm'. 
picture taken from: http://otherwordsliterature.eu/eng/blog/gerard_de_jong_s_first_public_event_in_donostia

"Het Bildt is renowned for its agriculture. For centuries it was considered the ‘grain shed of the world’. The mixture of highly fertile clay land and the salty sea breeze makes het Bildt a perfect place for potatoes. Some 10% of all the seed potatoes in the world come from het Bildt."



"Het Bildt was the first ‘modern’ polder, with its characteristics being straight lines, like a grid, or a Mondriaan painting. The landscape mirrors the Bildts way of thinking and attitude: straight, very open, very direct. Het Bildt also has an unusually high number of artists, writers and poets: many of them come the West (Amsterdam) and find inspiration in the huge skies, the sea and the silence. In the 18th and 19th century Frisians referred to het Bildt as ‘Sodoma and Gomorrah’. It was considered a ‘rough’ area: it was rather poor, there were lots of people working in fishing and farming. In the Netherlands, het Bildt was one of the first places were the early 20th century socialist revolution had a lot of the workers enthused."



After that explanation, came the part of the presentation much more personal, but at the same time fascinating and directly connected to the project that Gerard is working on during his stay with Other Words.

"In 1935, my great-grandfather started de Bildtse Post, a newspaper. During World War II he refused to place Nazi propaganda, which lead to the paper being cut off from electricity, ink and paper. It was only after the liberation when the paper could appear again. On the left in the image above is the first post-war paper, opening in English with a ‘welcome to our liberators’."
Gerard's  grandfather, Gerryt Dirks, with the paper.

"He ran de Bildtse Post from after the war until his death in 2000. I, 21 and studying journalism at the time, dropped out of university to take over the paper. I was the youngest editor-in-chief of the Netherlands at that point.

At the time we have about 1800 subscribers to our paper. We use a lot of Bildts language, and are the only newspaper where people from het Bildt (‘Bilkerts’) can read and write in their language. We consider the Bildtse Post to be an essential instrument in keeping the language – with only 6000 speakers – alive."




"For this, in 2015 we received the Bildtse-Kultuurpriis, a prize acknowledging our role in the preservation of the language. As you can see my father (left) and I were very pleased with that!"


Since his family story is so fascinating, it shouldn't surprise anyone that some elements of it might appear in a novella he is planning to write while in Donostia. The story will be written in the Bildt language and it's title is ‘Blau fan dagen, griis fan onrust’ (Blue of days, grey of anxiety). Gerard has lots of experience in journalism, but that will be his literary debut. He plans to focus on  three generations of inhabitants of Het Bildt and paint through their eyes a historical story about the Bildt awareness.

 As we can read on Other Words website, the plan is quite ambitious. He says:
"With my literary novella I hope to achieve something; to acknowledge and to anchor the Bildt language as a language for literature. To show that it is possible to put the spade in new ground and gain terrain like a literary mud worker: fertile soil on which growing can be continued. It is my personal mission and guiding force in life. The literary stay in San Sebastian is a unique, ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to realize this dream."

One of the questions that fascinates de Jong is "How can we use literature to give a minor language (that is threatened by extinction) like the Bildt language with only 6,000 speakers, a chance to survive, to make it stronger. To create a foundation from which this language can experience a new spring and face a solid future." 
We hope he will succeed and that his stay in the Basque Country will be the most fruitful one! Good luck Gerard!