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Rimbaud, Africa

Oct 22, 2007

On this day in 1885 Arthur Rimbaud wrote to his mother that he had decided to give up his more sedate job as a coffee-trader in Ethiopia, so beginning the last phase of his wild, infamous and short life: "... Several thousand rifles are on their way to me from Europe. I am going to set up a caravan, and carry this merchandise to Menelik, the king of Shoa...." [full story]


Doris Lessing was born on this day in 1919, making her the oldest winner of the Nobel literature prize. In Under My Skin (1994), the first volume of her autobiography, Lessing notes a problem that will only increase now — five different biographies of her underway, all by writers who seemed to be concocting material from the slimmest sources:

  …But less and less do facts matter, partly because writers are like pegs to hang people’s fantasies on. If writers do care that what is written about them should somewhere connect with the truth, does that mean we are childish? Perhaps it does, and certainly I feel every year more of an anachronism.

Last week, in an interview for, Lessing was asked,  “…how does the prospect of the increased attention that the prize will focus on you, um, grab you?” Her optimistic reply: “ ... you know, people are going to lose all interest in a month or two. They can't spend all their time wanting interviews. And I haven't got time you know. I haven't got time for all that.”


Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was published on this day in 1926. The first of his major novels, it established his style, his reputation and, through the “You are all a lost generation” epigraph, his position as spokesman. Whatever the epigraph’s lineage — Hemingway said he got it from Stein, who got it from the owner of a Paris garage, who had reprimand the young mechanic working on Stein’s car for not getting the job done on time by telling him that he belonged to a “generation perdue” — it stuck early. In his 1926 review of The Sun Also Rises, for example, John Dos Passos regretted that “instead of being the epic of the sun also rising on a lost generation,” his friend’s novel was “a cock-and-bull story about a whole lot of tourists getting drunk.” By the time of the 1930 Grosset and Dunlap edition (right), the term was front-cover, quotation-marks copy:

Wherein the “lost generation” that followed the war goes to the devil with a smile on the lip but with despair in its heart.


The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest love stories of all literature.

Dorothy Parker, reviewing The Autobiography of Margot Asquith for the Oct. 22, 1927 edition of The New Yorker

In skewering Lady Asquith, Parker must have been playing off the ending of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which Jake Barnes famously dismisses the self-absorbed Lady Ashley:

          “Oh Jake,” Brett said, “we could have such a damn good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
         “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”

Parker met Hemingway in 1926 in New York, and was so taken with his tales of Paris that she immediately went there, taking the same boat as he did. Robert Benchley also decided to tag along; Parker biographer Marion Meade says that the trio played bridge, drank and dined together — at the officers’ table, “where Hemingway made a serious production out of consuming saltpeter,” which he regarded as “necessary to control sexual appetites.”

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