Today in Literary History: Jan. 27-29

Lewis Carroll, 'Pride and Prejudice' and "The Raven" are published

Here are your Today in Literary History stories from Bidwell Hollow for Jan. 27-29. 


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Jan. 27

Lewis Carroll

In 1856, Charles Dodgson submitted a poem for publishing in a journal named The Train. He sent the piece, titled “Solitude,” along with a list of pen names. As a mathematics fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, Dodgson didn’t want to mix his art with his academic work. So the writer asked The Train’s editor, Edmund Yates, to pick from the list the pen name he liked best.

Yates chose a pseudonym that Dodgson created by translating his legal name into Latin and then back into English. Dodgson then flipped the last and first names. That’s how Charles Dodgson became Carolus Ludovicus and then the pen name, Lewis Carroll.

The same year that “Solitude” by Lewis Carroll appeared in The Train, 1856, Dodgson got a new boss. Henry Liddell became the dean of Christ Church. He brought with him his family, which included his children Harry, Lorina, Edith, and Alice.

At the time, Christ Church required its fellows, such as Dodgson, to stay unmarried. And it was common at that time for bachelors to serve as nannies, or babysitters, for people’s children. That’s how Dodgson got to know the Liddell’s children.

He’d take them rowing on the River Thames and for picnics. And Dodgson would tell the kids stories. In 1862, Dodgson shared a story in which the main character had the same name as one of the Liddell children, Alice.

The little girl loved the tale so much that Dodgson wrote it down. He drew pictures to go with the story, and he bound it into a manuscript. It took a couple of years, but in 1864 Dodgson gave Alice as a gift, Alice’s Adventure Under Ground.

That same year, novelist Henry Kingsley visited Christ Church. He stayed with the Liddell’s and discovered Dodgson’s manuscript. Kingsley persuaded young Alice to convince Dodgson to publish the story as a book.

Dodgson agreed, but he made a few changes. He expanded the initial story from about 18,000 to 35,000 words. Dodgson insisted that Punch magazine cartoonist Sir John Tenniel illustrate the book, and he changed the work’s name to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll came out on Nov. 26, 1865. It was an instant hit. Dodgson followed the first Alice book with Through the Looking Glass in 1872. By then, Lewis Carroll was a household name throughout England. Dodgson insisted, though, on using his legal name. He even rejected mail that arrived addressed to Lewis Carroll, Christ Church. No one by that name lived at Christ Church, Carroll would say.

Today Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is available in more than 80 languages. There are at least 20 films and TV shows based on the work. Its creator, Charles Dodgson, was born on Jan. 27, 1832, in Daresbury, England.

Jan. 28

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is Published

On Jan. 28, 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time. It was the first novel written by Jane Austen, although it wasn’t the first book she published. She’d released Sense and Sensibility two years prior.

Austen started writing what became Pride and Prejudice in Oct. 1796. She titled novel First Impressions. It took her ten months to write it, and her father, Rev. George Austen, tried to find a publisher for the work. He sent the manuscript to the publishing house, Cadell & Davies, to see if they’d release the book. The publisher instead rejected the reverend’s inquiry by marking it “return to sender.” No one at Cadell & Davies bothered opening the minister’s letter.

Jane kept writing, though, and she produced Sense and Sensibility. The publisher Thomas Egerton released that book in 1811, the first edition of which sold out within two years. Encouraged by that success, Egerton agreed to publish the first novel Jane Austen wrote.

Egerton paid Jane £110 for the copyright to the manuscript, equal to about £5,120 today. He agreed to pay the printing and advertising costs but would keep any profits generated by the book. To avoid confusion with a work by another author, Jane changed her novel’s name to Pride and Prejudice.

And for the first time, on Jan. 28, 1813, an ad in the London newspaper The Morning Chronicle promoted a book by “the author of Sense and Sensibility.” The new novel, Pride and Prejudice, was available as a three-volume set for 18 shillings. That’s about £42 in today’s money.

Critics loved the book, which tells the story of 20-year-old Elizabeth Bennett searching for a man to marry. Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who later married Lord Byron, called the novel “a very superior work.” And playwright Richard Sheridan said Pride and Prejudice was “the cleverest thing he ever read.”

Jane was also pleased with the work. After receiving her copy of the book, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, saying, “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”

The first edition of Pride and Prejudice sold out within its first year. The book was in its third edition by 1817. And to date, it remains one of the most popular English-language novels ever published. As of 2013, more than 20 million copies of Pride and Prejudice have sold.

Many films, TV shows, and spin-off books based on Pride and Prejudice have followed over the years. In December, Molly Greeley released The Clergyman’s Wife, a novel inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Jan. 29

‘The Raven’ is Published

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” first appeared in the New York Evening Mirror on Jan. 29, 1845. The newspaper didn’t have permission to publish the poem. The copyright belonged to a journal called The American Review, to whom Poe sold his poem for $9.

But it’s believed the Evening Mirror got a copy of The American Review’s printing proofs. The newspaper published the poem a few weeks before the journal, and they didn’t pay Poe for the rights to do so. Copyright laws in those days were lax, or nonexistent. No punishment came to the paper, and Poe made little money from “The Raven.”

That’s a shame because the poem was an immediate hit. Many publications reproduced “The Raven,” making a celebrity of its author. The poem was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln, who kept a copy of “The Raven” in his jacket pocket.

While Poe didn’t earn much from “The Raven,” he enjoyed the poem’s popularity. He performed readings of the piece by dim candlelight. Audience members delighted in the poet’s spooky renditions.

“The Raven” continues to appear in anthologies. It remains Poe’s best-known work. And the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens take their name from the piece. Poe lived in Baltimore during the 1830s, and it’s in that city that he died in 1849.

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov was born on Jan. 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia. He’s considered by many to be the father of the modern short story. But Chekhov didn’t start out writing serious fiction.

His family was in financial trouble while he studied medicine in Moscow in 1880. To help out, he started writing short, humorous stories for comic magazines. His first of these appeared in the March 1880 issue of a St. Petersburg weekly titled Strekoza, or Dragonfly.

Chekhov published hundreds of these comedic stories in magazines and newspapers. All published under pseudonyms. Chekhov didn’t want his writing to get in the way of his medical career. It wasn’t until 1885 that Chekhov published using his real name. That was only because the editor of the St. Petersburg newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times), refused to publish Chekhov’s work under a pen name. Stories written by Anton Chekhov started appearing in Novoye Vremya.

And then, in 1888, Chekhov published his first serious piece of literature, a story titled “Steppe.” It’s about a nine-year-old boy traveling across the plains of southern Russia. “Steppe” appeared in the Russian literary journal Severny Vestnik.

Chekhov published more than 50 literary short stories in his life. These tales include what is now called “The Little Trilogy.” The trilogy consists of “The Man in a Case,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love.”

Along with short stories, Chekhov wrote plays, many of which are still revered today. Among his most renowned dramas are “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard.”

And Chekhov even worked as an investigative journalist. He visited Sakhalin Island, a penal colony for imperial Russia. He observed the island’s conditions and took a census of its inhabitants. The writer undertook this project after receiving a tuberculosis diagnosis in 1889.

Chekhov published his findings in nine articles in Novoye Vremya in 1893-1894. The pieces are now available as a book titled Sakhalin Island. It’s not Chekhov’s best-known work, but it’s often praised by those who read it. In 2015, author Akhil Sharma called Sakhalin Island “the best work of journalism written in the nineteenth century.”


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Lewis Carroll

  • "Lewis Carroll." Karen Patricia Smith. Poetry Foundation. Accessed on Jan. 24, 2020.

Pride and Prejudice

“The Raven”

Anton Chekhov