Tag Archives: novelist

Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti

415509Novelist, plays
(1905 – 1994)

In 1981, Bulgarian-born author Elias Canetti received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work that crossed many disciplines and contained insights and analyses of crowd dynamics and obsessive behaviors. His bestknown books are Auto-da-fe´ (1935–1936) and Crowds and Power (1960).

Elias Jacques Canetti was born in Russe, Bulgaria, on July 25, 1905, the oldest of the three sons of Sephardic merchant Jacques Canetti and his wife, Mathilde, ne´e Arditti. The Canettis and the Ardittis were descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Many of these Jews had settled in countries in eastern Europe. While the Jewish population in Bulgaria was small relative to other eastern European countries, Jews had a special status there with much self-administration led by a chief rabbi. Mathilde Canetti, the most influential person in her son’s childhood and adolescence, used her enthusiasm for literature, notably dramas and novels, as a medium for Elias’s education and inspired him to become an author and intellectual.

At home, Canetti’s family spoke Ladino, the language of the Sephardim in the Balkan states and around the Mediterranean. Ladino is derived from medieval Spanish and contains elements of Hebrew and non-Jewish languages. In addition, Canetti was exposed to Bulgarian, Hebrew, Turkish, Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Romanian, and Russian. His parents spoke German with one another as their intimate language and as a code when they did not want their children to understand what they were saying. The German language thus assumed a special fascination for the young Canetti, and he later adopted the language for his intellectual and literary pursuits.

Literature at Heart of British Education

56-205878-screen-shot-2013-07-18-at-15.24.37When Canetti was six years old, his father escaped the oppressive situation of working in a family business in a small eastern European town by joining his brother-in-law’s business in Manchester, England, then still a center of industry as it had been since the late eighteenth-century beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Mathilde Canetti welcomed the move. She was eager to remove her children from the influence of her Orthodox in-laws, and she liked England because of its democratic tradition.

Young Elias learned English without difficulty and was able to start school. In Manchester, his father introduced him to literature and the life of the imagination, discussing what the boy read, including The Arabian Nights Grimm’s fairy tales, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719–1722), Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), tales from William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605, 1615), the works of Dante, and Friedrich von Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell (1804). He later said that he was grateful to his father for never telling him that fairy tales were untrue.

Moved to Continent after Father’s Death

In October 1912, Jacques Canetti died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Around the same time, the Balkan Wars of 1912 to 1913 began, posing an increasing threat to the families in Bulgaria. The wars were fought in eastern Europe over who would control the balance of power in the area as the Ottoman Empire reached its final decline. Unable to tolerate life with her husband’s brothers, Mathilde Canetti moved the family to Vienna in May 1913. Convinced that Elias was destined to become a prominent author, his mother encouraged him in his intellectual aspirations. In 1916, the family moved again to Zurich,

Switzerland, to avoid the ravages of World War I. Caused by increased tensions in the Balkans, entangling alliances, and the final catalyst of the assassination of the Austro- Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand, the so-called Great War enveloped nearly the whole of Europe in the mid- to late 1910s and saw massive loss of life. Despite the horrors of the conflict, the Swiss capital was a safe haven for Canetti during his formative years. At the age of fourteen, he completed his first literary work, a historical tragedy titled ‘‘Junius Brutus.’’ Much to Canetti’s dismay, in 1921, Mathilde Canetti moved to Frankfurt with her sons. Read the rest of this entry

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

Journalist, novelist
(1660 – 1731)

Daniel DefoeIn his relatively long life, Daniel Defoe had an enormous influence on journalism and the early English novel. He had been born Daniel Foe in rather humble circles. His father was a London butcher, and although he was fairly prosperous, his status as a dissenter prevented his son from attending university. He was sent instead to a school for nonconformists, those who refused to conform to the rites of the Anglican Church. He seems to have intended to follow a career as a minister, but by 23 he was married and working as a hosier. By this time, he had already traveled extensively in Continental Europe. In the constitutional controversies that developed in England in the 1680s, Daniel Defoe supported the Glorious Revolution settlement, and eventually he joined William III’s army as it approached London. His career as a writer, though, did not begin until his late thirties when he published An Essay upon Projects (1697).

It was followed by The True-Born Englishman in 1701, a satire that poked fun at those who argued that the English monarch had necessarily to be born an Englishman. In this same year Defoe courageously stood up to Parliament on the day after it had imprisoned five English gentlemen for presenting a petition demanding greater defense preparations for the impending likelihood of a European war. Angered by Parliament’s high-handedness, Defoe wrote his Legion’s Memorial and marched into the House of Commons where he presented it to the leadership. It reminded them that Parliament had no more right to imprison Englishmen for speaking their minds than a king did. Defoe’s document produced its desired effect when the petitioners were soon released. Read the rest of this entry

Honore de Balzac

Honore de Balzac

Novelist, Playwright
(1861 – 1941)

Honore de BalzacHonore´ de Balzac, whose realist novels and plays focused on French society after the fall of Napole´on Bonaparte in 1815, was one of the most popular and influential European writers of the nineteenth century. His masterpiece La Come´die humaine (1842–1850), a multivolume work involving about one hundred interwoven novels and stories, has influenced writers as disparate as Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, and Henry James, and continues to be regarded by critics as one of the most important and effective character studies to emerge from that century.

Early Estrangement and Ill-Fated Love The years before and after Balzac’s birth saw great political upheaval in France. The French Revolution of 1789 brought a bloody end to the country’s long-standing rule by monarchy, with many nobles publicly executed by beheading. Just a few years later, however, Napole´on Bonaparte led a coup that resulted in the establishment of his own monarchy of sorts, declaring himself emperor and appointing family members as rulers of regions he conquered. When Bonaparte was removed from power in 1815, the traditional French monarchy was reinstated, though the following decades would see still more upheaval; in 1848, another revolution once again unseated the monarchy, and another Bonaparte Napole´on III seized control of France and declared himself emperor.

These uncertain times had a profound effect on the fiction Balzac would create. Balzac, born in 1799 in Tours, France, had a solitary childhood and received little attention from his parents. He lived with a wet nurse until the age of three, and at eight was sent to board at the Oratorian College at Vendome. Later, his family moved from Tours to Paris, where Balzac completed his studies. He received his law degree in 1819; however, to his parents’ disappointment, he announced that he intended to become a writer. From 1819 to 1825 Balzac experimented with several different literary forms and later wrote sensational novels and stories under various pseudonyms. He considered these works to be stylistic exercises; they were conscious efforts to learn his craft. They were also his only means of financial support, because he had been estranged from his family. At one point in his career he abandoned writing to become involved in a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Later, he returned to writing, but despite eventual renown, money problems continued to haunt him throughout his life. Read the rest of this entry

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

Writer, Poet
(1875 – 1955)

Considered one of the foremost twentieth-century German novelists, Thomas Mann gained fame for ironic and philosophical works that reflected the doubts and fears of his era. Mann’s epic novels and short stories highlighted the struggles and psychology of intellectuals and artists, exploring philosophical issues as he investigated German national identity. Praised as the peer of writers like James Joyce, Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature and achieved international acclaim during his lifetime.

Shared Interest in the Arts. 

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was born on June 6, 1875, in Lu¨beck, Germany. (Germany had only recently been unified by Otto von Bismarck in 1871.) Mann’s father, Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, was a well-to-do merchant. His mother, Ju´ lia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Brazil and was the daughter of a German planter and a woman of Portuguese-Creole descent. Faced with Lu¨beck’s failing economy, Mann’s father wished that two of his sons, Thomas and Heinrich, would take over positions at the helm of the family business.

However, their father’s death in 1891, when Mann was sixteen years old, freed up the brothers to pursue their growing interest in the arts, though Mann would retain a suspicion of artists and nonbusiness pursuits for the rest of his life. Heinrich Mann went on to become an outstanding novelist and essayist, and even Mann’s younger brother, Viktor, made a name for himself with a 1948 family chronicle. Though Mann was bright, he hated school. He worked briefly in an insurance company, but, increasingly influenced by music and literature, he soon tried his hand at writing. He found inspiration in culture, philosophy, and opera. Mann was infatuated with the Romantic music of Richard Wagner as a teen, but became skeptical of Wagner’s power as he grew older. Thomas Mann also read the work of German philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, exploring the idea of free will and the individual’s relationship to society. These diverse influences would lead to a flexibility of style that would become Mann’s literary trademark.

After writing a short story when he should have been working, Mann found himself a published author. The story, which gained Mann a letter of appreciation from prominent poet Richard Dehmel, encouraged Mann so much that he quit his job and began auditing courses at the University of Munich. By the time his first book, Little Herr Friedemann, was published in 1895, Mann had gone to Italy with his brother Heinrich. Read the rest of this entry

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert

Writer, Novelists
(1821 – 1880) 

The most influential French novelist of the nineteenth century, Flaubert is remembered primarily for the stylistic precision and dispassionate rendering of psychological detail found in his masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857). Although his strict objectivity is often associated with the realist and naturalist movements, he objected to this classification, and his artistry indeed defies such easy categorization. Gustave Flaubert struggled throughout his career to overcome a romantic tendency toward fantastic imaginings and love of the exotic past. A meticulous craftsman, he aimed to achieve a prose style ‘‘as rhythmical as verse and as precise as the language of science.’’

France during the nineteenth century was a place of frequent political turmoil and intrigue. The monarchy had only recently been removed from power during the French Revolution, in the final years of the eighteenth century. A republic was established in its place, though the country eventually came under the control of military leader Napole´on Bonaparte, who declared himself emperor and whose tyrannical and imperialist rule was in many ways not unlike the monarchy that had recently been deposed. After Napole´on was removed from power in 1815, an official monarchy was established once again, though the royal family’s power was no longer absolute. This resulted in a period of relative peace during the 1830s and 1840s; however, the dissatisfaction of the working class who for the most part were not able to vote, since they did not own property erupted in 1848 with another revolution.

Once again the vacuum of power left in the newly established republic led to a single leader with extensive powers, and once again his name was Napole´on: Louis Napole´on, nephew of the former emperor. He ruled from 1852 until 1870, when he was removed from power and yet another republic known as the Third Republic was established. These tumultuous times inevitably informed Flaubert’s writing, most notably in his last novel, Sentimental Education (1870). Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father was chief surgeon and clinical professor at the city hospital, the Hoˆtel Dieu, and his mother was a well-known woman from a provincial bourgeois (middle-class) family. Read the rest of this entry