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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Vale Harper Lee! Vale Umberto Eco!

Two authors of twentieth century classics have passed away on the same day, February 19, 2016. I confess I have never got around to reading anything by Umberto Eco; it may finally be time to do so.

Umberto Eco in 2005, taken from Wikimedia Commons.

 If you haven't heard of his novel, The Name Of The Rose, you have probably been living under a rock. 

However, he wrote quite a lot of other books, including novels - one of them for children - non fiction, short stories and essays. Time to get reading, Sue! I will ask my Italian scholar friend Mirna for advice where to start.  

The other author who passed away yesterday was Harper Lee. 

Public domain photo by Eric Draper.

Harper Lee has been in the news a lot more recently than Umberto Eco, since the release of Go Set A Watchman, the "first draft" of To Kill A Mockingbird. If nobody had ever read anything of hers but Mockingbird she would still have been immortal. It is good, though, that she lived long enough to see the rejoicing(as well as trepidation) accompanying the release of her second published book. I recall that there was a huge celebration in her home town when it came out. 

She loved the film adaptation and became a good friend of Gregory Peck, who named his son Harper after her. And let's face it, the film was as much a classic in its own right as the book was. If you've ever seen the fantasy film Pleasantville, in which a modern brother and sister find themselves in a 1950s town based on a black and white TV series, you'll possibly have spotted the tribute to the film of To Kill A Mockingbird. There's a scene in a courtroom in which all the town inhabitants who have gone from black and white to colour are sitting upstairs watching the trial, based on that scene in Mockingbird where the African Americans("coloured", get it?) are seated upstairs watching the trial. I was teaching Pleasantville to my Year 11 students one year and had to explain, as the kids hadn't seen the original film. 

Mockingbird was, as is well known, semi autobiographical and the character Dill is based on author Truman Capote, who was a childhood friend. He said that even the bit about Boo Radley leaving small gifts in that tree for the children was based on something that really happened in their childhood; he was going to use it in one of his books, but didn't. 

The book has been banned in its time. Amazing what people object to! 

It's sad that we've lost two great writers on one day, so ... a toast to both of them! I'm off to drink to them in Cointreau. Cheers!


Lexa Cain said...

I've watched "The Name of the Rose" movie with Sean Connery - does that count? Probably not. lol I'm sorry about Harper Lee's passing, but I remember feeling that her second book was released because of conniving publishers looking for a paycheck, not anyone interested in her legacy. I felt she'd been taken advantage of. I didn't know Gregory Peck's son being named Harper after her. That's really a tribute! Have a lovely weekend! :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Well, you do know what the novel was about, anyway. I gather there was a lot of Latin in it, though, something you can't have in a film. I have no doubt HL's publishers wanted money. If an unknown Shakespeare or Jane Austen manuscript turned up suddenly people would want to read them. They might express disappointment after reading - "It's no Hamlet/Pride and Prejudice" - but they'd want to read them. Actually, there was an unfinished Austen that was published around 25 years ago, Sandition, finished by an author I can't recall. I doubt it's still in print. It has been forgotten. If you buy the Riverside edition of the Works Of Shakespeare you'll find at least one play he co-wrote, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and bits of other plays. We never hear of them now, though I bet there was a lot of fuss made at the time. There have been a number of Tolkien manuscripts published in the last few years, but while they sold well at the time, we remember him for just two: The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings(only The Silmarillion if we're huge fans). Oh, and you can get a collection of short stories by Louisa May Alcott. She used to write the sort of fiction she has Jo writing in Little Women.

I'm betting we'll remember HL for one book, once the fuss is over.