Important Novels With 2019 Anniversaries

Margaret Atwoods in the 1960sWhile there are still a few months left in 2019, I thought I’d write a post about this year’s round-number anniversaries of some major novels I’ve read.

A number of significant works of fiction came out 50 years ago, in 1969, with one of the most prominent Kurt Vonnegut’s searing/darkly humorous anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

That half-century-ago year also saw the appearance of Margaret Atwood’s debut novel — The Edible Woman, a good-not-great book that kicked off Atwood’s amazing prose-fiction run that would include The Handmaid’s Tale; and the release of Daphne du Maurier’s gripping time-travel work The House on the Strand, the next-to-last novel of a long/distinguished career perhaps best known for Rebecca.

Atwood (pictured above during the 1960s) is of course still in the thick of the literary discussion in 2019 with the September 10 release of The Testaments, her blockbuster sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Other memorable ’69 works included Philip Roth’s hilarious/scathing Portnoy’s Complaint, Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness, and Mario Puzo’s mass-audience smash The Godfather. There was also Maya Angelou’s iconic memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which almost reads like a novel.

Going back a century, to 1919, readers were introduced to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio — a pioneer in the mini-genre of novels consisting of interrelated short stories. Also released that year was one of W. Somerset Maugham’s best works — The Moon and Sixpence, about an intense stockbroker-turned-painter who was somewhat modeled on Paul Gauguin. And then there was Free Air, the last NOT-well-known novel Sinclair Lewis would write before going on an impressive run starting with Main Street in 1920.

The century-and-a-half-ago year of 1869 saw the publication of Leo Tolstoy’s immortal War and Peace as well as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s perhaps-third-best novel The Idiot. Honorable mention goes to Mark Twain’s hysterically funny nonfiction travel saga The Innocents Abroad — more entertaining than most novels.

Two centuries ago, in 1819? Not an extraordinary 12 months for novels when they were just starting to gain wider popularity as a genre, but that year did see the release of books such as Sir Walter Scott’s feverish The Bride of Lammermoor.

I’ll end by mentioning several 25th- and 75th-anniversary books.

Among 1994’s most notable releases were Julia Alvarez’s heartbreaking historical novel In the Time of the Butterflies, which tells the story of four sisters (three martyred) living under the brutal Dominican Republic dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo; and Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, an emotionally riveting work set on a Greek Island during World War II.

And 1944 saw the publication of another memorable WWII novel, John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano; the aforementioned Maugham’s last great creation, The Razor’s Edge, set soon after World War I; and Colette’s Gigi, that author’s most famous work but hardly her best.

Your thoughts on the books I discussed? Any other novels you’d like to mention from 1994, 1969, 1944, 1919, 1869, or 1819?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which comments on a county meeting that featured heated audience discussion about a controversial immigrant jail — is here.

62 thoughts on “Important Novels With 2019 Anniversaries

  1. Just finished the 2019 historical novel ‘Tidelands,’ by Philippe Gregory. It takes place in the 1648 timeframe and England is in a civil war. Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, is the central character. A very interesting read.

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  2. I may be the bearer of sad tidings, or you may already be aware, as I think you must have known Lee Salem of the Universal Press Syndicate, whose obituary appeared in the NYT yesterday. Seems like your sort of fellow.

    Also, I have been playing hooky from Wilkie Collins, and have for the last 2 days been read Sheridan LeFanu ghost stories. In the introduction to the Dover publication by EF Bleiler, I discovered that one of his stories ‘has often been cited as a source for “Jane Eyre”‘. I haven’t read it yet, but one day you may want to, and see if you think so too. Its title: “A Chapter in the History of the Tyrone Family”. I will report my own conclusions once I’ve read it myself.

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    • Thank you, jhNY. I definitely knew about Lee’s death. I met him and interviewed him dozens of times — a really nice person, incredibly smart, a literature lover, and a legend in the syndication biz who, as you know, worked with the cartoonists who created “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Far Side,” “Doonesbury,” “For Better or For Worse,” “Cathy,” “The Boondocks,” etc. He personally “discovered” some of the above, signing them to their first syndication contracts.

      A possible inspiration for “Jane Eyre”? That got my attention. 🙂

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  3. Don’t know which Murdoch I read 40 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten one line from it: “The heart of another is a dark forest.” Of course, it’s easy enough to get lost in the tall trees of your own, and not see past them, or through.

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  4. The regret of money unwisely spent propelled me through one of the oddest little books I have read in many a moon: Algernon Blackwood’s 1919 publication,The Promise of the Air. Blackwood wrote some of my favorite eerie tales, and it is that sort thing for which he is famous. Knowing this was my downfall. I bought a first edition for $20 from a friend who sells on the street after only a cursory glance at the contents.

    Unsurprisingly, the promise seems mostly weightless and empty. The tone and expression are so often over the top that I was a third of the way through before I abandoned my hope that it was all a set-up for a sudden plummeting toward firm ground, but it hovered about instead like a balloon off its string, though it never went anywhere much beyond the thoughts in a couple of caricatures who meant to be characters, except when they moved bodily from city to a country cottage, the balloon dragging along overhead.

    The novel seems most of all to be an entreaty to live by impulse and beyond the ordinary constraints of logical thought and convention, freely,yet in anticipation of some universal and airy coming together of all mankind, the signs of which are to be found in motion pictures, especially those that cut rapidly from clip to clip ala a newsreel, and the radio. There are a few intriguing paragraphs about the persuasive fiction of still photographs as a record of true things, given that things move and change, and photographs freeze them into a permanence of image that misleads. Yet somehow, for all the convention-flouting and flitting about, the family of the main character move to a country cottage of the sort every good Englishman dreamt of at the time, and live very much like all the rest, save perhaps for the airy incantations the father and daughter carry about in their purposefully emptied heads.

    Strangest of all about the book was what it did not contain. There was no even casual mention of The Great War, the armistice signed the year prior to publication, and so, no mention of the death rained down by zeppelin or aeroplane, filling air with terror and filling the minds of people with terror on the ground below. It was as if the war had never happened, and English life had just burbled along through the years when actually millions died in muck and flame. Nor did it mention the Spanish Influenza, which ironically traveled in droplets through the very element Blackwood would laud to the skies.

    Now that’s got to be one of the most incredible of all castles ever built in air.

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    • jhNY, that was as excellent and interesting a negative review anyone would hope to read!

      Many very good authors have their occasional clunkers, of course. Glad “The Promise of the Air” at least had some worthwhile moments among the many non-worthwhile ones.

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      • Thanks for saying so. It is a most uncharacteristic work of Blackwood’s, I’m pretty certain, but I did note that the titles of his previous efforts listed in the novel’s end pages included no familiar ones. I’m going to scrupulously stick to the ghostly stuff he wrote, as it has more weight than the philosophical ectoplasm he was puffing in “The Promise,etc.”

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  5. According to wikipedia, 1819 was also the year Walter Scott first published “Ivanhoe”, in 3 volumes. He must have, in the welter of all that writerly creation, been a bit feverish himself, having also, as I read you above, written “The Bride of Lammermore” that same year.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! The official publishing date for “Ivanhoe” is 1820, but I guess that was when the novel was finished. Yes, Scott was a busy man — in 1819 and other years churning out book after book.

      “Ivanhoe” is a terrific book, totally deserving of its enduring fame, though my favorite Scott novel remains the lesser-known “The Heart of Midlothian.” (Among the memorable elements in “Ivanhoe” is Scott’s stereotypical depiction of the Jewish character Isaac and his non-stereotypical depiction of Isaac’s daughter Rebecca.)

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  6. I greet you from the family manse in Nashville, where I will doing mostly nothing for the next week– apart from reading.

    1819 was the year ETA Hoffmann published the novella “Mademoiselle de Scuderi”, arguably the first detective story written in any language. Having just finished Moseley’s latest (though not his best– that remains “Devil With A Blue Dress”), I am grateful to Hoffmann for being the originator of what has become a most durable and compelling genre. Now, on to Collins’ “The Woman In White”, which is fat enough to be formidable, and promises, I hope, hours of suspense. Having seen the first half hour of the movie,I doubt I will be able to imagine Count Fosco as anybody but Sidney Greenstreet, who was also formidable and fat.

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  7. Hi Dave,

    A couple of things stood out to me in a quick Google search. 1919 was when C.S. Lewis was first published. It was poetry, not a novel, but I guess it went well for him, because he obviously went on to have lots and lots of things published. One of which was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which is one of the first books that I fell in love with.

    Speaking of childhood, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published in 1969. I know the conversation around here is usually about books with a tad more depth than this wonderful Eric Carle book, but I still have fond memories 🙂

    You and M.B. definitely shouldn’t feel too bad for how late you got to Slaughterhouse-Five as I haven’t gotten to it at all! I also just realised that for whatever reason, it’s not even on my TBR. Well, it wasn’t…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! Seems like 1919 was an even bigger year than I thought, given C.S. Lewis’ poetry debut!

      Nice mention of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”! A book both my daughters (and millions of other kids) enjoyed. Yes, not exactly James Joyce — and thank goodness for that. 🙂

      All of us are late to some classics, or don’t get to some of them at all. If you do read “Slaughterhouse-Five,” let me and others here know what you think!

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    • Thank you, Bill! That’s a terrific piece you linked to. Makes me want to reread “Winesburg, Ohio,” which I first read many years ago. Certainly a LOT of depth, nuance, innovation, and humanity in Sherwood Anderson’s short-story cycle.

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  8. I don’t think that the novel was written in 1969. However, 1969 was the year that I read Flowers for Algernon. I was 16 in 1969 and I was absolutely flabbergasted in hindsight that my 10th grade biology teacher loaned the book to me to read. Years later, I was flattered that he thought I was mature enough to handle the subject matter. It was a very thought-provoking read and is still thought-provoking as medical breakthroughs surface and you are faced with a moral dilemma of what to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, lulabelle! I just googled “Flowers for Algernon,” and it first appeared as a short story in the late 1950s before Daniel Keyes expanded it into a novel published in 1966. 🙂

      I agree — a terrific, inspiring, heartbreaking novel that makes a person think. Definitely flattering to you that a teacher recommended you read “Flowers for Algernon” as a 10th-grader in 1969 — it’s clearly a mature book for grown-ups. But never boring. As you know, it was adapted into the 1968 film “Charly.”

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    • Thank you, Elena! Maybe the best travel book ever, and it’s astounding to think about how many places Twain visited in Europe and the Mideast during that trip at a time when that kind of travel was far from easy. But no security lines at airports, I guess… 🙂

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  9. It seems that 1969 was a very big year for sci-fi. That particular year, I went to North Dakota with a close friend and his cousin. We were staying at his aunt and uncle’s house, and the fact that we were “hippies” didn’t sit too well with them. So us dirty, hippie, commie pinkos got thrown out on our ears. And I ended up taking a greyhound all the way back home to Houston, Tx. There was a young soldier on that bus and he was reading Dune, a very popular novel at that time. He raved about it so that I never cared to read it. I often wondered what became of him, whether he ended up in Viet Nam. It was a very difficult time in history to say the least, and a very sad one. When I got back home, everyone I knew was reading Slaughter House Five, which I always thought was most appropriate for those times. I can’t remember reading anything at all that year, for reasons that were also most appropriate for those times …and so it goes, ha! Susi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susi! Great comment — capped off by the humor at the end and the very appropriate quote of those four famous words from “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

      Interesting how Vonnegut’s novel was set in World War II but resonated strongly when it was published during the Vietnam War. I guess war is war in any era — awful, stupid, barbaric, and traumatic.

      Nineteen-sixty-nine was indeed a memorable year in such areas as war, literature, politics, space travel, and various people’s personal lives — including yours. That was quite a couple of trips you had, described well.

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    • I confess when I read you took a greyhound all the way back home to Houston, I thought you were in the company of a racing dog.

      I graduated from high school that year in Nashville, and had grown my hair out to such a universally unacceptable length that once, as I walked along the roadside, a carload of fellows thought to dump the entire contents of their car’s ashtray on my head. There were other such incidents, the happy outcome of which was I resolved for all time to never own a shootin’ iron, as I would have employed it at least once, and wound up in the pokey.

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      • jhNY, having long hair back then could be…interesting.

        I was a reporter for a daily newspaper back in the late-1970s, and worked in a somewhat remote bureau with three other reporters. More than once, the local police pulled up behind me as I parked in the bureau parking lot and asked in a hostile way what I was doing there. I enjoyed seeing those cops’ surprised looks when I pulled out my press pass. Heck, I was calling that police department several times a week to pick up crime stories. 🙂

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  10. I’m sorry that I can’t report that I read any of the significant 1969 releases IN 1969. However, for me personally, that year is very significant. I turned fourteen in May of that year, had just seen the very flawed movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Illustrated Man’. I am very grateful to that movie for one thing: it motivated me to seek out the book of ‘Illustrated Man’ and, following my cousin’s recommendations, I also sought out ‘The Martian Chronicles’, ‘Fahrenheit 451’, ‘Something Wicked That Way Comes’ and most of his other works up to that time. In addition to ‘Illustrated Man’, I also was curious about the original novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, ‘Tarzan of the Apes’. I wanted to know the original conception as opposed to the silly movie and TV depictions. So I read ‘Tarzan’ and went on like an addict to acquire and consume almost all the rest of his extremely prolific output. That was also the summer that I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I know that I was in the middle of ‘The Two Towers’ when the first moon landing occurred. This was followed by more Bradbury, Robert Heinlein (‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’), and the grandfather of the genre H.G. Wells (‘The Time Machine’, ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’, ‘The First Men in the Moon’, ‘The War of the Worlds’, ‘Invisible Man’, etc.). It was a very transformational time for me, with my literary horizons expanded….expanded exponentially four years later when I got to college and literature courses.

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    • Thank you, Brian! It does sound like 1969 was an amazing reading year for you — even with the books you read that year having been published before that year.   Bradbury, Tolkien, Wells, etc. — that’s a lot of memorable work.

      The early teens can definitely be a time for transitioning into “grown-up” literature, and what a thrill that can be. (I think I was 15 when I first read “Jane Eyre” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”)

      Liked by 1 person

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