Twenty Christmas Jewels
- 20 FAMOUS CHRISTMAS TALES: https://osr.org/blog/tips-gifts/20-famous-christmas-stories/
- 20 CHRISTMAS STORIES ONLINE: https://teaandinksociety.com/classic-christmas-short-stories-read-online/
- 30 CHRISTMAS TALES: https://medium.com/the-mission/the-30-best-christmas-books-of-all-time-c492c468051b
- OPRAH’S TOP 35: https://www.oprahdaily.com/entertainment/tv-movies/g28737773/best-christmas-books/
- ABE BOOKS TOP 100: https://americanliterature.com/christmas
- LOUISA MAY ALCOTT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisa_May_Alcott
- DLYAN THOMAS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dylan_Thomas
- LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Maud_Montgomery
- WASHINGTON IRVING: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Irving
- TRUMAN CAPOTE: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/truman-capote-about-the-author/58/
- L. FRANK BAUM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Frank_Baum
- E. T. A. HOFFMANN: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._T._A._Hoffmann
- HENRY VAN DYKE, Jr.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_van_Dyke_Jr.
- WILLA CATHER: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willa_Cather
- O. HENRY (William Sydney Porter): https://www.biography.com/writer/william-sydney-porter
- SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Conan_Doyle
- BROTHERS GRIMM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_Grimm
- PEARL S. BUCK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_S._Buck
- ANTON CHEKHOV: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Chekhov
- SELMA LAGERLOF: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selma_Lagerl%C3%B6f
- HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Christian_Andersen
- CHARLES DICKENS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens
- LEO TOLSTOY: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy
- FRANCES BROWNE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Browne
- OSCAR WILDE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Wilde
THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER Hans Christian AndersonThe Steadfast Tin Soldier is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a tin soldier and his love for a paper ballerina. The Steadfast Tin Soldier was the first tale Andersen wrote that had neither a literary model nor a folk tale source but is straight from Andersen’s imagination. It marked a new independence in his writing, and successfully brought to life the nineteenth century nursery world with its toy dancers, castles, and swans.
A KIDNAPPED SANTA CLAUS L. Frank BaumIn this fantasy Christmas tale by the author of The Wizard of Oz, Santa lives in a castle in the Laughing Valley. Santa has helpers, but he also has enemies, and on Christmas Eve he’s lassoed out of his sleigh by five daemons. This short story is a follow-up to Baum’s longer novel, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
THE CHRISTMAS CUCKOO Frances BrowneFrances Browne (January 16, 1816 – 1879) was a blind Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for her collection of short stories for children: Granny’s Wonderful Chair, of which The Christmas Cuckoo is a part. It is a richly imaginative book of fairy stories and has been translated into many languages. In Granny’s Wonderful Chair there are seven stories, set in an interesting framework that tells of the adventures of the little girl Snowflower and her chair at the court of King Winwealth. From beginning to end it is filled with pictures; each little tale has its own picturesque setting, its own vividly realized scenery.
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY Truman CapoteThis short memoir is based on Capote’s childhood Christmas traditions, which he enjoys with his elderly cousin in rural Alabama.
THE BURGLAR’S CHRISTMAS Willa CatherWritten under the pen name Elizabeth L. Seymour, Cather’s story is a retelling of the prodigal son parable, set in Chicago on Christmas Eve. Cather started out as a writer of poetry and short stories; she published “The Burglar’s Christmas” when she was 23, a good 15 years before her first novel.
THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH Charles DickensLike all of Dickens's Christmas books, it was published in book form, not as a serial. Dickens described the novel as "quiet and domestic [...] innocent and pretty." It is subdivided into chapters called "Chirps", similar to the "Quarters" of The Chimes or the "Staves" of A Christmas Carol. It is the third of Dickens's five Christmas books, preceded by A Christmas Carol (1843) and The Chimes (1844), and followed by The Battle of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848).
THE BLUE CARBUNCLE Sir Arthur Conan DoyleFancy a Christmas-y mystery? The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930), and is the seventh story of twelve in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The plot revolves around a rare blue carbuncle (a type of semi-precious stone) going missing. Watson visits Holmes at Christmas time and finds him contemplating a battered old hat, brought to him by the commissionaire Peterson after the hat and a Christmas goose had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians. Peterson takes the goose home to eat it but comes back later with the carbuncle. His wife has found it in the bird’s throat. Holmes cannot resist a good mystery, and he and Watson set out across the city to determine exactly how the stolen jewel wound up in a Christmas goose.
THE ELVES AND THE SHOEMAKER Grimm BrothersIn this familiar tale, a poor cobbler is rewarded for his honesty and hard work when two elves step in to save him from ruin.
THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. HenryProbably one of the most famous Christmas short stories, this is the tale of a young married couple who desperately want to buy beautiful Christmas presents for each other, but lack the money to do so. They each make a sacrifice to buy the other a present, and the results are humorous and poignant.
CLARA AND THE NUTCRACKER E. T. A. HoffmannA.K.A. “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” Clara and the Nutcracker is a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann in which young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.
THE HOLY NIGHT Selma LagerlofOne cold winter’s night, a cruel and hard-hearted shepherd is amazed by some strange happenings. A man comes looking for wood for a fire to warm his wife and newborn baby, and following the man back to his cold grotto, the shepherd discovers the true spirit of Christmas. The Swedish writer Selma Lagerlof was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and most widely known for her children’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.
CHRISTMAS AT RED BUTTE Lucy Maud MontgomeryMontgomery was a prolific writer of short stories, and she has several Christmas and New Year’s stories in her bibliography. (Fourteen are collected here, along with Christmas excerpts from the Anne novels.) A departure from her usual setting of Prince Edward Island, “Christmas at Red Butte” takes place in a log cabin on the Saskatchewan prairie. Sixteen-year-old Theodora manages a home with her aunt, but as they struggle to make ends meet Theodora decides to make a great sacrifice in order to give her young cousins a happy Christmas.
CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING Pearl S. BuckOriginally published in 1955, Christmas Day in the Morning is a heartwarming story about sacrifice and the spirit of giving. Pearl S. Buck was an award-winning American writer who spent the majority of her life in China. Her novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces. In Christmas Day in the Morning, Buck has captured the spirit of Christmas in this elegant, heartwarming story about a boy’s gift of love.
CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES Dylan ThomasDylan Thomas recounts memories of an old-fashioned Christmas from the perspective of a young boy. Thomas uses his skill as a poet to make this a lyrical and sense-engaging story.
WHERE LOVE IS, GOD IS Leo TolstoyWith its themes of love and generosity, Tolstoy’s wintry tale is a fitting read for Christmas. It tells the story of Martin the cobbler, a man wearied by sorrow who ultimately finds hope and purpose.
THE SELFISH GIANT Oscar WildeThe Selfish Giant is a multi-layered short story that will appeal to both children and adults because of the depth of its meaning. For young children it can be read literally about a giant who is mean and whose garden refuses to grow. For older readers the religious symbolism can also be reflected upon as discussing themes such as selfishness and forgiveness. The meaning of the wall around the garden, symbolic of people shutting each other out can also be debated upon.
“Christmas at Thompson Hall” by Anthony TrollopeIf you prefer funny, lighthearted Christmas fare, read this story about an English lady living abroad in Paris, who desperately wants to get back to her ancestral home in time for Christmas.
“The Dead” by James JoyceIn Dublin, Ireland, a group of friends and relatives gather for an annual Twelfth Night party. Through a long evening of merry-making, awkward moments, and a patchwork of conversations, Joyce brings his characters to various epiphanies, large and small.
“A Letter from Santa Claus” by Mark TwainTwain’s elder daughter, Suzy Clemens, was born in Elmira, New York, and lived a short life, dying at the age of 23 from meningitis. In childhood, Suzy often had poor health, similar to her mother. At 13, she wrote a biography of her father, which was included as part of Twain’s Chapters From My Autobiography. Mark Twain wrote a letter to his daughter, which he sent from Santa Claus, during one of her childhood illnesses.
“The Snowman” by Raymond BriggsThe Snowman is a children’s book by English author Raymond Briggs (born 18 January 1934), published in 1978. In 1982, this book was turned into a 26-minute animated movie by Dianne Jackson. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1982. The book is wordless, as is the film except for the song "Walking in the Air”. The story is told through picture, action and music. A groundbreaking publication depicting the birth and development of a beautiful but fragile friendship between a young boy, James, and the Snowman he has built in his back garden.
“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Robert L. MayRudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a character created in a story and song by the same name. The story was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. In its first year of publication, Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story. Johnny Marks decided to adapt May’s story into a song, which through the years has been recorded by many artists.
IN-CLASS/IN-PERSON VERSION (100 slides)
Beginning with SLIDE 9. ....and we start off with Louisa May Alcott. As is the case with all twenty of today’s author’s, there are much more detailed biographies on my website. What I’ll be giving you are little thumbnail sketches.[CLICK]--Alcott was born in 1832 and passed away in 1888--and--[CLICK] is best known today as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). [CLICK] She was raised in New England by her activist, transcendentalist parents, Abigail Alcott and Bronson Alcott / and/ [CLICK] She grew up among many well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.[CLICK] Because Alcott's family suffered from financial difficulties, she worked to help support the family from an early age...
10. ...[CLICK] through her writing [CLICK] Early in her career, she sometimes used pen names such as A. M. Barnard, under which she wrote lurid short stories and sensational novels for adults that focused on passion and revenge.[CLICK] Published in 1868, Little Women became an immediate best seller.[CLICK] It’s been adapted many times to stage, film, and television--including a wonderful Academy Award-winning version from 2019.[CLICK] Alcott was also an abolitionist and a feminist and remained unmarried throughout her life. All her life she was active in such reform movements as temperance and women's suffrage.
11. Though some of you might know the wonderful [CLICK] Christmas chapter in Little Women, which is sometimes published as a separate holiday story, [CLICK] Alcott wrote twenty other Christmas-related stories over the years, including [CLICK] one that I really like called “A Christmas Dream.”It was first published in 1885 and was later republished posthumously in 1901. You can find it in several editions these days--and it’s also in an audiobook format. The plot is simple enough: Ten-year-old Effie lives the life most children dream of—with every day filled with delicious treats and wonderful toys. One night she experiences a dream that will forever change the meaning of Christmas for her. In it, she meets a group of under-privileged children, and she is inspired to create a Christmas for them that they will never forget.[CLICK] Think of this story as a lighter version of “A Christmas Carol” in which the ghosts of Dickens are replaced by angels. Some might find it a bit saccharine, but it’s actually quite lovely with a message about giving that is always timely.
12. Our next author needs no introduction, I’m sure. [click] Hans Christian Andersen--who was born in 1805 near Copenhagen, Denmark and died there in 1875 -- is today regarded as the Danish master of the literary fairy tale whose stories achieved wide renown. He is also the author of plays, novels, poems, travel books, and several autobiographies. While many of those works are almost unknown outside Denmark, his fairy tales are among the most frequently translated works in all of literary history. Andersen produced his first important literary work, “A Walk from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of the Island of Amager in the Years 1828 and 1829.” It’s a fantastic tale in the style of the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. It was an immediate success.
13. After a few more stories, [click] Anderson turned to playwriting. including one called “The Mulatto” in 1840, which portrayed the evils of slavery. [click] The theatre, however, was not to become his field. Indeed, for a long time Andersen was regarded primarily as a novelist. [click] Andersen’s first book of tales was published in 1835 and included stories such “The Princess and the Pea,” and “Little Ida’s Flowers.” [click] Many other collections appeared between 1837 and a final anthology in the 1870s called “New Fairy Tales and Stories,” which contained some of his masterpieces.
14. These anthologies broke new ground in both style and content, often using everyday language, thus breaking with literary tradition. While some of his tales end happily, others are truer to life: Indeed, not every life event ends merrily. // One reason for Andersen’s ongoing appeal to both children and adults is that he isn’t afraid of introducing feelings and ideas that are beyond a child’s immediate comprehension yet are still in touch with the child’s perspective.
15. The holiday tale that I recommend for you is "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." It’s an example of a literary fairy tale--meaning that it was an original story--and not one based on previous material. Published in 1838 , it was Andersen's first not based upon a folk tale or a literary model. Though the story doesn’t take place specifically on Christmas Day, the tale has often been associated with holiday because many film and stage versions place the narrative on that day. In it, a boy receives a set of toy soldiers cast from an old tin spoon. [click] One of the soldiers spies a pretty paper ballerina and falls in love with her. That night, a jack-in-the-box, [click] who also loves the ballerina, warns the soldier to take his eyes off her, but the soldier ignores him. The next day, the jack-in-the-box goblin pushes the soldier out the window. Two boys find him, place him in a paper boat, and set him sailing in the gutter. [click] Among many adventures, the soldier is swallowed by a fish. When this fish is caught and cut open, the tin soldier finds himself once again on the tabletop in front of the ballerina. The still jealous jack-in-the box makes the boy throw the tin soldier into the fire. [click] A sudden wind blows the ballerina into the fire next to him and both are consumed. [click] The next morning the maid cleans the fireplace and finds that the soldier--who has melted into a little tin heart--along with the ballerina's spangle. It’s sad and beautiful at the same time, and one of Anderson’s best written tales.
17. Next up is L. Frank Baum. // Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in upstate New York. Never earning a high school degree, he spent his early adulthood exploring his interest in acting and writing for the stage. After stints as a newspaper journalist and businessman, Baum started writing for children in his forties. He had discovered his talent for storytelling from the nursery rhymes and tales he told his four sons from his marriage to Maud Gage, whom he married in 1882. In 1897, Baum published his first collection for young readers Mother Goose in Prose, which was illustrated by the famous artist Maxfield Parish. He soon followed up this work with the hugely popular Father Goose, His Book. This book became the top-selling children's title of 1899.
18. In 1900, Baum introduced readers to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story of Dorothy's quest to find her way home, accompanied by a tin woodsman, a scarecrow and cowardly lion, proved to be extraordinarily popular. Indeed, it was so successful that Baum would write 13 more Oz adventures. Two years after the original Oz novel was published, Baum produced a musical version of the book. [click] It opened in Chicago and went on to run for two years on Broadway. It then successfully toured the United States until 1911.
19. He re-imagined a popular culture figure in 1902 with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Again, Baum found such success with the book that he had Santa make appearances in some of the Oz novels and in short stories In addition to his Oz books, Baum wrote more children's titles under an array of pseudonyms. Ultimately, Baum wrote some 60 books, the bulk of them for younger readers. In 1910, Baum moved Maud and their 4 sons to Hollywood, where he worked to bring his stories to the big screen. In declining health, Baum spent the last year of his life confined in bed, never fully recovering from gall bladder surgery. Just days before his birthday, Baum died on May 6, 1919, at his home in Hollywood.
20. I recommend a delightful short story Baum wrote in 1904 called “A Kidnapped Santa Claus.” The story deals with Santa Claus's kidnapping by the five pagan Daemons of the Caves, in an effort to thwart his yearly delivery of toys. [click] The daemons-- Selfishness, /Envy, /Hatred, /Malice, /and the rather ambiguous Daemon of Repentance--resent that Santa’s influence keeps children from visiting their caves. They kidnap Santa on Christmas Eve. The rest of the story deals with rescue operations [click] and with a forgiving Santa who returns things to normal. It has been called "one of Baum's most beautiful stories" and constitutes an influential contribution to the mythology of Christmas.
21. Next up is Frances Browne. --[click]-- She was an Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for her collection of short stories for children, Granny's Wonderful Chair. She was born in 1816 in County Donegal, Ireland, the seventh child in a family of twelve children. She was blind as a consequence of an attack of smallpox when she was 18 months old. In her writings, she recounts how she learned by heart the lessons which her brothers and sisters said aloud every evening, and how she bribed them to read to her by doing their chores. She then worked hard at memorizing all that she had heard. She composed her first poem when she was seven years of age.
22. In 1841, --[click]--Browne's first poems were published. --[click]--She published a complete volume of poems in 1844 and a second volume in 1847. --[click]--The provincial newspapers, especially the Belfast-based Northern Whig, reprinted many of her poems, and she became widely known as 'The Blind Poetess of Ulster'. --[click]-- Beginning in 1845 she made her first contribution to the popular magazine Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, for which she wrote for the next 25 years. The first story of hers published there, in 1845, was "The Lost New Year's Gift", which exemplifies her story-telling abilities.
23. In 1847, she moved from Ireland to Edinburgh, Scotland, with one of her sisters serving as her reader and amanuensis. She quickly established herself in literary circles, and wrote essays, reviews, stories, and poems, in spite of health problems. In 1852, she moved to London, where she wrote her first novel, My Share of the World , which was published in 1861. Her best known work, Granny's Wonderful Chair, was published in 1856, remains in print to this day, and has been translated into several languages. Frances Browne died in August of 1879 in London where she is buried.
24. The tale from Granny’s Wonderful Chair that’s often cited as one of the best is “The Christmas Cuckoo.” In this sweet tale, the reader is presented with two very different brothers--both living in poverty--who decide to help a small cuckoo bird who appears in distress. One brother--[CLICK]--helps with reluctance and expecting gain. The other helps the little animal by sharing all that he has left in his poorest state without much care about the possible benefits it might give in return. Promising to repay their gesture, --[CLICK]--the cuckoo comes back at the end of each year with a beautiful leaf for each of the brothers. What they do with these presents and with their own lives reveals much about their essence. It is a simple story with a lesson and a good read before bedtime or on a lazy afternoon before Christmas.
25. Our next writer is Pearl S. Buck --[click]-- who was raised in eastern China where her Presbyterian parents were missionaries. --[click]--In 1911, she entered Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia; she graduated in 1914 and remained for a semester as an instructor in psychology.--[click]--In May 1917 she married missionary John L. Buck; although later divorced and remarried, she retained the name Buck professionally. --[click]--She returned to China and taught English literature in Chinese universities in 1925–30. --[click]--She began contributing articles on Chinese life to American magazines in the 1920s. --[click]--Her first published novel, East Wind, West Wind (1930), was written aboard a ship headed for America. 26. Her career truly took off from there. The Good Earth (1931), a poignant tale of a Chinese peasant and his slave-wife won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932, established Buck as an interpreter of the East to the West and was adapted for stage and screen. It was followed by Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935); the trilogy was published as The House of Earth (1935). Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.
27. From 1935 on Buck lived in the United States. She and her second husband adopted six children through the years. She and others established an adoption agency, Welcome House, which served thousands until 2014 when international adoption laws changed. In 1964, she also created another child-sponsorship agency, the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which--since 1991--is called Pearl S. Buck International, headquartered on Buck’s estate, Green Hills Farm in Pennsylvania. In the 1940s and 50s she published biographies of her parents, several collections of short stories, novels, children’s books, and five novels under the pen name John Sedges. She passed away in 1973. Again, for more biographical information about this remarkable woman, please see the various links on my website.
28. Buck’s story “Christmas Day in the Morning” is one of our twenty jewels. This short story was originally published in 1955. Without giving too much away it tells the story of a young man named Rob who finds himself on Christmas Eve without a gift for his beloved father. The story is told as a flashback. Early one Christmas, Rob, as an older man, thinks back to his best Christmas morning in the year when he was 15 and living on his family’s dairy farm. That year, Rob, surprised his father with a special, heart-felt gift by getting up in the middle of the night to do all the milking by himself so his father could have Christmas morning off. --[click]--The boy’s joy in planning the surprise for his father and the touching appreciation, pride, and love in the father’s gratitude are told beautifully. I recommend the lovely Harper Collins illustrated version of the story--[click]-- with realistic paintings by Mark Buehner. His deep-toned, striking illustrations are mainly set at night, with snowy farm scenes lit only by glowing lantern and shining star.
29. Truman Capote, was born with the name Truman Streckfus Persons in 1924 in New Orleans and died at 59 in 1984 in Los Angeles. His parents divorced when he was young, and he spent his childhood with various elderly relatives in small towns in Louisiana and Alabama. He attended private schools and eventually joined his mother and stepfather--Joseph Capote-- at Millbrook, Connecticut, where he completed his secondary education.
29. He achieved early literary recognition in 1945 when his haunting short story “Miriam” was published in Mademoiselle magazine; the following year it won the O. Henry Memorial Award for best short story, the first of four such awards Capote was to receive. His first published novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), was highly acclaimed. One of Capote’s most popular works, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was first published in Esquire magazine in 1958. The 1961 filmed version with Audrey Hepburn is an Oscar-winning classic.
31. Capote’s increasing preoccupation with journalism --[click]-- was reflected in his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, a chilling account of the murders of four members of a Kansas family in 1959. --[click]--The novel published in 1965--and the Oscar-nominated film version in 1967--were critical and popular successes and proved to be the high point of Capote’s dual careers as a writer and a celebrity socialite. --[click]--Endowed with a quirky but attractive character, he entertained television audiences with outrageous tales recounted in his distinctively high-pitched lisping Southern drawl.
32. In the late 1960s he adapted two short stories about his childhood, “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” into award-winning television films. These were the last major successes of his jet set, celebrity-filled career. In later years, Capote’s growing dependence on drugs and alcohol stifled his productivity.
33. I absolutely confess that the story “A Christmas Memory” is one of my absolute favorites--and the Geraldine Page film adaptation remains a holiday treat. Without revealing too much, the story is narrated by a seven-year-old boy--Buddy--who tells of his delightful relationship with his older, female cousin--Sook. --[click]-- Though the family is very poor, Buddy and the elderly Sook save their pennies, which they use during the Christmas season to collect pecans and buy other ingredients to make fruitcakes. --[click]-- Although set during Prohibition, they send their whiskey-soaked cakes to everyone from acquaintances they’ve met only once or twice to people they've never met at all, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The story continues to unfold and has one of the most beautifully written and heart-wrenching endings in 20th century American literature.
34. Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873 and died in New York City in 1947. At age 9 Cather moved with her family from Virginia to frontier Nebraska, where--from age 10--she lived in the village of Red Cloud. There she grew up among immigrants from Europe—especially the Swedes, Bohemians, Russians, and Germans—who were breaking the land on the Great Plains.At the University of Nebraska, she showed a marked talent for journalism and story writing, and on graduating in 1895 she obtained a position in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on a family magazine. After building up its declining circulation, she left in 1912 to devote herself wholly to writing novels.
35. Between 1913 and 1918, she wrote O Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia are frequently judged as her finest achievements. With success and middle age, however, Cather experienced a strong disillusionment, which was reflected in The Professor’s House published in 1925.
35. Her solution was to write of the pioneer spirit of another age, that of the French Catholic missionaries in the Southwest in Death Comes for the Archbishop in 1927 and of the French Canadians at Quebec in Shadows on the Rock published in 1931. For the setting of her last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), she used the Virginia of her ancestors and her childhood. At her death in 1947 from the effects of Stage 4 cancer, Cather’s last will and testament erected strong protections around her intellectual property, preventing adaptations of her fiction and forbidding publication of her correspondence. However, upon the 2011 death of a nephew who had served as her last designated executor, copyright of her work passed to the Willa Cather Trust. The trust lifted the prohibitions on publishing her letters. Though Cather had destroyed most of her letters and unfinished manuscripts, nearly 3,000 letters were tracked down by scholars, and 566 were collected in The Selected Letters of Willa Cather published in 2013.
37. “The Burglar's Christmas” is an early short story first published in Home Monthly in 1896--[click]-- under the pseudonym of Elizabeth L. Seymour, her cousin's name.It’s a retelling of the prodigal son story from the Christian New Testament and bears some resemblance to Willa Cather's own relationship with her mother.--[click]--Set in Chicago on a bitterly cold Christmas night, William, considers stealing to satisfy both his hunger and to find excitement in his dull life, but when a woman drops a parcel, he gives it to her instead of running off with it. --[click]--The young woman invites him to her home for Christmas Eve dinner and when he arrives, he momentarily decides to become a burglar again. But a surprise--and great plot twist--awaits him--and his life is altered forever.
38. Russian writer Anton Chekhov is recognized as a master of the modern short story and a leading playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through his stories and plays, Chekhov emphasized the depths of human nature, the hidden significance of everyday events and the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Chekhov was born into a financially struggling family on January 29, 1860.Chekhov enrolled at medical school in Moscow in 1879 and supported the family with his freelance writing.
39. During the mid-1880s, Chekhov practiced as a physician and began to publish serious works of fiction. His story “The Steppe” earned him the Pushkin Prize in 1888. Chekhov wrote many of his greatest works from the 1890s through the last few years of his life. In his short stories of that period, including “Ward No. 6” and “The Lady with the Dog,” he revealed a profound understanding of human nature and the ways in which ordinary events can carry deeper meaning.
40. In his plays of these years--[click]--Chekhov concentrated primarily on mood and characters, showing that they could be more important than the plots. Not much seems to happen to his lonely, often desperate characters, but their inner conflicts take on great significance. Chekhov collaborated with Constantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theater on productions of his plays, including his masterpieces The Seagull (1895), Uncle Vanya (1897), The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904). In 1901, Chekhov married Olga Knipper, an actress from the Moscow Art Theatre. He died from tuberculosis on July 15, 1904, at the age of 44.
41. Now considered one of Chekhov’s better stories, ‘At Christmas Time’--was published in 1900 and is divided into two parts. --[click]--The first half follows an illiterate peasant family hiring an ex-soldier to write a letter to their estranged daughter as they ponder the mystery of her life. --[click]--In the second part, the letter is delivered to the daughter by her abusive husband and we learn what has transpired in her life. Chekhov’s fiery social critique is present as he contrasts the warmth and love of hard village life with the coldness of upper-class luxury.
42. Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on February 7, 1812. When he was 12 years old, his father, John, who had a difficult time managing money and was constantly in debt, was put into debtor's prison. Because of this, Charles was withdrawn from school and forced to work in a shoe polish factory to help support the family. This experience left profound psychological and sociological effects on Charles. It gave him a firsthand acquaintance with poverty and made him one of the most vigorous and influential voices of the working classes in his age. After his father was released, Charles went back to school and he eventually found employment as an office boy at an attorney's. From 1830 he worked as a shorthand reporter in the courts and afterwards as a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.
43. In 1836, Dickens's first book, a collection of stories written under his pen name Boz was published; he was 24 years old. In the same year he married Catherine Hogarth. Together they had 10 children before they separated in 1858. Though he remained a novelist, he also worked as a magazine editor to support his growing family.
43. As was the custom in Victorian England, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was published in monthly parts from April 1836 to November 1837. Pickwick became one of the most popular works of the time, continuing to be so after it was published in book form in 1837. After its success, Dickens produced work of increasing complexity at an incredible rate, including Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840).
44. Dickens's series of five Christmas Books began appearing in 1843: A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). Dickens continued his success with novels, including David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-53), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and his masterpiece Great Expectations (1861).
45. Meanwhile, by 1856 his popularity had allowed him to buy Gad's Hill Place, an estate he had admired since childhood. In 1858 Dickens began a series of paid readings, which became instantly popular. In all, Dickens performed more than 400 times. In that year--1858--after a long period of difficulties, he separated from his wife. It was also around that time that Dickens became involved in an affair with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, but it was clearly central to Dickens's personal and professional life.
46. In the closing years of his life, Dickens made his already declining health much worse by giving numerous readings. During one of his readings in 1869 he collapsed, showing symptoms of a mild stroke. He retreated to Gad's Hill and began to work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was never completed. He died at home in June of 1870 after suffering another stroke. Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, he was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.
47. The novella The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home was published in 1845. Like all five of Dickens's Christmas books, it was published in book form, not as a serial. The book sold briskly and no fewer than seventeen stage productions opened during the Christmas season of 1845 with one production opening on the same day as the book's release. For years, it was actually more popular on stage than A Christmas Carol. --[click]--In this wonderful story, John Peerybingle, a message carrier, lives with his young wife Dot, /their baby boy, /and their nanny Tilly. A cricket chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to the family. One day a mysterious elderly stranger comes to visit and takes up lodging for a few days. --[click]-- The life of the Peerybingles intersects with that of Caleb Plummer, a poor toymaker who has a blind daughter Bertha, and a son Edward, who travelled to South America and is thought to be dead. And more than that, I won’t tell you. It’s a wonderful story--and a delightful change from the ubiquitous Christmas Carol.
48. Our next author is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland and died in 1930 in Sussex, England. --[click]-- Through the influence of Dr. Bryan Charles Waller, a lodger in the family home, he prepared for entry into the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. There, he received a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1881 and an M.D. in 1885.While a medical student, Conan Doyle was deeply impressed by the skill of his professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, in observing the most minute detail regarding a patient’s condition. He became the model for Conan Doyle’s literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in A Study in Scarlet published in 1887. Conan Doyle’s early interest in both science and paranormal phenomena were the complex and diametrically opposing beliefs he struggled with throughout his life.
49. Doyle continued writing Sherlock Holmes adventures through 1926. His short stories were collected in several volumes, and he also wrote novels such as The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialized 1901–02) that feature Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson. Doyle also produced a tale of 14th-century chivalry, The White Company (1891), and a science fiction masterwork The Lost World (1912). Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in South Africa, and other services during the South African (Boer) War.
50. Conan Doyle himself --[click]-- viewed his most important efforts to be his campaign in support of spiritualism, the religion and psychic research subject based upon the belief that spirits of the departed continued to exist in the hereafter and can be contacted by those still living. --[click]-- He donated the majority of his literary efforts and profits to this campaign. --[click]-- Conan Doyle became the world’s most-renowned proponent of spiritualism, though he faced considerable opposition for his conviction from the magician Harry Houdini and in a 1920 debate with the humanist Joseph McCabe. --[click]-- Conan Doyle died in his home in Sussex, and on July 13, 1930, thousands of people filled London’s Royal Albert Hall for a séance during which a spiritualist medium claimed to have contacted Sir Arthur.
51. Recommending “The Blue Carbuncle” as a Christmas story isn’t far from recommending one of my favorite holiday movies--[click]--Die Hard with Bruce Willis. The stories both take place with Christmas as a backdrop, but there’s always been a controversy as to whether they actually qualify as Holiday tales. I say yes, and Doyle’s story continually ends up on favorite Christmas story lists. Without giving too much away, as London prepares for Christmas, newspapers report the theft of the near-priceless gemstone--[click]--the "Blue Carbuncle," from the hotel suite of a wealthy countess. John Horner, a plumber and a previously convicted felon, is soon arrested for the theft. Horner claims innocence, but his record, and his presence in the Countess's room where he was repairing a fireplace, are all the police need.Meanwhile, just after Christmas, Dr. Watson--[click]-- pays a visit to Sherlock Holmes where he finds the detective contemplating a hat and the story of a Christmas goose, both of which had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians. How the tale of the hat, the goose, and the gem all intertwine is delicious fun.
52. Next up--[click]-- are The Brothers Grimm -- Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859). They were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors who together specialized in collecting and publishing folklore during the 19th century. They were among the best-known storytellers of German folk tales, and popularized stories such as "Cinderella,” "Hansel and Gretel,” "Sleeping Beauty,” and "Snow White". Their first collection of folk tales, Children's and Household Tales began publication in 1812 and went through seven editions.
53. Both brothers attended the University of Marburg, where they developed a passion for German folklore, which to the brothers represented a pure form of national literature and culture. Between 1812 and 1857, their folk tale collection was revised and republished many times, growing from 86 stories to more than 200.
54. The tales are available in more than 100 languages and have been adapted many times by filmmakers. In the mid-20th century, the stories were used as propaganda by Nazi Germany; but later in the 20th century, psychologists such as Bruno Bettelheim reaffirmed the value of the work, in spite of the cruelty and violence in original versions of some of the tales, which even the Grimms eventually sanitized.
55. The story we know as "The Elves and The Shoemaker" is actually the first in a set of three fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. The trio of stories was published as one piece in the first edition of Children’s and Household Tales in 1812 as tale No. 39. The first story--set at Christmas--bears a striking resemblance to numerous tales about Santa Claus and the elves that help him create toys. In the Grimms’ version a down-and-out shoemaker is unable to finish a pair of shoes; after going to bed and praying to God for help, a pair of elves finish the job. The next evening--[click]-- the shoemaker and his wife discover a pair of half-naked elves busy at work making more shoes. To say thanks,--[click]-- he and his wife leave a set of clothes for the grateful little helpers on the third night. In the end, the shoemaker’s business thrives. It’s a simple but beautiful story about gratitude and the Christmas spirit of giving.
56. O. Henry, pseudonym of William Sydney Porter, was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He died in New York City on June 5, 1910. After attending a school run by his aunt and clerking in his uncle’s drugstore, he moved to Texas in 1882, where he worked on various jobs, including a teller in the First National Bank in Austin. Porter began writing sketches at about the time of his marriage to Athol Estes in 1887, and after an ill-fated magazine venture, he joined the Houston Post as reporter, columnist, and occasional cartoonist.
57. In February 1896, he was indicted for embezzlement of bank funds. Friends aided his flight to Honduras. News of his wife’s fatal illness, however, took him back to Austin, and lenient authorities did not press his case until after her death. When convicted, Porter received the lightest sentence possible, and in 1898 he entered the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio; his five year sentence was shortened to three years and three months for good behavior. As night druggist in the prison hospital, he could write to earn money to support of his daughter Margaret. His stories were immediately popular, and when he emerged from prison, William Porter had become O. Henry and would become famous as the writer of over 600 short stories.
58. In 1902, O. Henry arrived in New York. From December 1903 to January 1906 he produced a story a week for the New York Sunday World as well as other publications. His hard-cover story collections Cabbages and Kings (1904), The Four Million (1906)--and its famous story “The Gift of the Magi”-- and The Trimmed Lamp (1907) were immediate successes. Between 1907 and his death in 1910, seven other collections appeared in rapid succession. // Many of his best stories explore the lives of New Yorkers living out their hopes and dreams against the background of the daily grind of urban life.
59. Despite his popularity, O. Henry’s final years were marred by ill health, a desperate financial struggle, alcoholism, and an unhappy second marriage. After his death, more collected volumes of unpublished work--as well as early stories appeared between 1911 and 1939. The O. Henry Prize, given annually to outstanding short stories, was established in his honor in 1919 and remains a much coveted prize.
60. If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” you’re in for a treat. It’s the story of a young husband and wife--Della and Jim--[click]--and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. It’s a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving that’s been adapted often, especially for presentation at Christmas time. The plot and its twist ending are well-known, and that ending --[click]-- is generally considered one of the best examples of comic irony. But if you’ve never read it, I won’t give anything away. No spoilers, please.
61. E.T.A. Hoffmann-- Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann--was born on January 24, 1776 in Königsberg, Prussia and died on June 25, 1822 in Berlin, Germany. (Hoffmann added the Amadeus in 1813 as an homage to his favorite composer, Mozart.) He was a German writer, composer, and painter known for his stories in which supernatural and sinister characters move in and out of men’s lives, ironically revealing the tragic or grotesque sides of human nature.
62. The product of a broken home, --[click]-- Hoffmann was reared by an uncle. He was educated in law and became a Prussian law officer in the Polish provinces in 1800. In 1806, Hoffmann then turned to his chief interest, music, and held several positions as conductor, critic, and theatrical musical director in Bamberg and Dresden until 1814. He composed the ballet Arlequin in 1811 and the popular opera Undine in 1816 and wrote numerous short stories that established his reputation as a writer. He was appointed in 1814 to the court of appeal in Berlin. Although Hoffmann wrote two novels, and more than 50 short stories before his death in 1822 from progressive paralysis caused by syphilis, he continued to support himself as a legal official in Berlin. The story collections in particular became widely popular in Europe and the United States.
63. In his stories --[click]-- Hoffmann skillfully combines wild flights of imagination with vivid and convincing examinations of human character and psychology. The weird and mysterious atmosphere of his maniacs, specters, and automata intermingles with an exact and realistic narrative style. --[click]--The struggle within Hoffmann between the ideal world of his art and his daily life as a bureaucrat is evident in many of his stories, in which characters are possessed by their art. --[click]-- His use of fantasy, ranging from fanciful fairy tales to highly suggestive stories of the macabre and supernatural, served as inspiration to several operatic composers, including--most famously--Jacques Offenbach who transformed three of Hoffmann’s stories into the opera The Tales of Hoffmann in which Hoffmann himself is the central figure. --[click]--The ballet Coppélia (1870), by Léo Delibes, is based on a Hoffmann story, as is, of course, Tchaikovsky’s famous Christmas-time ballet, The Nutcracker.
64. Indeed, next to stage adaptations of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, Tchaikovsky’s ballet--based on the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King--is the most ubiquitous Christmas theater piece during the holidays. The original story concerns a girl named Marie who receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve that looks like a soldier. --[click]-- She’s called Clara in the ballet and in other adaptations. That night, Marie witnesses a battle between her dolls, under the leadership of the Nutcracker, and dozens of mice whose king has seven heads. --[click]--The following day, Marie finds out that the Nutcracker was once a young man who was cursed by the Mouse Queen. Further battles between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King take place before the rodents are defeated and the curse is finally broken--and everyone lives happily ever after. If you only know the ballet, do yourself a favor and read the provocative original Hoffmann story.
65. Our next writer is Washington Irving --[click]-- who was born in New York City in 1783 and died on his estate in Tarrytown, New York in 1859. While he was studying law, he wrote a series of whimsically satirical essays using the pen name Jonathan Oldstyle for the New York Morning Chronicle and from 1804 to 1806. On his return from a trip to Europe, he passed the bar examination and soon set up as a lawyer. But during 1807–08 his chief occupation was to collaborate with his brother William and James K. Paulding in the writing of a series of 20 periodical essays entitled Salmagundi. These essays retain significance as a look into the social milieu of the early 19th century.
66. His History of New York…by Diedrich Knickerbocker in 1809--[click]-- was a comic history of the Dutch regime in New York. --[click]-- In 1811, he moved to Washington, D.C., where his life seemed to lack focus. --[click]-- In 1815, he went to Liverpool to look after the interests of his brothers’ hardware-importing firm. In London, he met Sir Walter Scott, who encouraged him to renew his efforts at writing. --[click]-- The result was The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon--published between 1819 and 1820--a collection of stories and essays that mix satire and whimsy with fact and fiction. Most of the book’s 30 pieces concern Irving’s impressions of England, but six chapters deal with American subjects. Of these, the tales “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” have been called the first American short stories. The tremendous success of The Sketch Book in both England and the United States assured Irving that he could live by his pen. --[click]-- In 1822 he produced Bracebridge Hall, a sequel to The Sketch Book.
67. Early in 1826 he accepted an invitation to the American Embassy in Spain, where he wrote his multi-volume biography of Columbus in 1828. Meanwhile, Irving had become absorbed in the legends of the Moorish past and wrote A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada in 1829 and The Alhambra in 1832, a Spanish counterpart of The Sketch Book.After a 17-year absence Irving returned to New York in 1832. Except for four years (1842–46) as the United States ambassador to Spain, Irving spent the remainder of his life at his home, “Sunnyside,” in Tarrytown, New York on the Hudson River, where he continued to devote himself to literary pursuits.
68. Irving’s Old Christmas was published in book form in 1876. It contains the five Christmas stories found in his 1820 Sketch Book, where he portrayed an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor. These delightful stories--[click]-- depict English Christmas festivities --[click]--that he experienced while staying in England. The book was widely popular, and today Irving is credited with helping shape the Christmas holiday in America much the way Dickens did in England with his 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. Among Irving’s biggest contributions to Christmas in America --[click]-- was his promotion of St. Nicholas as a beloved character, laying the groundwork for the figure we’d eventually embrace as Santa Claus. Any one of the five stories make for a delightful holiday read.
69. Next up is a writer you might not be familiar with. --[click]-- Selma Lagerlöf was born in Sweden in 1858 and died on the family estate there in 1940. --[click]-- She was primarily a novelist who in 1909 became the first woman win the Nobel Prize for Literature.--[click]-- She was taught at home, then trained in Stockholm as a teacher, and --[click]-- in 1885 became a schoolmistress. --[click]-- There she wrote her first novel, Gösta Berlings in 1891, which is a chronicle of life during the age of prosperous iron founders and small manors in Sweden; the book played an important part in the Swedish Romantic revival of the 1890s.
70. In 1894 she published a collection of stories Invisible Links and devoted herself fully to writing. After visiting Italy, in 1897, she published The Miracles of Antichrist, a socialist novel about Sicily. Another collection, Tales of a Manor, is one of her finest works. A winter in Egypt and Palestine inspired Jerusalem--a two-volume saga published between 1901 and 1902, which established her as the foremost Swedish novelist. Other notable works were an adult novel called Herr Arnes Penningar in 1904, and two delightful geography books for children: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils in 1906 and The Further Adventures of Nils in 1907.
71. World War I disturbed her deeply, and for some years she wrote little. Then, she produced the Värmland trilogy between 1925 and 1928, the books for which she is most known today among adult readers. // She was deeply attached to the family manor house at Mårbacka, which had been sold after her father’s death but which she bought back with her Nobel Prize money--and was where she died in 1940. Selma Lagerlöf ranks among the most naturally gifted of modern storytellers.
72. Following an inspirational visit to the Holy Land, in 1904 she published Christ Legends, her most well-known book for young readers, which has been loved by generations of children, primarily in Europe. One of those stories is "The Holy Night," a Christmas-themed tale. It tells the story of the author at five years old who experienced a great sadness --[click]-- when her grandmother passed, which made her recall a story the old woman used to tell about the night Jesus was born. It’s about a poor man who wanders around the village asking people for a single live coal to light his own fire, but keeps getting met with rejection until he runs into an otherwise surly shepherd --[click]-- who finds compassion in his heart to help, especially after seeing the state of the man's home, wife, and child. It’s a beautifully written story.
73. Lucy Maud Montgomery was born on Prince Edward Island in 1874. After her mother died of tuberculosis, her father left her in the care of her mother's elderly parents and moved to Saskatchewan and remarried. As an only child living with an elderly couple, Montgomery found companionship in her imagination, nature, books, and writing. With the exception of one year (1890-1891) which she spent with her father and his wife, she stayed on Prince Edward. From 1893 to 1894 she studied for a teacher's license at Prince of Wales College, completing the two-year course in one year and graduating with honors.
74. After a brief stint as a teacher, she studied English literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she received the first payments for her writing. In 1898, after her grandfather died, she returned to Cavendish, PEI. and remained with her grandmother for the next thirteen years. During her years in Cavendish, Montgomery continued to write and sent off numerous poems and stories to Canadian, British, and American magazines. In 1905, she wrote her first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. After a number of rejections, the novel was finally published in 1908. An immediate best-seller, the book marked the beginning of Montgomery's successful career as a novelist.
75. In 1911, --[click]-- Montgomery married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald. --[click]-- They moved to Ontario, where Macdonald was minister in the Presbyterian church. --[click]-- She had three sons (one of whom was stillborn); assisted her husband in his pastoral duties; ran their home; and continued to write best-selling novels as well as short stories and poems. --[click]-- She faithfully maintained journals and kept up an enormous correspondence with friends, family, and fans. // --[click]-- Montgomery suffered deeply from the death of her infant son, the horrors of the First World War, and the discovery that her husband suffered from depression. --[click]-- She died in 1942; her husband passed the following year. --[click]-- Montgomery was buried in the Cavendish cemetery on Prince Edward Island, close to the site of her old home.
76. First published in 1909, “Christmas at Red Butte” tells the story of Theodora, a jolly and brave girl of sixteen. Set on the Saskatchewan prairie in the late 1890s . The protagonist and viewpoint character is 16-year-old Theodora Prentice. --[click]-- She's an orphan being reared in her aunt and uncle’s farm home with her small cousins; but now that her uncle has died, it's not easy for a widowed woman and a teen girl to eke out a living. On Christmas Eve, the prospects for a good Christmas for the three young kids in the family don't look too encouraging. This sets the stage for a morally-significant decision on Theodora's part, which forms the core of the story. --[click]-- It’s all very heart-warming. If you like the Green Gables novels, you’ll definitely appreciate this little gem.
77. Our next Christmas story is by the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. --[click]-- Thomas was born in 1914 in South Wales. Thomas dropped out of school at sixteen to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. By December of 1932, he left his job at the Post and concentrated on his poetry full-time. It was during this time, in his late teens, that Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems. In 1934, when Thomas was twenty, he moved to London, won the Poet's Corner book prize, and published his first book, 18 Poems to great acclaim. Unlike his contemporaries, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, Thomas was not concerned with themes of social and intellectual issues, and his writing, with its intense lyricism and highly charged emotion, had more in common with the Romantic tradition.
78. In 1936, Thomas met the dancer Caitlin Macnamara in a London pub. They engaged in a passionate affair and married in 1937. In 1940, Thomas and his wife moved to London. He had served as an anti-aircraft gunner but was rejected for more active combat due to illness. To avoid the constant air raids, the couple left London for the south coast of Wales in 1944. Between 1945 and 1949, he wrote, narrated, or assisted with over a hundred BBC radio broadcasts, including one show that became the basis for his famous radio drama Under Milk Wood several years later. In 1947 Thomas took his family to Italy, and while in Florence, he wrote In Country Sleep, And Other Poems, which includes his most famous poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night." When they returned to England, Thomas began writing movie scripts for Gainsborough Films.
79. In January 1950, Thomas toured the United States and did much to popularize the “poetry reading” as a new medium for the art. His readings were both famous and notorious—he was theatrical, engaged in roaring public disputes, and read his work with tremendous depth of feeling. Thomas toured America four times, with his last public engagement taking place at the City College of New York. A few days later, he collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel after a long drinking bout. On November 9, 1953, he died at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City at the age of thirty-nine. He had become a legendary figure, both for his work and the boisterousness of his life. He was buried in Wales, and almost thirty years later, a plaque to Dylan was unveiled in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
80. A Child’s Christmas in Wales written in 1952 and then recorded in Steinway Hall in New York in February of that year is a masterpiece of language and remembrance. It’s an anecdotal reminiscence of a Christmas from the viewpoint of a young boy, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It remains one of Thomas's most popular works. As with his poetry, this short story doesn’t have a tight narrative structure but instead uses poignantly descriptive passages to create a sense of a nostalgia, --[click]-- remembering a Christmas from the viewpoint of the author as a young boy. I highly recommend hearing Thomas’s reading, which is available on YouTube among other sources.
81. Born in Yasnaya Polyana in September of 1828, Leo Tolstoy belonged to a well-known noble Russian family. Tolstoy went to Kazan University with a background in Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French as well as geography, history, and religion. Unable to move past second year exams, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and then spent time travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg--drinking, visiting brothels, and most of all gambling, which left him in heavy debt and agony. Tolstoy was unhappy with his life and once again attempted university exams but ended but up serving in the army following in the footsteps of his elder brother. It was during this time that Tolstoy began writing.
82. In 1862, the 34 year old Leo Tolstoy married Sonya Behrs who was only 18. Over the course of their marriage, they had thirteen children. Sonya acted as Tolstoy’s secretary, proof-reader, and financial manager while he composed two of his greatest works--War and Peace (published between 1863 and 1869) and Anna Karenina (published in 1878). Their early married life was filled with contentment. However, Tolstoy’s relationship with Sonya deteriorated as his philosophical and spiritual beliefs became increasingly radical--to the extent of disowning his inherited and earned wealth. Indeed, Tolstoy’s later work exposed the often shallow nature of Russian society, and the novellas The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? (1901) focus on Christian themes.
83. In his late years, Tolstoy became increasingly inclined towards ascetic morality and believed zealously in the Sermon on the Mount and non-violent resistance, which would later greatly inspire both Gandhi and Martin Luther King. On November 20, 1910, Leo Tolstoy famously died at the age of 82 due to pneumonia in a train station while on another one of his spiritual quests.
84. The short story Where Love is, God Is explores grief, doubt, struggle, hope, growth, contentment and connection. --[click]-- It tells the story of a shoemaker named Martin whose wife and children have died. Martin can’t let go of his grief. It hurts him to the point of cursing God. Through an old man from his village, Martin begins to see hope in his life. So enthusiastic is Martin about improving his life that he spends all his free time reading the Gospels. --[click]-- Though he has been struck by tragedy, Martin begins to accept how his life has turned out. And it is from this launching point that the rest of Martin’s story grows towards a beautiful finale.
85. Our penultimate writer is Henry van Dyke Jr. who was born in 1852 and died in 1933. In addition to being a writer, he was also an educator, diplomat, and a Presbyterian clergyman. He graduated from Princeton University, in 1873 and from Princeton Theological Seminary, 1877. He served as a professor of English literature there between 1899 and 1923. Van Dyke also chaired the committee that wrote the first Presbyterian printed liturgy, The Book of Common Worship of 1906 /and/ was a lecturer at the University of Paris in 1908 and 1909.
86. President Woodrow Wilson, who was a friend and former classmate, appointed Van Dyke as ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. Shortly after his appointment, World War I threw Europe into dismay. Americans all around Europe rushed to Holland as a place of refuge. Although inexperienced as a diplomat, Van Dyke conducted himself with great skill, maintaining the rights of Americans in Europe and organizing work for their relief. He later related his experiences and perceptions in the book Pro Patria in 1921. Van Dyke returned to the United States where he continued his ministry, and his writing--and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters among many other honors. Van Dyke died on April 10, 1933 and is buried in Princeton Cemetery.
87. Among his popular writings are the two Christmas stories, "The Other Wise Man" (1896) and "The First Christmas Tree" (1897). Various religious themes are also expressed in his poetry, hymns, and the essays collected in Little Rivers (1895) and Fisherman's Luck (1899). He also wrote the lyrics to the popular hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (1907), sung to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". He compiled several short stories in The Blue Flower (1902) and contributed a chapter to the collaborative novel, The Whole Family (1908).
88. The Other Wise Man is a novella that expands the account of the three Magi as told in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It tells about a "fourth" wise man, a priest named Artaban, from Persia. --[click]-- Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child - a sapphire, a ruby, and a "pearl of great price.” However --[click]-- he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Because he missed the caravan, / and he can't cross the desert with only a horse, / he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then continues his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. The rest of the story is quite beautifully told.It's been adapted many times--as a television movie, stage play, even an opera. And here’s a fun piece of trivia: --[click]-- A large star sapphire, the Star of Artaban, was named after the main character in this story, /and/ is currently found in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
89. Our final writer is Oscar Wilde. --[click]-- He was born in 1854, Dublin and died in 1900, in Paris--[click]-- Wilde was a brilliant student, graduating with honors from Trinity College in Dublin and Magdalen College in Oxford. He distinguished himself not only as a Classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as an award-winning poet. --[click]-- In the early 1880s, Wilde established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. --[click]-- Eager to further his acclaim, Wilde agreed to lecture in the United States and Canada in 1882, announcing on his arrival at customs in New York City that he had “nothing to declare but his genius.” --[click]-- Despite widespread hostility in the press to his eccentric manner of dress and behavior, for 12 months Wilde exhorted Americans to love beauty and art.
90. When he returned to England, Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884. Two boys, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born in 1885 and 1886. Meanwhile, Wilde became a magazine editor and published The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, a masterpiece of fairytale and allegory. In the final decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published nearly all of his major work. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde combined the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. In 1891, two more volumes of stories and fairy tales also appeared, testifying to his extraordinary creative inventiveness: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates.
91. But Wilde’s greatest successes were his society comedies. Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance convinced critics that Wilde “must be taken on the very highest plane of modern English drama.” Wilde’s final plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, were produced early in 1895 to wild acclaim. Unfortunately, his close friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he had met in 1891, infuriated Douglas’s father who accused Wilde of homosexuality--which was a crime under British law. Wilde sued for criminal libel. Wilde’s case collapsed and he was arrested and ordered to stand trial. After one jury deadlocked, he was retried, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Upon his release, Wilde spent his last three years in France in bankruptcy living on the kindness of his friends. He died suddenly in 1900 of meningitis caused by an ear infection. In his final moments, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, which he had long admired.
92. The Selfish Giant was one of the five stories published in The Happy Prince and Other Tales. In it, a Giant owns a beautiful garden. --[click]-- He takes offence at children who play there after school and builds a wall to keep them out. The garden falls into perpetual winter. One day, the giant awakes and discovers that spring has returned to the garden because the children have found a way in through a gap in the wall. He sees the error of his ways and resolves to destroy the wall. However, when he emerges from his castle, all the children run away except for one boy who is trying to climb a tree. --[click]-- The identity of that boy becomes the plot twist of the story and provides the connection to Christmas. I won’t say more. This is truly a beautifully written narrative, one for adults and young readers to savor.
93. Okay, before we hear from you, I’d like to end with a shout out to some “honorable mention” stories that appear on one or two “Best” lists, but not others. Of course, it’s all subjective, but I agree that these are terrific. Once again, I present them alphabetical order by the author’s name.
94. Raymond Briggs lovely tale: THE SNOWMAN.
95. James Joyce’s beautifully written tale of love and loss during the holidays: THE DEAD.
96. Robert L. May’s much-adapted tale: RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER.
97. Beatrix Potter’s charming holiday tale: THE TAILOR OF GLOUCSTER.
98. Sir Anthony Trollope’s lovely Victorian period tale: CHRISTMAS AT THOMSON HALL
99. And last, but not least, the tiniest jewel of the day--a two-page letter by Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) to his daughter Susie that’s right up there with Francis Church’s editorial to Virginia O’Hanlon “Is There A Santa Claus?”
100. Your Thoughts...