Marianne North – Globetrotting Flower-painter

marianne

Nige pays tribute to the extraordinary Victorian spinster, globetrotter, botanist, artist and ‘very wild bird’, Marianne North…

Tomorrow marks the birthday of the brilliant flower painter and tireless traveller Marianne North (born 1830), who, even by the standards of intrepid, globetrotting Victorian spinsters, was pretty extraordinary. In an age before jet travel and motorways (or indeed motor transport), she travelled and lived in Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Ceylon, India, Borneo, Java, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile – all in the space of a decade and a half.

And wherever she went, she painted her astonishing, botanically accurate, vividly coloured oil paintings of the exotic plant life she found. What’s more, she painted these plants not as specimens in isolation but as organisms in an ecosystem, creating pictures that are beautifully composed and richly detailed as well as precisely descriptive.

Born into a wealthy and well connected family, Marianne shared her father’s passion for travel and botany and, when she found herself alone and free following his death (in 1869), she decided to indulge them both, along with her new-found love of oil painting – which she described as ‘a vice like dram-drinking, almost impossible to leave off once it gets possession of one’.

She abhorred marriage – ‘a terrible experiment’, in her view, that turned women into ‘a sort of upper servant’ – and disliked company, so most of the time she lived, travelled and painted alone. ‘I am a very wild bird,’ she declared, ‘and like liberty.’

Marianne_North

She became a reluctant celebrity in her own lifetime and the crowds flocked to an exhibition of her work in London in 1879 – a success from which she shrank, but which gave her an idea:  to give all her paintings as a gift to the Royal Botanical Society at Kew, and to build a gallery at her own expense to display them to the public.

The gift was rather reluctantly accepted, and the gallery – a temple-like building in a corner of the Gardens – is still there. It was recently restored, and is quite unlike anything of its kind – indeed Kew claims it is the only gallery devoted to a single female artist, with full public access, anywhere in the UK.

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The effect of Miss North’s paintings en masse is somewhat concussing – those colours! Her palette was certainly well adapted to the tropics.

But then, if she hadn’t painted in vivid oils, but in the more usual delicate watercolours, little or nothing of her work would have survived.

Christopher Ricks on Keats and Embarrassment

Nige salutes the extraordinary lit-crit of Christopher Ricks…

Despite the heat having knocked out most of the thinking parts of my brain, I’ve been reading (technically re-reading, as I read it when it came out some 40 – 40! – years ago) Christopher Ricks’s Keats and Embarrassment. It presents the poet’s acute sensitivity to embarrassment as an index of his extraordinary moral intelligence and imagination. And golly it’s good. Surely no one reads a text as closely and sensitively as Ricks. Here he is in full flow, exploring a single line from The Eve of St Agnes:

…Who but Keats would have ventured upon the hazards of sea-weed? ‘Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed’. Yet the sea-weed to me epitomises the central strength and sanity of Keats’s erotic poetry: its creation of a double sense, both within and without the eroticism, so that we both are and are not one of the lovers themselves. The point about a word like sea-weed, and about the thing itself, is that it arouses strong mixed feelings; it is both fascinating in its tactile pungent oddity and yet faintly repellent. It would need a Gaston Bachelard to do justice to the psycho-analysis of sea-weed [!], which is a really suggestive and strange thing to contemplate; children can unmisgivingly delight in sea-weed, but adults would be reluctant to admit the compound of sensations it can elicit. Why this matters is that in Keats’s line it is ‘sea-weed’ which precipitates the double sense, fascinatingly attractive to the lover (and so to us in so far as we are he) and at the same time odd, faintly repellent and faintly ludicrous. It is the incorporation, within the large apprehension, of this faintly embarrassing possibility of response that makes Keats’s poetry at once truthful and generous. Truthful, because we cannot, even in imagination, become the lovers whom we see and sympathise with; generous, because it becomes neither aloof nor embittered by its recognition of the possibility of embarrassment or distaste in a full imagination of the physicality of others’ love. It is not hard to be undisconcerted, unenvious, unprurient in the face of others’ physicality in love, if your sympathetic imagination simply lets no full sense of physicality in; and on the other hand it is not hard to have a full sense of such physicality while letting its embarrassment dominate your response and turn it to distaste or monkishness. But what is hard, and what gives the sense of warm spaciousness to Keats’s imagination, is to let the inevitable sense of a possibility of the distasteful or the ludicrous be accommodated within a full magnanimity. It is not only the damaged men in Zola who feel pain when they contemplate the loving happiness of lovers embracing; the freedom from envy and prurience is not simply and easily available provided that we refuse to be ‘anti-life’ or warped, and the saying ‘It is so, let it be so, with a generous heart’ is a hard saying. Until quite recently, the young were discouraged from holding hands in public because it gave the middle-aged such pains in the stomach; this was not good, but nor would it be good to make out that only those who are in a bad way would ever feel any such thing. Keats’s poetry is animated by a very real sense of the threats to calm and to benignity which can spring from any active imagining of and noticing of other people’s intimacies and pleasures; his respect for fantasy is a concomitant of his being so simply realistic in his hopes and expectations about human goodness.

Phew. This is Lit Crit on a pretty exalted level – do they still write it like this? I rather doubt it. Ricks’s amplitude and openness of mind and heart is quite extraordinary, and in combination with his attentive sensitivity to nuance and pin-sharp judgment (he’s quite clear about when Keats is writing poorly and falsely), this study makes for bracing reading. Ricks has no fear of getting too close to his subject; indeed it’s clear that he loves Keats, both as man and writer (who could read the letters and not love him?). He is not afraid, either, to stay silent when there’s nothing more to say. He quotes in full Keats’s heart-breaking last letter, and writes:

How staunch and imaginative it is of Keats that, at the moment when he is indeed taking leave, he can so perfectly accommodate his undisguisedly tragic suffering to a rich and simple solicitude for the embarrassment of others. ‘I always made an awkward bow. God bless you!’ It must be the least awkward bow ever made, and this for the saddest, fearful final blow. There is no more to say of it than that it brings tears to the eyes.

Indeed – ‘staunch and imaginative’. The best thing of all about Ricks’s book is that it sends you back to the poems, and to those incomparable letters, with new eyes and a widened appreciation of Keats’s greatness, his ‘unchariest Muse’ and his ‘widest heart’.

John Newton – Amazing Life

(c) The Cowper and Newton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Today is the 189th birthday of John Newton, a man whose life, even in outline, reads like fiction.

Born on this day in 1725 into a family of merchants, John Newton went to sea with his father at the age of 11, was later press-ganged into the Royal Navy, attempted to desert and was punished by a flogging of eight dozen lashes, after which he understandably contemplated killing the captain and then himself. But, amazingly, he recovered.

Later he transferred to a slaving ship, on which he made such a nuisance of himself that he was dumped in West Africa in the care of a slave dealer. The dealer duly sold him into the service of an African princess, who mistreated her slaves on an equal-opportunities basis.

Eventually rescued by a friend of his father’s, he returned home, experiencing a spiritual conversion en route, married his childhood sweetheart and became an Evangelical Christian, while continuing for some years to be profitably active in the slave trade – though he later became a fervent abolitionist.

While serving as curate at Olney in Buckinghamshire, his path crossed that of the troubled poet William Cowper, with whom he wrote the Olney Hymns, among which are Newton’s Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds and, best of all, the great hymn for which he is best remembered today – Amazing Grace.

Opinions differ as to whether the encounter with Newton’s passionate Evangelicalism improved or worsened Cowper’s fragile mental health, but it was certainly for some time a warm and sustaining friendship. Newton had a generous approach to his ministry, his mission being, as he saw it, ‘to break a hard heart and heal a broken heart’. His door was open to all and he was popular figure, ever ready to help where he could. He once said:

I see in this world two heaps of human happiness and misery; now if I can take but the smallest bit from one heap and add to the other, I carry a point. If, as I go home, a child has dropped a half-penny, and if by giving it another I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this.

That sounds to me like a pretty good mission statement for a priest – or anyone.

Dame Barbara Cartland: Pioneer of Aerotowing

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It’s Barbara Cartland’s birthday! Nige celebrates Britain’s most multi-‘talented’ Dame….

Had she not been cruelly plucked from us at the age of 98, Dame Barbara Cartland – socialite, celebrity, figure of fun, self-appointed expert on many things, tireless self-publicist and staggeringly prolific romantic novelist – would have been 113 today. She is still the third biggest-selling author ever, behind only Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. The upper estimate of her worldwide sales is one billion, and her published titles number 722 (23 of them in the annus mirabilis of 1983 alone). Apparently, as with Agatha Christie, her worldwide success owed a lot to the fact that her books – with their simple style and vocabulary and formulaic structures – are very effective tools for learning English, though heaven knows what idea of our national life students would gain from reading Cartland and Christie…

Cartland’s early work was avowedly inspired by the racy novels of Elinor Glyn (of It Girl fame) and she belongs in the tradition of Marie Corelli, Ouida, Ethel M. Dell, and indeed the fictional Angel – a tradition that surely died with Dame Barbara. She also seems at one time to have drawn rather heavily on Georgette Heyer (a very much better writer), who in 1950 threatened a plagiarism suit.

To her credit, Dame Barbara did much good public work – especially during the war, when she served in the War Office in various charitable capacities, as well as being very active in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Less well known is her contribution to aviation, as a pioneer of aerotowing (gliders towed by planes), a technique which was to play a part in winning the war.

Her daughter Raine’s social success exceeded even her own, as she married Earl Spencer and became stepmother to Diana, Princess of Wales. Barbara and Diana didn’t get on, and the Princess did not invite her step-grandmother to her wedding, but the pair had apparently made up by the time of Diana’s death. Cartland reportedly said of the Princess: ‘The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren’t awfully good for her.’

I shall draw a veil over Dame Barbara’s singing career – but, if you must, you can sample her warbling here…

George Sanders – Professional Cad

george sanders

Today marks the 108th birthday of George Sanders, the debonair actor who called his autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Professional Cad’…

Born on this day in 1906 – in St Petersburg, whence his family wisely returned to England in 1917 – was the actor George Sanders. With his good looks and crisp, sonorous upper-crust voice, he became the man for playing debonair, louche, more or less depraved English aristo types – most memorably Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Jack Favell in Rebecca [above] and Addison deWitt in All About Eve. He was a commanding presence on screen, even if he was mostly doing little more than playing himself (though he can hardly be accused of that in his classic voicing of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book).

The tenor of Sanders’s personal life may be judged from the fact that he called his autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad, and suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography (written by his friend Brian Aherne). He managed to marry not only the ineffable Zsa Zsa Gabor but also, some years later, her sister Magda – a marriage that lasted just six weeks and drove Sanders even further into drink.

His end was sad. Threatened by dementia and failing health, Sanders decided to give up the unequal struggle, finally killing himself with a massive overdose of Nembutal in a hotel room in a small coastal town near Barcelona. He left behind a message addressed to ‘Dear World':

‘I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good Luck.’

He was 65 – the precise age at which, according to his pal David Niven, he predicted that he would kill himself.

But what of the real George Sanders? As ever, we turn to the authoritative Me Cheeta, where the index entries are not promising, all listed under ‘Sanders, George, caddishness of’. However, Cheeta’s few encounters with Sanders seem to have left a reasonably favourable impression. The two were introduced at a notably starry private screening of Tarzan and His Mate (the one in which Maureen O’Sullivan takes a very saucy swim). ‘Cheetah, my deah,’ says George. ‘If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it absolutely excruciating to watch yourself on screen. I should leave before those terrible monstahs turn against you and skin you alive. It’s not going to shit on me, is it, Maureen?’

Hmm. On a more exalted level, it’s an intriguing thought that the boy Sanders would have been walking the streets of St Petersburg at the same time as the teenage Nabokov. I wonder if their paths ever crossed – either then or later, when both lived in Switzerland. Sanders might have made rather a good job of Clare Quilty in the Lolita film…

The sheer unlikeliness of CB Fry

‘His party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece from a standing position’. Jon Hotten salutes the incomparable sporting Renaissance man, CB Fry…

John Arlott called him ‘the most variously gifted Englishman of any age,’ and Arlott, conjuring his musty magic from an old typewriter set next a glass of something good and red, was probably right. The sheer unlikeliness of CB Fry continues to astonish, more than half a century after his death.

Had he confined himself to the cricket field, his 30,000 first class runs, made from 1892 to 1921, would still have secured his legend. On the bombshell pitches of the Victorian era, Fry averaged 50.22, a mark that today would make him a high-class player but back then, as the modern game was beginning to appear, made him a genius. Only his great friend Ranjitsinhji averaged more, and he was a Prince. England did not lose under Fry’s captaincy, and the six consecutive first class hundreds that he hit in 1901 has never been surpassed – The Don and Mike Proctor have equalled it, but it is a feat of batsmanship that has eluded everyone else from Boycott to Tendulkar.

Yet cricket was a sidebar to the rest of his life, which reads as if it was invented by Monty Python. He was a golden god long before the phrase was thought of, and in his golden youth he was known not just by his initials, which were as recognisable as WG’s, but as ‘Charles III’ (after a cartoon of him that appeared in Vanity Fair in 1894), ‘Lord Oxford’ and simply ‘Almighty’. He was physically beautiful enough to be described as ‘the handsomest man in England’ and academically gifted too – his ‘gentleman’s fourth’ in Classics from Wadham College Oxford came only after his first mental breakdown. And then there was everything else: He equalled the world long jump record, appeared in the 1902 FA Cup Final, played rugby for the Barbarians, stood as an MP, became an advisor to the League of Nations (where he may or may not have been offered the throne of Albania), launched and edited two magazines, invented the concept of the sporting star’s newspaper column, was the fifth person to appear on This Is Your Life (when his guests included Jack Hobbs and SF Barnes), taught at Charterhouse and became a captain in the navy reserve.

His party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece from a standing position.

He engaged in a bizarre marriage, probably for money, to a terrifying woman named Beatrice who was 10 years older than him and who’d had a lover called Charles Hoare since the age of 15. Mental illness shadowed his limitless gifts. He first endured it at university, but the real horrors descended later in life, when he fell in thrall to Hitler. He tried to persuade von Ribbontrop that Germany would produce ‘a blond Grace’ should the Reich take up cricket, and developed an irrational fear of Indians despite his lifelong friendship with Ranji. He dressed eccentrically, suffered paranoid episodes and was once found running naked on Brighton beach.

It was an epic life with a great sad sweep to it. A long time ago, my dad and I found a copy of Ranjitsinhji’s Jubilee Book Of Cricket in a junk shop. It’s a beautiful thing, one of those childhood objects that, when I pick it up, immediately transports me. It was only a few years back that I discovered that Fry probably wrote most of it. CB seems almost as distant as that book now. Life and sport have become atomised, and you just can’t do everything any more.

Fry died in Hampstead in 1956. In his obituary, Neville Cardus had these last words:

‘Fry must be counted among the most fully developed and representative Englishmen of his period; and the question arises whether, had fortune allowed him to concentrate on the things of the mind, not distracted by the lure of cricket, a lure intensified by his increasing mastery over the game, he would not have reached a high altitude in politics or critical literature. But he belonged – and it was his glory – to an age not obsessed by specialism; he was one of the last of the English tradition of the amateur, the connoisseur, and, in the most delightful sense of the word, the dilettante.’

Jon is the author of Muscle and The Years of the Locust and also has a fine cricket blog called The Old Batsman.

Jack Buchanan: Last of the Knuts

jack buchanan

Nige remembers one of the great entertainers…

The Dumbartonshire-born Jack Buchanan (2 April 1891 – 20 October 1957) was one of the great comic actors and song and dance men of his time, and, to quote no less an authority than The Times, ‘the last of the knuts’. The what? you might well ask. Perhaps you never heard the music-hall song Gilbert the Filbert

‘I am known round Town as a fearful blood
For I come straight down from the dear old flood
And I know who’s who, and I know what’s what
And between the two I’m a trifle hot
For I set the tone as you may suppose
For I stand alone when it comes to clothes
And as for gals just ask my pals
Why everybody knows.

Chorus: I’m Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.’

A ‘knut’, then, we can take to be a raffish, well connected and debonair chap-about-town, perhaps not entirely safe in taxis. And this was certainly the image Jack Buchanan happily projected in the countless now forgotten musical comedies through which he drifted in his elegant, languid way. He also made a few Hollywood movies and, late in his career, starred with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charise in The Band Wagon (1953), the film by which he is still best remembered (if remembered he be). Here he is holding his own (no one could do more) with Fred Astaire in I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan. Bear in mind when watching it that Buchanan has severe spinal arthritis – what a trouper!

Buchanan, unlike many in showbusiness, was notably generous with his money, even investing some in John Logie Baird’s mechanical television. Whenever one of his shows was running on Grand National Day he would cancel the day’s performances and take everybody, cast and crew, to Aintree, feeding and watering them lavishly, and even giving them each a fiver to place a bet or two.

Buchanan was married twice, and one of his many affairs was with the actress Coral Browne, whose visit to the exiled Soviet spy Guy Burgess in Moscow was the subject of Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad. Miss Browne mentioned to Burgess that she had ‘nearly married’ Jack Buchanan. Among the very few mementoes of his earlier life that Burgess had managed to keep was a 78rpm recording of Buchanan singing Who? He played it repeatedly throughout Coral Browne’s visit.

Jack Buchanan also sang the definitive version of Everything Stops For Tea. Note the reference to Schubert in the last verse – probably not historically sound…

Gustave Verbeek, Upside-down Cartoonist

Brit’s Dabbler Diary will return next week. In the meantime, here’s a piece discovered deep within the archives about a very unusual cartoonist…

I have in my possession a little book, subtly entitled: FOUR CONFUSING TALES each illustrated by six UP-TURNABLE PICTURES from the incredible TOPSY-TURVY world of GUSTAVE VERBEEK.

It has to be seen to be believed.

This Gustave Verbeck was born in 1867 in Nagasaki, the child of Dutch-American parents. Educated in Japan and Paris, he found fame in the US with a series of comic strips which ran between 1903 and 1905 for the New York Herald (he also found a new name – after an immigration officer misspelt ‘Verbeck’ as ‘Verbeek’ he decided it was easier to just use the new version).

But these were not ordinary comic strips. Every episode of The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo consisted of six pictures, each of which also depicted a scene when turned upside down. The reader could view the first half of the story by following the panels in the normal manner, then turn the page upside down for the second half.

Here is an example (click to enlarge).

and flipped….

The central trick was to make Lovekins and Muffaroo upside down versions of each other, but it is impossible to overstate the difficulty involved in Verbeek’s method.

It must be devilish tricky enough to make a single picture that, when flipped, represents another completely different scene. Verbeek managed to create six such pictures which told a coherent and funny little story when sequenced. Not only that, but he produced one of these stories every week, to deadline, for sixty-four consecutive weeks. Truly mindboggling.

The mathematician Martin Gardener said that it was impossible that Verbeek could not have been driven mad by the task. In fact, although the upside-down strips stopped with unexplained suddenness in 1905, Verbeek continued as a cartoonist and artist for many years.

All hail, then, Gustave Verbeek. A true Dabbler genius: master of incredibly skillful pointlessness.

Dabbler Heroes – Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David

It’s Boxing Day, and today marks the centenary of the birth of food writer Elizabeth David who, Toby Ash believes, still has more to offer the modern domestic kitchen than all of today’s celebrity chefs put together.

I just can’t imagine Elizabeth David stealing from Tesco. No, not Elizabeth. She was a no-nonsense type, blunt to the point of rudeness, who’d have been too busy regaling the fishmonger about her favourite bouillabaisse recipe rather than trying to filch a stilton and a couple of bottles of plonk.

I confess to having fallen just a little in love with David since I first discovered her books a few years ago. She was wilful, adventurous, determined and uncompromising. But for more than anything, I love her for significantly improving the quality of my life.

Born into a well-to-do family, David was sent off to the Sorbonne in 1930 to study art. It was there, whilst boarding with a French family, that she discovered her vocation:

I realised in what way the family had fulfilled their task of instilling French culture into at least one of their British charges. Forgotten were the Sorbonne professors…what had stuck was the taste of a kind of food quite ideally unlike anything I had known before.

But there was fun to be had first. After the Sorbonne she returned to England where she tried her hand at acting before running off with a married man with whom she sailed in a small boat to Greece. They were nearly trapped by the German invasion of Greece in 1940 but managed to escape to Egypt where they parted. She then ran a library for the British government in Cairo and put up with a brief marriage to a British army officer, before returning to Britain at the war’s end.

David found post-war Britain dull and grey. And, the food, of course, was absolutely terrible:

There was flour and water soup seasoned solely with pepper; bread and gristle rissoles; dehydrated onion and carrots; corned beef toad in the hole. I need not go on.

And so she launched her career as a food writer, introducing to her hungry audiences such exotic ingredients as pasta, parmesan, olive oil, salami, aubergines, peppers and courgettes. Over the course of her long career (she died in 1992) David wrote eight books and countless articles. In the 1960s she even opened a shop in Pimlico selling cooking paraphernalia, opting not to stock garlic presses which she famously (and quite correctly) described as being “utterly useless”.

Now the thing you have to remember is that David’s books are nothing like most of the recipe books that line the shelves of book shops today. They have lots of recipes in them – in fact I’ll wager her French Provincial Cooking has more recipes in it than all of Jamie Oliver’s books combined – but they are so much more than pretty instruction manuals. As Ruth Rogers, Co-Founder of The River Café, told me last year:

You can take any of Elizabeth David’s cookbooks to bed and read them as you would a novel.

David was a beautiful and observant writer. Her books weren’t banged out to coincide with a TV series; they were the product of in-depth, patient and sympathetic research. She was interested in the places she visited and the people she met. She wanted to learn and was able to listen. She could grasp the essence of a region, and food’s place within it.

Here’s an excerpt from her introduction to Provence:

Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on to a train. Here in London it is an effort of will to believe in the existence of such a place at all. But now and again the vision of golden tiles on a round southern roof, or of some warm, stony, herb-scented hillside will rise out of my kitchen pots with the smell of a piece of orange peel scenting a beef stew. The picture flickers into focus again.

David opens up a whole new culinary way of life. With la haute cuisine “I am not here concerned”, she states in French Provincial Cooking. Instead, she offers simple food, simply presented; food that demands less time and expense “but if anything a more genuine feeling for cookery and a truer taste”. The book is full of simple, tasty and ingenious dishes that don’t require a mass of expensive ingredients. It’s a quick sauce here, a long simmer there; a dash of this and a handful of that. It’s the melted butter with Dijon mustard and lemon juice that transforms grilled fish. It’s the ground pepper and grated parmesan sprinkled over a bowl of steaming fennel. These are cooking tips that you can use every day to bring out the very best flavours from the food around you.

So did David really transform Britain’s eating habits? Well, she undoubtedly made a massive contribution to culinary life in Britain. But, let’s face it, for as long as we look for culinary inspiration from a four-eyed, bald chef making “the perfect” scrambled eggs by ramming a stick of dynamite up a chicken (or some such nonsense), we probably still have some way to go.

Dabbler Heroes – Zane Grey

zane grey

Nige on the man’s man with the girl’s name…

Talking of names (as we were last week), I was delighted to learn that Zane Grey, the tough-nut writer of pulp westerns – who died, very rich and famous, on this day in 1939 – was christened Pearl. He soon dropped this unmanly handlle in favour of his second name, a much better fit with his style and personality.

Grey seems to have devoted his boyhood to violent brawling, fishing and getting beaten by his father, who encouraged his literary efforts by tearing his first finished story into shreds and giving him a sound thrashing. No wonder young Zane grew up with a troubled, tempestuous nature, prone all his life to depression.

He was also – though this was perhaps unrelated to his early experiences – notably prone to sexual dalliance. As he frankly warned his future wife:

I love to be free. The ordinary man is satisfied with a moderate income, a home, wife, children and all that… But I am a million miles from being that kind of man and no amount of trying will ever do any good… I shall never lose the spirit of my interest in women.

She married him anyway, accepting his tomcat ways, raising his children, managing his career and editing his work to such good effect that this inept, much-rejected would-be writer (and failed dentist and minor-league baseball player) soon achieved worldwide fame and became one of the first millionaire authors.

So now, when your young son proudly hands you his first literary effort, you know what to do.