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Want to Accomplish Great Things? Pick Great Heroes. Here’s How.

Full length of man dressed as superhero jumping in Brohm lake
Getty Images

Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, boxing champion, and humanitarian leader. This piece is drawn from his recently published book, Resilience. The founder of The Mission Continues and the author of the New York Times best-seller The Heart and the Fist, Eric was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people.

Don't feel silly. We all need heroes.

Who’s your hero?

It sounds like a childish question, and that’s a problem. You need a hero. We all do.

Heroes aren’t just for kids. Adults who want to accomplish great things—a successful business, a happy family, a beautiful painting, meaningful work—need heroes as well.

Step 1: Accept that heroes have flaws and that, as an adult, you will be able to identify them

When I was a kid, my favorite superhero was Aquaman. I loved Aquaman. I loved how he could breathe underwater, swim like a dolphin and communicate with fish. I don’t know that I’ve thought about Aquaman as an adult—and that’s a shame. Lots of kids have heroes. Kids are natural idolizers.

But in time we have to “put away childish things.” And one of the most painful parts of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that there is no perfect hero: our parents are flawed, our favorite athlete or actor might be a jerk. Comic books aren’t documentaries.

To grow up is to understand that no one owns a complete set of virtues. Those who are brave might also be impatient. Those who are patient might also be unjust. The disciplined athlete is the undisciplined spender. The courageous soldier becomes the frightened father.

When we grow up—if we grow up fully—we no longer choose our heroes in a spirit of passive, all-consuming admiration, as a child does. We can choose actively, singling out the qualities we want to emulate, leaving aside the rest without regrets.

We can admire the profound wisdom of Plato without accepting, or ignoring, his deep elitism, which held that most of us have no hope of achieving wisdom at all. We can admire the free-thinking genius of Thomas Jefferson without accepting, or ignoring, his ownership of other human beings. We can admire the audacity of Richard Wagner, a nearly self-taught musician who became one of history’s greatest composers, without accepting, or ignoring, his hatred of Jews.

I’ve chosen famous examples here because everyone will know them. Your heroes may be more personal—a friend, a colleague, parent, coach or teacher. They too will be flawed. They can still be your hero. We can admire without ignoring, because we are adults, and that is what adults are capable of. We have to put away the idea that our heroes are perfect, if only because such a view of heroes begins to limit our view of our own lives.

If we believe that our heroes are flawless, we begin to believe that we, being flawed, are incapable of heroism. In this way, a belief in the perfection of others can inhibit our own growth. Sometimes people poke holes at and tear down heroes as an odd way to comfort themselves. If no one is heroic—the thinking goes—then why should I try? Yet flawed heroes—even fatally flawed heroes—are still heroic. Every Achilles has an Achilles’ heel.

Your hero is flawed. So are you. You have that in common.

Step 2: Recognize how heroes help you

We need heroes, because all of us have to do things that are hard.

What is difficult, painful, confusing, chaotic and worrisome in our lives can feel—because it is happening to us—as though it is unique. It’s easy to imagine that because you’re a unique person, your struggles are unique too. And it’s easy to become isolated, especially when things are hard.

Most heroes are heroic only because they have struggled heroically.

A hero can serve as a model. And a model might teach us how to deal with the death of someone we love, how to rebound from being fired, how to coach a loved one through a disabling accident, how to lead a team or how to raise a child.

Over time, we keep growing; the challenges in front of us change, and our sense of self changes with them. The model who taught us courage may be ill suited when the times demand patience. At each stage of our life, we pursue different dreams, learn different ways of living a good life and pass through different trials. We will, therefore, need different heroes.

Your hardship is real, but it is not unique. Learn from your heroes. Emulate the best in them.

Step 3: Be Heroic

Now, make yourself similar in another way: Go be heroic.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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This Surprising Literary Trend Is Experiencing a Golden Age

Raymond Chandler
Ralph Crane—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty The writer Raymond Chandler, in 1943

Literary brands, delineated characters and franchises have existed since ancient times. Why is the continuation novel enjoying a golden moment now?

History Today

This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at HistoryToday.com.

When asked recently why he wrote his most recent novel, the author John Banville answered: ‘Because I was asked to’. The book in question, The Black Eyed Blonde (published by Pan Macmillan in paperback this February) was written by Banville under his pseudonym Benjamin Black in blatant and acknowledged imitation of Raymond Chandler at the request of Chandler’s estate. It’s a setup that might inspire a film noir script: a decorated author (Banville) with a penchant for pseudonymously writing crime thrillers is approached by the estate of a long-deceased author. His task? Imitate one of the defining stylists of 20th-century literature. The reward? A best-selling novel and a substantial share of the accompanying spoils. The appeal for the Chandler estate is obvious: Chandler’s copyright will expire in the UK in 2029 and the value of characters – in this case Chandler’s famous PI Philip Marlowe – often exceeds the value of an author’s original texts.

The concept of one novelist ‘writing as’ another, usually to expand or continue a literary franchise, is known as a continuation novel, and is an increasingly familiar feature of the contemporary literary landscape. My copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory doesn’t include an entry on the continuation novel, but future editions probably will. In recent years Sebastian Faulks has written as P.G. Wodehouse, William Boyd as Ian Fleming, Sophie Hannah as Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz as Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. ‘When you read Anthony Horowitz’ new James Bond novel in September, you will think it is a lost Ian Fleming’, tweets literary agent Jonny Geller, who acknowledges that ‘the past five years has seen a significant rise in this model’ when I ask him about the popularity of such novels. We might be living in the second ‘golden age’ of television, but this is also arguably the first golden age of the continuation novel, which is arguably a less impressive development. It prompts various questions, such as: is literary publishing eating itself?

Homage, parody, pseudonym and forgery are commonplace throughout literary history, a potted survey of which might include the following key moments: in antiquity, a whole school of poetry was ‘written as’ Anacreon, referred to as the Anacreontea. In the late 18th century, children’s author Sarah Trimmer, who wrote the popular Fabulous Histories (1786), complained of being pirated on multiple occasions. Henry Fielding supposedly wrote a parodic sequel to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela titled Shamela. Later still, in 1907, Joseph Conrad had a breakdown while writing Nostromo and his friend (and later collaborator) Ford Maddox Ford wrote some of the book for him to ensure Conrad met serialisation dates. The 1913 novel Sherlock Holmes saving Mr. Venizelos, written by an anonymous author, is thought to be Sherlock’s first reincarnation (and also the first detective novel in Greek literature). Not all the above examples are nefarious in intent, but all in some way attempt to obscure the act of literary ventriloquism that is occurring.

The continuation novel differs from fan fiction (also enjoying a purple patch, which is unlikely to be a coincidence) chiefly in its ‘official’ nature. The books are commissioned by the deceased author’s estate, written with its approval, and marketed using both author’s brand associations. They are, in a sense, the logical conclusion of the familiar marketing tool of comparing a new author to an established author: ‘For fans of…’ or ‘Author A meets Author B’. The first well-known example of this model of publishing with an established author ‘picking up the torch’ on official business does not occur until the post-war period, when, in 1968, Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun, a ‘new’ James Bond novel under the pseudonym Robert Markham at the behest of Ian Fleming’s estate. Tantalisingly one reviewer of Amis’ book noted that while it was unusual for an established author to continue a franchise in this manner, it was not unprecedented, though my search for an example predating 1968 has proved fruitless thus far. Continuation novels have detractors. ‘The posthumous pseudo-sequel never amounts to more than a nostalgic curiosity’ wrote, ironically, Kingsley’s son Martin Amis in a review of Perchance to Dream, Robert B. Parker’s authorised attempt to resurrect Chandler in 1991.

Why is the continuation novel so prevalent now? Literary brands have existed in some form or another since Homer. Why did no enterprising literary agent – a profession that has its roots in the late Victorian era – encourage a young, struggling George Gissing to ‘write as’ his idol Charles Dickens following the latter’s untimely death? Dickens was no stranger to franchising out his name: George W. M. Reynold’s Pickwick Abroad (1838) borrowed its titular protagonist from Dickens. Famously, Dickens and Wilkie Collins would write parts of each other’s books. EM Forster admired Jane Austen above all other writers, and today she is among our most rewritten authors. Why not expand her oeuvre in the early 20th century? The changing nature of intellectual property rights has much to do with the answer of course: they were less clear in the past, and more short-lived making forgery and plagiarism viable options. The literary brand, today, is a managed and controlled phenomenon. A dead author’s reach on social media (managed by their estate or publisher) can be vast. The person or people who control Socrates’ Facebook page have access to nearly 1.5 million people.

Aside from copyright, however, two interesting factors might be considered when explaining the present rise of the continuation novel, one recent and one not. Post-war publishing saw the paperback revolution, a change that according to Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘set book publishing upon a bolder and more adventurous course, turning it from a minor industry into one of sufficient growth and profitability to attract professional investors’. Arguably the eBook ‘revolution’ is a comparable growth area for the industry, ushering in a period of new potential profitability and markets. ‘Publishing’, says Jonny Geller, ‘is all about finding shorthand ways of capturing the reader by reducing intricate and complex narratives to bite size signifiers’. Few literary forms fit that bill like the continuation novel.

A more interesting theory might seek a precedent in the ancient world. In Edith Hall’s forthcoming Introducing The Ancient Greeks, (published by The Bodley Head in April) she describes how, following Alexander the Great’s death and the Wars of the Successors, Ptolemy I embarked on turning Alexandria into the world’s supreme center of civilisation. Central to this was the construction of the Library of Alexandria. Construction commenced around 297 BC, and Ptolemy imported the most acclaimed experts money could buy as well as bank-rolling a book-buying program that sent scouts to Rhodes and Athens with limitless money. Ptolemy’s venture was a success. Among those he brought to Alexandria was Callimachus who ‘knew more about ancient Greek literature than anybody before or since’, and changed the course of Western poetry by breaking with the literary culture amassed at the library with dense, erudite and cryptic poems. This period of literary experimentation was not to last. One of the detrimental effects of the library was to ensure that the past Hellenic literary tradition weighed heavily on the city’s poets and writers. ‘Almost as quickly as Ptolemy had brought the finest poets of his empire to its headquarters in Alexandria, innovation in Greek poetry ceased almost altogether’, writes Hall, who suggests that the recent resurgence in the popularity of the ‘pseudo-archaic Hymns of Callimachus or the whimsical, gothic response to Homer in Apollonius’s Argonautica’ is a due to our own age’s same ‘obsession with recycling inherited artifacts’.

The classics weighed heavily on Ptolemy’s Egypt just as their ‘modern’ incarnations do on our own. Does a period of widespread knowledge, readily accessible information and quick literary canonisation like that of Ptolemy’s Alexandria – and, with the internet, like our own – stifle creativity and innovation? If so, the rise of the continuation novel might be among the symptoms.

Rhys Griffiths is Publishing Assistant at History Today.

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Meet the New Generation of Gender-Creative Kids

Lindsay Morris photographs a rural retreat where kids are free to be themselves

Raising a child who doesn’t conform to gender roles is a minefield, for even the most supportive parents. How do you let your children be themselves while also protecting them from bullies? That question led a number of parents to organize an annual four-day camp in the wilderness for their kids.

The result was an annual long-weekend camp that serves nearly 30 families, many of whom met several years ago through a therapy group for gender-nonconforming children in Washington, D.C. It started in a few hotel rooms in D.C. and evolved into a real camp usually held at religious retreats in various rural settings around the country. The children, ages 6 to 12, attend with their parents and siblings.

In 2007, Sag Harbor photographer Lindsay Morris began attending camp. She took pictures of the children and their families to document their camp experience. But as the years passed and her photo library grew, Morris thought about doing something more with the pictures. In 2012, thanks to the courage of some of the families, Morris’ photographs appeared in a cover story for the New York Times Magazine. The book, titled You Are You, is an expansion of that project.

At camp, the children do all the typical camp things. They canoe, they craft, they roast marshmallows. Almost all of the children are biological boys who like to wear girl’s clothing. The weekend culminates in a fashion show with the works: red carpets, a runway, and fans to blow the kids’ hair back. “We try to make them feel fabulous,” says Morris, “I think it helps carry them through the year — the memory of their parents and siblings in the audience clapping for them.”

The kids in Morris’ photographs fall across the gender spectrum. But they are too young to know which category they will grow into — if they fit into a category at all. Some will grow up to be transgender, others will be gender-conforming adults. Still more may decide to embrace a more fluid concept of gender. “Living with ambiguity can be very hard,” writes one of the parents in a reflection in the book. The beauty of the camp is that it allows the kids to live comfortably in the middle, a difficult space to occupy during the rest of the year.

Morris had many goals with the book. She wanted to illustrate gender-creative children in a joyful, supportive setting to counteract the painful things we associate with children who don’t conform. She wanted gender-variant kids and the adults who advocate for them to see that they are not alone. Along with the images and reflections, she has included a list of helpful books and support organizations available to families.

But her work’s greatest value may be in teaching us to see the potential joy of children who are allowed the freedom to be themselves.

For more information about the project and events, visit lindsaycmorris.com and youareyouproject.com.

TIME Books

In Hausfrau, Anna Karenina Goes Fifty Shades With a Side of Madame Bovary

Random House

Meet Jill Alexander Essbaum, whose debut novel is out Tuesday

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: All happy novels are alike; each unhappy novel is unhappy in its own way. Unless that novel is Hausfrau. Jill Alexander Essbaum’s decidedly unhappy debut novel has already been compared to a wide range of other books, from the classics (Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina) to contemporary best-sellers (Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl) — and she doesn’t mind the comparison.

Essbaum’s protagonist Anna Benz — whose story, like Anna Karenina’s, begins on a train — is a housewife outside of Zurich who has lived there with her husband and children for almost a decade without learning the language. As she slides into depression, sexual dalliances become a way to escape from her drab life.

We caught up with Essbaum, an award-winning poet and native Texan, in advance of her novel’s March 17 debut. She currently teaches creative writing to graduate students at the University of California, Riverside.

TIME: Your book has been compared by critics and by your publisher, Random House, to 50 Shades of Grey, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina and even Gone Girl. What do you make of that?

Essbaum: I think it’s pretty neat! So let’s unpack this. Some of my friends have said, “Aren’t you offended that it’s been [compared to 50 Shades]?” I said, “That book has sold well, why would I be offended?” Obviously I think it’s the sex that people are comparing, although mine has a little less bondage in it. The Anna Karenina comparison is, you know, there’s a huge nod to Tolstoy with the name [Anna], and I think with Gone Girl, mine’s not a thriller, but the word that keeps coming up is “domestic noir.” I thought that was the coolest, I’d never heard it before, and I like that it’s about the underbelly of the inner workings of a household.

But Madame Bovary is key here, because this book is inspired by Madame Bovary, actually. I should be pretty emphatic: This isn’t a retelling, it’s an homage, it’s a nod. I’m intensely fascinated with Flaubert’s use of language and how he was always on the lookout for that exact right word, what a perfectionist he was in his craft — there’s just no loose threads in his writing. Because I come from a poetry background … the language was very important to me, so when people compare it to Flaubert, I understand that they’re comparing the character and the set-up, but I also really hope that they’re comparing the way that it’s being told and the language as well.

Anna is captivated by grammar and particularly homonyms. What draws you as a writer to all these homonyms?

My first love was jokes and puns. I’ve been working on a joke book for years now, and it’s mostly puns. Puns are built upon misunderstandings, most of the time phonic misunderstandings. The homonyms and homophones and little nuances of meaning — What’s the difference beween shame and guilt? Regret and remorse? — and false cognates, the way that these things don’t mean the same thing and because there’s this giant gap between them, they mean both things. Language is one of the few ways that [Anna] expresses herself legitimately and truthfully. But she can’t do it to anybody else, it’s only in her own head, and it’s her native language. She can’t speak truth, she can only do it through these weird grammar rules. Which is sad to me.

People often say it’s hard to write sex scenes well, and this novel has a few. How did you approach that?

Well, a smart aleck answer just ran through my head and I let that one go. “Lots of research!” No, I’m kidding.

I’ve heard some advance praise and critique that the sex scenes are very realistic, but other people have said, “Well, maybe they’re a bit gratuitous.” I would like to defend them because I don’t think they’re gratuitous at all. That’s the only time she’s literally naked and absolutely vulnerable. It would be like writing a book about a drug addict but never show him taking drugs. It would be silly not to show how invested she was. If I just said, “And then she went to his apartment and they had sex,” that would be problematic.

That said, I think I know what’s going on when people read it. I didn’t realize this until I heard it on an audiobook — at first I was a little bit shocked. I hadn’t realized how forthright these scenes were. I think that maybe as readers we might be a little bit embarrassed, because it’s like we’ve walked into a room we’re not supposed to be in, because it’s too intense and too intimate.

One way a sex scene can go really south, really fast, is that everything can be told in euphemisms rather than more directly. I’m pretty lyric in a lot of my explanations, but I really tried to avoid euphemisms. We use a euphemism when we don’t want to say the real thing, because either it embarrasses us or it scares us, or we’re not comfortable with it, or maybe we’re lying about it. If I wanted to gloss over that — you know, “And then they did the deed, and the end,” well that’s a lie, because they didn’t “do the deed,” they did this aggressive, physical act that consumed her and afterward left her feeling this certain way that I hoped that I showed through this prose. It was really hard to write.

I’m surprised people thought it was gratuitous, because to me it did seem like a very big part of her character.

Well, not everybody. Some have mentioned that they find her a very unlikeable character, and that is a completely legitimate critique. She’s not very friendly. But like I said, I don’t know that it’s gratuitous, but I think it is really embarrassing.

One of the themes that I almost didn’t even pick up on until toward the end is religion. It’s very subtle in the book, but it does keep coming back.

I’m so happy you asked that, you’re the first person who’s brought that up. I brought it up a couple of times to people and they scratched their heads a little bit. It’s secondary maybe to the grammar and the fire, but I think that this is a very religious book. Especially since the last conversation that she has that makes her feel any kind of decent is with the priest. She’s looking for consolation in a lot of ways: she’s looking for consolation in the language — she can’t find it. She’s looking for consolation in the arms of men — she definitely can’t find that. Her marriage is not working, and she’s asking these big, spiritual questions that everybody asks at one time or another.

Do you have plans for another novel in the works?

I’m writing around something right now, maybe about basketball, my passion. I love NBA basketball. It would be a good excuse to go to more games.

TIME health

By Sharing Death on the Web, Dying May Not Feel So Alone

Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman who decided to end her life early under an Oregon law. She died Nov. 1, 2014.
AP Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman who decided to end her life early under an Oregon law. She died on Nov. 1, 2014.

Steven Petrow writes the Civilities column about LGBT/straight social dilemmas for The Washington Post and is the author of five etiquette books.

When terminal illness is chronicled for all the world to witness, the end of life takes on new meaning

Lisa Bonchek Adams is not necessarily a household name, but she may well be remembered for having transformed how we understand death and dying. The 45-year-old mother of three died last week after a very public battle with breast cancer. For eight years after her initial diagnosis, Adams shared her unvarnished story with her 15,000 Twitter followers and untold numbers of blog and Facebook readers. Among her last tweets: “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it.”

Nothing was too personal to post, including the failure of her chemo to stop the progression of the cancer and the “memory boxes” she made for her children. The result was a bold reframing of the otherwise heavily shrouded truth about death, more commonly shunted in our culture to lonely hospital rooms so as to avoid its “dirtiness and indecency,” in the words of Philippe Aries, author of The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years.

Adams joins other victims of terminal illness, such as Death With Dignity advocate Brittany Maynard and actor Leonard Nimoy, who have announced or commented on their own deaths via social media. Perhaps it was the volume of Adams’s posts or their raw eloquence, but the radical transparency was remarkable.

I myself have resisted this shift over the years, even (or perhaps especially) when the diarists have been friends. The day in 2006 that my friend Natalia Kraft, then 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she started a “Boob Blog.” She continued for three years, until her death, to post photos of herself—hundreds of them. Nat waving goodbye with a forced smile before her mastectomy. Nat belted down to the gurney for a brain scan. She wrote wrenching words about her private hell, including this disarmingly simple sentence: “There are now tumors in my brain.”

I just didn’t get it. I’d been diagnosed with cancer myself some twenty years prior to Natalia and never had any interest in sharing the intimacies of that chapter—and certainly not my appearance. I refused to be photographed once chemo had given me the haircut of a lifetime. No question, I was vain, but I also didn’t want anyone to see, or suffer, the fear in my eyes. “Disease is private,” Joyce Carol Oates wrote in Wonderland. I couldn’t have agreed more.

After Natalia posted that she had brain lesions, her blog went dark for several weeks, until the day her sister posted that she had died. Instead of feeling sad about her passing, however, I found myself angry. Not the sad kind directed at a loved one who is taken too soon. No, I was indignant. Where was her sense of dignity? Of privacy? How dare she show us, and make us share, the fear?

Adams was criticized in much the same way, begged not to turn her private suffering into a public circus. Emma Gilbey Keller asked rhetorically in The Guardian last year, “Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience?” Paradoxically, The Guardian removed Keller’s story after it was revealed that she had violated Adams’ privacy by citing emails in her post and failing to let her know that she planned to publish them.

The year before, NPR’s Scott Simon tweeted his mother’s last days to his 1.3 million followers from the ICU. His story was captivating and emotional, but met with some objection. “I don’t think one can be fully present in the moment and tweet at the same time,” Lizzy Miles, a hospice social worker, told the Huffington Post. As a commenter wrote, “This is sad that the only place this man can show his grief is on twitter with strangers. Where is his priest, pastor, family members or a close best friend, I think a keyboard is a sad shoulder to cry on.”

In the years since Natalia’s first blog post, however, I have developed a better understanding of what’s going on here. As it unfolded online, Lisa Adams’ passage to death, like Natalia’s, revealed not just pain and suffering—but also love all around. I recalled how the outpouring of support from Nat’s friends had seemed boundless. Could they take her to the doctor? Make a meal? Read with her? Comfort her? Do anything for her? The “online community,” often and disparagingly described as virtual, became real and tangible.

As Adams’ condition worsened in recent weeks, I stumbled upon a new book, @Heaven: The Online Death of a Cybernetic Futurist, which is the story of Tom Mandel, a Stanford futurist who posted online about this own fight with lung cancer two decades ago. I soon realized that the concept of a death blog dates all the way back to the invention of online communities themselves. It was in the fall of 1994 when Mandel asked followers of his on The Well, one of the first online bulletin boards, for advice on how to shake a persistent cough. In all too quick succession, two spots were discovered on Mandel’s lung, which then led to a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. In less than six months he died; the book is a transcript of those conversations among virtual friends.

About Mandel, Douglas Rushkoff, the noted professor of media theory at Queens College, told me: “[T]he Well was this place where ideas and intellectual debate were always balanced by our deeply human need to connect with others. Tom was always at that intersection of thought and feeling, individuality and community.” In that vein, the outpouring of grief over Mr. Mandel’s death was only surpassed by the efforts of the community to make sense of his passing. As one member wrote: “I’m sure that as your ending here has enriched me, it has enriched many others, a final, inestimable, gift to all of us.”

While it’s common to blame the Net and our smart phones for the isolation that does indeed plague our society as a whole, it must be said that in some very important areas, these technologies and platforms are breaking down barriers. Thanks to my friend Natalia, Tom Mandel, Scott Simon, and now Lisa Adams, death can be seen as an intrinsic part of life.

Steven Petrow is writing a book about death and dying in the digital age.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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Why The Scarlet Letter Was a Mixed Blessing for Its Author

Nathaniel Hawthorne
MPI / Getty Images American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, circa 1850

March 16, 1850: 'The Scarlet Letter' is published

As a schoolboy, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote secret stories in invisible ink (actually, skim milk), a habit that some biographers have considered symbolic of the anonymity he craved both in life and in literature.

The author, described by friends as “morbidly shy and reserved,” began writing at an early age, but remained on the margins of the literary world for years — partly by choice. He burned his first short-story collection after it was rejected by publishers, according to the New York Times. For him, writing was a solitary exercise, according to a book review published by TIME in 1946, which adds:

From 1825 to 1836 Hawthorne had little contact with anybody, even members of his family. He took walks by himself, ate meals by himself, published the few pieces he was able to publish anonymously or under an assumed name. “Not many writers,” says Editor Arvin in his introduction, “worked so long amid such a hush or in such a shadow.”

It wasn’t until this day, March 16, in 1850, that the publication of The Scarlet Letter launched Hawthorne into the literary limelight — at the advanced age (by 19th-century standards) of 45. The book, which became an instant bestseller, has been called one of the great American novels as well as America’s first psychological novel.

For Hawthorne, the book’s overnight success brought relief from both obscurity and penury. He had never made more than a meager living as a writer, and supported his family for a time by weighing coal and salt shipments at Boston’s Custom House.

But the financial relief was only temporary, according to The Atlantic, which published a number of Hawthorne’s essays and stories. “When Hawthorne died at the age of sixty, he was still having difficulty making ends meet,” a 2003 essay recalls. “He was also depressed, and was having trouble completing new projects.”

Nor did fame do much to bring the reclusive author out of his shell; if anything, it may have pushed him deeper inside it, as TIME explained, quoting a neighbor who caught only glimpses of the author, “dodging about amongst the trees on his hilltop as if he feared his neighbor’s eyes would catch him as he walked. A coy genius… Nobody gets a chance to speak with him unless by accident. He never calls on anyone, is seldom seen outside of his gate.”

Hawthorne himself looked back fondly on the poverty and obscurity of his early career, which laid the foundation for the writer, and the person, he later became. He wrote once in a letter to his wife, as quoted in TIME:

“If I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. But living in solitude till the fullness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart.”

Read a full 1948 review of a Hawthorne biography, here in the TIME archives: A Real Man’s Life

TIME Books

The Wit and Wisdom of Terry Pratchett

"Death isn't cruel, merely terribly, terribly good at his job"

As the world mourns the loss of fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who died Thursday at the age of 66 after a battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, here are some of his witty and memorable quotes.

“The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.” – The Light Fantastic (1986)

“The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.” – Equal Rites (1987)

“Death isn’t cruel, merely terribly, terribly good at his job.” – Sourcery (1988)

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” – Truckers (1990)

“Most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, but by people being fundamentally people.” – Good Omens (1990)

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” – Reaper Man (1991)

“If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.” – Lords and Ladies (1992)

“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.” – The Last Continent (1998)

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” – foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy by David Pringle (1998)

“Imagination, not intelligence, made us human.” – foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy by David Pringle (1998)

“So much universe, and so little time.” – The Last Hero (2001)

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – A Hat Full of Sky (2004)

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.” – A Hat Full of Sky (2004)

“Life doesn’t happen in chapter – at least, not regular ones.” – explaining in a 2008 interview why Discworld books don’t have chapters

“Evolution was far more thrilling to me than the biblical account. Who would not rather be a rising ape than a falling angel?” – in a 2008 interview

 

Read next: Terry Pratchett’s last tweet was heartbreakingly final

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Terry Pratchett’s Last Tweet Was Heartbreakingly Final

South Bank Sky Arts Awards
Ian Gavan—Getty Images Terry Pratchett attends the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at Dorchester Hotel

English fantasy author Terry Pratchett died Thursday after an ongoing battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 66.

The author, who published more than 70 books, wrote a closing set of tweets that referenced his Discworld series. They were heartbreakingly final:

He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Read next: Fantasy Author Terry Pratchett Dead at 66

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