Literary Daybook, Feb. 25

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
February 26, 2002 1:00AM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 25, 1959, Genevieve writes to M. Cassard.
-- "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964)
by Jacques Demy, director and scriptwriter

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1905 the first installment of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was published in the socialist weekly Appeal to Reason. Although only 27 years old, Sinclair had already published five novels -- he would eventually publish almost a hundred -- when the editor of the Appeal commissioned him to write an exposé book about conditions in the Chicago meat industry. "The Jungle" sent subscriptions to the Appeal skyrocketing, but no mainstream book publisher wanted any part of the "gloom and horror unrelieved" that had resulted from Sinclair's research: sausages made from diseased meat, dead rats (and the poison that killed them) swept into the processing vats, "wage-slave" immigrant workers also falling in and floating there "until all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Beef Lard." When it was eventually published, "The Jungle" quickly became an international bestseller, and despite his outrage at "muckrakers" like Sinclair, President Roosevelt moved quickly to pass the Pure Food and Drugs Act, and the Meat Inspection Act. Sinclair was a socialist and a tireless crusader; the fame and money that came with "The Jungle" allowed him to finance a lifetime of political activity, and to leave behind his own experience of underclass poverty:

"I wrote with tears and anguish, pouring into the pages all that pain which life had meant to me. Externally the story had to do with a family of stockyard workers, but internally it was the story of my own family. Did I wish to know how the poor suffered in wintertime in Chicago? I only had to recall the previous winter in the cabin, when we had only cotton blankets, and had rags on top of us. It was the same with hunger, with illness, with fear. Our little boy was down with pneumonia that winter, and nearly died, and the grief of that went into the book."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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