Today in fiction
On March 4, a dead man is found on the night train from London.
-- "The Singing Sands" (1952)
by Josephine Tey
From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1675 John Bunyan went to prison for the third time, convicted of preaching his Baptist faith without a license. In over 12 years of confinement, Bunyan wrote numerous books and pamphlets, including Part 1 of "The Pilgrim's Progress." It sold 100,000 copies in his lifetime and is still reported to be the most sold book in the world, next to the Bible. Christian's allegorical journey from "this World to that which is to come" requires him to triumph over Obstinate, Pliable, Worldly-Wise, Ready-to-Halt and Madame Bubble; to negotiate the Slough of Despond and the town of Carnal Policy; to cross the Valley of Humiliation and the Plain of Ease; to rise above Lucre-Hill and the Delectable Mountain; and, like all who would arrive at the Celestial City, to make no purchase at Vanity Fair:
"Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts -- as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones and what not.
And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be deceivers, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues and that of every kind.
Here are to be seen, too -- and that for nothing -- thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood red colour ..."
Just as Bunyan and the Baptists were ridiculed and persecuted for their dress, habits and beliefs, so were the pilgrims at Vanity:
"Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt; and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair."
Those pilgrims who could, of course, kept moving right through to the New World, bringing "The Pilgrim's Progress" with them -- though it would not be long before Huck Finn, on the run himself, would note how the Grangerfords merely kept their copy "piled up perfectly exact" on the table.
-- Steve King
To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.