Literary daybook, July 1

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
July 1, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On July 1, 1967, Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny change their address to New York City.
-- "Love Story" (1970)
by Erich Segal

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 two of the most famous and fatal battles in modern military history began -- the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863, and the Battle of the Somme, in 1916. Though each battle has occasioned famous literature, some of the most affecting war writing is that in unpolished, firsthand accounts. The excerpt below is from "Attack -- An Infantry Subaltern's Impressions of July 1, 1916," written by Edward G.D. Liveing and first published in Blackwood's magazine. Other passages contain attempts at metaphor, or at chin-up patriotism; here Liveing throws up his hands at ever finding the right language:

"I have often tried to call to memory the intellectual, mental and nervous activity through which I passed during that hour of hellish bombardment and counter-bombardment, that last hour before we leapt out of our trenches into No Man's Land. I give the vague recollection of that ordeal for what it is worth. I had an excessive desire for the time to come when I could go "over the top," when I should be free at last from the noise of the bombardment, free from the prison of my trench, free to walk across that patch of No Man's Land and opposing trenches till I got to my objective, or, if I did not go that far, to have my fate decided for better or for worse. I experienced, too, moments of intense fear during close bombardment. I felt that if I was blown up it would be the end of all things so far as I was concerned. The idea of after-life seemed ridiculous in the presence of such frightful destructive force ... At any rate, one could but do one's best, and I hoped that a higher power than all that which was around would not overlook me or any other fellows on that day. At one time, not very long before the moment of attack, I felt to its intensest depth the truth of the proverb, 'Carpe diem.' What was time? I had another twenty minutes in which to live in comparative safety. What was the difference between twenty minutes and twenty years? Really and truly what was the difference? I was living at present, and that was enough. I am afraid that this working of mind will appear unintelligible. I cannot explain it further."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.


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