Literary daybook, Aug. 21

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
August 21, 2002 12:00PM (UTC)



Today in fiction
On Aug. 21, 1947, Sardarji finally arrives at the Delhi station on a bloodstained train from Lahore.
-- "What the Body Remembers" (1999)
by Shauna Singh Baldwin

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 1920, Christopher Robin Milne was born, an only child to A.A. Milne. Christopher also wrote, his first two books, "Enchanted Places" and "The Path Through the Trees," being memoirs of his growing up and out from under the shadow of the fictional Christopher Robin. The first of these, written after both parents had died, has partly the tone of "setting the record straight," partly that of "settling the score." Each day of writing, Milne said, was "like a session on the analyst's couch" in an effort to look both his father and Christopher Robin in the eye.

Christopher Milne's surest loves in his first decade were for his nanny and for the fields, woods and river of the family's weekend Sussex retreat. His feeling was that he was but "a part-time hobby" to his parents and that, had he suddenly disappeared, "I would certainly not have missed my father." Amid the general resentment at parental neglect and exploitation, Milne singles out as being particularly rankling his father's first famous Christopher Robin poem, "Vespers," in "When We Were Very Young":

"Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers."

Bad enough that the real event had Nanny at the side of the 3-year-old child and father the ironic observer; far worse Christopher's "toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment" over the poem's sentimentality. While made a target of schoolboy taunts and parodies ("Hush, hush, nobody cares!/ Christopher Robin has fallen downstairs"), Christopher felt denied in real life any benefit that might have come from his father's actually gushing over him or his childhood.

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There was closeness during adolescence, but apparently not enough. Christopher rarely saw his parents once he married and moved to Devon to run a bookshop; he saw his mother not once in her 15 years of widowhood. The older Christopher not being interested in them, Pooh, Eeyore and Piglet, along with the later Kanga and Tigger -- these two were given by Dad, suspects Christopher, partly for "their literary possibilities," and Owl and Rabbit were fictions all along -- were sent by his father on book tour in America, and finally found a permanent home at the New York Public Library.

-- Steve King

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


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