Literary daybook, Oct. 25

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published October 25, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Oct. 25, 1993, Siddalee Walker marries Connor McGill in her father's sunflower field in Pecan Grove Plantation, La.
-- "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" (1996)
by Rebecca Wells

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

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1854, one of the most famous battles of military history was fought at Balaklava, in the Crimea. Upon reading reports of the disaster in the Times five weeks later, Tennyson wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade," composing the poem while raking leaves, he later said, and writing it out in a few minutes. The line "someone had blundered" came from the newspaper account:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred ...

In his memoir, Hallam Tennyson describes his father as a "soldier at heart," one proud to have received a note from a returning veteran saying, "I escaped with my life and my Tennyson." The poem was so popular among those serving in the Crimea that a thousand copies were handed out at the front, and at Tennyson's funeral in Westminster Abbey survivors of the Balaklava battle lined the aisles. As poet laureate, Tennyson wrote a number of nationalistic poems, but he was anxious not to be perceived as a jingoist or war-lover. His epilogue to "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade," a poem written decades later, contains the lines, "And who loves War for War's own sake,/ Is fool or crazed or worse."

Tennyson recorded an excerpt from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" near the end of his life; it can be found in various compilations and at several Web sites. And, of course, an entirely different approach to the Light Brigade, England and pretty much everything else awaits any reader of George MacDonald Fraser's "Flashman at the Charge."

-- Steve King

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

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