1931: Arts and Entertainment

In film, it is the Year of Horror. (Coincidentally, I am posting this on Halloween, 2011.)

In February, Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi stars as the vampire in the U.S. film, Dracula.

Frederic March wins an Academy Award for his portrayal of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

And in November James Whale’s Frankenstein stars Boris Karloff as the monster from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.

Public Enemy with James Cagney, also released in 1931, presents another kind of horror. Cagney stars as gangster Tom Powers.

Happy Halloween from 1931!

1931: Books and Literature

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: Robert Frost: Collected Poems

Newbery Award: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan)

The Story of Babar by Jean and Cecile de Brunhoff is an instant best-seller in Europe.

'babar and celeste' photo (c) 2011, Vanessa - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Also published in 1931:
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Also an instant bestseller. Ms. Buck became famous for her novels of ancient and contemporary China.

Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. I have a copy of this classic that I got as a wedding present, and I have consulted it from time to time. The cookbook’s greatest strength is that it has recipes for almost any dish that one would think of cooking. It was first privately published in 1931 by Irma S. Rombauer, a homemaker in St. Louis, Missouri, who was struggling emotionally and financially after her husband’s suicide the previous year. In 1936, a commercial publisher, Bobbs-Merrill, picked up the book.
The 1936 introduction to Joy of Cooking:

“Although I have been modernized by life and my children, my roots are Victorian. This book reflects my life. It was once merely a private record of what the family wanted, of what friends recommended and of dishes made familiar by foreign travel and given an acceptable Americanization. In the course of time there have been added to the rather weighty stand-bye of my youth the ever-increasing lighter culinary touches of the day. So the record, which to begin with was a collection such as every kitchen-minded woman possesses, has grown in breadth and bulk until it now covers a wide range.”

1931: Events and Inventions

March 3, 1931. The bill designating The Star Spangled Banner as the United States’ national anthem is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Hoover on this date. Read Peter Spier’s The Star Spangled Banner, not just for the history, but also for the pictures.

April 14, 1931. King Alfonso XIII of Spain abdicates the throne, and Spain declares itself a republic after Republicans win in a general election called after the resignation last year of military dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera.

May 1931. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin announces his second Five Year Plan for the collectivization of Soviet farming and the industrialization of the country.

May 11, 1931. The Creditanstalt, Austria’s largest bank, goes bankrupt, beginning the banking collapse in Central Europe that causes a worldwide financial meltdown. In June, German Chancellor Dr. Heinrich Brüning visits London, where he warns the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald that the collapse of the Austrian banking system, caused by the bankruptcy of the Creditanstalt, has left the entire German banking system on the verge of collapse.

July, 1931. The Benguella-Katanga, the first trans-African railroad, opens in southern Africa. the railroad links the Atlantic port of Lobito in Angola with the copper mines of Katanga in Belgian Congo. More about the railway and its history.

August 31, 1931. The Yangtze River floods, leaving 23 million people homeless.

September 18, 1931. The Japanese invade Manchuria in northern China.

October 17, 1931. Al “Scarface” Capone, Chicago gangster, is jailed for income tax fraud. The 28 year old FBI agent who leads the investigation of Capone, Elliot Ness, becomes a hero. His team of law enforcement agents is known as “The Untouchables” for their bravery and honesty in corrupt Chicago.

'Mao Zedong' photo (c) 2009, Richard Fisher - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/November, 1931. Mao Zedong and his communist associates, with the help of the Soviet Union, declare a Chinese Soviet Republic in north-central China. The majority of China is still under the control of the nationalist Chinese government (Kuomintang) of General Chiang Kai-shek.

December 11, 1931. The British Parliament enacts the Statute of Westminster, which establishes a status of legislative equality between the self-governing dominions of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, the Dominion of New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. India still has not been given dominion or commonwealth status.

C.S. Lewis on Christmas

Clive Staples Lewis was born November 29, 1898. On Christmas Day 1931, C.S. Lewis joined the Anglican Church and took communion.

“The White Witch? Who is she?
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
“How awful!” said Lucy.
~The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
~The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas, and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.


Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. . . . But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.”
~God in the Dock, A Lost Chapter from Herodotus. Read the entire “lost chapter.”

I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children.
~Letters to an American Lady.

He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, . . . to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.
Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis on Heaven.

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

The Well and the Mine is Alabama author Gin Phillips’s first novel, and I’m impressed. The plot is simple: Nine year old Tess witnesses a tragedy on her own back porch, and she and her older sister, Virgie, try to figure out why a Mystery Woman threw a baby in their well. It’s very much a bildungsroman, a coming of age story, reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. (OK, I’m not saying it’s as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, but the setting and themes are similar. And it is good.)

The well part of the title is indicative of the plot; the mine points to the setting. The story of Tess and VIrgie and their family takes place in the fictional mining town of Carbon Hill, Alabama, somewhere not too far from Birmingham. Tess’s daddy is a coal miner; her mother is a homemaker who works from dawn to late at night to put food on the table and make a life for herself, her husband, and her three children. Tess and Virgie have a little brother, Jack. They’re all good folks.

Each member of the family takes turns telling the story in first person from his or her point of view, sometimes for a few paragraphs and sometimes for several pages. This rotating narration was annoying at first. I had to keep looking back to the beginning of the section to the name in italics to see who was talking, who “I” was this time. But you get used to it, and this style of story-telling has the advantage of giving the reader a fuller view of what’s going on in the family, of family dynamics, of how different people see things. Each of the five narrators became a real person for me. I felt I knew them, and I was glad that Ms. Phillips saw fit to tell us over the course of the story, which mainly focuses on one summer in 1931, what happened to each family member in later life.

I’m glad I got to read this novel about life during the Great Depression in a coal-mining town in northern Alabama. I didn’t even know they had coal mines in Alabama. I associate coal mining with Kentucky and West Virginia. At any rate, if you’re a fan of the Southern novel, the summer-of-growing-up family slice of life novel, or the gentle, rambling, character-driven story of an historical era, The Well and the Mine will fit the bill. Recommended.