Fame is a fickle thing. It's elusive. It teases, it comes, it goes. At its most mischievous, it arrives with aplomb after those seeking it have died. Indeed, some household names like Melville, Bach, Van Gogh, and Dickinson were practically unknown in their lifetimes despite often prodigious effort and output. None of them could have known just how famous they would become posthumously. How profound it is to consider what unknown legacy may await us after we're gone. The takeaway? Never give up.
Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style -- which often included religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.
Bach's work received international attention after Felix Mendelssohn conducted a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1821. Dickinson's poetry had to wait 7 decades to receive an unedited, complete edition.
Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, but only for one year. Throughout her life, she seldom left her home and visitors were few. The people with whom she did come in contact, however, had an enormous impact on her poetry. She was particularly stirred by the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, whom she first met on a trip to Philadelphia. He left for the West Coast shortly after a visit to her home in 1860, and some critics believe his departure gave rise to the heartsick flow of verse from Dickinson in the years that followed. While it is certain that he was an important figure in her life, it is not clear that their relationship was romantic—she called him "my closest earthly friend." Other possibilities for the unrequited love that was the subject of many of Dickinson’s poems include Otis P. Lord, a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge, and Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.
By the 1860s, Dickinson lived in almost complete isolation from the outside world, but actively maintained many correspondences and read widely. She spent a great deal of this time with her family. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was actively involved in state and national politics, serving in Congress for one term. Her brother, Austin, who attended law school and became an attorney, lived next door with his wife, Susan Gilbert. Dickinson’s younger sister, Lavinia, also lived at home for her entire life in similar isolation. Lavinia and Austin were not only family, but intellectual companions for Dickinson during her lifetime.
Dickinson's poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town, which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.
She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as John Keats. Though she was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary Walt Whitman by rumors of its disgracefulness, the two poets are now connected by the distinguished place they hold as the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice. While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955. She died in Amherst in 1886.
Franz Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family on July 3, 1883 in Prague, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic.
Franz was the eldest of six children. He had two younger brothers who died in infancy and three younger sisters (Gabriele (1889–1941), Valerie (1890–1942), Ottilie (1892–1943), all of whom perished in concentration camps.
His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was described as a huge ill-tempered domestic tyrant, who on many occasions directed his anger towards his son and was disrespectful towards his escape into literature.
Kafka's father was a businessman who established himself as an independent retailer of men's and women's fancy goods and accessories, employing up to 15 people.
All his life Kafka struggled to come to terms with his domineering father.
Kafka's mother, Julie (1856—1934), was the daughter of a prosperous brewer and was better educated than her husband. She helped to manage her husband's business and worked in it as much as 12 hours a day. The children were largely raised by a series of governesses and servants.
From 1889 to 1893, Franz attended the Deutsche Knabenschule, the boys elementary school in Prague. He was sent to German schools, not Czech, which demonstrates his father's desire for social advancement. His Jewish upbringing was limited mostly to his bar mitzvah and going to the synagogue four times a year with his father, which didn't give him much to go on.
In 1901 he graduated from the Altstädter Gymnasium, the rigorous classics-oriented secondary school with eight grade levels. He did well in school, taking classes like Latin, Greek and history.
After secondary school he went on to Charles Ferdinand University, where at first he decided to study chemistry, but switched after two weeks to law. In the end of his first year, he met another student a year younger than he was, Max Brod, who would become a close friend of his throughout his life, together with the journalist Felix Weltsch, who also studied law.
Kafka obtained the degree of Doctor of Law on June 18, 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts.
At the end of 1907 Kafka started working in a huge Italian insurance company, where he stayed for nearly a year. His correspondence during that period witnesses that he was unhappy with his working time schedule - from 8 p.m (20:00) until 6 a.m (06:00) - as it made it extremely difficult for him to concentrate on his writing. On July 15, 1908, he resigned, and few weeks later found more suitable employment with the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. He worked there until July 1922 when he retired for reasons of ill health.
He often referred to his job as insurance officer as a "bread job", a job done only to pay the bills. However, he did not show any signs of indifference towards his job, as the several promotions that he received during his career prove that he was a hardworking employee. In parallel, Kafka was also committed to his literary work.
In 1912, at the home of his lifelong friend Max Brod, Kafka met Felice Bauer, who lived in Berlin. Over the next five years they corresponded a great deal, met occasionally, and twice were engaged to be married. Their relationship finally ended in 1917.
In 1917, Kafka began to suffer from tuberculosis, which would require frequent convalescence during which he was supported by his family, most notably his sister Ottla. In the early 1920s he developed an intense relationship with Czech journalist and writer Milena Jesenská.
In 1923, he briefly moved to Berlin in the hope of distancing himself from his family's influence to concentrate on his writing. In Berlin, he lived with Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher from an orthodox Jewish family, who was independent enough to have escaped her past in the ghetto. Dora became his lover and influenced Kafka's interest in the Talmud - a book of Jewish law.
It is generally agreed that Kafka suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety throughout his entire life. He also suffered from migraines, insomnia, constipation, boils, and other ailments, all usually brought on by excessive stresses and strains. He attempted to counteract all of this by a regimen of naturopathic treatments, such as a vegetarian diet and the consumption of large quantities of unpasteurized milk.
Max Brod was responsible for publishing many of Kafka's works after the writer's death. Eva Gabrielsson remains in a high profile legal battle with Stieg Larsson's father (Erland) and brother (Joakim) over the rights to her partner's literary legacy. (She was his partner from 1974 until his death in 2004; since they were never "legally" married and Larsson left no notarized Will, according to Swedish law, his estate and royalties are assigned to the father and brother.)
Stieg Larsson, whose original name was Karl Stig-Erland Larsson, (born August 15, 1954, Skelleftehamn, Sweden—died November 9, 2004, Stockholm), was a Swedish writer and activist whose posthumously published Millennium series of crime novels brought him international acclaim.
Larsson grew up with his maternal grandparents in northern Sweden until age nine, when he rejoined his parents in Stockholm. As a teenager he wrote obsessively and, inspired by his grandfather’s ardent antifascist beliefs, developed an interest in radical leftist politics. Following a mandatory 14-month stint in the Swedish army, Larsson participated in rallies against the Vietnam War and became involved in a revolutionary communist group, through which he briefly edited a Trotskyist journal. In 1977, after traveling to Ethiopia to train Eritrean dissidents, he landed a job as a graphic designer for the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), where he later worked as a journalist as well and would remain for 22 years. He soon began to also pen articles for Searchlight, a British magazine that investigated and exposed fascism.
By the 1990s Larsson had become a respected muckraker and an expert on the activities of those involved in extreme right-wing movements in Sweden. In 1991 he cowrote (with Anna-Lena Lodenius) a book on the subject, Extremhögern (“The Extreme Right”). Four years later, in response to the rising tide of neo-Nazism in Sweden, he helped establish the Expo Foundation—an organization dedicated to studying racist and antidemocratic tendencies in society in an effort to counteract them—and he served as editor in chief of its Expo magazine. As one of his country’s most vocal opponents of hate groups, he became a frequent target of death threats.
Larsson started to write fiction in 2001 as a means of generating additional income. Influenced by the detective novels of English-language writers such as Elizabeth George and Sara Paretsky, he conceived a 10-volume series of thrillers in which a disgraced journalist (and seeming alter ego), Mikael Blomkvist, pairs with a young tech-savvy misfit, Lisbeth Salander, to uncover a host of crimes and conspiracies. When he contacted a publisher in 2003, he had already written two novels, and he later completed a third; the following year, however, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Though Larsson had lived with Eva Gabrielsson for three decades before his death, he had never married or written a valid will, and so the rights to and control over his estate passed to his father and brother in what became, as his fame grew, a highly publicized and contentious affair.
The first book in the series, Män som hatar kvinnor (2005; “Men Who Hate Women”; Eng. trans. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which tracked the mismatched protagonists’ investigation into a decades-old disappearance, was swiftly met with praise in Sweden—in particular for Larsson’s indelible characterization of Salander as a surly pixie with a troubled past. Its two sequels—Flickan som lekte med elden (2006; The Girl Who Played with Fire), which delved into the seedy world of sex trafficking, and Luftslottet som sprängdes (2007; “The Air Castle That Blew Up”; Eng. trans. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), an adrenaline-fueled exploration of institutional corruption—earned similar acclaim. Though some critics charged that the novels’ determined focus on systematic violence against women was complicated by overly graphic depictions of such violence, the trilogy became wildly popular both within and outside Sweden. Together, Larsson’s novels were translated into more than 30 languages and sold tens of million copies worldwide. A Swedish film adaptation of the series was produced in 2009, and an English-language film of the first novel emerged two years later.
Maier (1926--2009) was an American street photographer. Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago's North Shore, pursuing photography during her spare time. She took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide. During her lifetime, Maier's photographs were unknown and unpublished; many of her negatives were never printed. A Chicago collector, John Maloof, acquired some of Maier's photos in 2007, while two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also found some of Maier's prints and negatives in her boxes and suitcases around the same time. Maier's photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008, by Slattery, but the work received little response. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier's photographs on the image-sharing website Flickr, and the results went viral, with thousands of people expressing interest. Maier's work subsequently attracted critical acclaim, and since then, Maier's photographs have been exhibited around the world. Her life and work have been the subject of books and documentary films, including the film Finding Vivian Maier (2013), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.
Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) was an American street photographer whose massive, unseen body of work came to light when it was purchased from an auction in Chicago in 2007. Born in New York City, Maier spent some of her youth in France and then worked in Chicago as a nanny and caregiver for most of her life. In her leisure, however, Maier ventured into the art of photography. Consistently taking photographs over the course of five decades, she would ultimately leave behind over 100,000 negatives. While her photographs have compelled viewers around the world since being brought to the public eye there is much that remains unknown about the enigmatic woman behind the lens.
Sometime in 1949, while still in France, Maier began making her first photographs with a modest Kodak Brownie– an amateur camera with only one shutter speed, no focus control, and no aperture dial. In 1951, she returned from France alone and purchased a Rolleiflex camera the following year. In 1956, she moved to the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, where a family employed her as a nanny for their three boys. She enjoyed the luxury of a darkroom as well as a private bathroom, enabling her to process prints and develop her own rolls of black and white film. As the children entered adulthood, Maier had to seek other employment, forcing her to abandon developing her own film. Moving from family to family thereafter, her rolls of undeveloped, unprinted work began to collect.
It was around this time that Maier decided to switch to color photography. Her subject matter shifted away from people to found objects, newspapers, and graffiti. In the 1980s, financial stress and lack of stability once again put Maier’s processing on hold, and the undeveloped color rolls began to accumulate. Sometime between the late 1990s and the first years of the new millennium, Maier put down her camera and stored her belongings while she tried to stay afloat. She bounced from homelessness to a small studio apartment, which a family she used to work for helped pay the rent. With meager means, the photographs in storage became lost memories until 2007, when they were sold off due to non-payment of rent. In 2008, Maier’s health began to deteriorate after she fell on a patch of ice, forcing her into a nursing home. She never made a full recovery, leaving behind an immense archive of work when she died in 2009.
In 2007, the contents of Maier’s storage space were purchased by several buyers at auction, including John Maloof, who has since dedicated himself to establishing her legacy. While he was unable to connect with Maier in her lifetime, Maloof shared a selection of Maier’s photographs online in 2009 and was met with “viral” interest. Compelled to learn more about the woman behind the lens, Maloof began to investigate the life and work of Maier, culminating in the Oscar-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2014). Since the discovery of her work, Maier’s photographs have the subject of several publications and have been exhibited at major institutions throughout the world.
Film makers Charlie Siskel (left) and John Maloof (right)
Carl Van Doren
Thanks in great part to John Maloof, the photographs of Vivian Maier are now know internationally. Carl Van Doren's study The American Novel, published in 1921, is generally credited with helping to re-establish Herman Melville's critical status as a first-rate literary master.
In addition to writing many sea novels, Herman Melville is best known as the author of the highly acclaimed American novel, Moby Dick (1851). It is quite unfortunate how the masterpiece was given due recognition 30 years after the death of its author. However, during his lifetime, Herman Melville became popular for writing a fictional travel narrative, Type (1846).
Herman Melville was born in New York on August 1, 1819 to a rich mercantile family which declined due to great losses in business. Herman was the third child of his parents who had 8. His father, Allan Melville was an importer of French dry goods who died after going bankrupt when Melville was 12 years old. Herman’s mother Maria Gansevoort Melville then raised her children with a little occasional help from some rich relatives. A short episode of scarlet fever affected Melville’s eyesight permanently in 1826. In 1835 he went to school at Albany Classical School (NY). After leaving school at the age of 12, Herman worked at several jobs as a clerk, teacher and farmhand. He also studied Shakespeare and other technical, historical and anthropological works despite his bad eyesight.
Melville was thirsty for adventure and in 1839 he set out to sea. In 1841, Herman sailed on a whaler bound. His adventures continued and in 1842 he was on a ship in the Marquesas Islands. His Polynesian adventures produced his early successful novels, Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847). However, his upcoming novel, Mardi (1849) did not do well. In the same year he wrote Redburn (1849) followed by White-Jacket (1850), a book depicting the tough life of sailors, in the next year. Shortly after White-Jacket, came Moby Dick (1851), his distinguished contribution to American literature. Moby Dick, a whaling fictional narrative symbolically touched the tribulations of American democracy. Sadly, Moby Dick did not prove to be rewarding for Melville at the time of its publication and instead put him in despair at not receiving any acclamation.
He wrote Pierre in 1852 hoping to advance his career and earn better but the Gothic romantic fiction brought him nothing except disaster both financially and critically. During the next few years Melville wrote Israel Potter (1855) and The Confidence-Man (1857). Melville also wrote magazine stories in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine which revolved around the hypocritical and materialistic nature of man. Some of these stories include Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853), The Encantadas (1854) and Benito Cereno (1855). By 1857, Melville had turned his attention towards writing poetry. Since his writing was not supporting him much financially, Herman took a job as a customs inspector in 1866. He spent the last days of his literary career writing prose and his last work Billy Budd, Foretopman was not published until after his death. Some other last works of Melville include Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1856), John Marr and other Sailors (1888) and Timoleon (1891).
Gregor Johann Mendel (20 July 1822 – 6 January 1884) was a scientist, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas' Abbey in Brno, Margraviate of Moravia. Mendel was born in a German-speaking family in the Silesian part of the Austrian Empire (today's Czech Republic) and gained posthumous recognition as the founder of the modern science of genetics. Though farmers had known for millennia that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel's pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.
Mendel worked with seven characteristics of pea plants: plant height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color. Taking seed color as an example, Mendel showed that when a true-breeding yellow pea and a true-breeding green pea were cross-bred their offspring always produced yellow seeds. However, in the next generation, the green peas reappeared at a ratio of 1 green to 3 yellow. To explain this phenomenon, Mendel coined the terms “recessive” and “dominant” in reference to certain traits. (In the preceding example, the green trait, which seems to have vanished in the first filial generation, is recessive and the yellow is dominant.) He published his work in 1866, demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors”—now called genes—in predictably determining the traits of an organism.
Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak are responsible for putting Gregor Mendel's work into the public eye in 1900. Naturalists like John Muir were instrumental in reviving Thoreau's reputation as one of the great American writers of the 19th century and as a philosophical voice.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
Henry David Thoreau (see name pronunciation; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience" (originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.
Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close observation of nature, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and Yankee attention to practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.
He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending the abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Thoreau is sometimes referred to as an anarchist. Though "Civil Disobedience" seems to call for improving rather than abolishing government—"I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government"—the direction of this improvement contrarily points toward anarchism: "'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."(c) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau
Vincent van Gogh, one of the most well-known post-impressionist artists, for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853.
The son of a pastor [and] brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional, lacked self-confidence and struggled with his identity and with direction. He believed that his true calling was to preach the gospel; however, it took years for him to discover his calling as an artist. Between 1860 and 1880, when he finally decided to become an artist, van Gogh had already experienced two unsuitable and unhappy romances and had worked unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in the Borinage (a dreary mining district in Belgium) where he was dismissed for overzealousness.
He remained in Belgium to study art, determined to give happiness by creating beauty. The works of his early Dutch period are somber-toned, sharply lit, genre paintings of which the most famous is "The Potato Eaters" (1885) . In that year van Gogh went to Antwerp where he discovered the works of Rubens and purchased many Japanese prints.
In 1886, he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin. Having met the new Impressionist painters, he tried to imitate their techniques; he began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brush strokes of the Impressionists’ style. Unable to successfully copy the style, he developed his own more bold and unconventional style. In 1888, Van Gogh decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. At The Yellow House, van Gogh hoped like-minded artists could create together. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. Van Gogh’s nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. Near the end of 1888, an incident led Gauguin to ultimately leave Arles. Van Gogh pursued him with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his own ear lobe off. Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment.
In May of 1890, after a couple of years at the asylum, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later, he died from what is believed to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound "for the good of all." During his brief career, he did not experience much success, he sold only one painting, lived in poverty, malnourished and overworked. The money he had was supplied by his brother, Theo, and was used primarily for art supplies, coffee and cigarettes.
Van Gogh's finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brush stroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. Van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the widow of Vincent, was the custodian and a curator of the painter's work after his death. Théophile Thoré-Bürger was the major voice in reviving the reputation of Vermeer in the 1860's after two centuries of neglect.
Born in Delft, Netherlands, circa October 31, 1632, Johannes Vermeer is one of the most highly regarded Dutch artists of all time. His works have been a source of inspiration and fascination for centuries, but much of his life remains a mystery. His father, Reynier, came from a family of craftsmen in the town of Delft, and his mother, Digna, had a Flemish background.
After his baptismal record at a local church, Vermeer seems to disappear for nearly 20 years. He likely had a Calvinist upbringing. His father worked as a tavern keeper and an art merchant, and Vermeer inherited both of these business upon his father's death in 1652. The following year, Vermeer married Catherina Bolnes. Bolnes was Catholic, and Vermeer converted to her faith. The couple moved in with her mother, and would eventually have 11 children together.
In 1653, Jan Vermeer registered with the Delft Guild as a master painter. There's no record of who he may have apprenticed under, or whether he studied locally or abroad. Vermeer definitely had at least a friendship with leading Delft painter Leonard Bramer, who became one of his early supporters. Some experts also believe that Vermeer may have been influenced by the works of Rembrandt through one of Rembrandt's students, Carel Fabritius.
The influence of Caravaggio is apparent in Vermeer's early works, including "The Procuress" (1656). The painter also explored mythology in "Diana and Her Companions" (1655-56) and religion in "Christ in the House of Mary and Martha" (c. 1655). By the end of the decade, Vermeer's unique style began to emerge.
Many of Vermeer's masterworks focus on domestic scenes, including "The Milkmaid" (c. 1657-58). This depiction of a woman in the midst of her work showcases two of his trademarks: his realistic renderings of figures and objects, and his fascination with light. Many of his works have a luminous quality, including the portrait "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (1665).
Vermeer enjoyed some success in Delft, selling his works to a small number of local collectors. He also served as head of the local artistic guild for a time. However, Vermeer was not well-known outside of his community during his lifetime.
Final Years and Legacy
Jan Vermeer struggled financially in his final years, due in large part to the fact that the Dutch economy had suffered terribly after the country was invaded by France in 1672. Vermeer was deeply indebted by the time of his death; he died in Delft circa December 16, 1675.