Elsie Robinson (1883-1956) was an unforgettable writer whose nationally syndicated column “Listen, World!” spanned over 30 years and garnered more than 20 million readers. Yet, her legacy has not met with the justice of recognition, forgotten in the careless oblivion under the shadows of her contemporary starry women writers. Nelie Bly was sensational as an undercover in a mental asylum and an ambitious challenger to Phileas Fogg of Around the World in 80 days. But Elsie Robinson was a champion of writers whose heartfelt writings touched the finer tissues of the millions of hearts who found solace and support in her words. She was honest, and her words were real, alive, and alike, and there was none other like her.
Robinson was my kind of model writer who wrote from her experience and heart. Edgar Allan Poe would praise a type of writer with a passion for intoxicating the heart and the truth to satisfy reason. The fates had let her go through trials of life, but her mind exceeded the compass of her wheels. She didn’t mind working as a miner as a single mother before a tide of fortune finally took her to her literary career in the Oakland Tribune. While her peers and contemporary writers took the naval-gazing, angst-ridden narratives a la mode, Robinson used her writing to communicate with readers seeking elbow room in her column. They recognized themselves in the plight of a stranger and found commonalities in it, making them feel that they were not uniquely flawed. I guess that’s why Robinson didn’t get recognition as much as her contemporary peers, who enjoyed the stardom of literary legacy. She wanted to tell her woebegone readers their problems were not theirs but yours, mine, and ours.
Like Kurt Vonnegut, Robinson wanted to let readers know that to express ourselves in the form of art is to allow our souls to grow, however poor or good, by encouraging us to write our own columns. In that regard, blogging is a great platform to express one’s artistic self without fear of rejection or ridicule, freed from the devil’s advocates of literary purists intent upon finding grammar faults in anyone’s writings. To that end, Robinson is a scintillating writer with an eye for truth and a heart for passion – like the sun in the twilight, remitting the splendor while retaining magnitude, dazzling the eyes of the beholders with the hearts’ contents. As a result, Robinson has become one of my darling writers.
I believe history is a branch of literature full of events and stories made by artists and artificers weaving facts into myth, and vice versa, into a timeless tapestry of the world that was, is and will be. In that regard, Kipling is an artist who spins beautiful tales of how animals became what they look like into a poetic wheel of ear-delighting and cadenced words aided by gorgeous illustrations distinctively graceful and dazzlingly beautiful.
Kipling’s evolution of animals explains why they look the way they are, such as a Leopard with spots, a Carmel hump, and many more. The stories become a fable and a history of its kind. It’s a literary version of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the wonderful menageries of Man and Beast that cannot live alone despite the differences in species because we are the inhabitants of this world, Earth. But, above all the fantastic tales of wonder, the Cat’s tale stands out in the story and the subject. Kipling’s Cat is proud but not arrogant, independent but affectionate, and vain but graceful. It’s a cat who walks by himself, and everything is alike to him and nothing else. The Cat is a beautiful stranger even if he likes to be a family, a kind of forever loner, the Puss in Boots with a cowboy hat and an empty holster. Kipling’s writer’s eyes saw the romantic solitude in a cat, and the result is one poetic Cat that rhymes well like the graceful way cats do their amazing somersaults.
Just So Stories are not just for children even though it is classified in Children’s literature on the shelves of libraries. It’s a book for everyone who loves legends and magic, who still has a childlike innocence that refused to put away as an adult because it’s in nature. The stories are not for academic analysis or psychoanalysis but simply for the enjoyment of the mind and the delight of the heart. Remember Freud’s saying, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” So are Just So Stories, so delightful and so pleasant.
Paul Gauguin was a man with a moon and sixpence. He was an artist in an endless pursuit of the rising sun at the dawn of a day with a flaming glory in dazzling magnificence. He was an intellectual with a wealth of knowledge drawn from a wide range of reading and classical Jesuit education. Gauguin was a man of irony with contrasting colors reflected on the soul’s spectrums, from the passionate red to the sanguine blue, hopeful green, and melancholic purple, which is why he left Vincent Van Gogh at Arles alone in neverending loneliness. He craved recognition in a grand salon, yet he longed for independence on an island beneath an ancient sun. So, naturally, I wanted to know about Gauguin from his own writings, not from another in the form of a biography. Hence the Writings of a Savage by Paul Gauguin.
The book is an attractive compendium of mostly letters to his select few friends and occasionally his wife and of essays and articles about arts and religion, demonstrating Gauguin’s erudition and introspection. While reading the book, I could not help but think that if he had been a professional journalist or an art critic, his artistic talent would have basked in the glorious sun at dawn rather than a struggling painter always on the verge of starvation. But most of all, what I wanted to know was if Gauguin had cut Gogh’s ear as I heard the rumor. Before reading this book, I had a priori thought Gauguin was a man of temper because his image was incompatible with the Dutch painter’s delicate, sophisticated, and sensitive appearance and temperament. But while my prejudice was not entirely faulty, Gauguin proved not guilty as he talked about it before his impending death away from civilization. Besides, my reading of Gauguin’s writings convinced me that he was not culpable for the injury, even if some like to contrive the circumstantial evidence to make the French pariah artist imbued with jealousy and violence against the suffering Dutch genius. Gauguin might have been passionate, but the passion is directed toward his artistic creation of the worlds he views in his mind and the snobbishness of critics and bureaucrats curating the works of painters who know nothing about the arts.
Imagination, innovation, and independence are the jewels of Gauguin’s prime colors that create his artistic Elysium. Gauguin was liberal in social stance, especially against clericalism, but royal in the artistic philosophy that how to draw doesn’t mean an exact copy of the figure because that’s not the purpose and creation of art for art’s sake. As the title indicates, Gauguin was a noble savage who, as a disciple of Rousseau, returned to a primordial state of humanity to escape from the over-intellectualized inertia of civilization that depreciated and ignored his works of art. I still can’t say the book converted me to the cult of his paintings, which differ from Renoir, Monet, and Pissaro. But the book is a medium of looking through the labyrinth Gauguin has built leading to his secret garden, wondrously vibrant and dazzlingly radiant.