ANDRÉ GIDE, French writer and Nobel laureate was born (d. 1951); French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947. Gide's career spanned from the symbolist movement to the advent of anti-colonialism in between the two World Wars.


Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide exposes to public view the conflict and eventual reconciliation between the two sides of his personality, split apart by a straight-laced education and a narrow social moralism. Gide's work can be seen as an investigation of freedom and empowerment in the face of moralistic and puritan constraints, and gravitates around his continuous effort to achieve intellectual honesty. His self-exploratory texts reflect his search of how to be fully oneself, even to the point of owning one's sexual nature, without at the same time betraying one's values. His political activity is informed by the same ethos, as suggested by his repudiation of communism after his 1936 voyage to the Soviet Union.


In 1908, Gide helped found the literary magazine Nouvelle Revue Francaise (The New French Review). In 1916, Marc Allégret, 16, became his lover. He was the son of Elie Allegret, best man at Gide's wedding. Of Allegret's five children, Andre Gide adopted Marc. The two eloped to London, in retribution for which his wife burned all his correspondence, "the best part of myself," as he was later to comment. In 1918, he met Dorothy Bussy, who was his friend for over thirty years and who would translate many of his works into English.


In the 1920s, Gide became an inspiration for writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1923, he published a book on Fyodor Dostoyevski; however, when he defended homosexuality in the public edition of Corydon (1924) he received widespread condemnation. He later considered this his most important work....

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VOLTAIRE, French philosopher, born (d: 1778); born François-Marie Arouet, better known by the nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher known for his wit, philosophical sport, and defense of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Christian dogma and the French institutions of his day. The name "Voltaire," which he adopted in 1718 not only as a pen name but also in daily use, is an anagram of the Latinized spelling of his surname "Arouet" and the letters of the sobriquet "le jeune" ("the younger"): AROVET Le Ieune. The name also echoes in reversed order the syllables of a familial château in the Poitou region: "Airvault".


In terms of religious texts, Voltaire was largely of the opinion that the Bible was 1) an outdated legal and/or moral reference, 2) by and large a metaphor, but one that perhaps taught some good lessons, and 3) a work of Man, not a divine gift. These beliefs did not hinder his religious practice (It is a line from one of his poems that translates "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.") though it did gain him somewhat of a bad reputation in the Catholic Church. He is best known today for his novel, Candide.


Voltaire blew hot and cold on the subject of homosexuality. Although he is known to have sampled the delights of same-sex love on one occasion, he nonetheless admonished a friend who wanted to try it a second time, “Once, a philosopher,” he proclaimed, “twice, a sodomite!” He was locked in a love-hate relationship with Frederick the Great, with whom he spent agonizing, ecstatic years. In her biography of Voltaire, Nancy Mitford writes that “nobody who studies the life of Voltaire can doubt that he had homosexual tendencies, and one wonders whether his feelings for the king were not exacerbated by unrequited passion.” Whatever his personal reservations about homosexuality, the famous French writer was forthright in declaring that sodomy, “when not accompanied by violence, should not fall under the sway of criminal law, for it does not violate the rights of any man.” We will never know why Voltaire once signed a letter to a male friend, “E vi baccio il catzo,” which, politely translated means, “I kiss your rod.”...

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SELMA LAGERLÖF, Swedish author, Nobel Laureate (d. 1940); Swedish author and the first woman writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Known internationally for a story for children, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, in 1909 Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize in Literature "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings." In 1914 she also became a member of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in literature. At the start of WWII, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and her gold medal from the Swedish academy to the government of Finland to help them raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her.


Her first novel, The Story of Gösta Berling, was adapted into an internationally acclaimed motion picture starring Greta Garbo. She lived in Sunne, where two hotels are named after her. Her home, Mårbacka, is now preserved as a museum. She wrote a copious amount of letters to her two partners, Sophie Elkan and Valborg Olander....

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American composer DANIEL GREGORY MASON, was born on this date (d: 1953); Mason came from a long line of notable American musicians, including his father Henry Mason. He studied under John Knowles Paine at Harvard University from 1891 to 1895, continuing his studies with George Chadwick and Goetschius. In 1894 he published his Opus 1, a set of keyboard waltzes, but soon after began writing on music for his primary career. He became a lecturer at Columbia University in 1905, where he would remain until his retirement in 1942, successively being awarded the positions of assistant professor (1910), MacDowell professor (1929) and head of the music department (1929-1940). He was the lover of composer-pianist John Powell....

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