Raymond Chandler

Famous for writing Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, the American crime Novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler, was born July 23, 1888 in Chicago Illinois. He spent his early years in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, living with his mother and father near his cousins and his aunt (his mother’s sister) and uncle. Chandler’s father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for the railway, abandoned the family. To obtain the best possible education for Ray, his mother, originally from Ireland, moved them to the area of Upper Norwood in the London Borough of Croydon, England in 1900. Another uncle, a successful lawyer in Waterford, Ireland, supported them while they lived with Chandler’s maternal grandmother. Raymond was a first cousin to the actor Max Adrian, a founder member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; Max’s mother Mabel was a sister of Florence Thornton. Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College, London (a public school whose alumni include the authors P. G. Wodehouse and C. S. Forester). He spent some of his childhood summers in Waterford with his mother’s family. He did not go to university, instead spending time in Paris and Munich improving his foreign language skills. In 1907, he was naturalized as a British subject in order to take the civil service examination, which he passed. He then took an Admiralty job, and published his first poem.

Chandler disliked the servility of the civil service and resigned, to the consternation of his family, and became a reporter for the Daily Express and the Bristol Western Gazette newspapers. He was unsuccessful as a journalist, but he published reviews and continued writing romantic poetry. An encounter with the slightly older Richard Barham Middleton is said to have influenced him into postponing his career as writer. “I met… also a young, bearded, and sad-eyed man called Richard Middleton. … Shortly afterwards he committed suicide in Antwerp, a suicide of despair, I should say. The incident made a great impression on me, because Middleton struck me as having far more talent than I was ever likely to possess; and if he couldn’t make a go of it, it wasn’t very likely that I could. In 1912, he returned to America, visiting his aunt and uncle before settling in San Francisco where he took a correspondence course in bookkeeping, finishing ahead of schedule. His mother joined him there in late 1912. They moved to Los Angeles in 1913, where he strung tennis rackets, picked fruit. He found steady employment with the Los Angeles Creamery.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He saw combat in the trenches in France with the Gordon Highlanders and was undergoing flight training in the fledgling Royal Air Force (RAF) when the war ended. After the armistice, he returned to Los Angeles by way of Canada, and soon began a love affair with Pearl Eugenie (“Cissy”) Pascal, a married woman 18 years his senior and the stepmother of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had enlisted. Cissy amicably divorced her husband, Julian, in 1920, but Chandler’s mother disapproved of the relationship and refused to sanction the marriage. For the next four years Chandler supported both his mother and Cissy. After the death of Florence Chandler on September 26, 1923, he was free to marry Cissy. They were married on February 6, 1924. Having begun in 1922 as a bookkeeper and auditor, Chandler was by 1931 a highly paid vice president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employees, and threatened suicides contributed to his dismissal a year later. Due to his straitened financial circumstances Following his dismissal , Chandler turned to his latent writing talent to earn a living, teaching himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler’s first professional work, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, featuring the detective Philip Marlowe, speaking in the first person.

His second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940), became the basis for three movie versions adapted by other screenwriters, including the 1944 film Murder My Sweet, which marked the screen debut of the Marlowe character, played by Dick Powell (whose depiction of Marlowe Chandler reportedly applauded). Literary success and film adaptations led to a demand for Chandler himself as a screenwriter. He and Billy Wilder co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944), based on James M. Cain’s novel of the same title. The noir screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Said Wilder, “I would just guide the structure and I would also do a lot of the dialogue, and he (Chandler) would then comprehend and start constructing too.” Wilder acknowledged that the dialogue which makes the film so memorable was largely Chandler’s.

Chandler’s only produced original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). He had not written a denouement for the script and, according to producer John Houseman, Chandler agreed to complete the script only if drunk, which Houseman agreed to. The script gained Chandler’s second Academy Award nomination for screenplay. Chandler also collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), an ironic murder story based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, which he thought implausible. Chandler clashed with Hitchcock to such an extent that they stopped talking. In 1946 the Chandlers moved to La Jolla, California, an affluent coastal neighborhood of San Diego, where Chandler wrote two more Philip Marlowe novels, The Long Goodbye and his last completed work, Playback. The latter was derived from an unproduced courtroom drama screenplay he had written for Universal Studios.

Sadly his wife Cissy Chandler died in 1954, after a long illness. Heartbroken and drunk, Chandler neglected to inter her cremated remains, and they sat for 57 years in a storage locker in the basement of Cypress View Mausoleum. After Cissy’s death, Chandler’s loneliness worsened and he became deppressed ; he returned to drinking alcohol, never quitting it for long, and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered. In 1955, he attempted suicide. Chandler’s personal and professional life were both helped and complicated by the women to whom he was attracted—notably Helga Greene, his literary agent; Jean Fracasse, his secretary; Sonia Orwell (George Orwell’s widow); and Natasha Spender (Stephen Spender’s wife), the last two of whom assumed Chandler to be a repressed homosexual, Chandler regained his U.S. citizenship in 1956.

After a respite in England, he returned to La Jolla. But sadly He died at Scripps Memorial Hospital On March 26, 1959 of pneumonial peripheral vascular shock and prerenal uremia (according to the death certificate) in 1959. Helga Greene inherited Chandler’s $60,000 estate, after prevailing in a 1960 lawsuit filed by Fracasse contesting Chandler’s holographic codicil to his will.  Chandler was Four chapters into writing his eighth novel. This was completed as the novel Poodle Springs by the mystery writer and Chandler admirer Robert B. Parker. In 1989 Parker, also finished a sequel to The Big Sleep entitled Perchance to Dream, which was salted with quotes from the original novel. Chandler’s final Marlowe short story, circa 1957, was entitled “The Pencil”. It later provided the basis of an episode of the HBO miniseries (1983–86), Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, starring Powers Boothe as Marlowe. In 2014, “The Princess and the Pedlar” (1917), a previously unknown comic operetta, with libretto by Chandler and music by Julian Pascal, was also discovered among the uncatalogued holdings of the Library of Congress. The work was never published or produced. It has been dismissed by the Raymond Chandler estate as “no more than… a curiosity.” A small team under the direction of the actor and director Paul Sand is seeking permission to produce the operetta in Los Angeles.

Chandler is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, in San Diego, California and in 2010, a petition was signed to disinter Cissy’s remains and reinter them with Chandler in Mount Hope. After a hearing in September 2010 in San Diego Superior Court, Judge Richard S. Whitney granted the request. and Cissy’s ashes were conveyed from Cypress View to Mount Hope and interred under a new grave marker above Chandler’s, as they had wished. About 100 people attended the ceremony, which included readings by the Rev. Randal Gardner, Powers Boothe, Judith Freeman and Aissa Wayne. The shared gravestone reads, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”, a quotation from The Big Sleep. Chandler’s original gravestone, placed by Jean Fracasse, is still at the head of his grave; the new one is at the foot.

All but Playback have been made into motion pictures, some several times. In the year before he died, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. As a result Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Hammett’s Sam Spade, is considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective,” both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe. Some of Chandler’s novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery. mMany of his novels have also been adapted for film and Television including The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely, many starring Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum as hard-bitten detective Philip Marlowe.

Demolition Man

I have recently watched this Exciting action, Science fiction film again. It starts In 1996, when a psychopathic criminal Simon Phoenix kidnaps a number of hostages and takes refuge with his gang in an abandoned building. LAPD Sgt. John Spartan leads an assault to capture Phoenix. However Phoenix sets off a series of explosives that destroy the building and The corpses of the hostages are found in the rubble. This leads to the arrest of Spartan for manslaughter and he is incarcerated along with Phoenix in the city’s new “California Cryo-Penitentiary”, where they are cryogenically frozen and exposed to subconscious rehabilitation techniques.

During their incarceration, the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara are merged into a single metropolis under the name San Angeles. The city becomes a utopia run under the pseudo-pacifist guidance and control of the evangelistic Dr. Raymond Cocteau, where human behavior is tightly controlled. In 2032, Phoenix is thawed for a parole hearing. However he escapes the prison. The police, having not dealt with violent crime for many years, are unable to handle Phoenix. Lt. Lenina Huxley suggests that Spartan – the police officer who caught Phoenix – be revived and reinstated to the force to help them stop him again.

So Spartan, having spent 36 years in cryo-stasis until now, is thawed, reinstated, and assigned to Lieutenant Lenina Huxley. Spartan finds the future depressing and oppressive while Others on the police force find his behavior brutish and uncivilized, and Huxley, though fascinated by the lifestyles of the late 20th century, is also disgusted by some of Spartan’s behaviour.

Meanwhile Six officers are killed by Phoenix during his escape. Spartan eventually confronts Phoenix at the local museum where he has raided a weapon exhibition to arm himself. However Phoenix manages to escape and encounters Dr. Cocteau who asks Him to assassinate Edgar Friendly, the leader of the resistance group called the Scraps which fight against Cocteau’s rule, and he allows Phoenix to bring other criminals out of cryo-sleep to help.

At the Scraps’ underground base, Spartan discovers that the Scraps are in fact all homeless and starving people who have rejected Dr. Cocteau’s oppressive vision of an ideal society. Spartan warns Friendly of the threat from Phoenix and his gang who subsequently attack, Spartan pursues Phoenix. However once again Phoenix escapes, so Spartan seeks help from the Scraps as they emerge in force to get food. Phoenix returns to kill Dr. Cocteau with his gang Then goes back to the CryoPrison and begin to thaw out the most dangerous convicts. So Spartan enters the prison to prevent Phoenix releasing the most dangerous criminals from cryogenic suspension in an explosive and exciting showdown.

Kong:Skull Island

The film Kong – Skull Island is out on DVD Soon. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, and John C. Reilly.

The film follows a team of scientists and Vietnam War soldiers during 1973, including former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who is hired by government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) to guide an expedition to map out the uncharted “Skull Island” somewhere in the Pacific. Randa also recruits the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) his right-hand, Major Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell) and Captain Earl Cole (Shea Whigham) to escort them to the island. The group is also joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who suspects that it is actually a corrupt military operation fronted by Monarch industries.

Arriving on Skull Island, Packard’s men begin dropping explosives despite Conrad’s objections. Predictably The helicopters are suddenly attacked and many are destroyed. The survivors are then faced with the task of staying alive in a dangerous primordial World full of giant killer creatures. Their only hope for rescue is a resupply team that will meet them at the island’s northern end in three days time. Meanwhile Conrad, Weaver, Brooks, biologist San Lin (Jing Tian), soldier Reg Slivko (Thomas Mann) and Landsat employee Victor Nieves (John Orti), among others, encounter local Iwi natives and meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a missing pilot who crash-landed on the island in 1944 with a Japanese pilot.

Marlow explains that Kong is the island’s guardian and is worshipped as a god by the natives for protecting them from the Skullcrawlers, underground reptilian monsters who have slaughtered Kong’s ancestors, leaving him as the last of his kind. Conrad and Weaver later learn from Monarch Industries that Kong is not the only monster and that many other monsters such as Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah may also exist.

Conrad’s group sets off down the river in a boat recovered by Marlow, where they are attacked by flying reptiles. Marlow reluctantly leads both Conrad and Packard’s team to the Forbidden Zone, a forgotten battleground between Kong’s ancestors and Skullcrawlers where they are attacked by Skullcrawlers. Conrad decides to lead the non-military personnel back to the boat so they can rendezvous with the resupply team.  Conrad Marlow and Weaver then decide to save Kong. However Packard disagrees and tries to clobber kong. Conrad and Weaver convince the other soldiers to spare Kong, but Packard refuses. The group plus King Kong are then suddenly attacked by a really big monster called “Ramarak” in an explosive and exciting showdown.

The Snowman

A film adaptation based on the exciting Jo Nesbø crime thriller The Snowman is due for release in October. Originally due to be directed by Martin Scorsese, it’s Directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) it stars Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, JK Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Toby Jones, with a score composed by Jonny Greenwood.

It features Norwegian detective, Harry Hole who is investigating a number of recent murders of women around Oslo. His experience of an earlier training course with the FBI leads him to search for links between the cases, and he finds two – each victim is a married mother and after each murder a snowman appears at the murder scene. Then more women disappear and are believed to have been abducted or murdered in a similar way. Almost all of the victims vanished after the first snowfall of winter and a snowman is found near the scene, this fact having been ignored by the original investigators.

Further digging leads Harry and his team – including newcomer Katrine Bratt, recently transferred to Oslo from the Police Department in Bergen – to suspect that paternity issues with the children of the victims may be a motive for the murders. They discover that all of the victims’ children have different fathers to the men they believe to be their father. Following DNA testing, results lead the investigation down a few wrong alleys and several murder suspects are eliminated from the enquiry.

Within a short time, Harry Hole and Katrine are drawn together – personally as well as professionally. In the past he has avoided having affairs with female colleagues, but he is now tempted. During a departmental party, Katrine tries to seduce Harry and though he rejects her, Harry has fantasies about her and realises that she is a kindred spirit – a brilliant detective able to notice the smallest of details and understand the connections between them. Moreover, she has the same kind of obsessive dedication to the job which he himself has – an obsessiveness which had earlier caused his girlfriend, Rakel, to break off their relationship. To complicate matters further, during the investigation, Harry continues to meet with Rakel clandestinely, despite the fact that she is in a new relationship.

Then Katrine Bratt attempts to frame one of the major suspects, however this backfires spectacularly when she herself becomes a suspect. Harry chases her across Norway and finally catches up with her at a previously discovered murder site. She is apprehended and committed to a psychiatric unit. At the same time, Hole’s superior officers decide that the scandal of allowing a serial killer to work on the murder case will be damaging and determine that they require a scapegoat to appease the press. Due to his previous issues with alcoholism, and poor reputation within the police department, Harry Hole is put forward in absentia. However another victim is discovered, and Hole realises that the murderer is still at large…

Paul Verhoeven

Dutch film director, film producer, television director, television producer, and screenwriter Paul Verhoeven was born 18 July 1938 in Amsterdam, however the family lived in the village of Slikkerveer. In 1943 the family moved to The Hague, the location of the German headquarters in the Netherlands during World War II. The Verhoeven house was near a German military base with V1 and V2-rocket launchers, which was repeatedly bombed by allied forces. Their neighbours’ house was hit and Verhoeven’s parents were almost killed when bombs fell on a street crossing. From this period, Verhoeven mentioned in interviews, he remembers images of violence, burning houses, dead bodies on the street, and continuous danger. As a small child he experienced the war as an exciting adventure and compares himself with the character Bill Rowan in Hope and Glory.

Verhoeven’s father became head teacher at the Van Heutszschool in The Hague, and Paul attended this school. Sometimes they watched informative films at home with the school’s film projector. Paul and his father often saw American films, such as The Crimson Pirate. Verhoeven also liked The War of the Worlds (1953). Paul Verhoeven was a fan of the Dutch comic Dick Bos (nl). The character Dick Bos is a private detective who fights crime using jujutsu. Verhoeven himself liked comic drawing; he created the character The Killer, he also liked Frankenstein and the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series. Verhoeven attended public secondary school Gymnasium Haganum in The Hague. Later, beginning in 1955, he studied at Leiden University, where he joined the elite fraternity Minerva. Verhoeven graduated with a doctorandus (M.Sc.) with a double major, in Mathematics and Physics.

In 1960 Verhoeven made his first film A Lizzard Too Much for the anniversary of his students’ corps. In his last years at university Verhoeven also attended classes at the Netherlands Film Academy. After this he made three more short films Nothing Special (1961), The Hitchhikers (1962) and Let’s Have a Party (1963). Verhoeven never used his maths and physics degree, opting instead to invest his energies in a career in film. After his studies he entered the Dutch Navy as a conscript. In 1965 He made the documentary “Het Korps Mariniers” (The Royal Dutch Marine Corps, which won the French Golden Sun award for military films. In 1967 Verhoeven married Martine Tours, with whom he later had two daughters, Claudia and Helen.

When he left the Navy, Verhoeven took his skills to Dutch television. First, he made a documentary about Anton Mussert named Mussert (1968). His first major success was the 1969 Floris television series, starring Rutger Hauer. Floris was inspired by foreign series like Ivanhoe and Thierry La Fronde. Verhoeven’s first feature film Business Is Business was released in 1971 then in 1973 with Turkish Delight, starring Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven and based on a novel by bestselling Dutch author Jan Wolkers. This tells the passionate love story of an artist and a liberal young girl from a rather conservative background. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974. In 1999 the film won a Golden Calf for Best Dutch Film of the Century. Verhoeven’s 1975 film Katie Tippel again featured Hauer and van de Ven.

In 1979 Verhoeven achieved international success with his Golden Globe nominated film Soldier of Orange. starring Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé. The film, based on a true story about the Dutch resistance in World War II, was written by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. Soldier of Orange received the 1979 LA Film Critics Award for best foreign language film. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe. In 1980 Verhoeven made the film Spetters with Renée Soutendijk and Rutger Hauer. The story is sometimes compared to Saturday Night Fever, but the film has more explicit sex and violence which are sometimes seen as the trademarks of Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s film The Fourth Man (1983) is a horror film starring Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk. It was written by Gerard Soeteman from a novel by the popular Dutch writer Gerard Reve. This was Verhoeven’s last Dutch film production until the 2006 film Black Book. In 1985 Verhoeven released Flesh and Blood (1985), which starred Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Verhoeven moved to Hollywood for a wider range of opportunities in filmmaking. Working in the U.S. he made a serious change in style, directing big-budget, very violent, special-effects-heavy smashes RoboCop and Total Recall. Both RoboCop and Total Recall won Academy Special Achievement Awards, for Sound Effects Editing and for Visual Effects respectively.

In 1992 Verhoeven released the equally intense and provocative Basic Instinct (1992), an erotic thriller. The ninth-highest-grossing film of the year, the movie was a return to themes Verhoeven had explored in Turkish Delight and The Fourth Man. The film received two Academy Awards nominations, for Film Editing and for Original Music. Verhoeven’s next film was Showgirls (1995), about a stripper in Las Vegas trying to make a career as a showgirl. The film won seven Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Film and Worst Director; Verhoeven became the first director to accept his “award” in person. In 1997 Verhoeven released the science fiction films Starship Troopers (adapted from the controversial novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein, and Hollow Man (2000). Each film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. In 2005 Verhoeven returned to the Netherlands and together with his screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, made Black Book (2006) which eventually won six Golden Calves, including Best Director. Verhoeven followed Black Book by directing a movie in French: Elle, an adaptation of a novel by Philippe Djian. The film by Verhoeven, is a psycho-thriller where Isabelle Huppert plays a rape victim, and was selected in the Official Competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

In 2007 Verhoeven was made a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Verhoeven is also a member of the Jesus Seminar,and is the only member who does not have a degree in biblical studies. He graduated with a degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Leiden. Since he is not a professional biblical exegete, his membership in the Jesus Seminar has occasionally been cited by opponents of the Seminar as a sign that this group is less scholarly than it claims. In 2007 Verhoeven wrote the book Jesus of Nazareth (Dutch: Jezus van Nazaret) about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Which reviews the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth and the alleged corruption of these same ideas over the last 2,000 years. Co-written with Verhoeven’s biographer Rob Van Scheers, the book is the culmination of the research Verhoeven conducted in preparation for Jesus: The Man, a motion picture about the life of Christ The book tells about the Jewish uprising against Roman rule and characterizes Jesus as a radical political activist, downplaying any supernatural events and miracles as unproved or unprovable. And in 2017 Verhoeven was President of the Jury for the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. He is currently filming his next film “The Blessed Virgin”

Burt Kwouk OBE

The late British actor W. “Burt” Kwouk, OBE was born 18 July 1930 in Warrington, Cheshire. He was brought up in Shanghai until he was 17 years old, when his Chinese parents returned to England. He went to the United States to study and in 1953 graduated from Bowdoin College. The Kwouk family fortune had been lost in the 1949 revolution and in 1954 he came back to Britain, where a girlfriend “nagged me into acting”.

He appeared in numerous films and television programmes. One of Kwouk’s earliest film roles was in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) where he played the leader of a prison revolt who later aids the main character in heroically leading orphans to safety. In 1968 he appeared in The Shoes of the Fisherman opposite Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn. Kwouk was also a stalwart of several ITC television TV series, such as Danger Man, The Saint and Man of the World. He co-starred in 12/13 episodes of The Sentimental Agent (1963). Kwouk appeared in three James Bond films. Including Goldfinger (1964) portraying played Mr. Ling, a Chinese expert in nuclear fission; in the spoof Casino Royale (1967) a general and in You Only Live Twice (1967) and a Japanese operative of Blofeld credited as Spectre 3.

He was most famous for playing Cato Fong, Inspector Clouseau’s manservant in the Pink Panther films, who was ordered to attack Clouseau when he least expected it in order to keep him alert, this would end up totally hilarious and caused absolute chaos. A reference to his appearances in several films with Peter Sellers including the opening scene of The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu alongside Peter Sellers, who says to him “your face is familiar.” (referencing Pink Panther). He also portrayed the honorable but misguided Major Yamauchi in the 1980’s British World War II drama series Tenko.

In 2000, he appeared in an episode of the western TV series Queen of Swords as Master Kiyomasa, an aged Japanese warrior-priest. Sung-Hi Lee played his female pupil, Kami. The episode was filmed at Texas Hollywood, Almeria, Spain. From 2001 to 2004 he provided voice-overs on the spoof Japanese betting show Banzai and subsequently appeared in adverts for the betting company, Bet365. From 2002 until 2010, he so had a regular role in the Last of the Summer Wine, as Entwistle. In 2010, he provided the voice of the CGI character Shen, a Chinese water dragon, for the groundbreaking BBC TV fantasy drama series Spirit Warriors. He sadly died 24 May 2016.

Jane Austen

English novelist Jane Austen tragically died in 18th July 1817. She was born 16th December 1775 and her works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years into her thirties. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”. Scholars have unearthed little information since. Since her death Jane Austen’s novels such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Emma, have all remained popular and have given rise to numerous television and film adaptations.