- The Swedish Academy keeps its lists of potential Nobel winners confidential for fifty years—meaning that, at last, we can see who coulda been a contender for the 1965 prize in literature. That year it went to the Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, of And Quiet Flows the Don. Among the writers in contention, though, were Nabokov and Borges, neither of whom would ever make the cut. According to his maid, Borges was “tortured” by the annual spectacle surrounding the prize: “On the day of the announcement journalists would queue outside his door. This would happen year after year. The news each time that he had not won would make him very sad.”
- In 1894, communes dedicated to the teachings of Tolstoy began to spring up in England; two of them still exist today, vowing to keep the flames of pacifism, anarchism, and clean Christian living. Kelsey Osgood paid one a visit: “Another community resident, Jo, wearing knee-high Wellingtons and a flashlight on her head, showed me the outhouses and taught me how to sprinkle wood shavings into the bucket to compost the bodily waste. (The shavings were from pine trees that they grow on their land and sell at Christmas.) I thought of how Tolstoy asked a young Desmond MacCarthy, the Eton and Cambridge-educated literary critic and journalist, to empty his own chamber pot while visiting Tolstoy’s grand house at Yasnaya Polyana, because the Count thought it degrading to ask the servants to do it.
- A friendly reminder: mice are people, too, often somewhat literally. Maud Newton has humanized mice on the mind: “According to New Scientist, the researchers put human brain cells into mice by injecting ‘immature glial cells’ from human fetuses into baby mice, where they ‘developed into astrocytes, a star-shaped type of glial cell,’ and became invasive … It’s impossible to know how many kinds of humanized rodents exist, in part because, if you’re a researcher, you can have the mice tailor-humanized just for you. One company claims to provide at least seventy-five hundred strains … So far, whatever discussion exists in the scientific community about how humanized mice themselves might be affected by, for example, having human brain cells, seems to focus on the ways we’ve succeeded in making the mice more like us.”
- The New York Public Library’s special collections department has released some 180,000 images into the public domain. You want postcards? They got postcards. You want maps? They got maps. You want rare images of “Town Ball” and “Old Cat,” two stick-and-ball games that were precursors to baseball? You got rare images of “Town Ball” and “Old Cat,” two stick-and-ball games that were precursors to baseball. “It’s not just a data dump,” said Dan Cohen, the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. “It’s a next step that I would like to see more institutions take.”
- If you’ve ever arrived in New York through the Lincoln Tunnel, you’ve probably espied the big red sign for the New Yorker, a hotel whose iconic name has nothing to do with the magazine. This was “the hotel of the traveling salesmen, pilots and aircrew on short layovers, tourists and GIs being shipped to the European Front … If the Waldorf-Astoria were a well-dressed woman in an elegantly feathered hat, the New Yorker would be a salesman in a crumpled suit, drinking a whiskey and soda.” But what goes on there? What went on there? Early photos tell of a glut of Art Deco glamour—and a secret tunnel leading to Penn Station.
A panda painting, small-claims court, and the perils of communal living.
Of the many collectives in West Philadelphia, the Mitten was widely held to be the ideal model. Founded by six young progressives from the Inter-cooperative Council in Michigan, it hosted workshops on social justice and fundraised for local nonprofits. And it was a staple of the queer-arts scene: punk bands played in the basement and drag shows filled the living room, with performers grinding on audience members and audience members grinding on banisters. In the adjacent lot they had grown a lush garden with six raised beds and a chicken coop.
When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was eager to join a house like this one—but brimming with collaborative energy, they were in high demand, and the ones I found lacked the character and spirit that’d drawn me to communal living in the first place.
I was impatient, though, and took a room in Cedar Park, aka “University City,” at an A-frame Victorian with a huge mulberry tree. The quaint facade hardly matched its sterile interior: overhead lighting reflected off marble countertops, the white walls were bare, and there was La-Z-Boy furniture in suburban quantities. This collective included five members, young professionals who, surprisingly, spent the majority of time away from the house, staying often with their partners. A math teacher, a product engineer, a classical vocalist and a software designer—they were mild and even a little shy. But one of the members, Jeff, maintained a particular enthusiasm for the house. He spoke in an affectedly deep voice, noticeably straining as he described the order of things: regular meals “kept costs down”; adherence to the chore wheel “kept everything running smoothly.” He appeared to be the oldest by a significant difference; his skin had a jaundiced tint, and his goatee was visibly grayed. A baseball cap covered his bald head, and in his beige clothing he nearly blended with the plush chairs in the living room. Read More
The free-love couple who pissed off nineteenth-century America.
In the summer of 1853, the Tribune of New York published a pointed letter directed at the proprietors of the American Hydropathic Institute, a “health institute” in Port Chester, denouncing the establishment for spreading “free and easy notions respecting Love and Marriage.” Its reputation locally was as a bawdy place, a breeding ground for anarchy, free love, and other dubious socialist practices. Shortly after this public cudgeling, enrollment dropped, the institute closed, and its proprietors disbanded, taking their unsavory ideas with them to Long Island. On one hundred acres of wooded land, they rebuilt the institute with the modest aim of rectifying society’s ills.
The institute was, at least nominally, a school for hydrotherapy, or water-cure, a popular nineteenth-century health movement that rejected drugs in favor of precise bathing regimens and an ascetic lifestyle aimed at keeping the body, mind, and spirit in careful order. The school was the vision and creation of Dr. Thomas Low Nichols and his wife, Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols. She was a freethinking novelist, an early feminist, and a health reformer; he was a physician, a progressive journalist, and a social agitator. Together they amassed fervent followers and passionate detractors, synonymizing the name “Nichols” with licentiousness and radicalism.
In the years before the Civil War, America was inundated with reformist ideologies—a response to societal shifts brought on by rapid social and economic changes. The Nicholses embodied this anxiety: they embraced a smorgasbord of nineteenth-century reform movements, sampling generously from socialism, free love, spiritualism, mesmerism, phrenology, hydrotherapy, and other progressive health and social ideologies. Few radical figures were as devoted to the twin causes of individualism and love. Their ideal union was one in which plurality of love was openly embraced and each individually sovereign man and woman was “drawn together solely by the charm of a mutual attraction,” as they jointly wrote in Marriage: Its History, Character, and Results in 1854. “Such a union seems to us to constitute the true marriage of mutual love in perfect freedom.” Read More