Tuesday 1 January 2013

Anniversaries by Mary Hoffman

by Carfax2 (creative commons)

Everybody knows that 2012 saw the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. And in 2013 those who wish to celebrate her long reign can do it all over again with the 60th anniversary of her Coronation. I heard a Yeoman Warder carefully explaining to a family at the Tower of London on Sunday that it took a year between accession and coronation not just because of preparing the ceremony but all the crests and headed notepaper that had to be changed.

It was the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth too - a fact we celebrated with a party here on the History Girls blog. Adèle Geras even baked him a cake!

But there were many other anniversaries less written and talked about. Here are some of them:

The film Jules et Jim, directed by François Truffaut, was first shown in Paris 50 years ago
100 years ago the National Biscuit Company began selling the Oreo
Captain Robert Scott made the last entry in his diary and died not long afterwards 100 years ago
100 years ago, the Titanic sank

50 years ago Coventry Cathedral was reconsecrated and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem first performed there.
150 years ago the Rev. Charles Dodgson invented a story about a girl and a white rabbit
Nelson Mandela was arrested in Johannesburg 50 years ago
150 years ago Debussy was born

The Battle of Borodino took place between Russian and Allied Forces 200 years ago, resulting in stalemate with huge loss of life
250 years ago a six-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave his first public performance
200 years ago the Brothers Grimm published the first volume of their Kinder- und Hausmärchen.
The Cuban missile crisis was 50 years ago

Some of these I remember though Mozart was a bit before my time. And some had more personal significance than others. Growing up in the '60s, I really did think we might all be wiped out in a Nuclear Holocaust and it might happen before I could fascinate men in the way Jeanne Moreau did in Jules et Jim. I was in hospital recovering from having my appendix taken out (by Enid Blyton's husband) when the "old king" died. And I sang in Britten's War Requiem in the Netherlands and the UK.

But there was an even more personal anniversary in 2012, just before Christmas: my husband and I celebrated 40 years of marriage and it got me wondering about the names for these milestones and when they were invented. There's an association for the first 15 wedding anniversaries (though I don't remember getting any leather on my third or silk on my twelfth) then it all goes quiet till the 20th (China).

Wikipedia tells me, "The historic origins of wedding anniversaries date back to the Holy Roman Empire, when husbands crowned their wives with a silver wreath on their twenty-fifth anniversary and a gold wreath on the fiftieth." (I'm going to work on that gold wreath idea for ten years' time). Most of the other anniversary associations seem to have been invented by jewellers in the late 1930s.

So, disappointingly, it seems the commercial imperative was what named them.

But a big milestone in one's own life or the public celebration of an event remembered in one's lifetime underlines how rapidly the present becomes part of what now constitutes History. A novel set even fifty years ago would definitely count as historical fiction.

And what of 2013?

200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice, 100 since the riots at the first performance of The Rite of Spring, Benjamin Britten's centenary (on 22nd November, Saint Cecilia's Day - was ever anyone named and born so appropriately?), 50 years since the Beatles released their first LP and Sylvia Plath killed herself.

Like every year it will be a mixture. On this first day of the year are there any public or private that you look forward to celebrating?


Sue Bursztynski said...

You can find a lot of date stuff in Wikipedia. I used it for a birthday meme on my blog. :-)

I have been writing historical fiction set in the 1960s and yes, it is indeed historical fiction, even though there are plenty of people who remember the time. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that even if it didn't happen all that long ago - ten years, say - anything centred around an event that WILL be history, eg 9/11, can count as historical fiction.

adele said...

Happy Ruby Wedding!! I hope you got at least a small ruby....I didn't when it was mine but we had a good party and lots of other lovely things. Onwards to Golden for me in 4years. But yes, I remember all those 60s things too. For anyone else who's a Cuban Missile Crisis rememberer, do try Mal Peet's terrific novel called LIFE: An exploding diagram. It's brilliant.
Very interesting post!