It is my birthday on Wednesday. 52. How did this eight-year-old become 52? For those of us always hoping that something will turn up, the book Tolstoy’s Bicycle lists achievements of people at all ages in various different fields. Most of the following are from the literature sections.
At 52 George Eliot writes Middlemarch. Robert Frost sets the final exam for a course he is teaching. ‘Do anything appropriate to this course that you think would please me.’ He gives only one A, to the student who merely signs his name.
At 55 Emily Dickinson dies and her sister discovers a locked box of 1000 poems.
At 56 Milton completes Paradise Lost. He had been blind since 40 and spent the middle part of his life as a senior civil servant.
At 57 Anna Sewell completes Black Beauty. She was crippled for most of her life and relied on horses to get around.
At 58 Dashiell Hammett spends six months in jail, having refused to cooperate with Senator Joe McCarthy.
At 59 Daniel Defoe writes Robinson Crusoe, and Jonathon Swift writes Gulliver’s Travels.
At 60 Penelope Fitzgerald publishes her first novel, The Golden Child. Tolstoy celebrates the birth of his thirteenth and final child by walking home from Moscow covering 130 miles in five days.
At 65 Boris Pasternak finishes Dr Zhivago. It is published when he is 67.
At 67 Tolstoy has his first bicycle lesson. It is a gift from the Moscow Society of Velocipede Lovers.
At 70 Enid Blyton writes eleven books, including five about Noddy. Tolstoy is overwhelmed by the ‘tragedy of the bedroom.’ That is his sexual desires which invalidate his public anti-sex philosophy. He celebrates his birthday by riding twenty miles and making love to his wife.
At 71 Mary Wesley publishes her first adult novel, Jumping the Queue.
At 73 Dorothy Parker dies in poor circumstances in a New York hotel. She is accompanied by her dog, Cliché. Friends afterwards discover a cheque for 10,000 dollars which she had mislaid.
At 74 S J Perelman drives from Paris to Peking in an old MG with a couple of friends.
At 77 Barbara Cartland completes her 254th romantic novel.
At 82 Tolstoy leaves home and gets on a train with no particular destination in mind, just wanting to get away from people. He becomes ill on the train and dies in a stationmaster’s cottage in an obscure country town.