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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Carefully constructed: The language of Franz Kafka

A few months ago I took part in a discussion of Kafka on Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme In Our Time. One of the other participants asserted that Kafka’s style describes horrific events in the emotionally deadpan tone of a bureaucrat report. This struck me immediately as wrong in lots of ways. I didn’t disagree, because time was short, and because I wouldn’t want to seem to be scoring points of a colleague. But it occurred to me that the speaker, a professor of English Literature, had probably only read Kafka in English, and only the old translations by W. and E. Muir.

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OWC Reading Group

The lasting appeal of Great Expectations

According to George Orwell, the biggest problem with Dickens is that he simply doesn’t know when to stop. Every sentence seems to be on the point of curling into a joke; characters are forever spawning a host of eccentric offspring. “His imagination overwhelms everything”, Orwell sniffed, “like a kind of weed”.

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Capturing the essence of Madame Bovary

The tragic story of Madame Bovary has been told and retold in a number of adaptations since the text’s original publication in 1856 in serial form. But what differences from the text should we expect in the film adaptation? Will there be any astounding plot points left out or added to the mix?

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland artifacts: [slideshow]

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a children’s story that has captivated the world since its publication in the 1860s. The book is celebrated each year on 4th July, which is also known as “Alice’s Day”, because this is the date that Charles Dodgson (known under the pen name of Lewis Carroll) took 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating trip in Oxford, and told the story that later evolved into the book that is much-loved across the world.

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Alice down the microscope

Tomorrow Oxford will celebrate Alice’s Day, with mass lobster quadrilles, artwork and performances, croquet, talks, and teapot cocktails, and exhibitions of photographic and scientific equipment. The diverse ways in which Alice and her wonderland are remembered and recast reveal how both heroine and story continue to speak to many different kinds of audience, 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s book was first published.

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OWC Reading Group

Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 3: Great Expectations

When a mysterious benefaction takes Young Pip from the Kent marshes to London, his prospects of advancement improve greatly. Yet Pip finds he is haunted by figures from his past: the escaped convict Magwitch; the time-withered Miss Havisham and her proud and beautiful ward Estella; his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe. In time, Pip uncovers not just the origins of his great expectations but the mystery of his own heart.

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Prince Charles, George Peele, and the theatrics of monarchical ceremony

Today marks the forty-sixth anniversary of Prince Charles’s formal investiture as Prince of Wales. At the time of this investiture, Charles himself was just shy of his twenty-first birthday, and in a video clip from that year, the young prince looks lean and fresh-faced in his suit, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasping and unclasping as he speaks to the importance of the investiture.

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Book vs. Movie: Far From the Madding Crowd

A new film adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy was recently released, starring Carey Mulligan as the beautiful and spirited Bathsheba Everdene and Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen as her suitors.

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Being defaced: John Aubrey and the literary sketch

John Aubrey might have made an excellent literary agent. When Charles II was restored, Aubrey told Thomas Hobbes to come down to London straight away to get his portrait painted. It was a successful bid for patronage. Aubrey correctly calculated that Hobbes would meet the King at the studio of Samuel Cooper, ‘the prince’ of miniaturists. Cooper painted two watercolour miniatures, ‘as like as art could afford’. One the King took away for his ‘closet’ at Whitehall Palace, and another was not finished.

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Six people who helped make ancient Naples great

The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened ‘Parthenope’ after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis (‘Old City’), after a Neapolis (‘New City’) was founded close by.

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Yeats at 150

Today, 13 June is the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats. The day still resonates because Yeats’s life did not so much terminate as simply enter a new phase upon his death in 1939. In Auden’s famous phrase, he “became his admirers” and was “scattered among a hundred cities.” This is no exaggeration.

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Before Wolf Hall: How Sir Walter Scott invented historical fiction

Historical fiction, the form Walter Scott is credited with inventing, is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. It has always been popular, of course, but it rarely enjoys high critical esteem. Now, however, thanks to Hilary Mantel’s controversial portraits of Thomas Cromwell (in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies), James Robertson’s multi-faceted studies of Scotland’s past (in The Fanatic and And the Land Lay Still), and Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, the genre has recovered serious ground, shrugging off the dubious associations of bag-wig, bodice, and the dressing-up box.

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OWC Reading Group

Roger Luckhurst’s top 10 vampire films

There are many film adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; many, of course, that are rubbish. If you need fresh blood and your faith restored that there is still life to be drained from the vampire trope, here are ten recommendations for films that rework Stoker’s vampire in innovative and inventive ways.

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The real world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Some reviewers of the first episodes of the current BBC1 adaptation have dismissed it is over-blown fantasy, even childish, yet Clarke’s characters are only once removed from the very real magical world of early nineteenth-century England. What few readers or viewers realise is that there were magicians similar to Strange and Norrell at the time: there really were ‘Friends of English Magic’, to whom the novel’s Mr Segundus appealed in a letter to The Times.

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