This Christmas, London’s Royal Opera House played host to Christopher Wheeldon’s critically acclaimed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, performed by the Royal Ballet and with a score by Joby Talbot. Indeed, Lewis Carroll’s seminal work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) has long inspired classical compositions, in forms as diverse as ballet, opera, chamber music, song, as well as, of course, film scores.
‘Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,’ so wrote the other bard, Shakespeare. Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, has had a surfeit of biographical attention: upwards of three hundred biographical treatments, and as if many of these were not fanciful enough hundreds of novels, short stories, theatrical, television, and film treatments that often strain well beyond credulity.
Though he’s largely forgotten today, Walter Savage Landor was one of the major authors of his time—of both his times, in fact, for he was long-lived enough to produce major writing during both the Romantic and the Victorian eras. He kept writing and publishing promiscuously through his long life (he died in his ninetieth year) which puts him in a unique category. Maybe the problem is that he outlived his own reputation. Byron, Shelly and Keats all died in their twenties, and this fact somehow seals-in their importance as poets.
Movie producers have altered the way fairy tales are told, but in what ways have they been able to present an illusion that once existed only in the pages of a story? Below is an excerpt from Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time that explores the magic that movies bring to the tales.
Despite fierce winds, piles of snow, and the biting cold, winter is the best season for some cozy reading (and drinking hot chocolate). If you’re inclined to stay in today, check out these favorite classics of ours that will take you on wild adventures, all while huddled underneath your sheets.
From Little Red Riding Hood to Frozen, the contemporary fairy tales we know today have their beginnings in classic versions that may seem less familiar at first glance. Inspired by Once Upon a Time by Marine Warner, we’re testing your knowledge of well-known favorites with the quiz below. Try your hand at the questions to see if you have what it takes to be King or Queen of fairy tale lore.
Sir William Osler, the great physician and bibliophile, recommended that his students should have a non-medical bedside library that could be dipped in and out of profitably to create the well rounded physician. Some of the works mentioned by him, for example Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne is unlikely to be on most people’s reading lists today.
Recently I was talking to a younger colleague, a recent PhD, about what we and our peers read for pleasure. He noted that the only fiction that most of his friends read is young adult fiction: The Hunger Games, Twilight, that kind of thing. Although the subject matter of these series is often dark, the appeal, hypothesized my colleague, lies elsewhere: in the reassuringly formulaic and predictable narrative arc of the plots.
A ‘slobbering valentine to a member of the upper classes’, ‘an orgy of snobbery’, and ‘the apotheosis of brown-nosing’: Angela Carter’s excoriating dismissal of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), delivered in Tom Paulin’s notorious televisual polemic, J’accuse Virginia Woolf (1991), serves as a reminder that this work has as much potential as any of her novels to provoke heated disagreements.
In April 2009, Barack and Michelle Obama met Queen Elizabeth I during their first state visit to England. At one point during their encounter, Michelle Obama put her arm around the Queen’s lower back and rubbed her shoulder, and the Queen reciprocated. It was the kind of gesture that might seem quite unremarkable when exchanged by friends, or even casual acquaintances: but, given the participants on this particular occasion, it unsurprisingly attracted a great deal more attention.
News that a previously unknown copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays has been discovered in a French library has been excitedly picked up by the worldwide press. But apart from the treasure-hunt appeal of this story, does it really matter that instead of the 232 copies of this book listed by Eric Rasmussen and Anthony West in their The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), there are now, apparently, 233? A book that was never particularly rare is now just a little bit less rare.
From wicked step-mothers to fairy god-mothers, from stock phrases such as “once upon a time” to “happily ever after”, fairy-tales permeate our culture. Disney blockbusters have recently added another chapter to the history of the fairy-tale, sitting alongside the 19th century, saccharine tales published by the Brothers Grimm and the 17th century stories written by Charles Perrault. Inspired by Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time, we asked OUP staff members to channel their inner witches, trolls, and princesses, and reveal who their favourite fairy-tale character is and why.
To read Chaucer today is, in some measure, to read him historically. For instance, when the poet tells us in the ‘General Prologue’ to the Canterbury Tales that the Knight’s crusading experiences include service with the Teutonic Order in ‘Lettow’ (i.e. Lithuania), comprehension of the literal sense or denotation of the text requires some knowledge of fourteenth-century institutions, ideas and events.
In continuation of our Word of the Year celebrations, I’m presenting my annual butchering of Shakespeare (previous victims include MacBeth and Hamlet). Of the many terms of endearment the Bard used — from lambkin to mouse — babe was not among them.
Literary criticism in the present day has become a profession,—but it has ceased to be an art. Its object is no longer that of proving that certain literary work is good and other literary work is bad, in accordance with rules which the critic is able to define. English criticism at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this.
Roman literature often derived from Greek sources, but took Greek models and made them its own. It includes some of the best known classical authors such as Ovid and Virgil, as well as a Roman emperor who found time to write down his philosophical reflections.