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Literature Archives | OUPblog

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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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Who was Amelia Edwards?

Surprisingly few people have heard of Amelia Edwards. Archaeologists know her as the founder of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, set up in 1882, and the Department of Egyptology at University College London, created in 1892 through a bequest on her death. The first Edwards Professor, Flinders Petrie, was appointed on Amelia’s recommendation and her name is still attached to the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology.

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How well do you know Shakespeare actors?

‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.’ Over the past 400 years, Shakespeare’s plays have been performed across the globe, in productions big and small. Many actors have tried their hand at bringing characters such as Hamlet, Othello, Puck, and Juliet to life. How well do you know some of the great Shakespeare actors and the plays they performed in? Test your knowledge with our quiz below.

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Cold feet in literature

The act of writing has a long history of being associated with romantic reluctance. The figure of speech ‘cold feet’ made its debut in print in 1896 in Stephen Crane’s Maggie as a riff on the idea of writing as a kind of forward movement. Crane’s novel about the life of a New York slum girl called Maggie, begins with a decision to run; Maggie’s brother Jimmy thinks better of his resolution.

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OWC Reading Group

Discussion questions for Dracula by Bram Stoker

We’re just over a fortnight away from the end of our second season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group. It’s still not to late to join us as we explore the foggy streets of Victorian London in search of the King of Vampires! If you’re already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text.

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RES2013

The School for Scandal on the Georgian stage

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comic masterpiece ‘The School for Scandal’ premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in May 1777. The play was an immediate success earning Drury Lane, which Sheridan owned and managed an enormous amount of money. ‘The School for Scandal’ explores a fashionable society at once addicted to gossip and yet fearful of exposure. Jokes are had at the expense of aging husbands, the socially inexpert, and, most of all, the falsely sentimental.

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Byron's Letters

Literary fates (according to Google)

Where would old literature professors be without energetic postgraduates? A recent human acquisition, working on the literary sociology of pulp science fiction, has introduced me to the intellectual equivalent of catnip: Google Ngrams. Anyone reading this blog must be tech-savvy by definition; you probably contrive Ngrams over your muesli. But for a woefully challenged person like myself they are the easiest way to waste an entire morning since God invented snooker.

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In memoriam of M.H. Abrams

My first encounter with M.H. Abrams involved a bicycle. In a Beckettian scene in Goldwin Smith Hall at Cornell, I stopped a gentleman in shorts one spring morning with a bicycle. “Excuse me, do you know a Professor Abrams?” Removing a pipe from his mouth, he smiled and said “Follow me.” I did, and he stopped at an office door, asked me to hold the bike, fished out a key, and directed me to bring the bike in and sit down. “But what about Professor Abrams? I’m to be his new assistant,” I added nervously. The cyclist sat down among the piles of books, relit his pipe, and said through a grin, “Let’s get started.”

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Which Shakespeare performance shocked you the most?

Inspired by Stanley Wells’ recent book on Great Shakespeare Actors, we asked Oxford University Pressstaff members to remember a time when a theatrical production of a Shakespeare play shocked them. We discovered that some Shakespeare plays have the ability to surprise even the hardiest of OUP employees. Grab an ice-cream on your way in, take a seat, and enjoy the descriptions of shocking Shakespeare productions.

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Anthony Trollope: an Irish writer

Nathaniel Hawthorne famously commented that Anthony Trollope’s quintessentially English novels were written on the “strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale … these books are just as English as a beef-steak.” In like mode, Irish critic Stephen Gwynn said Trollope was “as English as John Bull.” But unlike the other great Victorian English writers, Trollope became Trollope by leaving his homeland and making his life across the water in Ireland, and achieving there his first successes there in both his post office and his literary careers.

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Finding Trollope

Finding Trollope is one of the great pleasures of life. Unlike other Victorian authors Trollope is little studied in schools, so every reader comes to him by a different path. It might be a recommendation by a friend, listening to a radio adaptation or watching a TV production that leads to the discovery of Trollope and his world. I stumbled across Trollope in the early 1990s. I had recently graduated, moved to London and found myself working in a bookshop.

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Why do we read literature?

A friend has recommended a new novel to you. You save it for the holiday and then, sitting out in the sun and feeling relaxed, you start reading. And something strange happens: the little black signs on the page before your eyes draw you into a world that has nothing to do with the sights and sounds of your surroundings, which quickly fade from your consciousness. Your thoughts are shaped by ideas that are not yours, your feelings are stirred by unfamiliar emotional currents, and your mind is populated by newly-minted images.

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The ‘Golden Nikes’ for Greek tragedy

With Greek tragedies filling major venues in London in recent months, I have been daydreaming about awarding my personal ancient Greek Oscars, to be called “Golden Nikes” (pedantic footnote: Nike was the Goddess of Victory, not of Trainers). There has been Medea at the National Theatre, Electra (Sophocles’ one) at the Old Vic, and Antigone, just opened at the Barbican. There are yet more productions lined up for The Globe, Donmar and RSC.

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