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Literature Archives | OUPblog

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Who was the first great Shakespearean actress?

The first female Juliet appears to have been Mary Saunderson, to Henry Harris’s Romeo in 1662 when her future husband, Thomas Betterton, played Mercutio. Later she acted admirably as Ophelia and Lady Macbeth but nothing I have read characterizes her as great. Elizabeth Barry (c.1658–1713) succeeded her as Betterton’s leading lady, excelling in pathetic roles and achieving her greatest successes in the heroic tragedies of her own time.

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Whig literary culture and the canon: the legacy of the Tonsons

Jacob Tonson the elder (1656-1736) was, as has long been recognized, one of the most influential and pioneering booksellers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and, as such, is the subject of four major biographies of the past hundred years. The leading publisher of his day, Tonson published writers such as Joseph Addison, Aphra Behn, William Congreve, John Dryden, Laurence Echard, John Gay, John Oldmixon, Alexander Pope, Matthew Prior, Nicholas Rowe, Richard Steele, George Stepney, and John Vanbrugh.

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Anthony Trollope: not as safe as we thought he was?

Anthony Trollope. Safe, stodgy, hyper-Victorian Anthony Trollope, the comfort reading of the middle classes. As his rival and admirer Henry James said after his death ‘With Trollope we were always safe’. But was he really the most respectable of Victorian novelists?

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OWC Reading Group

The birth of the vampyre: Dracula and mythology in Early Modern Europe

Although occultists like the antiquarian Montague Summers would like to claim that the belief in vampires is global and transhistorical (and therefore probably true), the vampire is a thoroughly modern being. Like the Gothic genre itself, stories of vampires emerge in the Age of Enlightenment, as instances of primitive superstition that help define the rational scepticism of northern, Protestant Europe.

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OCCL

Do you know your Potter from your Paddington?

The last three decades have seen arguably the most fertile periods in the history of children’s literature, across the field. The phenomenon that is Harry Potter, the rise of YA, and books that tackle difficult subjects for younger readers are just a few examples of the material included in the new edition of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature by Daniel Hahn.

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Who are the forgotten Shakespearean actors?

Stanley Wells’ latest book, Great Shakespeare Actors, offers a series of beautifully written, illuminating, and entertaining accounts of many of the most famous stage performers of Shakespeare from his time to ours. In a video interview, Wells revealed some of the ‘lesser’ remembered actors of the past he would have loved to have seen perform live on stage. The edited transcript below offers an insight into three of these great Shakespeare actors.

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Anthony Trollope and ‘The Story of a Cheque for £20, and of the Mischief Which It Did’

One of the more affordable forms in which it is possible to acquire the manuscript signatures of Victorian writers today is the used cheque. Quantities of these minor, sometimes biographically revealing, documents left the archives of banks and went onto the open market in the 1990s; they now circulate through the catalogues of manuscript dealers and in the online pages of eBay, some of them leaving traceable e-narratives of their patterns of ownership.

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OWC Reading Group

Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 2: Dracula

Tales of vampire-like creatures, demonic consumers of human flesh and blood, have permeated the mythology of almost every culture since the dawn of time. Yet while the vampire as we now know him became a popular source of folklore terror in Eastern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not until 1897 that Bram Stoker introduced the world to the most famous vampire of all.

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Vergil in Russia: milestones of identity

In 1979, one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov, stated: “Vergil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him.” Gasparov mostly blamed this lack of interest on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Vergil, especially when it came to the Aeneid.

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Cinderella science

Imagine a plant that grew into a plum pudding, a cricket bat, or even a pair of trousers. Rather than being a magical transformation straight out of Cinderella, these ‘wonderful plants’ were instead to be found in Victorian Britain. Just one of the Fairy-Tales of Science introduced by chemist and journalist John Cargill Brough in his ‘book for youth’ of 1859, these real-world connections and metamorphoses that traced the origins of everyday objects were arguably even more impressive than the fabled conversion of pumpkin to carriage (and back again).

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Jerome: a model scholar?

The Renaissance vision of Jerome (c. 347-420 AD), as depicted by Albrecht Dürer in a world-famous engraving of 1514, seems to represent an ideal type of the scholar: secluded in the desert, far removed from the bustle of ordinary life (with a lion to prove it), well-established in his institution (as shown by the cardinal’s hat), and devoted to his studies.

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Who is your favourite character from children’s literature?

In order to celebrate the launch of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature in March, we invited OUP staff to dress up as their favourite characters from children’s books. The result was one surreal day during which our Oxford offices were overrun with children’s literature characters, ranging from the Cat in the Hat to Aslan, from Pippi Longstocking to the Tiger Who Came to Tea, and from Little Red Riding Hood to the Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was a brilliant and brave effort by all those who attended. Particularly those who commuted to and from work in their costumes!

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Between terror and kitsch: fairies in fairy tales

This story may or may not be a fairy tale, though there are certainly fairies in it. However, unlike any of his Victorian forebears or most of his contemporaries, Machen manages to achieve, only a few years before the comfortably kitsch flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker, the singular feat of rendering fairies terrifying. With James Hogg’s ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Thrawn Janet’ and several of M. R. James’s marvellous ghost stories, ‘The White People’ is one of only a handful of literary texts that have genuinely unnerved me.

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Virginia Woolf in the twenty-first century

As we approach 26 March 2015, the centenary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, it seems apposite to consider how her writing resonates in the twenty-first century. In the performing and filmic arts, there certainly seems to be something lupine in the air.

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OWC Reading Group

How much do you know about Wuthering Heights? [quiz]

Centuries after its 1847 publication, Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë’s breathtaking literary classic, remains a seminal text to scholars, students, and readers around the world. Though best known for its depiction of romance between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, it is also largely multidimensional, grappling with themes such as religious hypocrisy, the precariousness of social class, and the collision of nature and culture. But how much do you know about this famous work of English literature?

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The Review of English Studies cover

Severed heads on the Elizabethan stage

On Tower Hill, 25 February 1601, Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, was beheaded with three blows of an axe before some 150 spectators. The headsman held the head up for the spectators to see. He called out, “God save the Queen.” This beheading and others of that time color an important question for Shakespeare scholars. Severed heads populate many Elizabethan period plays. What objects represented those heads on stage?

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