When some one says to you “that’s just a fairy tale,” it generally means that what you have just said is untrue or unreal. It is a polite but deprecating way of saying that your words form a lie or gossip. Your story is make-believe and unreliable. It has nothing to do with reality and experience. Fairy tale is thus turned into some kind of trivial story.
Many Shakespeare fans prefer to imagine him as an untrained genius, but, in reality, Shakespeare drew inspiration from many classical sources for his own writing. His most famous plays, such as Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and Hamlet, allude to and reference external sources that Shakespeare was already familiar with. How much do you know about the influence of other writers on, what some would call, the greatest English dramatist to date?
Do you know your Magwitch from your Miss Havisham? Your Philip Pirrip from your Mr Pumblechook? Perhaps Dickens’s best-loved work, Great Expectations features memorable characters such as the convict Magwitch, the mysterious Miss Havisham and her proud ward Estella, as Pip unravels the mystery of his benefactor and of his own heart.
For a brief moment in July of 2015, the American news media exploded with headline stories about a work of literature, something of an unprecedented turn for the mass media. That this coverage should have focused almost exclusively on race issues and ignored the “new” volume’s revelations about gender issues in Lee’s novels is understandable. The explanation lies in the coincidence of the book’s publication with a series of wrenching racial events from Ferguson to Charleston and summarized in the “Black Lives Matter” campaign.
We’re just over a fortnight away from the end of our third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group. It’s still not too late to join us as we follow the story of young Pip and his great expectations. If you’re already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text.
Only Oscar Wilde could be quite so frivolous when describing a matter as grave as the punctuation of poetry, something that causes particular grief in our attempts to understand ancient texts. Their writers were not so obliging as to provide their poems with punctuation marks, nor to distinguish between capitals and small letters.
Summer is a time when many of us have a little extra time for reading. For me, that means Go Set a Watchman, some Haruki Murukami and James Lee Burke, plus summer mysteries and thrillers. It means catching up on what local authors and friends have published. And it means reading new books in my field and writing book reviews.
Why should we commemorate Samuel Taylor Coleridge? The obvious reason is his high status as a poet, but a better one might be his exuberance as a wordsmith. As a poet, after all, he is widely known for only two relatively short works: ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan.’ While the academy would no doubt add four or five others prized by specialists, the total number is still small.
Our Oxford World’s Classics reading group, in its third season, has chosen Dickens’s Great Expectations for discussion. In addition to analyzing that a work for its literary depth, it is just as important to consider an author’s life and the context in which the work was written.
“Don’t discuss the writer’s life. Never speculate about his intentions.” Such were the imperatives when writing literary criticism at school and university. The text was an absolute object to be dissected for what it was, with no reference to where it came from. This conferred on the critic the dignity of the scientist. It’s surprising they didn’t ask us to wear white coats.
When, in 1859, Dickens decided to publish a statement in the press about his personal affairs he expected that Bradbury and Evans would run it in Punch, which they also published. He was furious when they, very reasonably, declined to insert ‘statements on a domestic and painful subject in the inappropriate columns of a comic miscellany’ (Patten, 262). He therefore determined to break with them completely and to return to his old publishers Chapman and Hall.
Samuel Pepys’s diary of the 1660s provides ample evidence that he enjoyed writing about himself. As a powerful naval administrator, he was also a great believer in the merits of official paperwork. The upshot is that he left behind many documents detailing the dangers and the pleasures of his life in London. Here are some facts about him that you may not know…
Perhaps Dickens’s best-loved work, Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a young man with few prospects for advancement until a mysterious benefactor allows him to escape the Kent marshes for a more promising life in London.
Our two most ambitious and sublime authors remain Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. Whitman creates from the powerful press of himself; Melville taps his pen deeply into the volcanic force of William Shakespeare.
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.
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”.