Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense turns 240 years old

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.

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“Our fathers lied”: Rudyard Kipling as a war poet

The privileged poets of the Great War are those who fought in it—Rosenberg, Owen, Sassoon. This is natural and human, but it is not fair. Kipling is one of the finest poets of the War, but he writes as a parent, a civilian, a survivor—all three of them compromised positions.

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Fog everywhere: an extract from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

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What would Mark Twain make of Donald Trump?

The proudly coifed and teased hair, the desire to make a splash, the lust after wealth, the racist remarks: Donald Trump? Or Mark Twain? Today is Mark Twain’s birthday; he was born on 30 November 1835, and died on 21 April 1910.

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The life and work of Émile Zola

To celebrate the new BBC Radio Four adaptation of the French writer Émile Zola’s, ‘Rougon-Macquart’ cycle, we have looked at the extraordinary life and work of one of the great nineteenth century novelists.

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OWC Reading Group

‘I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks’: Martial’s guide to getting boys

Martial adores sexy boys. He craves their kisses, all the more so if they play hard to get, “… buffed amber, a fire yellow-green with Eastern incense… That, Diadumenus, is how your kisses smell, you cruel boy. What if you gave me all of them, without holding back?” (3.65) and “I only want struggling kisses – kisses I’ve seized; I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks…” (5.46).

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‘Tomorrow I’ll start living’: Martial on priorities

‘Dear Martial’ – what a strange coincidence that Martial’s soul-mate, who leads the life he himself dreams of living, is called ‘Julius Martial’. In our selection we meet him first at 1.107, playfully teasing the poet that he ought to write “something big; you’re such a slacker”; at the start of book 3, JMa’s is ‘a name that’s constantly on my lips’ (3.5), and the welcome at his lovely suburban villa on the Janiculan Hill 4.64 is so warm, ‘you will think the place is yours’.

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The impact of On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin was widely known as a travel writer and natural historian in the twenty years before On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859. The Voyage of the Beagle was a great popular success in the 1830s. But the radical theories developed in the Origin had been developed more or less in secret during those intervening twenty years.

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Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

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The Magic Fix: De Quincey’s portrait of the artist as addict

Thomas De Quincey produced two versions of his most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. He launched himself to fame with the first version, which appeared in two instalments in the London Magazine for September and October 1821, and which created such a sensation that the London’s editors issued it again the following year in book form.

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