Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Life lessons from Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius

William Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius (the great stoic philosopher and emperor) have more in common than you might think. They share a recorded birth-date, with Shakespeare baptized on 26 April 1564, and Marcus Aurelius born on 26 April 161 (Shakespeare’s actual birth date remains unknown, although he was baptised on 26 April 1564. His birth is traditionally observed and celebrated on 23 April, Saint George’s Day).

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Robert Penn Warren, Democracy and Poetry, and America after 2016

Born in 1905, Robert Penn Warren’s life spanned most of the twentieth century, and his work made him America’s foremost person of letters before his death in 1989. His literary prowess is evidenced by his many awards and honors that include three Pulitzer Prizes, one for fiction and two for poetry, so that Warren remains the only writer to have won them in these two major categories.

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John Capgrave and a medieval view of scholarship as service

John Capgrave is one of the few medieval authors whose birthday we know. As he composed his universal history known as the Abbreviation of Chronicles, he recorded that on 21 April 1393, “the friar who made these annotations was born.” And lest this entry be overlooked amidst the doings of the powerful, he inserted his personal nota bene mark, a trefoil, beside it in the margin.

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Misogyny, cheap sweets, and daydreams

Some of the most startling expressions of misogyny over the last century have been directed at girls and young women enjoying themselves. By the 1900s women were reading novels in large quantities. Heavy, three-volume works of fiction were disappearing in favour of single volumes in light bindings: paper covers were beginning to sport colourful, inviting designs.

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Libraries: The unsung heroes in A Series of Unfortunate Events

This January, Lemony Snicket’s first four critically acclaimed novels of the A Series of Unfortunate Events were adapted as a Netflix original series, starring Neil Patrick Harris. Although famously known as a book series built upon three children’s misery and misfortune, the stories do contain one consistent factor on which the kids can always rely: the library.

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H. G. Wells and science

The Island of Doctor Moreau is unquestionably a shocking novel. It is also a serious, and highly knowledgeable, philosophical engagement with Wells’ times–with their climate of scientific openness and advancement, but also their anxieties about the ethical nature of scientific discoveries, and their implications for religion.

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The sound of the Steel City: Orwell, Attercliffe, and the afterlife

There are some sounds in life that simply cannot be put into words. One of them is the sound I heard this morning as I ran along the canal in that very special part of Sheffield known as Attercliffe. The sound shook me to my soul and reminded me of George Orwell’s visit to the city in 1936 when he had been shocked by the realities of hard industrial life. For me, however, it was a glorious sound – the heartbeat of the Steel City.

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What if Peter Pan’s arch-enemy was a woman?

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up has exercised the popular imagination since its first performance in 1904. Yet not everyone is aware of Peter Pan’s stage history or the darker currents that underlie the apparently escapist story of Wendy Darling and her brothers flying away from their nursery to the “Never Land”, a fantasy world of make-believe and adventures with Captain Hook and his pirates.

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Ten facts about children’s literature

Most of us have a favourite story, or selection of stories, from our childhood. Perhaps they were read to us as we drifted off to sleep, or they were read aloud to the family in front of an open fire, or maybe we read them ourselves by the light of a torch when we were supposed to be sleeping. No matter where you read them, or who read them to you, the characters (and their stories) often stick with you forever.

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Speaking truth to power: poetry of the First World War [extract]

The well-worn argument that poets underwent a journey from idealism to bitterness as the War progressed is supported by [poet and veteran David] Jones, who remembered a “change” around the start of the Battle of the Somme (July 1916) as the War “hardened into a more relentless, mechanical affair.”

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Diverse books in school libraries

Diversity continues to be a huge topic in the media. Each year seems to spark new debates about everything from the racial makeup of award nominee lists, to the people who are allowed into different countries. The wave of popularity surrounding this subject impacts upon every sphere of life and culture, including books and libraries.

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Getting to know James Grainger

The eighteenth-century Scottish poet James Grainger has enjoyed a resurgence of scholarly attention during the last two decades. He was a fascinatingly globalized, well-rounded, idiosyncratic author: an Edinburgh-trained physician; regular writer for the Monthly Review; the first English translator of the Roman poet Tibullus; author of both a pioneering neoclassical poem on Caribbean agriculture, The Sugar-Cane (1764), and the first English treatise on West-Indian disease.

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Self-portraits of the playwright as an aging man [part three]

In the late 1970s, Tennessee Williams frequently visited London, feeling that European stages were more catholic than New York’s and thus open to producing his plays at a time when America was growing less tolerant of his brand of theatre. While in London, Williams would often visit celebrity painter Michael Garady and swap writing for painting lessons.

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Self-portraits of the playwright as a middle-aged man [part two]

When Tennessee Williams swapped his pen for a paintbrush, his tendency to use his lived experiences as source material did not alter much. He often painted places he’d seen, people he knew, or compositions he conjured up in the limekiln of his imagination. Although Williams painted more frequently later in life, precisely as a creative outlet when his brand of theatre was no longer in vogue, he had started sketching and painting from a very early age. To follow his career as a painter is, to a large extent, to trace his life’s alterations, physically, of course, but also emotionally.

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Self-portraits of the playwright as a young man [part one]

Are today’s selfies simply yesterday’s self-portraits? Is there really that vast of an epistemological chasm between Kim Kardashian’s photos of herself on a bloated Instagram account and the numerous self-portraits of Rembrandt or Van Gogh hanging in art museums and galleries around the world? Aren’t they all really just products of their respective eras’ “Je selfie, donc je suis” culture, with perhaps only technological advances (and, admittedly, talent) separating them?

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