Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Picking a fight in an empty room

This year marks the 137th anniversary of the birth of Seán O’Casey, one of the best-known of all Irish playwrights. His works first enthralled audiences at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre during the 1920s, and in the years since then his dramas have been repeatedly revisited by actors and directors.

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The paradox of Margery Kempe

After a period of chastity, Margery Kempe’s husband described one of those hypothetical scenarios that couples sometimes use to test each other. “Margery, if a man came with a sword and wanted to chop off my head unless I had sexual intercourse with you as I used to before, […] [would you] allow my head to be chopped off, or else allow me to have sex with you as I previously did?”

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Jane Austen’s writing – a reading list

Jane Austen wrote six novels and thousands of letters in her lifetime, creating a formula of social realism, comedic satire, and romance that is still loved today. Her works were originally published anonymously, bringing this now celebrated author little personal renown – with nineteenth century audiences preferring the Romantic and Victorian tropes of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Since then, literary tastes and opinions have changed dramatically, and many people have written about, interpreted, and adapted Austen’s writings. But why do we like her stories so much? What can they tell us about her world, and ours?

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How well do you know Jane Austen? [quiz]

In honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, we have created a quiz to help you determine how well you know the beloved novelist. Are you an Austen expert? Or do you need to brush up on some of her greatest works? Take the quiz to find out!

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Obscene intentions and corrupting effects

The Picture of Dorian Gray frequently ridicules the idea that fiction may have corrupting effects. But Wilde’s criticisms of the logic of obscenity law went beyond these statements about the sterility of the work of art.

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Which of the fathers in Shakespeare said these words? [quiz]

Everyone knows William Shakespeare, the prolific English playwright and poet of the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. His extensive collection of comedies, tragedies, and romances are still very popular today. In fact, they are frequently referenced, adapted, and studied across the globe due to their reputation and his. In light of TNT’s new television series, Will, which premiered on 10 July we created a quiz to test your knowledge of Shakespeare’s works.

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Jane Austen and the Voice of Insurrection

Mark Twain was notoriously unimpressed. “I often want to criticise Jane Austen,” he fumed with flamboyant but heartfelt irritation. “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone!”

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Library outreach: a case study from Wakefield Libraries

Dawn Bartram is Library Development Area Supervisor, Skills and Learning, at Wakefield Libraries in the UK, and was the winner of our CILIP competition. Here Dawn expands on her winning entry, and talks us through the benefits and approach to setting up a library outreach programme in order to spread the word about the online resources available at your local library.

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Excuse me, but who’s telling this story?

Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell, published in paperback this June, the month in which its author turns 69. McEwan forged an edgy early reputation by shell-shocking readers, or at least reviewers, with the violent, sexualised or neglected child narrators of his short stories.

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10 of the best literary summers

With the summer months having firmly arrived, we thought it was a good time to look at some of the most memorable, and most beautiful literary depictions of summer. From Tennyson’s ‘perpetual summer’ to Charlotte Bronte’s balmy summer evenings, and from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist to the oppressive heat of Shakespeare’s ‘fair Verona’, discover literary summers through the ages…

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Twenty years of Pottering

It’s difficult to imagine a Harry Potter-less world. This is not simply because since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 the numbers attached to the franchise have become increasingly eye-watering, but because, quite unintentionally (perhaps), what began as a modest fantasy for children has helped to turn the literary world upside-down.

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The representation of fathers in children’s fiction

There aren’t many areas in literature where men are under-represented, but it’s safe to say that in children’s fiction, men – and fathers in particular – have been largely overlooked. And deliberately so. Adult carers with a sense of responsibility have been ousted from the action because of their exasperating tendency to step in and take control. Children’s authors don’t want competent adults interfering and solving problems.

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Where did Leaves of Grass come from?

One of the most enduring (if not most entertaining) games that Walt Whitman scholars like to play begins with a single question: Where did Leaves of Grass come from? Before Whitman released the first edition of his now-iconic book of poetry in 1855, he had published only a handful of rather conventional poems in local newspapers, which makes it seem as if the groundbreaking free-verse form in Leaves of Grass appeared virtually out of nowhere.

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