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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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The tale of Madame d’Aulnoy

We may see fairy tales now as something from our youth, a story to get a child to sleep, keep them from boredom, or to teach a moral lesson. However, fairy tales haven’t always just been for kids. In late seventeenth-century France the fairy tale became a ‘legitimate’ genre of literature for the educated (adult) […]

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What is to be done with Harriet Martineau?

“She says nothing that is not obvious,” claimed Alice Meynell of Harriet Martineau (1802-76), “and nothing that is not peevishly and intentionally misunderstood.” (Pall Mall Gazette, 11 October 1895). If this seemed the case in 1895, how does her reputation stand in the twenty-first century, given that so much of her writing and campaigning was […]

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The real thing: the thrills of inauthentic literature

How much would you be prepared to pay for a library of forged books? In 2011, the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University acquired (at an undisclosed price) the so-called ‘Bibliotheca Fictiva’, one of the largest collections of forged books and documents.

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How well do you know Jane Austen’s novels? [quiz]

Jane Austen is one of the best known and most celebrated authors of British literature, inspiring legions of fans across the globe. With this popularity in mind, we thought it was a good time to test your knowledge of Jane Austen’s novels and characters — with a quiz based on the author’s lesser-known quotations. How well do you really know Austen’s writings?

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Dying to prove themselves

The Wonder, the latest work of Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue to light up the fiction best sellers’ list (Donoghue’s prize-winning 2010 novel Room was the basis for the 2015 Academy-Award winning film), draws upon a very real, very disturbing Victorian phenomenon: the young women and men—but mostly pubescent females—who starved themselves to death to prove some kind of divine or spiritual presence in their lives.

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Church and nature: sex and sin

The Sin of Abbé Mouret reworks the Genesis story of the Fall of Man, with the abbé, Serge Mouret as Adam, and the young Albine his Eve. Fifth of the twenty novels of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle, the novel follows on almost directly from The Conquest of Plassans, in which the young Serge Mouret decides to become a priest.

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The classics book club at Bryant Park Reading Room

Oxford University Press has once again teamed up with the Bryant Park Reading Room on their summer literary series. The Bryant Park Reading Room was first established in 1935 by the New York Public Library as a refuge for the thousands of unemployed New Yorkers during the Great Depression.

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: an audio guide

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. In honor of Austen, listen to Fiona Stafford of Somerville College, Oxford, as she introduces and discusses Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice has delighted generations of readers with its unforgettable cast of characters, carefully choreographed plot, and a hugely entertaining view of the world and […]

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10 times that Jane Austen was ahead of her time

We’ve highlighted 10 examples of Austen’s writing — all demonstrating her truly unique style. From post-truth sensibilities to taking time to slow down in our everyday lives, and from true love to the fight for female education, discover 10 times that Austen was ahead of the times…

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The conflicts of Classical translation

Any translation is bound to be only partially faithful to the original. Translation is, as the Latin root of the word shows, transference from one language to another. It is not, or should not be, slavish imitation. The Italians have a saying: “Traduttore traditore” – “the translator is a traitor” – and one has to accept from the start that this is bound to be the case.

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Emerson’s canonization and the perils of sainthood

Ralph Waldo Emerson — who died 135 years ago in Concord, Massachusetts–was a victim of his own good reputation. Essayist, poet, lecturer, and purported leader of the American transcendental movement, he was known in his lifetime as the “Sage of Concord,” the “wisest American,” or (after one of his most famous early addresses) the “America Scholar.”

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The Walking Dead and the security state

Did The Walking Dead television series help get President Donald J. Trump elected? During the presidential campaign, pro-Trump ads regularly interrupted episodes of the AMC series. Jared Kushner, who ran the campaign’s data program, explained to Forbes that the campaign’s predictive data analysis suggested it could optimize voter targeting by selectively buying ad-space in shows such as The Walking Dead.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on birds, poetry, and immigration

On 26 February this year, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the most popular poet America has ever had, turned 210. The lines from Longfellow everyone remembers, often without knowing who actually wrote them (“into each life a little rain must fall”; “Let us, then, be up and doing”; “Each thing in its place is best”), point to an author who wanted to help us live our lives, not exactly change them.

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Edwin Muir and a story of Europe

While reading recently British Library correspondence files relating to the poet Edwin Muir—the 130th anniversary of whose birth will be on 15 May this year—I was struck, as I have often been, by the important part played in his development as man and poet by his contact with the life of Europe—a continent that is currently high on the agenda of many of us with a possible British Brexit in view.

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Fame, race, Nella Larsen, and Nella the Princess Knight

Certainly my oddest moment as a scholar of the biracial woman novelist Nella Larsen (1891–1964) was the day I ran across her in the guise of a pink-clad children’s cartoon character, profiled in the New York Times. The unusual name “Nella” drew my eye to Nella the Princess Knight, but as I read further, the character’s similarities to the literary figure multiplied. Like the novelist, Nick Jr’s new heroine has a black father, a white mother, and a baby sister, and she lives in a multiracial community.

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