We know more about Geoffrey Chaucer’s life than we do about most medieval writers. Despite this, it’s a truism of Chaucer biography that the records that survive never once describe him as a poet. Less often noticed, however, are the two radically different views of Chaucer as an author we find in roughly contemporaneous portraiture, although the portraits in which we find them are themselves well known.
Christopher Marlowe was born in February of 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. He was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, and attended the King’s School there. With fellowship support endowed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, young Marlowe matriculated at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge University in 1580 and received the BA degree in 1584.
As Britain and her empire swelled in size and confidence, Dickens’s own belief in it diminished. For him the best of times were becoming the worst of times, Victorian high noon was dusk verging on midnight.
Bill Murray fought tirelessly to combat the ennui and frustration that accompanied repeating the same day over and over and over again in the film “Groundhog Day.” For him, repetition was torture, but for several of us at Oxford University Press, it’s not so bad…when it comes to reading!
James Joyce had a thing about birthdays. With some difficulty, he contrived to have Ulysses published on his 40th birthday, and to receive the first copy of Finnegans Wake just in time for his 57th birthday. The day itself was typically crowned by a gala dinner party; at his 50th birthday, he was presented with a big blue cake, decorated as a copy of Ulysses—which moved the author to intone, in the language of the Catholic Mass: Accipite et manducate ex hoc omnes: Hoc est enim corpus meum.
Langston Hughes, whom Carl Van Vechten memorably called “the Poet Laureate of the Negro race,” was born on 1 February 1902 in Joplin, Missouri; he died in New York City on 22 May 1967. This year, then, we celebrate Hughes’ birthday at the beginning of what is now Black History Month, and we honor the 50th anniversary of his untimely passing. Remembering Hughes will no doubt lead to more books, articles, and conferences, which is as it should be.
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Dame Agatha Christie, the renowned writer of detective fiction, added her name to a protest letter to Pope Paul VI. With over fifty other literary, musical, artistic, and political figures, Christie — who’d recently celebrated her eightieth birthday — expressed alarm at the proposed replacement of the old Mass rite, which used Latin and elaborate ritual, with a new rite in English with simpler ceremonial.
The first book H. G. Wells published, The Time Machine is a scientific romance that helped invent the genre of science fiction and the time travel story. Even before its serialization had finished in the spring of 1895, Wells had been declared “a man of genius,” and the book heralded a fifty year career of a major cultural and political controversialist.
On 8 November 2016 the American political system threw up from its depths a creature wholly unrecognizable to those of us born in the West since 1945. Most of us who teach the humanities at any level have felt, since 8 November, that we have been reduced to the level of bit players in a Batman movie – we are out on the streets of Gotham City, with the leering Joker on the loose.
Throughout 2016, Oxford University Press has traveled all around the world meeting and talking with librarians to learn about their favorite books. From a Colombian librarian who prefers a French author, to a French librarian who’s enamored with an American novel, the results from our year-long quest exemplify the universal reach of
On his recent visit to England Barack Obama chose to tour Shakespeare’s Globe, on Bankside; and in the last days of his Presidency, interviewed about his reading habits, he spoke touchingly and revealingly of his admiration for Shakespeare’s tragedies, and of what they had taught him. ‘I took this wonderful Shakespeare class in college’, he said, ‘where I just started to read the tragedies and dig into them.
It’s almost that time of year again, when families, friends and acquaintances get together to host a Burns supper, and celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Variously known as Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire or the Ploughman Poet, Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and indeed celebrated worldwide.
Only a few years after the death of Robert Burns in 1796, local enthusiasts began to hold celebrations on or about his birthday, on 25 January, called Burn’s Night. These have continued ever since, spreading from Scotland across the world. From the earliest occasions, a focal point of the Burns supper was, of course, the haggis.
In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Titus’s daughter Lavinia is brutally raped by Demetrius and Chiron. They prevent her from denouncing them by cutting out her tongue, and cutting off her hands. But as we see in the passage below, Lavinia nevertheless communicates their crime by pointing to a passage of Ovid’s Metamorphoses describing Tereus’s rape of Philomela.
Youthful Bertie Wells was understandably depressed in the depths of winter in early 1888. He had escaped the drudgery of being a draper’s apprentice with a scholarship, only to flunk his second-year university exams and lose his funding to the Normal School of Science in Kensington.
The eleventh of January marks the 130th anniversary of the birth of conservationist, ecologist, and writer Aldo Leopold. As one of Leopold’s biographers, I have become accustomed over the years to marking these milepost dates. They tend to bring forth a strong pulse of articles, commentaries, and editorials. Some are celebratory, perhaps built around a choice bit of Leopold prose