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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: an audio guide

Anna Karenina is a beautiful and intelligent woman, whose passionate love for a handsome officer sweeps aside all other ties—to her marriage and to the network of relationships and moral values that bind the society around her. Her love affair with Vronsky is played out alongside the developing romance between Kitty and Levin, and in […]

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Silas Marner, Threads, and Weaving [an excerpt]

Repetition and storytelling are bound in the novel’s representation of weaving, a theme that exemplifies the manner in which Silas Marner deftly moves between fable and realism. Classical mythology and fairy tales are crowded with weavers. Silas’s insect-like activity (he is reduced ‘to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect’ and ‘seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection’ (p. 14)) calls to mind the myth of Arachne, who boldly challenged a goddess to a weaving contest.

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M. R. James and Collected Ghost Stories [excerpt]

In the following excerpt from Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James, Darryl Jones discusses how the limitations of James’s personal, social, and intellectual horizons account for the brilliance of his ghost stories. “The potential that ideas have for opening up new worlds of possibility caused James lifelong anxiety. Thus, his research, phenomenal as it […]

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The Iliad and The Trojan War [excerpt]

The Iliad tells the story of Achilles’ anger, but also encompasses, within its narrow focus, the whole of the Trojan War. The title promises “a poem about Ilium” (i.e. Troy), and the poem lives up to that description. The first books recapitulate the origins and early stages of the Trojan War.

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Unsilencing the library

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” So wrote Virginia Woolf in her famous 1929 essay on reading and freedom, A Room of One’s Own.

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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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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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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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Kafka’s The Trial [extract]

Last Tuesday, during our first Classics Book Club at Bryant Park of the season, Bruce Bauman (author of Broken Sleep) led a discussion of The Trial by Franz Kafka. Among many other interesting takeaways, Bauman described The Trial as “an affirmation of life, art, and of the necessity to continue against great odds.” He went […]

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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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Aristophanes: Frogs and other plays [extract]

The Theatre of Dionysos in Athens, on the south-east slope of the Akropolis, was the location for the dramatic performances at both the City Dionysia and, almost certainly, the Lenaia too (cf.‘Aristophanes’ Career’, above).

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