The endtime is coming. The night is very long indeed; sun and moon have vanished. From the east march the frost-giants, bent on the destruction of all that is living. From the south come fiery powers, swords gleaming brightly. A dragon flies overhead. And, terrifyingly, the dead are walking too.
Robinson Crusoe (1719) was Daniel Defoe’s first novel and remains his most famous: a powerful narrative of isolation and endurance that’s sometimes compared to Faust, Don Quixote or Don Juan for its elemental, mythic quality.
The dating and chronology of the tales are problematic – they were probably written down sometime during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, against a background which saw the Welsh struggling to retain their independence in the face of the Anglo-Norman conquest. Although Wales had not developed into a single kingship, it certainly was developing a shared sense of the past, and pride in a common descent from the Britons.
The term “bestseller” is a bit of a stretch for the eighteenth century, when books were expensive (though widely shared), and information about print-runs is hard to come by. But if any early novel deserves the title, it’s Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, which on publication in 1740 rapidly caught the imagination of Britain, Europe, and indeed America (the Philadelphia printing by Benjamin Franklin was the first unabridged American edition of any novel).
“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!”
“He fancied that in a hundred years he would like having young people speculate on whether his eyes were brown or blue.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote these words in This Side of Paradise approximately a hundred years ago. While speculation on the eye color of Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald’s protagonist, may not currently be top of mind, the author himself, as well as his debut novel, most assuredly are.
Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) is one of those popular novels that we tend to assume we already know without having read it. This tale of the French Revolution has been adapted many, many times, for the stage, small and large screens, and radio, and it has been frequently parodied over the decades, most famously, perhaps, by the Carry On team with Don’t Lose Your Head (aka Carry on Pimpernel).
Only one birthday is “celebrated” in Wuthering Heights. It doesn’t go well. The young Catherine Linton begins her 16th birthday with a modestly optimistic plan to buck the established family pattern of solitary mourning to mark the date when she came into the world (“a puny, seven months child”), but her mother died two hours later.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of the semiautobiographical short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” was a first-wave feminist determined to live a fully actualized life of work for the common good. Born in Connecticut in 1860, she was a lecturer on ethics, labor, and feminism, and was also the niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Charlotte grew up in poverty and was particularly interested in bettering the economic straits of women. Her family moved so often that she was largely home-schooled and self-taught.
Zola modeled the characters, plot, and settings of his novel His Excellency Eugène Rougon (1876) on real people and events, drawing on his own experience as a parliamentary reporter in 1869–71 and secretary in 1870 to the Republican deputy Alexandre Glais-Bizoin. But the novel is not a mere chronicle of politics during the French Second Empire (1852–70).
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.
f the challenges Arthur Machen presents to an editor, two, in particular, have shadowed me during the preparation of this new collection of his stories. The first is simply the special sense of responsibility one feels when curating the work of a deeply loved writer—for even when Machen’s reputation has been at low ebb (as, often enough, it has been), he has always had a hard core of devoted admirers.
Tragedy provokes sorrow and concludes with downfall and death. Comedy elicits laughter and ends happily. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is one of the funniest novels of world literature. But does the work, overshadowed by death, end happily? Can death and comedy mix? “Everybody dies. If you are going to take that badly, you’re doing it wrong. So you have to take it as a joke.” The sentiments of the celebrated Spanish cartoonist Antonio Fraguas, Forges, who died on 22 February 2018, might echo those of Sterne, whose own death took place 250 years ago on 18 March 1768.
You’ve gotten through the first week of National Novel Writing Month. Have you’ve been hitting your word count? Writing 1,665 words every day may not sound like a lot, but sitting down in front of a blank page each day begins to feel like a struggle. Find some inspiration from these Oxford World’s Classics authors!
Before the serial publication of Crime and Punishment in the prominent literary journal The Russian Messenger in 1866, the reception of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works, and his reputation as a writer, had been somewhat mixed. The story of his career marks one of the most dramatic falls from grace and rise again stories in literary history.
I have always read “classics,” alongside contemporary titles, as an editor who desires to be informed by the past in shaping new publications; and a human who loves to read. We bring our personal and political lens to any work, and what makes reading and re-reading classics such an intellectually pleasurable occasion is to engage […]