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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Celebrating Emily Brontë

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.

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Living with hysteria: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

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.

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From Eugène Rougon to Donald Trump: Émile Zola and politics

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).

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The 2018 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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Editing Arthur Machen

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.

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“Alas, poor YORICK!:” death and the comic novel

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.

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On writing: nine quotes from classic authors

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!

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Crime and Punishment: From Siberia to St. Petersburg

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.

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A Chopin-inspired reading list

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 […]

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Kate Chopin, the “mother-woman”

Kate Chopin married at 20 years old and birthed six children within nine years. The Awakening, which she published in 1899, is arguably written to reject that an artist’s offspring would presume to occupy the first line to any discussion of her work.

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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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