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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Listening to the Victorians

“The best Victorian poetry is complex, challenging, and experimental,” Hughes says, and it enjoyed a wide readership as part of “the first era of mass media.” As literacy increased and printing technology advanced, the Victorians witnessed a media explosion during which more books, journals, magazines, and newspapers were published and read than ever before. The Victorian period, in this sense, was a forerunner to the Information Age, and much of the excitement, empowerment, bewilderment, and concern they felt as a result of revolutions in communication resembles our own.

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William Makepeace Thackeray: Racist?

By John Sutherland
We can never know the Victorians as well as they knew themselves. Nor–however well we annotate our texts–can we read Victorian novels as responsively as Victorians read them. They, not we, own their fiction. Thackeray and his original readers shared a common ground so familiar that there was no need for it to be spelled out. The challenge for the modern reader is to reconstruct that background as fully as we can. To ‘Victorianize’ ourselves, one might say.

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Happy Bloomsday

It’s a holiday for James Joyce fans, a holiday known as Bloomsday. Joyce’s seminal 1922 novel Ulysses spans only a single day in Dublin (1904), and now we know every 16th of June as Bloomsday, so named after the novel’s protagonist Leopold Bloom. Typical Bloomsday activities involve including Ulysses-themed pub crawls, dramatizations, and readings. Some committed fans even hold marathon readings of the entire book.

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Dracula: an audio guide

The most famous of all vampire stories, Dracula is a mirror of its age, its underlying themes of race, religion, science, superstition, and sexuality never far from the surface. Here is a sequence of podcasts with Roger Luckhurst, who has edited a new edition of Dracula for Oxford World’s Classics, recorded by George Miller of Podularity.

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Mary, Mary… How does your garden keep growing?

By Peter Hunt
The fact that The Secret Garden taps into such a powerful theme does not mean that the book is not profoundly a product of its time – and for us to ignore the more immediate sources and stimuli of the book is to miss a lot of its richness. The book – like all classics – needs to be appreciated and understood in its contemporary terms if it is to be savoured.

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Royal wedding poetry challenge

National Poetry Month, is nearing its end, and the royal wedding is just around the corner, so let’s write poems about it. I’ve made some suggestions below, but all forms are welcome. (If you really want to win me over, I suggest attempting my favorite poetic form, the sestina.) Send your poem to me care of [email protected] and I’ll post what I can tomorrow. (Keep it clean, please. Humor, satire and effusive excitement are welcome, insults are not.)

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Horace and free speech in the age of WikiLeaks

By Robert Cowan
“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.” So wrote Salman Rushdie and he should know. Certainly free speech is routinely held up, often unreflectively, as an unambiguous, uncontroversial good – one of Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms, the right for which Voltaire would famously die, even if he disapproved of what was being said. In the age of WikiLeaks, the freedom to disseminate information and its corollary, the freedom to know what those in power have said or done in secret, have found ever more vigorous proponents, but also those who ask whether it has its limits.

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International Women’s Day: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

For me, one of the most interesting lines of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” appears near the very beginning of the story. The words are an aside, a nervous excuse—and the only part of this rambling, uncomfortable tale to be quartered off by parentheses: “John is a physician,” the narrator writes furtively, “and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind—) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.”

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Why we all love Mrs Beeton

By Nicola Humble
BBC 2 has rediscovered Mrs Beeton, with Sophie Dahl tramping the streets of Cheapside and Epsom looking for the real woman behind Household Management. It is worth the shoe leather – Mrs Beeton’s is certainly a story well worth telling. The author of the most famous cook book ever published began work on it at the age of twenty-one and finished it at four years later. Her book was first published in volume form in 1861 and has never been out of print since. Isabella herself died seven years after its publication of puerperal fever, contracted during the birth of her fourth child. She was 28.

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Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf!

This day in 1882, the brilliant and talented Virginia Woolf was born, and to celebrate it, a few lucky tweeters will win a copy of one of her books. When you see,

“It’s Virginia Woolf’s birthday!

just retweet it, along with the answer to this trivia question:

What was Virginia’s mother’s maiden name?

International readers, keep your eyes on @OWC_Oxford and RT before 3pm GMT! Live in the US? Follow @OUPblogUSA. You’ll have until 3pm ET.

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Time to get Wilde

By Anatoly Liberman

Oscar Wilde is most often quoted for his infinite wit, and those who know him are mainly aware of his comedies. Some people are still charmed by his fairy tales (“The Happy Prince” and a few others; you should have seen how my undergraduate students – those poor products of popular culture – listen to this story!) and cannot shake off the attraction of The Picture of Dorian Gray. But usually he is mentioned, if at all, in the context of his innumerable mannerisms, the overblown cult of the beautiful, homosexuality, and tragic imprisonment. The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a famous title, but I wonder who reads the poem today. More than anything else, Wilde wanted to sound brilliant, which did not cost him the least effort, because he was brilliant. His paradoxes have become proverbial.

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Lark Rise to Candleford and Rural England

“Unlike many of her contemporaries, Thompson has little to say of Nature with a capital ‘N’. It is the detail of the natural world, the more or less minute, which preoccupies her. Laura cannot remember a time when she and her brother had to ask the names of birds, trees, and flowers. This knowledge, unconsciously acquired, rings with authenticity.”

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The Reputations of Mark Twain

By Peter Stoneley
The last couple of years have been an up-and-down period for the reputation of Mark Twain (1835-1910). It started well with a special issue of Time Magazine in 2008 which reminded readers of Twain’s goodness, and of the fact that the “buddy story of Huck and Jim was not only a model of American adventure and literature but also of deep friendship and loyalty.”

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