Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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Daniel Defoe and the Plague

Defoe’s interest in the subject knew no bounds; natural disaster was for him a favourite ground on which to explore questions of faith and history. In The Storm (1704) he had described the devastation wrought by extreme weather the previous year and the book was in many ways an early dress rehearsal for the Journal, assembling ‘the most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters’ that arose from a single, terrifying event.

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War and Peace Part Three: Deprivation

By Amy Mandelker
I am proofing the galleys for this new edition of the Maude translation of War and Peace when a freak storm with gale force winds takes out three towering pines on my neighbor’s property, topples a venerable oak crushing a friend’s roof, and downs trees and power lines all over Princeton township and beyond, leaving the southern part of the state deprived of electricity for several days.

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War and Peace Part Two: Earthquakes

By Amy Mandelker
The earthquake in China. The school that collapsed, crushing students and teachers, was established and funded by the charitable organization for which my ex-husband works. He is a conservationist and social activist, and for several days following the first shocks, he is only able to contact one of his co-workers at the scene, who digs alone at the site of the school with his chilled, bare hands for an entire day. By evening he uncovers the dead body of a teacher.

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War and Peace Part One: Tolstoy and Moscow

By Amy Mandelker
Moscow is choked with smoke from surrounding fires. I follow developments online, reading over the weekend that they have been digging trenches to cut off the path of the blaze before it detonates nuclear stockpiles.

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What on Earth is The Wind in the Willows?

By Peter Hunt
To judge from a quick poll of friends, acquaintances, students, and the ladies in the village shop, The Wind in the Willows is fondly remembered, even by those who don’t actually remember reading it. It is a children’s book, it is about small animals – and it is somehow quintessentially English: for almost everyone I spoke to, it conjured up endless summer, boating on a quiet river, large hampers of food, a peaceful, unthreatening way of life.

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King Arthur: Most Successful Brand in English Literature?

King Arthur has some claim to be the most successful commercial brand in the history of English literature, ahead even of Shakespeare. He has certainly been famous for much longer: his reputation has been growing for some fifteen centuries, against Shakespeare’s mere four.

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‘Worst is beginning’: Reading Ulysses

Wednesday 16 June was Bloomsday, when fans of James Joyce’s seminal 1922 novel Ulysses celebrate the author’s work. In Ulysses, the action takes place within a single day – 16 June 1904 – in Dublin. As my own nod to Bloomsday, I’m bringing you a short excerpt from Jeri Johnson‘s Introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Ulysses, in which she talks about the novel’s formidable reputation and the intimidation readers coming to the novel for the first time might feel.

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Walter Bagehot on the English Constituition

Written in 1867, The English Constitution is generally accepted to be the best account of the history and working of the British political system ever written. As arguments raged in mid-Victorian Britain about giving the working man the vote, and democracies overseas were pitched into despotism and civil war, Bagehot took a long, cool look at the ‘dignified’ and ‘efficient’ elements which made the English system the envy of the world.

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Plantagenet Palliser vs. Gordon Brown

Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels offer many fascinating parallels with today’s political scene, none more so than the fifth novel in the sequence, The Prime Minister. Nicholas Shrimpton, of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, will be editing the new edition of the novel for Oxford World’s Classics (out next year). His profile of Trollope’s fictional hero, Plantagenet Palliser, finds some uncanny resemblances between fiction and reality.

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