Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Book thumbnail image

Elizabeth Bowen in European modernism and the awakening of Irish consciousness

By Stephen Regan
Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin on 7 June 1899. She grew up in an elegant Georgian house on Herbert Place, close to the Grand Canal, hearing the busy rattle of trams going over the bridges and the lively bustle of barges carrying timber to a nearby sawmill. Her memoir of early childhood, Seven Winters (1942), recalls the sights and sounds of Dublin city life with striking clarity and immediacy. It both registers the unique and specific details of the author’s early years and takes up its place in a marvelously rich tradition of Irish memoir and autobiography.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

To sell a son… Uncle Tom’s Cabin

On 5 June 1851, the abolitionist journal National Era began running a serial by the wife of a professor at Bowdoin College. A deeply religious and well-educated white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe was an ardent opponent of slavery. As she wrote to the journal editor, Gamaliel Bailey: “I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak… I hope every woman who can write will not be silent.” The work, eventually titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or Life Among the Lowly, became a national sensation.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Innocence and Experience: Childhood in Kafka

By Ritchie Robertson
Some of the great modernists have written evocatively about childhood. At first glance, Kafka may not seem to be among them. The minutely detailed recollection of childhood that Proust provides in Swann’s Way, or Thomas Mann’s account of a school day in the life of young Hanno Buddenbrook, lack counterparts in Kafka. His world-famous and compelling fantasies are about inscrutable authorities, such as the Court and the Castle, and their victims are doomed at worst to inexplicable punishment, at best to frustration. Kafka would seem to deal with experience rather than innocence.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Welcome to the house of Count Dracula

Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic shocker introduced Count Dracula to the world, an ancient creature bent on bringing his contagion to London, the very heart of the British Empire. Only a handful of men and women stand between Dracula and his long-cherished goal, but they are vulnerable and weak against the cunning and supernatural powers of the Count and his legions. As the horrifying story unfolds in the diaries and letters of young Jonathan Harker, Lucy, Mina, and Dr Seward, Dracula will be victorious unless his nemesis Professor Van Helsing can persuade them that monsters still lurk in the era of electric light. Here, in one of Jonathan Harker’s diary entries, he meets Dracula for the first time…

Read More
Book thumbnail image

A house of judgment for Oscar Wilde

On 25 May 1895, at the Old Bailey Courthouse, Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. A warrant for his arrest on this charge had been issued immediately after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury, which had also left him bankrupt. While imprisoned at Pentonville and then Wandsworth Prison, his health declined sharply, and following his release, he fled to France. A poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, and wit, Wilde lost the joy of writing in his final years. Whether or not it be “the love that dare not speak its name,” Oscar Wilde’s “The House of Judgement” shows he was no stranger to examination and judgement before his trial.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

The Dark Lady in ink and paper

On 20 May 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were first published in London by Thomas Thorpe (work now found in the Folger Library). The Bard was nearing the end of his play-writing career and soon to retire. A lifetime of poetry was gathered together and printed — possibly without the permission of the author. To celebrate, we’ve excerpted Sonnet 127 and additional commentary from our Oxford World Classics edition edited by Colin Burrow — The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. Enjoy the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s poetry.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

A Child of the Jago, Freud, and youth crime today

By Peter Miles
As every schoolchild knows, never give more than one explanation: rather than uncertainty, it suggests a conscious or unconscious smokescreen. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Sigmund Freud demonstrated as much by reference to a “defence offered by a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he said, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.”

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Dear Alice… Can You Forgive Her?

Alice Vavasor is torn between a risky marriage with her ambitious cousin George and the safer prospect of a union with the formidably correct John Grey. Her indecision is reflected in the dilemmas of her friend Lady Glencora, confined in the proprieties of her life with Plantagenet Palliser but tempted to escape with her penniless lover Burgo Fitzgerald, and of her aunt, the irreverent widow Mrs Greenow, who must choose between a solid farmer and an untrustworthy soldier as her next husband. Each woman finds her choice bound up with the cold realities of money, and the tension between public expectation and private inclination in Anthony Trollope’s classic Can You Forgive Her?. Here is a letter from George to Alice.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Writing Disasters

By David Roberts
Natural disaster is an exciting but tricky subject. Risk to survival; extreme deprivation; families sundered and reunited; panoramic set pieces of waves crashing, meteors hurtling, or skyscrapers toppling – all the ingredients are there for a gripping narrative. But think of the technical and ethical challenges. How does a writer choose one focal point among so many? Who survives? If the subject is a real disaster, how does a novelist or screenwriter honour the memory of those who endured, and those who perished? And what about the nagging doubt that it is all an exercise in profiting from misery?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Into Maple White Land of the Lost World

Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day! Let’s celebrate the great science fiction and fantasy writers with an excerpt from one of the earliest fantasy novels — and an Oxford World Classic — The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Challenger’s claims of dinosaurs living in twentieth-century South America may seem outlandish, but even skeptics become believers in The Lost World…

Read More
Book thumbnail image

100 years ago today: the death of Bram Stoker

By Roger Luckhurst
Bram Stoker was always a man in the shadows, the back-room boy who for thirty-years had organised the life and finances of the greatest actor of his age, Sir Henry Irving. Stoker’s death one hundred years ago today, on the 20th April 1912, conformed to type: it was utterly eclipsed by a much larger catastrophe. He died quietly at home only five days after the R. M. S. Titanic hit an iceberg and sank with the loss of 1500 lives.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Because we women can keep nothing hidden… The Wife of Bath’s Tale

In Chaucer’s most ambitious poem, The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387), a group of pilgrims assembles in an inn just outside London and agree to entertain each other on the way to Canterbury by telling stories. The pilgrims come from all ranks of society, from the crusading Knight and burly Miller to the worldly Monk and lusty Wife of Bath. Their tales are as various as the tellers, including romance, bawdy comedy, beast fable, learned debate, parable, and Eastern adventure. The Wife of Bath is a favourite amongst many for her insight into the role of women in the Late Middle Ages, and her suggestions of sexual promiscuity. Here is an extract.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

An introduction to classic children’s literature

Many of our readers will have first acquainted themselves with an Oxford World’s Classic as a child. In these videos, Peter Hunt, who was responsible for setting up the first course in children’s literature in the UK, reintroduces us to The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, and Treasure Island.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

Apollo’s Lyre

We’re celebrating World Theatre Day with an excerpt from Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera. A mysterious Phantom haunts the depths of the Paris Opera House where he has fallen passionately in love with the beautiful singer Christine Daaé. Under his guidance her singing rises to new heights and she is triumphantly acclaimed. […]

Read More