Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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On Chaucer and marriage

By Peter Brown
If Prince William and Catherine Middleton took to heart the wedding sermon delivered in Westminster Abbey by Richard Chartres, bishop of London, then Chaucer is on the royal reading list. The good bishop quoted two lines from the Franklin’s Tale to emphasize that successful relationships should be based on ‘space and freedom’ rather than coercion: ‘Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the god of Love anon | Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon’.

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Why read Plato?

Plato’s Republic is the central work of the Western world’s most famous philosopher. Essentially an inquiry into morality, Republic also contains crucial arguments and insights into many other areas of philosophy. In these videos Robin Waterfield, editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Republic, explains why we should read it, and what makes Plato so interesting.

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Why Captain Marryat would have disapproved of Treasure Island

By Peter Hunt
Captain Frederick Marryat, an experienced Naval Officer, was a pioneering writer of sea-and-island adventure stories, such as Peter Simple (1834) and Mr Midshipman Easy (1836). One day his children asked him to write a sequel to The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann Wyss’s extravagant embroidering of the Robinson Crusoe story, which had found its circuitous way into English via William Godwin’s translation of a French version in 1816. Marryat was not amused.

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Lizzie Eustace: pathological liar?

By Helen Small
Pathological lying, the philosopher Sissela Bok tells us, ‘is to all the rest of lying what kleptomania is to stealing’. In its most extreme form, the liar (or ‘pseudologue’) ‘tells involved stories about life circumstances, both present and past’.

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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 blog@oup.com 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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