Josephine McDonagh, who has written the introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, discusses the novel and its reception in a series of podcasts recorded by Podularity.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It centres on hundreds of interviews conducted by Mayhew with London’s street traders, beggars, and thieves, which provide unprecedented insight into the day-to-day struggle for survival on London’s streets in the 19th century.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.