Essays

Almost as Good as Presley: Caruso the Pop Idol

Almost as Good as Presley: Caruso the Pop Idol

When he died in 1921 the singer Enrico Caruso left behind him approximately 290 commercially released recordings, and a significant mark upon on the opera world including more than 800 appearances at the New York Met. John Potter, singer and author of Tenor: History of a Voice, explores Caruso's popular appeal and how he straddled the divide between 'pop' and 'classical'. more

Phillis Wheatley: an Eighteenth-Century Genius in Bondage

Phillis Wheatley: an Eighteenth-Century Genius in Bondage

Transported as a slave from West Africa to America when just a child, Phillis Wheatley published in 1773 at the age of twenty her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Vincent Carretta takes a look at the remarkable life of the first ever African-American woman to be published. more

An Unlikely Lunch: When Maupassant met Swinburne

An Unlikely Lunch: When Maupassant met Swinburne

Julian Barnes on when a young Guy de Maupassant was invited to lunch at the holiday cottage of Algernon Swinburne. A flayed human hand, pornography, the serving of monkey meat, and inordinate amounts of alcohol, all made for a truly strange Anglo-French encounter. more

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

In 2011 many countries around the world welcomed The Wonderful Adventures of Nils and the other works of the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf into the public domain. Jenny Watson looks at the importance of Lagerlöf's oeuvre and the complex depths beneath her seemingly simple tales and public persona. more

Robert Southey’s Dreams Revisited

Robert Southey’s Dreams Revisited

As well as being poet laureate for 30 years and a prolific writer of letters, Robert Southey was an avid recorder of his dreams. W.A. Speck, author of Robert Southey: Entire Man of Letters, explores the poet's dream diary and the importance of dreams in his work. more

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

Julie Gardham, Senior Assistant Librarian at University of Glasgow's Special Collections Department, takes a look at the book that was said to have spurred a young Isaac Newton onto the scientific path, The Mysteries of Nature and Art by John Bate. more

The Tragedy of Fate and the Tragedy of Culture: Heinrich von Kleist’s The Schroffenstein Family

The Tragedy of Fate and the Tragedy of Culture: Heinrich von Kleist’s The Schroffenstein Family

On 21st November 1811, on a lake's edge near Potsdam, a 34-year-old Kleist shot himself dead in a suicide pact with his terminally ill lover. He left behind him just under a decade of intense literary output which has established him as one of the most important writers of the German romantic period. On the bicentenary of his death, Kleist scholar Steven Howe explores the importance of his first dramatic work and how in it can be seen the themes of his later masterpieces. more

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, introduces the life and memoirs of the most famous and celebrated of English clowns. more

Peter The Wild Boy

Peter The Wild Boy

Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author of Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court, on the strange case of the feral child found in the woods in northern Germany and brought to live in the court of George I. more

On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

On the run from the Nazis in 1940, the philosopher, literary critic and essayist Walter Benjamin committed suicide in the Spanish border town of Portbou. In 2011, over 70 years later, his writings enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Anca Pusca, author of Walter Benjamin: The Aesthetics of Change, reflects on the relevance of Benjamin's oeuvre in a digital age, and the implications of his work becoming freely available online. more

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

At the start of his career, as a young man in his twenties, Albrecht Dürer created a series of woodcuts to illustrate Sebastian Brant's The Ship of Fools of 1494. Dürer scholar Rangsook Yoon explores the significance of these early pieces and how in their subtlety of allegory they show promise of his masterpieces to come. more

What Makes Franz Liszt Still Important?

What Makes Franz Liszt Still Important?

This week sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College and music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, explores what we can still learn from the life and music of Liszt. more

Stories of a Hollow Earth

Stories of a Hollow Earth

In 1741 the Norwegian-Danish author Ludvig Holberg published Klimii Iter Subterraneum, a satirical science-fiction/fantasy novel detailing the adventures of its hero Niels Klim in a utopian society existing beneath the surface of the earth. Peter Fitting, author of Subterranean Worlds: A Critical Anthology, explores Holberg's book in the wider context of the hollow earth theory. more

Slavery in North Africa – the Famous Story of Captain James Riley

Slavery in North Africa – the Famous Story of Captain James Riley

When Captain James Riley published in 1817 the account of his and his crew's capture and enslavement at the hands of a group of North African tribesmen it became an immediate hit, readers being enthralled by this stark reversal of the usual master-slave narrative they were all so used to. Robert C. Davis, author of Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, looks at the story in the context of other similar tales of Europeans being taken as slaves on the North African coast. more

A Few Words about F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Few Words about F. Scott Fitzgerald

In most countries around the world, 2011 saw the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald enter the public domain. Scott Donaldson, author of the biography Fool For Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald, explores the obscuring nature of his legend and the role that women played in his life and work. more

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

In 1884 Edwin Abbott Abbott published Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, perhaps the first ever book that could be described as "mathematical fiction". Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland and The Annotated Flatland, introduces the strange tale of the geometric adventures of A. Square. more

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Between 1617 and 1621 the English physician and polymath Robert Fludd published his masterwork Utriusque Cosmi, a book split into two volumes and packed with over 60 intricate engravings. Urszula Szulakowska explores the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work. more

Dog Stories from The Spectator

Dog Stories from The Spectator

Dogs who shop, bury frogs, and take 800-mile solo round trips by rail - writer and broadcaster Frank Key gives a brief tour of the strange and delightful Dog Stories from The Spectator. more

Geronimo: The Warrior

Geronimo: The Warrior

In 1906, Geronimo published his autobiography recounting the fascinating story of his life, from his years as a resistance fighter, to his capture and subsequent period of celebrity in which he appeared at the 1904 St Louis World Fair and met President Roosevelt. Edward Rielly, author of Legends of American Indian Resistance, tells of the tragic massacre which underpinned his life. more

Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733)

Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733)

With its novel vignettes and its use of a camera obscura in the production of the plates, William Cheselden’s Osteographia, is recognized as a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration. Monique Kornell looks at its unique blend of accuracy and elegance. more

Labillardière and his Relation

Labillardière and his Relation

When the French explorer Lapérouse went missing, a search voyage was put together to retrace his course around the islands of Australasia. On the mission was the naturalist Jacques Labillardière who published a book in 1800 of his experiences. Edward Duyker, author of Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), explores the impact of his pioneering work. more

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

In 1906 the American physician and neurologist Morton Henry Prince published his remarkable monograph The Dissociation of a Personality in which he details the condition of 'Sally Beauchamp', America's first famous multiple-personality case. George Prochnik discusses the life and thought of the man Freud called "an unimaginable ass". more

Was Charles Darwin an Atheist?

Was Charles Darwin an Atheist?

Leading Darwin expert and founder of Darwin Online, John van Wyhe, challenges the popular assumption that Darwin's theory of evolution corresponded with a loss of religious belief. more

John Muir’s Literary Science

John Muir’s Literary Science

The writings of the Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir are known for their scientific acumen as well as for their rhapsodic flights. Terry Gifford, author of Reconnecting with John Muir, explores Muir's multifaceted engagement with 'God's big show'. more