Essays

The Implacability of Things

The Implacability of Things

Jonathan Lamb explores the genre of 'it-narratives' - stories told from the point of view of an object, often as it travels in circulation through human hands. more

Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, the Cabman’s Nemesis

Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, the Cabman’s Nemesis

Heather Tweed explores the story of the woman whose obsessive penchant for the lawsuit struck fear into the magistrates and cabmen of Victorian London alike. more

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. more

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

Not long after ten Lancashire residents were found guilty of witchcraft and hanged in August 1612, the official proceedings of the trial were published by the clerk of the court Thomas Potts in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. Four hundred years on, Robert Poole reflects on England's biggest witch trial and how it still has relevance today. more

Conan Doyle’s Olympic Crusade

Conan Doyle’s Olympic Crusade

When an exhausted Dorando Pietri was helped across the finishing line in the 1908 Olympics marathon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was there to write about it for the Daily Mail. Peter Lovesey explores how the drama and excitement of this event led Conan Doyle to become intimately involved with the development of the modern Olympics as we know it. more

The First Olympic Protest

The First Olympic Protest

Rebecca Jenkins looks back to when London first hosted the Olympic Games and how a mix up with flags gave birth to the first Olympic protest. more

John Martin and the Theatre of Subversion

John Martin and the Theatre of Subversion

Max Adams, author of The Prometheans, looks at the art of John Martin and how in his epic landscapes of apocalyptic scale one can see reflected his revolutionary leanings. more

The Polyglot of Bologna

The Polyglot of Bologna

Michael Erard takes a look at The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, a book exploring the extraordinary talent of the 19th century Italian cardinal who was reported to be able to speak over seventy languages. more

Seeing Joyce

Seeing Joyce

The "Bloomsday" of 2012 - 108 years after Leopold Bloom took his legendary walk around Dublin on the 16th June 1904 - was the first since the works of James Joyce entered the public domain. Frank Delaney asks whether we should perhaps now stop trying to read Joyce and instead make visits to him as to a gallery. more

The Krakatoa Sunsets

The Krakatoa Sunsets

When a volcano erupted on a small island in Indonesia in 1883, the evening skies of the world glowed for months with strange colours. Richard Hamblyn explores a little-known series of letters that the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins sent in to the journal Nature describing the phenomenon - letters that would constitute the majority of the small handful of writings published while he was alive. more

The Assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval

The Assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval

Only once has a British Prime Minister been assassinated. Two hundred years ago, on the 11th May 1812, John Bellingham shot dead the Rt. Hon. Spencer Perceval as he entered the House of Commons. David C. Hanrahan tells the story. more

Painting the New World

Painting the New World

In 1585 the Englishman John White, governor of one of the very first North American colonies, made a series of exquisite watercolour sketches of the native Algonkin people alongside whom the settlers would try to live. Benjamin Breen explores the significance of the sketches and their link to the mystery of what became known as the "Lost Colony". more

The Unsinkable Myth

The Unsinkable Myth

This week sees the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, one of the deadliest peacetime disasters at sea. Richard Howells, author of The Myth of the Titanic, explores the various legends surrounding the world's most famous ship. more

Remembering Scott

Remembering Scott

A century on from his dramatic death on the way back from the South Pole, the memory of the explorer Captain Scott and his ill-fated Terra Nova expedition is stronger than ever. Max Jones explores the role that the iconic visual record has played in keeping the legend alive. more

Richard Dadd’s Master-Stroke

Richard Dadd’s Master-Stroke

Nicholas Tromans, author of Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum, takes a look at Dadd's most famous painting The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke. more

Lost Libraries

Lost Libraries

In the latter half of the 17th century the English polymath Thomas Browne wrote Musaeum Clausum, an imagined inventory of 'remarkable books, antiquities, pictures and rarities of several kinds, scarce or never seen by any man now living'. Claire Preston explores Browne's extraordinary catalogue amid the wider context of a Renaissance preoccupation with lost intellectual treasures. more

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

An 18th-Century Genius in Bondage: The Poems and Politics of Phillis Wheatley

An 18th-Century Genius in Bondage: The Poems and Politics of Phillis Wheatley

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