Essays
Books

Still Farther South: Poe and *Pym*’s Suggestive Symmetries

Still Farther South: Poe and Pym’s Suggestive Symmetries

In 1838, as the United States began its Exploring Expedition to the South Seas, Edgar Allan Poe published a novel that masqueraded as a travelogue. John Tresch guides us along this strange trip southward, following the pull of its unfathomable mysteries. more

“Fevers of Curiosity”: Charles Baudelaire and the Convalescent *Flâneur*

“Fevers of Curiosity”: Charles Baudelaire and the Convalescent Flâneur

This month marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Baudelaire’s birth, the French poet famous for his descriptions of the flâneur: a man of the crowd, who thrived in the metropolis’ multitude. Following Baudelaire through 19th-century Paris, Matthew Beaumont discovers a parallel archetype — the convalescent hero of modernity — who emerges from the sickbed into city streets with a feverish curiosity. more

Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking Chairs

Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking Chairs

What if chairs had the ability to shift our state of consciousness, transporting the imagination into distant landscapes and ecstatic experiences, both religious and erotic? In an essay about the British and American fascination with rocking chairs and upholstery springs in the 19th century, Hunter Dukes discovers how simple furniture technologies allowed armchair travelers to explore worlds beyond their own. more

The Art of Whaling: Illustrations from the Logbooks of Nantucket Whaleships

The Art of Whaling: Illustrations from the Logbooks of Nantucket Whaleships

The 19th-century whale hunt was a brutal business, awash with blubber, blood, and the cruel destruction of life. But between the frantic calls of “there she blows!”, there was plenty of time for creation too. Jessica Boyall explores the rich vein of illustration running through the logbooks and journals of Nantucket whalers. more

“I Am My Own Heroine”: How Marie Bashkirtseff Rewrote the Route to Fame

“I Am My Own Heroine”: How Marie Bashkirtseff Rewrote the Route to Fame

The diary of Marie Bashkirtseff, published after her death from tuberculosis aged just 25, won the aspiring painter the fame she so longed for but failed to achieve while alive. Sonia Wilson explores the importance of the journal — one of the earliest bids by a woman to secure celebrity through curation of “personal brand” — and the shape it gave to female ambition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. more

The Skeptical Pilgrim: Melville’s *Clarel*

The Skeptical Pilgrim: Melville’s Clarel

Weighing in at a colossal 18,000 lines, Herman Melville's Clarel (1876), which centres on the theological musings of a group of pilgrims touring the Holy Land, is not for the faint-hearted. Jeff Wheelwright explores the knot of spiritual dilemmas played out in the poem and its roots in Melville's trip to the Middle East two decades earlier. more

Comic Gold: The Easterner Goes West in Three Early American Comics

Comic Gold: The Easterner Goes West in Three Early American Comics

The California Gold Rush transformed the landscape and population of the United States. It also introduced a new figure into American life and the American imagination — the effete Eastern urbanite who travels to the Wild West in quest of his fortune. Alex Andriesse examines how this figure fares in three mid-nineteenth-century comic books. more

The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of *Paradise Lost*

The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been many things to many people — a Christian epic, a comment on the English Civil War, the epitome of poetic ambiguity — but it is first of all a pleasure to read. Drawing on sources as varied as Wordsworth, Hitchcock, and Conan Doyle, author Philip Pullman considers the sonic beauty and expert storytelling of Milton's masterpiece and the influence it has had on his own work. more

Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series

Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series

From gift-bestowing sparrows and peach-born heroes to goblin spiders and dancing phantom cats — in a series of beautifully illustrated books, the majority printed on an unusual cloth-like crepe paper, the publisher Takejiro Hasegawa introduced Japanese folk tales to the West. Christopher DeCou on how a pioneering cross-cultural endeavour gave rise to a magnificent chapter in the history of children's publishing. more

H. G. Wells and the Uncertainties of Progress

H. G. Wells and the Uncertainties of Progress

In addition to the numerous pioneering works of science fiction by which he made his name, H. G. Wells also published a steady stream of non-fiction meditations, mainly focused on themes salient to his stories: the effects of technology, human folly, and the idea of progress. As Peter J. Bowler explores, for Wells the notion of a better future was riddled with complexities. more

Walt Whitman in Russia: Three Love Affairs

Walt Whitman in Russia: Three Love Affairs

Walt Whitman’s influence on the creative output of 20th-century Russia — particularly in the years surrounding the 1917 Revolution — was enormous. For the 200th anniversary of Whitman's birth, Nina Murray looks at the translators through which Russians experienced his work, not only in a literary sense — through the efforts of Konstantin Balmont and Kornei Chukovsky — but also artistic, in the avant-garde printmaking of Vera Ermolaeva. more

Loos, Lewdness, and Literature: Tales from the Boghouse

Loos, Lewdness, and Literature: Tales from the Boghouse

In the early 1730s, a mysterious editor (known only as "Hurlothrumbo") committed to print a remarkable anthology: transcriptions of the graffiti from England's public latrines. For all its misogynistic and scatological tendencies, this little-known book of "latrinalia" offers a unique and fascinating window into Georgian life. Maximillian Novak explores. more

Vernon Lee’s Satan the Waster: Pacifism and the Avant-Garde

Vernon Lee’s Satan the Waster: Pacifism and the Avant-Garde

Part essay collection, part shadow-play, part macabre ballet, Satan the Waster: A Philosophic War Trilogy (1920) is one of Vernon Lee's most political and experimental works. Amanda Gagel explores this modernist masterpiece which lays siege to the patriotism plaguing Europe and offers a vision for its possible pacifist future. more

Filling in the Blanks: A Prehistory of the Adult Coloring Craze

Filling in the Blanks: A Prehistory of the Adult Coloring Craze

Its dizzy heights may have passed, but the fad for adult coloring books is far from over. Many trace the origins of such publications to a wave of satirical colouring books published in the 1960s, but as Melissa N. Morris and Zach Carmichael explore, the existence of such books, and the urge to colour the printed image, goes back centuries. more

Rambling Reflections: On Summers in Switzerland and Sheffield

Rambling Reflections: On Summers in Switzerland and Sheffield

In the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Philipp Moritz — from the peace of Lake Biel to the rugged Peaks — Seán Williams considers the connection between walking and writing. more

Mistress of a New World: Early Science Fiction in Europe’s “Age of Discovery”

Mistress of a New World: Early Science Fiction in Europe’s “Age of Discovery”

Considered by many one of the founding texts of the science fiction genre, The Blazing World — via a dizzy mix of animal-human hybrids, Immaterial Spirits, and burning foes — tells of a woman’s absolute rule as Empress over a parallel planet. Emily Lord Fransee reflects on what the book and its author Margaret Cavendish (one of the first women to publish using her own name) can teach us about empire, gender, and imagination in the 17th century. more

Grandville, Visions, and Dreams

Grandville, Visions, and Dreams

With its dreamlike inversions and kaleidoscopic cast of anthropomorphic objects, animals, and plants, the world of French artist J. J. Grandville is at once both delightful and disquieting. Patricia Mainardi explores the unique work of this 19th-century illustrator now recognised as a major precursor and inspiration to the Surrealist movement. more

Eric, Count Stenbock: A Catch Of A Ghost

Eric, Count Stenbock: A Catch Of A Ghost

With his extravagant dress, entourage of exotic pets, and morbid fascinations, Count Stenbock is considered one of the greatest exemplars of the Decadent movement. David Tibet on the enigmatic writer’s short and curious life. more

Bringing the Ocean Home

Bringing the Ocean Home

Bernd Brunner on the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse and how his 1854 book The Aquarium, complete with spectacular illustrations and a dizzy dose of religious zeal, sparked a craze for the "ocean garden" that gripped Victorian Britain. more

Early Modern Memes: The Reuse and Recycling of Woodcuts in 17th-Century English Popular Print

Early Modern Memes: The Reuse and Recycling of Woodcuts in 17th-Century English Popular Print

Expensive and laborious to produce, a single woodcut could be recycled to illustrate scores of different ballads, each new home imbuing the same image with often wildly diverse meanings. Katie Sisneros explores this interplay of repetition, context, and meaning, and how in it can be seen a parallel to meme culture of today. more

Made in Taiwan? How a Frenchman Fooled 18th-Century London

Made in Taiwan? How a Frenchman Fooled 18th-Century London

Benjamin Breen on the remarkable story of George Psalmanazar, the mysterious Frenchman who successfully posed as a native of Formosa (now modern Taiwan) and gave birth to a meticulously fabricated culture with bizarre customs, exotic fashions, and its own invented language. more

Pens and Needles: Reviving Book-Embroidery in Victorian England

Pens and Needles: Reviving Book-Embroidery in Victorian England

Fashionable in the 16th and 17th century, the art of embroidering unique covers for books saw a comeback in late 19th-century England, from the middle-class drawing room to the Arts and Crafts movement. Jessica Roberson explores the bibliomania, patriotism, and issues around gender so central to the revival. more

Defining the Demonic

Defining the Demonic

Although Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal, a monumental compendium of all things diabolical, was first published in 1818 to much success, it is the fabulously illustrated final edition of 1863 which secured the book as a landmark in the study and representation of demons. Ed Simon explores the work and how at its heart lies an unlikely but pertinent synthesis of the Enlightenment and the occult. more

Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly

Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly

The destruction of Atlantis, cataclysmic comets, and a Manhattan tower made entirely from concrete and corpse — Carl Abbott on the life and work of a Minnesotan writer, and failed politician, with a mind primed for catastrophe. more