Essays
Books

The Price of Suffering: William Pynchon  and The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption

The Price of Suffering: William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption

William Pynchon, earliest colonial ancestor of the novelist Thomas Pynchon, was a key figure in the early settlement of New England. He also wrote a book which became, at the hands of the Puritans it riled against, one of the first to be banned and burned on American soil. Daniel Crown explores. more

Notes on the Fourth Dimension

Notes on the Fourth Dimension

Hyperspace, ghosts, and colourful cubes — Jon Crabb on the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions. more

Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay's The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay's The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Deadly fogs, moralistic diatribes, debunked medical theory — Brett Beasley explores a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse. more

Tribal Life in Old Lyme: Canada’s Colorblind Chronicler and his Connecticut Exile

Tribal Life in Old Lyme: Canada’s Colorblind Chronicler and his Connecticut Exile

Abigail Walthausen explores the life and work of Arthur Heming, the Canadian painter who — having been diagnosed with colourblindness as a child — worked for most of his life in a distinctive palette of black, yellow, and white. more

When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle's Masterpiece

When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle's Masterpiece

Mary Fissell on how a wildly popular sex manual — first published in 17th-century London and reprinted in hundreds of subsequent editions — both taught and titillated through the early modern period and beyond. more

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

The author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which sees its 150th anniversary this year, remains to this day an enigmatic figure. Jenny Woolf explores the joys and struggles of this brilliant, secretive, and complex man, creator of one of the world's best-loved stories. more

A Bestiary of Sir Thomas Browne

A Bestiary of Sir Thomas Browne

Hugh Aldersey-Williams takes a tour through Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a work which sees one of the 17th-century's greatest writers stylishly debunk all manner of myths, in particular those relating to the world of animals. more

The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque

The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque

The introduction of street lighting to 17th-century London saw an explosion of nocturnal activity in the capital, most of it centring around the selling of sex. Matthew Beaumont explores how some writers, with the intention of condemning these nefarious goings-on, took to the city's streets after dark, and in the process gave birth to a peculiar new literary genre. more

Black on Black

Black on Black

Should we consider black a colour, the absence of colour, or a suspension of vision produced by a deprivation of light? Beginning with Robert Fludd's attempt to picture nothingness, Eugene Thacker reflects* on some of the ways in which blackness has been used and thought about through the history of art and philosophical thought. more

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Bridal beds, blushing captives, and swollen trunks - Carl Linnaeus' taxonomy of plants heralded a whole new era in 18th-century Europe of plants being spoken of in sexualised terms. Martin Kemp explores* how this association between the floral and erotic reached its visual zenith in Robert Thornton's exquisitely illustrated Temple of Flora. more

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

At the beginning of the 1850s, two stalwarts from the heart of London-based satirical magazine Punch, Gilbert Abbott à Beckett and John Leech, cast their mocking eye a little further back in time and published The Comic History of Rome. Caroline Wazer explores how it is not in the text but rather in Leech's delightfully anachronistic illustrations that the book's true subversion lies, offering as they do a critique of Victorian society itself. more

Neanderthals in 3D: L’Homme de La Chapelle

Neanderthals in 3D: L’Homme de La Chapelle

More than just a favourite of Victorian home entertainment, the stereoscope and the 3D images it created were also used in the field of science. Lydia Pyne explores how the French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule utilised the device in his groundbreaking monograph analysing one of the early-20th-century's most significant archaeological discoveries - the Neanderthal skeleton of La Chapelle. more

The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire

The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire

From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein's monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction - the vampire - a creation of Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today. more

Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth

Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth

In early 20th-century St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board. Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth "dictated" to Curran earned great praise at the time. Ed Simon investigates the curious and nearly forgotten literary fruits of a “ghost” and her ghostwriter. more

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

This year, the works of one of the most successful and universal writers of all time came into the public domain in many countries around the world. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck - in all, thirty-three books bearing the name “Beatrix Potter” have sold close to 200 million copies. Frank Delaney enquires into the more complex woman behind the safe and warm-hearted stories. more

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

An esoteric disease which reveals things in their true light; three pairs of disembodied feet galavanting about the countryside - Abigail Walthausen explores the brief but strange literary career of Daniel Carter Beard, illustrator for Mark Twain and a founding father of the Boy Scouts of America. more

In the Image of God: John Comenius and the First Children's Picture Book

In the Image of God: John Comenius and the First Children's Picture Book

In the mid 17th-century John Comenius published what many consider to be the first picture book dedicated to the education of young children, Orbis Sensualium Pictus - or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures, as it was rendered in English. Charles McNamara explores how, contrary to Comenius' assertions, the book can be seen to be as much about the invisible world as the visible. more

1592: Coining Columbus

1592: Coining Columbus

For many, the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas is inextricably linked to a particular image: a small group of confident men on a tropical beach formally announcing their presence to the dumbfounded Amerindians. Michiel van Groesen explores the origins of this Eurocentric iconography and ascribes its persistence to the editorial strategy of the publisher who invented the initial design, a full century after Columbus' encounter. more

Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synesthesia

Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synesthesia

Grounded in the theory that ideas, emotions, and even events, can manifest as visible auras, Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater’s Thought-Forms (1901) is an odd and intriguing work. Benjamin Breen explores these “synesthetic” abstractions and asks to what extent they, and the Victorian mysticism of which they were born, influenced the Modernist movement that flourished in the following decades. more

Encounter at the Crossroads of Europe - the Fellowship of Zweig and Verhaeren

Encounter at the Crossroads of Europe - the Fellowship of Zweig and Verhaeren

Stefan Zweig, whose works passed into the public domain this year in many countries around the world, was one of the most famous writers of the 1920s and 30s. Will Stone explores the importance of the Austrian's early friendship with the oft overlooked Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren. more

Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff

Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff

Scott Moncrieff's English translation of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu is widely hailed as a masterpiece in its own right. His rendering of the title as Remembrance of Things Past is not, however, considered a high point. William C. Carter explores the two men's correspondence on this somewhat sticky issue and how the Shakespearean title missed the mark regarding Proust's theory of memory. more

Elizabeth Bisland’s Race Around the World

Elizabeth Bisland’s Race Around the World

Matthew Goodman explores the life and writings of Elizabeth Bisland, an American journalist propelled into the limelight when she set out in 1889 - head-to-head with fellow journalist Nellie Bly - on a journey to beat Phileas Fogg's fictitious 80-day circumnavigation of the globe. more

The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse

The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse

In contrast to today's rather mundane spawn of coffeehouse chains, the London of the 17th and 18th century was home to an eclectic and thriving coffee drinking scene. Dr Matthew Green explores the halcyon days of the London coffeehouse, a haven for caffeine-fueled debate and innovation which helped to shape the modern world. more

Robert Baden-Powell’s Entomological Intrigues

Robert Baden-Powell’s Entomological Intrigues

In 1915 Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouts movement, published his DIY guide to espionage, My Adventures as a Spy. Mark Kaufman explores how the book's ideas to utilise such natural objects as butterflies, moths and leaves, worked to mythologize British resourcefulness and promote a certain 'weaponization of the pastoral'. more

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