Essays
Books

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

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

With his Vera Historia, the 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote the first detailed account of a trip to the moon in the Western tradition and, some argue, also one of the earliest science fiction narratives. Aaron Parrett explores how Lucian used this lunar vantage point to take a satirical look back at the philosophers of Earth and their ideas of "truth". more

Sir Arthur and the Fairies

Sir Arthur and the Fairies

In the spring of 1920, at the beginning of a growing fascination with spiritualism brought on by the death of his son and brother in WWI, Arthur Conan Doyle took up the case of the Cottingley Fairies. Mary Losure explores how the creator of Sherlock Holmes became convinced that the 'fairy photographs' taken by two girls from Yorkshire were real. more

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Christine Jones explores the early English translations of Charles Perrault's 1697 collection of fairy tales and how a change in running order was key to them becoming the stories for children which we know today. more

Athanasius Kircher and the Hieroglyphic Sphinx

Athanasius Kircher and the Hieroglyphic Sphinx

More than 170 years before Jean-François Champollion had the first real success in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher was convinced he had cracked it. He was very wrong. Daniel Stolzenberg looks at Kircher's Egyptian Oedipus, a book that has been called “one of the most learned monstrosities of all times.” more

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of both Samuel Johnson and Keats, and places it within the context of the humoural theory so popular at the time. more

Vesalius and the Body Metaphor

Vesalius and the Body Metaphor

City streets, a winepress, pulleys, spinning tops, a ray fish, curdled milk: just a few of the many images used by 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius to explain the workings of the human body in his seminal work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Marri Lynn explores. more

The Redemption of Saint Anthony

The Redemption of Saint Anthony

Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely 'unreadable' retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. Colin Dickey explores how it was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert's strangest work finally came to life. more

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

Marvin Spevack introduces the Curiosities of Literature, the epic cornucopia of essays on all things literary by Isaac D'Israeli: a scholar, man of letters and father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. more

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Last year saw the works of Virginia Woolf enter the public domain in many countries around the world. To celebrate Emma Sutton looks at Woolf's short story "A Simple Melody" and the influence which music had upon the writer who once wrote that music was "nearest to truth". more

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

To mark the 200th year since the Brothers Grimm first published their Kinder-und Hausmärchen, Jack Zipes explores the importance of this neglected first edition and what it tells us about the motives and passions of the two folklorist brothers. more

Henry Morton Stanley and the Pygmies of “Darkest Africa”

Henry Morton Stanley and the Pygmies of “Darkest Africa”

After returning from his disastrous mission to central Africa to rescue a German colonial governor, the explorer Henry Morton Stanley was eager to distract from accusations of brutality with his 'discovery' of African pygmies. Brian Murray explores how after Stanley's trip the African pygmy, in the form of stereotype and allegory, made its way into late Victorian society. more

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

In 1911 the soon-to-be poet laureate Robert Bridges published the poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben, a school friend who had drowned to death at the age of 19 almost half a century earlier. Carl Miller looks at Bridges' lengthy introduction in which he tells of the short and tragic life of the boy with whom fellow poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was reportedly besotted. more

Athanasius, Underground

Athanasius, Underground

With his enormous range of scholarly pursuits the 17th-century polymath Athanasius Kircher has been hailed as the last Renaissance man and "the master of hundred arts". John Glassie looks at one of Kircher's great masterworks Mundus Subterraneus and how it was inspired by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius. more