Essays
Literature

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life: In Pursuit of the “Real” Chateaubriand

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life: In Pursuit of the “Real” Chateaubriand

While nowadays he might be best known for the cut of meat that bears his name, François-René de Chateaubriand was once one of the most famous men in France — a giant of the literary scene and idolised by such future greats as Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo. Alex Andriesse explores Chateaubriand's celebrity and the glimpse behind the public mask we are given in his epic autobiography Memoirs From Beyond the Grave. 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

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

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

"Alas, Poor YORICK!": The Death and Life of Laurence Sterne

"Alas, Poor YORICK!": The Death and Life of Laurence Sterne

On the 250th anniversary of Laurence Sterne's death, Ian Campbell Ross looks at the engagement with mortality so important to the novelist's groundbreaking work. 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

American Freedom: Sinclair Lewis and the Open Road

American Freedom: Sinclair Lewis and the Open Road

Some three decades before Kerouac and friends hit the road, Sinclair Lewis published Free Air, one of the very first novels about an automobile-powered road trip across the United States. Steven Michels looks at the particular vision of freedom espoused in the tale, one echoed throughout Lewis' oeuvre. more

Defoe and the Distance to Utopia

Defoe and the Distance to Utopia

In the wake of recent political shifts and the dystopian flavour they carry for many, Jason Pearl looks to the works of Daniel Defoe and the lessons they can teach us about bringing utopia home. more

Astral Travels with Jack London

Astral Travels with Jack London

On the centenary of Jack London's death, Benjamin Breen looks at the writer's last book to be published in his lifetime, The Star Rover — a strange tale about solitary confinement and interstellar reincarnation, which speaks to us of the dreams and struggles of the man himself. more

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London's Dirty Book Trade

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London's Dirty Book Trade

Victorian sexuality is often considered synonymous with prudishness, conjuring images of covered-up piano legs and dark ankle-length skirts. Historian Matthew Green uncovers a quite different scene in the sordid story of Holywell St, 19th-century London's epicentre of erotica and smut. more

Frankenstein, the Baroness, and the Climate Refugees of 1816

Frankenstein, the Baroness, and the Climate Refugees of 1816

It is two hundred years since "The Year Without a Summer", when a sun-obscuring ash cloud — ejected from one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history — caused temperatures to plummet the world over. Gillen D’Arcy Wood looks at the humanitarian crisis triggered by the unusual weather, and how it offers an alternative lens through which to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a book begun in its midst. more

Picturing Don Quixote

Picturing Don Quixote

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of one of the best-loved and most frequently illustrated books in the history of literature — Don Quixote. Rachel Schmidt explores how the varying approaches to illustrating the tale have reflected and impacted its reading through the centuries. more

Robert Greene, the First Bohemian

Robert Greene, the First Bohemian

Known for his debauched lifestyle, his flirtations with criminality, and the sheer volume of his output, the Elizabethan writer Robert Greene was a fascinating figure. Ed Simon explores the literary merits and bohemian traits of the man who penned the earliest known (and far from flattering) reference to Shakespeare as a playwright. 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

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

The Empathetic Camera: Frank Norris and the Invention of Film Editing

The Empathetic Camera: Frank Norris and the Invention of Film Editing

At the heart of American author Frank Norris' gritty turn-of-the-century fiction lies an essential engagement with the everyday shock and violence of modernity. Henry Giardina explores how this focus, combined with his unique approach to storytelling, helped to pave the way for a truly filmic style. 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

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

Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country

Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country

As a new series of BBC’s Sherlock revives the great detective after his apparent death, Andrew Glazzard investigates the domestic and imperial subterfuge beneath the surface of Sherlock Holmes’s 1903 return to Baker Street in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Empty House’. more

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